Livin' in a Video

Urban Beach Week ... is the ultimate Beach Party ... You arrive on Thursday ... You check into your hotel ... and you begin to see people already mingling ... The road blocks, police, and traffic signs are all over the place letting you know that ... this is gonna be BIG ... The cash flows like a raging river around the entire town. You spot your favorite singer ... walking down the street and notice everyone trying to jock for a quick picture ... you also notice that there is always 8 or 9 female and male groupies around them for no good reason but just to act like they are part of the singer's entourage ... but it's cool ... everyone is having a good time... You notice that the women here are extremely sexy as if they stepped off a music video ... but the fellas don't half step either ... They have their shirts off ... chiseled muscle to the bone ... You then watch the hottest rides go up and down the streets ... there are so many fantasy cars that an ordinary Lexus car might as well be a 10 speed bike ... if you want to see R. Kelly, Nelly, P. Diddy, JD, Magic Johnson, Allen Iverson ... they all have different avenues where they will perform and mingle ... YOU LOVE IT ... so much to do and see ... you know why this is the #1 place and event in the country ... You can't wait to come back next year ...

-- Terrance Smith,

Terrance Smith may live far from the surf and sand, but the 34-year-old entrepreneur from Missouri knows his beach parties. As owner of the Website since 1999, he keeps track of events that draw African-American students and professionals to resort areas across the United States and the Caribbean. He travels the circuit himself, brokering deals with promoters, hoteliers, and tour operators, and then drums up business by reporting where the party's at.

"Right now Miami is my favorite," he says over the phone from St. Louis. Smith will be spending Memorial Day weekend here, although his site is also promoting competing events in South Carolina and Cancun. Why Miami Beach? Smith explains, "It's like stepping into a music video."

Smith does not have precise figures for the number of guests who have booked through his site, but he reports that most of his hotels, including the Roney Plaza and Days Inn, are already full. (An informal survey of representative hotels by the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau on May 19 showed hotel occupancy on Miami Beach already at 87 percent, with many hotels on South Beach sold out. Last year, occupancy hit 96 percent.)

Smith predicts more than 200,000 people will show up this weekend, as they have for the past three years. Each visitor will spend a minimum of $400 in Miami Beach over the weekend, he estimates, with many spending more than $1000. Hotel rooms begin at $270 a night. Getting into a club costs $50 to $100. Then there's food and shopping. "People save up all year for this," he says.

On Memorial Day weekend, the first commandment is not just live large, but live gangsta. Despite hip-hop's domination of popular culture around the globe, fans still get off on the music's outlaw status. Some artists earn street cred as much for their rap sheets as for their raps. And the question music video producers most frequently ask when seeking permits, reports Graham Winick, film and print coordinator for Miami Beach, is the location of the "Scarface house," meaning the dazzling mansion with a glass elevator featured in the 1983 crime drama. "[Scarface is] in some ways a bible by which the culture lives," says Winick. But for most middle- and upper-class fans who trade in their ties for diamond-encrusted chains or their stockings for thong bikinis, the thug life is just another part of a hip-hop holiday.

"The crowd is very polite, very black, very ghetto," observes Boris Morales, manager of Club VIP, a nightclub nestled in the honeycomb of hip-hop hot spots on the 600 block of Washington Avenue. Make that ghetto fabulous. "They wear the hip-hop gear, but really they're a lot of black professionals. The people that come over to Miami Beach are the nice ones, because it's expensive."

To sit in one of the five VIP areas at Club VIP, patrons must buy a bottle of liquor at a minimum cost of $200 -- and buy another when the bottle is empty or get kicked out of the area. Hanging out in the club's more exclusive "ultra-VIP" room costs $500 up front and the purchase of at least three bottles. Morales says Memorial Day crowds think nothing of spending $500 on a bottle of Cristal. "Once a year, it's worth it," he explains.

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Celeste Fraser Delgado