The air outside the warehouse hung taut with anticipation. Sometimes, laughter broke out; a few errant clouds of powerful reefer smoke floated away.
Beyond the small warehouse door, across a spotted red carpet, and past a beefy security guard sporting a Glock 19, was a makeshift television studio. A trio of digital cameras surrounded a low, lacquered stage that supported a paneled panorama of downtown Miami at night, whose edges were rough and frayed where they joined.
The far corner of the stage featured a cherry-red leather couch and a plant. A nearby shelf stacked with Monster Energy drinks adjoined a DJ booth draped in purple velvet.
Behind the turntables, a skinny 22-year-old called DJ Sam Sneak bopped his high-top fade behind huge designer sunglasses. He spun an odd refrain at teeth-rattling volume to the largely vacant room.
We makin' millions and millions of dollars
The biggest moves in the street
Get with me if you wanna eat
Get with me if you wanna eat
The anthem clashed with the spartan surroundings, but the voice on the record oozed conviction. The line about millions and millions of dollars was inscribed in cursive on the Miami backdrop, right next to the towering image of Elvin Hiram Prince, a.k.a. Big Chuck. With arms folded and chin cocked, the image presided smugly over its surroundings the king of this modest television fiefdom.
In a carpet-walled, windowless back room, Big Chuck paced. He circled a pair of waiting guests, decked out in a green blazer, matching suede sneakers, and a faux-money-clip belt buckle (a rubber-band-bound stack of plastic hundred-dollar bills). He couldn't sit down, thanks to a cocktail of preshow enthusiasm and an immodest dose of energy drink.
When asked his age, Big Chuck replied "I'm a young man you can even put handsome in front of that too." Questioned about his income, he grinned, shrugged, and dropped a heavy hand on a visitor's shoulder. "Let's just say I'm in a different income bracket. Big Chuck is putting up all the money for this," he said. (It is hard to determine precisely what he owns there are few assets listed under his name in public records.)
The picaresque player was born in Liberty City. He moved to Carol City in the eighth grade. After high school, during the Nineties, his brother, nicknamed "E-Class," and a few neighborhood friends struggled to amass enough funds to start a record label, sometimes clashing with the law. Big Chuck, on the other hand, took a job brokering loans at a Barnett Bank in Miami Lakes.
In 1999 things got hairy in the hood. A childhood friend of Big Chuck and E-Class, Kenin "Poe Boy" Bailey, hatched a scheme with a Miramar barber to sneak into a check cashing place through a ceiling panel. On the morning of February 17, Bailey entered the facility, only to encounter an employee. After a brief scuffle, Miramar cops rolled up. Bailey ditched his gun in a nearby canal. Unarmed and desperate to flee the scene, he made for a vacant police cruiser, taking shots in the leg and arm as he climbed into the driver's side. After colliding with eight vehicles, Bailey was apprehended. He died while being airlifted to Jackson Memorial. E-Class's label, Poe Boy Records, bears his name.
Around that time, Big Chuck grew dissatisfied with underwriting mortgages. "I was making millions and millions of dollars for [the bank]," he says. "When it came time for profit sharing I'd get a tiny bullshit check. So when my brother started Poe Boy Records I told him I'd handle the finances."
That was 1999. Since then Poe Boy Records has had ups and downs managing releases by artists like Jacki-O. But now, following the national success of local producers and thug rappers (most notably Rick Ross, who went to middle school with the brothers and is managed by their label), Poe Boy has emerged as a significant part of the independent music scene in the South.
In May 2006 a pleasant, soft-spoken Brooklyn-born director who goes by "Chris Larceny" began working with the label on film projects. So far they have produced several music videos and a racy crime thriller entitled Hustler's World. The trailer features Ross and a squadron of chainsaw-wielding, bikini-clad assassins carving up a pig carcass. (The film, says Larceny, is presently being edited to include Ross's new trademark beard.)
The Big Chuck show was born of a blunt, according to Larceny. One night last year, while smoking in Chuck's office, the pair considered the possibility of producing a show at Poe Boy studios and peddling it as DVDs or on YouTube. A 22-year-old college dropout and fledgling producer called Freddie B joined up with the team and told them about an open slot on his father's Haitian Television Network, which could get them on Comcast digital cable. He even offered them studio space.
Since late January, Larceny has spent nearly every night keeping an eye on a trio of monitors and directing a three-man crew in the filming of the Big Chuck Show's first thirteen episodes. Big Chuck has convinced prominent local artists and businessmen to appear, among them Chef Creole (the Little Haiti restaurateur), and hip-hop superproducers Cool & Dre. The final episode will feature a medley performance by Poe Boy's finest: Brisco, Flo Rida, and, of course, Rick Ross.
Unless things change, starting April 1, those with Comcast's "digital classic" package will be able to watch the hour-long episodes on channel 689. Every Saturday night, viewers in Puerto Rico, South Florida, and New York will be able to see Big Chuck from 11:00 p.m. to midnight. Those in South Florida with rabbit ears will be able to tune in locally on channel 48.
The show looks something like a varietal of Sabado Gigante. Three sultry dancers in booty pants and tight tees stand behind a velvet rope licking glossy lips and shaking hips. They close the hour by circling Big Chuck in a languid shimmy and showering him with fake money. Chuck's Ed McMahon, "Officer Bow-leg," is an overstuffed private security guard in a Milli Vanilli wig, buck teeth and plastic numchucks, who crawls around at their feet and gathers up the bills.
Big Chuck's interviews sometimes take on the feel of an infomercial about Miami: Guests are encouraged to self-promote and plug at will. When a local DJ muttered nervously in the green room that he "hates interviews," Big Chuck just shrugged. "Just act like you the shit," he told him.
Big Chuck's boundless enthusiasm for all things Miami stems from a passionate belief that the town has become the jewel of the rap empire. Luis Diaz, a paunchy, balding producer who made his name sound-engineering the Baha Men's hit "Who Let the Dogs Out?," agrees. "It ain't Gloria Estefan and Julio Iglesias anymore," he says. Diaz made his debut on the show on a recent Wednesday. He and his brother Hugo now do production work for high-profile local rapper Pitbull.
When Big Chuck and the Diaz brothers took their seats, the small audience of friends and associates in the Doral studio showered them with applause at the mention of "Who Let the Dogs Out?" When Chuck asked if they had any advice for struggling artists, the Diaz brothers announced their phone number into the cameras.
On February 15 a little-known Overtown-based rap group called the Co-D fendents performed a raucous number titled "Stick and Roll," while Big Chuck shoulder-shook his way in and out of the frame. "Why do you call yourselves the Co-D fendents?" he asked with a wide grin, following the song's end.
Vito, the lumbering lead singer with long, ropy dreads, tossed his head and flashed a gold grill into the camera. "You know, you go out, you do your thing, you get caught," he said. "You gotta have someone to go through it with. Then they charge you with conspiracy."
"Look," Big Chuck interrupted, glowing. "They can't charge us with conspiracy to make millions and millions of dollars!"
Big Chuck plans to open up next season's tapings to the general public at a yet-to-be identified South Beach locale. Guests will be flown in from out of town, and a private driver will be contracted to transport them to the show. "It's gonna be something you can bring your girl to," he booms, throwing his hands out like Michelangelo's Creator.