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Hunting autographs at C.B. Smith Park in Opa-locka, neighborhood kids hurry past the unguarded gate backstage where hip-hop act Iconz is waiting to perform. With their debut album Street Money, Volume 1 approaching gold, the rappers headline the ninth annual Janet's Youth Talent Showcase, sponsored by Jah-Net's Jamaican Cuisine, and return to the talent show they won well before they blew up back in 1992. In a blink children bombard the chillin' area, tearing posters and anything else they can find off light posts for the rising stars to sign. This worries the Iconz road manager, who snaps, "We need to close this entrance somehow, because there are just too many kids coming back here."
Within minutes it seems as if every child up front has swarmed backstage. One parent follows her daughters to investigate the fuss. "I wanna see who my daughter likes," she explains. The concerned mom is greeted by Chapter, a tall, suave, light-skinned man. The Opa-locka native is one of five partners in the local production company Landmark Entertainment Committee, which since 1985 has served as a kind of Southern supermarket, providing producers, engineers, musicians, lyricists, composers, and vocalists to clientele such as Uncle Al, Luther Campbell, and Trick Daddy on more than 25 releases. A name check of the five producer/founders gives us Carl Bosse, Trek, Guerilla Tek, Fentz, and Chapter.
Battling their way into the business, Chapter and fellow Iconz member Stage McCloud have known each other since high school, collaborating on various musical schemes together. "We didn't really blow up fast," says Chapter. "We've been in this game for 15 years, doing everything, bringing out hardcore tracks for the whole Down South."
In 1999 the Committee expanded to artist management. The new division, Iconz Music Group, set out to turn a collective of seven artists into icons: Luc Duc, Stage, Bull Dog, Chapter, Tony Manshino, Screwface, and SupaStarr. The strategy led to the group's hit single "Get Fucked Up," but the collaboration among the little-known solo artists also created confusion by giving the impression that Iconz is a coherent group; in fact it's actually a loose recording cluster, like Ruff Ryderz or the fellow Miamians associated with Slip N Slide Records. The confusion is heightened by the fact that Street Money was released on the Slip N Slide imprint.
"Actually [Slip N Slide is] like another team from down here doing their thing," says Stage of the decision to release the disc through the neighboring Miami label. "Slip N Slide Records pretty much had the club situation on lock, as far as the hot songs at the club," Chapter adds. "When "Get Fucked Up' came out, it kinda consumed the whole club environment. Ted Lucas from Slip N Slide Records stepped to us, and we just worked something out." Slip N Slide's parent company, Elektra, ensured the distribution of Street Money nationwide.
The album, pegged "Volume 1" to let people know there's more to come, takes the term compilation to the next level. With funny skits and pounding tracks that combine tropical rhythms, Southern thug themes, and Miami bass, each track shows off a different rapper's skills and persona while piling one story upon another -- like a digital storybook. "There's no I in team," observes Luc Duc, who boosts his thug appeal with a denim scarf, FUBU shirt, and black warm-up suit.
If the Iconz are all in the music business together, each brings a different culture to the collective; members hail from Jamaica, Opa-locka, Haiti, North Miami, the Bahamas, and Carol City. Seated at the judge's table while newer talents compete in Janet's Showcase, SupaStarr tells New Times: "I'm going to represent for my ladies number one."
Wrapped in a multicolor towel to ward off the chill from a light rain, the petite, fatigues-and-sequins-clad Iconz mama points out her island heritage as well. "I'm from Jamaica," she says, "so I'm-a bring reggae to my hip-hop."
Haitian member Tony Manshino is missing today, completing a brief jail stint. "He's the hustler of the group, but that does not mean drugs or anything," Bull Dog says. "He got in some stuff, but he will be out in July in time to drop his album." During a performance at Wyclef Jean's Spring Ting earlier this year, Manshino sported a bandanna bearing a Haitian flag and exhorted the crowd to shout, "Ayisien, ayisien."
When Iconz takes the Opa-locka stage this afternoon, Chapter opens by pointing at the crowd, grabbing his crotch, and moving side to side on the beat. Luc Duc races across the length of the stage and leads the crowd in a cleaned-up version of the high-energy club call that won Iconz fame: "Get Crunked Up."
Despite a substandard sound system with only two working mics, the Iconz rappers quickly have the crowd screaming. The cheers grow deafening for SupaStarr, who has deserted her judge's chair for the stage. The din is so loud, in fact, that the audience can barely make out the female rapper's flow. So the women in the front hold it down themselves, reciting every word of the Jamaican native's crunked-up contribution.
Coming back to Janet's Youth Talent Showcase, Iconz show they're not about to forget their hometown. Giving back to the local folks doesn't mean staying at home, however, as the title of their follow-up single declares: "We Ain't Goin' Home Tonite." As Luc Duc boasts, "Y'all thought the first one was [the] club anthem. This is the world anthem."