By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
"We deep into the rap game, know what I'm sayin'?" Killa Bean concurs.
Screwge has dedicated himself full-time to Block Bottom. Though the group is ostensibly a democratic collective, he has taken on a sort of svengali role. Ideas pour from the man. Slender and not too tall, he nevertheless carries a certain quiet authority. Most of the big notions that have run through the group came from him. Or at the least, he played a large part in their creation. Though Block Bottom is a means to a very successful end, it has also become something of an obsessive hobby and far more than just a rap group.
"I want to make a movie," he says. "We call it The Sto. It'll be about how a store in the neighborhood can be different things to different people. You buy what you need, but you also meet your people there; things happen there. It'll be the first film to come out of Block Cinema." And that's not to mention the similar plans for commercials and videos and graphic-design interns from local high schools. But the video-production plans are only an extension of the rap group. Even within the smaller circle of hip-hop, plans have been made that far surpass the foundations Block Bottom has already laid.
"Once we get up and running, we gonna start Cell Block," Screwge says. "We'll get people who have, you know, for whatever reason, wound up in jail, and we'll get them to record." He enjoys a quick laugh at the convicts' expense as he adds, "You think you hard out here? Try these guys rappin' about how they just pumped a punk."
Not all of the ideas revolve around ways to expand the group commercially. Last Thanksgiving saw Block Bottom handing out turkey and all the fixings to people on Foster Street in front of a fish market.
"It was meant to bring us together as a family, but it really brought us closer to the whole community," Screwge states. Ideas such as that one are meant not just to get Block Bottom's name out on the streets but also to unite people from the various neighborhoods. "Hollywood, Hallandale, Carver Ranches, Liberia... we gotta unite so all those people outside will sit up and take notice," Screwge states. With that in mind, Block Bottom also has plans to sponsor a Little League football team. The reason is also somewhat selfish, though, as the neighborhood's football talent is currently split among several teams, and Screwge and the others are tired of these various teams getting stomped when uniting them could result in a force to be reckoned with.
Not everyone in Block Bottom is so fully dedicated to the cause, though. While Killa Bean is between jobs, Unique works at South Broward Hospital in what he terms "facilities service." Miss Onyx, the group's public relations rep, works in a doctor's office during the day. Breezy, by night a producer/rapper with Block Bottom Entertainment, digs graves by day.
"You get used to it after a while," he says of digging corpse holes. "When I first started the job, though, I couldn't stay in a room alone. Had to have someone with me all the time." An acute bout of the willies, though, is a small price to pay for helping himself and his Block Bottom brethren bring their childhood dreams to life.
In the late 1980s, when rap outfits now seen as dinosaurs were blasting the new genre across the airwaves, Screwge and Miss Onyx -- along with Kelton "Allworld" Reed, Damion "Bolansky" Lyons, and Bentellysavalas Greene -- decided this was the game for them. They wandered the halls of Hollywood's McNichol Middle School throwing out rhymes at lunch, recess, after-school basketball practice, and whenever else they could get away with it. They vowed to one another that as soon as one of them broke into the world of hip-hop, the others would grab hold of some coattails and ride them to fame and fortune.
"It may seem like nothing," says Onyx, the lone woman of the group that made a playground vow to be rap stars. "But it's what brought us all back together after being apart for so long."
It was a different time, when Onyx was still Granell Burrows and Screwge was Taj Dixon. And like 99 percent of childhood dreams, this one passed with nary a whimper as the people who tied their fortunes together slowly went their separate ways. Two of the men got themselves in trouble with the law and vanished in the system for a time. For those on the outside, it became harder and harder to stay in contact with their fellows in state prison. Onyx stayed straight with far more success than any of her male counterparts. She debated going to school for journalism, eventually studying communications; her studies have certainly helped her in her PR duties for Block Bottom. While his friends were going to school or jail, Screwge almost managed to combine both of the experiences.
"I had to get out there for a while," Screwge maintains, as he maxes out on an overstuffed couch beneath the row of Remy Martin bottles in the sanctum sanctorum of Block Bottom Entertainment. He looks not at all like he did a decade ago, when making it in the hip-hop game became a possibility in his mind. The gold teeth and dreads are gone, but the ambition remains. "A lot of people think college is all fine and dandy, wine and candy," he says in typically showy style. "But it's got its problems too."