New Thugs on the Block

Block Bottom Entertainment cranks out the raw, grassroots rhythm and rhymes of South Broward

After nearly breaking into the mainstream on two separate occasions with two songs performed with Trina -- "Nann Nigga" and "Shut Up" -- Trick Daddy became, along with Ludacris and Mystikal, the national representative of the Dirty South. His 2001 album, Thugs Are Us, gave "Take It to da House" to the clubs and "I'm a Thug" to the radio. Since Mystikal is now so mired in legal trouble, what with all of the rape, extortion, gun, and marijuana charges, and Ludacris has gone albumless over the past two years, Trick has become the last man standing. But though he started out on a Campbell record, his success was pure do-it-yourself.

"It's a 24-hour job," Lucas says. "The music business never stops. In the daytime, you record music. At night, you in the clubs makin' sure people play your music and they listening to it. You're always out there promoting; you never can stop. 'Cause while you sleep, somebody else is out there making it happen. So you can never sleep in this business. It's a 24-hour business. If you not doin' something, something's wrong. You always gotta be finding a new idea, a new way to promote it, a new way to make sure that record is getting played. It ain't about spending a whole bunch of money; it's the way you go about doin' it. If you come around to a DJ every time he spins records and you're in his face, he'll show you some love. So that's what I say. Anybody startin' up, just don't stop. If that's where your heart is at and you believe you can make it, hard work pays off."

With Slip-N-Slide proving that the DIY ethic could work in South Florida rap, Block Bottom, and any other would-be hip-hop group, has a blueprint to follow. Many have tried, but few have had even the local success enjoyed by Block Bottom Entertainment.

Killa Bean cracks a grin, while his partner, Unique, lays down rhymes (opposite)
Colby Katz
Killa Bean cracks a grin, while his partner, Unique, lays down rhymes (opposite)
Colby Katz

Although Miami is now established as a hip-hop hub, South Broward, an area with a large African-American community, has gone completely untapped in the lopsidedly African-American world of hip-hop. Many in Block Bottom suspect blackballing. "We supported the Miami scene when it was coming up," Screwge says. "And now that we doin' the same, it's like they try to make sure nothing we do gets past the local level."

Unique confirms Screwge's assessment: "You know what they say in Miami. 'Cowards in Broward get sprayed in Dade.'" He rolls his eyes. Despite the apparent lack of respect to the south, there are plenty of groups in Broward with a whole lot of dreams and an uncanny knack for busting rhymes. Just ask John the Barber.

John Hardwick understands people with dreams. As president of Top Shops International, Hardwick runs a sort of beauty-salon owners' union. The group helps people get started in the salon business and offers cheap legal services, business counseling, direct-marketing services, and a variety of other benefits for people in the business of making other people look good. Of course, as an industry advocate for barbers, Hardwick is a haircutter himself. But his shop has taken on a far different role in recent months.

On Friday nights, once Hardwick's barbershop at Foster Street and Seventh Avenue in Hallandale Beach has closed, local rappers converge to prove who has the rhymes and who has to crawl back to momma. The location has been a community meeting point for years.

"This used to be a restaurant, like a diner," Screwge says as he enters one Friday. "My grandparents owned it. They made Ghetto Burgers." He turns to a gold-toothed fellow sitting in a barber chair and calls out, "Yo, Ghetto Burgers! Best burgers ever, right?" The man nods his silent assent. Aside from that quick proclamation, Screwge says nothing about the store, the burgers, or his relatives. There seems to be little love lost on the place. Hardly surprising when one considers that Screwge has set his sights quite a bit higher than the role of restaurateur. For Hardwick, though, the opportunity to offer his place of business to local talent is an end in and of itself.

"Kids need this sort of thing," he maintains in a peppy tone. "They need an outlet, something to keep them off the streets. They see these rappers making all of this money, and they think, 'Well, why not me?'"

The "kids" in question are hardly that --Screwge and Onyx are 25, and the oldest among the whole crew is Bolansky, who's 27. Maybe a bit young compared to 30-something John the Barber, and certainly youthful when contrasted with the old man in the corner, sipping beer from a tall can in a paper bag. He mumbles occasional words about stars and signs -- astrology and fortunetelling -- but no one pays him any mind.

As a whole rogue's gallery of would-be rap stars comes and goes, Hardwick sticks out like a sore thumb in his own shop. A crisp, starched white shirt and a black tie draw the sort of attention that the rest of the shop's occupants get when they go out in the straight world.

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