By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
"This keeps these folks off the street and gets them doing something they enjoy," Hardwick avers. As the hustlers and rappers and hangers-on exchange greetings and swap tales, Hardwick raises his voice and gets his point in as often as he can. "Nothing gets done for these kids, but they see the lifestyle, they watch TV. They see these rap stars living a life they can only dream about." He glances around his shop momentarily before reiterating, "This keeps them out of trouble."
But compared to most Friday nights at the barbershop, Screwge finds the turnout disappointing.
"Come on," he says after a moment. "Not much happening tonight."
And so, on to South Broward High School, where Screwge's alma mater -- Hallandale High -- is playing in the first round of the state championships. In fact, despite the rivalry between the two schools, Screwge spent three years at South Broward and one at Hallandale. Tickets for the game cost a fiver; a hot dog with all the fixin's costs just one. Screwge, along with many of his friends, played football for South Broward High. Always one to take the lead, Screwge played quarterback.
At the game, it's easy to see why everyone came back to the neighborhood after drifting apart. Despite his time spent away from the city, it seems half the people at the game know Screwge. Unique stands behind a chainlink fence, working security and tossing Nerf balls back to kids when they accidentally lose them over the fence.
South Broward wins. For Screwge, this calls for celebration, and after a quick drive around the town to find his cohorts, he locates Bolansky and a handful of other guys sitting in an alley to the side of a house, passing around a blunt. A few more men come out, until nearly a dozen are sitting around. These men provide an example of how hard it can be to leave this neighborhood without big dreams to take you away -- each and every one of them was there, all those years ago, when Screwge lost his life savings in a C-Lo game. The group squats or stands in the little alley between the house and a chainlink fence separating it from the backyard of a next-door neighbor. Silence falls over the group after a while, broken after several uncomfortable moments by one of the men saying, "This is how we live, see?"
Although everyone associated with Block Bottom maintains that the last compilation, Campaigning for the Streets Vol. 1, sold 3,000 copies, like any record, buzz begins to mellow out. Block Bottom must put out its next release soon. But the managing of talent and the myriad details of the business side of the company prove too much for Screwge by the beginning of February. Which is why the group finally decided to call Shawn "Dallas" Edwards. Somebody needed to take care of the business side of things while Screwge looked after the people.
"I definitely want to do something with Remy Martin," Screwge says as he slouches on the tan leather sofa beneath the cognac bottles. "Maybe a sponsorship or something."
Luckily for Screwge and Onyx, many of their childhood friends provided the first talent. One of the highlights of the first compilation album, The Hollywood Underground Vol. 1, features Allworld and Bolansky, both of whom go back to the inception of the company, back in grade-school days. The song, a marijuana anthem titled "Blue Smoke," is straight Dirty South. It sounds like any number of hip-hop records coming out of New Orleans or Houston. Still, even drawing that much comparison grates on the performers' nerves.
Bolansky says little, unlike his recorded persona. The stocky star of Block Bottom's next record may be laconic in person and loquacious on wax, but he speaks his mind when anyone tries to pigeonhole him.
"I can do it all," he says upon hearing the comparison of his and Allworld's song with typical Dirty South fare. "South, West, East, gangsta, all of it. It's all the beat."
Onyx, Unique, Killa Bean, Breezy, Screwge, Bolansky, and Dallas are sitting at home base, and Dallas is a shoo-in to be someone in charge of something. Amid all the thuggery -- gold chains, natty hair, baggy pants, mumbled words -- Dallas is dressed all in neat black clothes, down to the black leather shoes. Although he is the last to join the staff, he knows why he is here. Having proven himself as a moneymaker in the burgeoning world of South Florida porn, producing both films and websites, Dallas has been brought in to make sure the next album Block Bottom puts out is a success.
"Administrative work," Screwge says. "That's where Dallas comes in. Every successful company's got a couple of people behind it making things work from the inside. That's what we doin' now. Otherwise, this whole year's just a bunch of music that ain't goin' further than Hollywood."
"You could have an A-plus album," Dallas chimes in, "but if you don't have the right people pushing it..." He trails off and shrugs his shoulders in a helpless gesture before adding, "I've seen a lot of D and F albums out there that don't deserve it."