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As a photographer poses him against the side of his house, next to a dripping window-mounted air conditioner, West turns to his young raven-haired fiancée. "Could you get some lotion for me, please?" he asks. A few minutes later, she emerges with a blue bottle of Nivea, which he applies to his chest and biceps.
During a subsequent drive through the hood in West's Caprice -- during which he blasts Tupac's "Ballad of a Dead Souljah" loud enough to be heard for blocks -- we end up at Sunrise's St. George Park for another photo shoot. As Mike postures, preens, and stares down the camera, a trio of curious grade-school boys runs over.
"You a rapper?" one asks skeptically. West merely scowls.
"Y'all listen to Tupac, little homies?" he inquires.
"Yep," the three answer in unison.
"Listen to Outlawz?" he asks.
"Listen to Luke?"
"Nope," they say.
Still unsatisfied, one of the kids asks the photographer, "He gettin' money for this?" When he's told no, the kid shoots back: "How come he do it then?"
The photo shoot drags on, and the kids scatter back to the ball courts. Bandwidth and photographer pile back in the Caprice. West puts in a CD featuring an a cappella track from Pit Bull, a Hialeah Cuban rapper with whom West has been working. Suddenly, there's a whole lotta crunk in his trunk; the twin bins behind the back seat shudder wildly, and it feels as if spit might actually fly out of the speaker cones:
"Grand finale, dawg, I'ma tryin-a end this beef/Y'all can look hard and talk shit/But when I creep up with the semi-auto, the only thing that follow is death!"
When West drops his new album, A West Side Story: Chapter One,early next year, he's counting on the media and the photos and the tattoos and the buzz and the blitz and the blunts and the unmitigated thuggery to coalesce into a career. For now, he's stuck slipping tracks into the underground marketplace, waiting for the industry to take notice.
"I know a lot of people," West says matter-of-factly. "My connections run deep in the game." Savvy enough to try to cultivate a crew on both coasts, he still insists he's a representative of local 954. "This is where it all began," he says, pledging allegiance to South Florida. "For real! But the West Coast always shows me love, that's the thing! My West Coast connection is very, very strong."
No matter which locale gives the most affection, West is ready. "I'm just tryin' to hold it down, as much as I can, you know? I'm making history."