Raw Power

Just released from prison, Miami hip-hop icon DJ Raw is ready for the takeover

Raw recalls his first bout of drug-dealing ingenuity. At 7 years old, he bought model-car toy sets and then sold the refurbished glue sticks with cocaine inside. "I had a whole closet with model cars, every model car you can think of, but no glue to put it together."

Raw and his mother moved to Miami at age 11, settling near 20th Street and Biscayne Boulevard, an area polluted with violence, prostitution, and drugs. "Man, the only high-rise back then was the FPL Building. There was nothing downtown. Biscayne was a shithole back then."

He and his mom moved around quite a bit. "We were like modern-day gypsies," he says. They eventually settled in Wynwood in 1984. During his teens, he tried vocational school for auto mechanics but soon discovered that he could earn more money selling weed to his classmates. Raw recalls banking $100 a week. Not bad for a 16-year-old. He soon dropped out of school and began hustling full-time.

But, Raw declares, his real passion was hip-hop. "When I moved down here, people was like, 'What's hip-hop?' Back then, it was all bass," he says, referring to the style of music popularized by 2 Live Crew. "That music was fun, you know, girls shaking their asses, but me being a b-boy, I just couldn't get down with that sound. There was none of that New York hip-hop until guys like us... brought it."

Peter Price couldn't agree more. Also known as NME (pronounced enemy, his graffiti handle), Price is a longtime friend of Raw's and business director of Hoodstock. Price was 11 years old when his family moved to South Florida in 1983. "Coming from Queens to Miami, kids would make fun of me, how I dressed, spoke. I would break-dance, and they all looked at me crazy."

Now 35 years old, this soft-spoken Haitian with a penchant for storytelling considers Raw a father figure. He met Raw at the funeral of a 15-year-old kid named Dustin, who was shot dead after an altercation over a girl. Several years before, Price had started KOP — Knock Out Posse — as an after-school football team. It became an after-school gang, which Raw joined.

As the group's oldest member, Raw persuaded KOP members to try music. "We all loved hip-hop," Price recalls. "Raw saw that some of us had talent and him, being the entrepreneur, decided to make KOP a hip-hop music group."

Were other band members aware of Raw's side job as a drug dealer? "We all knew that he was selling," says Kurage (real name: Ettienne Thomas), "but back then, who wasn't?"

Kurage was referring to the mid-'80s, when one word described Miami's narcotics business: simple — simple to get, simple to sell, and simple to make a killer fortune. By the late '80s, Raw was deep into the trade. No longer was it dime bags of weed. He was selling and trafficking kilos of cocaine by the dozen. "I used to work for an import/export company out of the Port of Miami. The company went bankrupt because I sold so much dope to the president that it folded up," Raw remembers. "One day, I went into his office to pick up my check, my check ain't ready, my dope money ain't ready, so I'm like, 'What we gonna do about this?' So he offers me the title to the warehouse and a 24-wheeler. So I come to Wynwood with this big old truck, and now we gotta pull off a scam, we gotta fool the cops. We got this big truck... so I buy everybody [in KOP] green suits, and now we're landscapers!" Raw says, laughing. "Now we pushing dope in lawn mowers, you know, serving guys on the corner while pretending to cut grass."

Price remembers his short stint in lawn care: "It was crazy. People be watching us trying to trim hedges, and we not knowing what the hell we're doing."

In 1991, Raw used some of the proceeds to open DJ Raw Records and Tapes at NW Seventh Avenue and 49th Street. The store carried just about anything hip-hop-related (music, magazines, videos). During the same year, Raw started DJ Raw Studios after miraculously "discovering" a slew of DJ equipment and speakers. "Sean, one of the KOP members, calls me up at 4 a.m. and is like, 'Raw, bring the truck, and bring the boys!' so I'm thinking, 'Man, this better be good!' So I'm going down Second Avenue around Flagler, and there was some jam that was ending, people packing up, and I see all this equipment, video cameras, crates filled with records, just sitting outside... so I quickly bring the truck, load up, and get out. I heard some old lady screaming that she's gonna call the cops, [so I] crunched a few cars in the [getaway]."

Then one day, while messing about with the stolen equipment, Price picked up a microphone and started to rap. The rhymes weren't world-changing, but Raw came up with a plan. It was simple: Get more equipment! He bought high-end recording gear ("Half I didn't even know what it was for!"), then a trailer to house his musical laboratory. He conveniently parked it behind his record store, which became a meeting place for up-and-coming talent.

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