Bullets and Bloodclaats

Covering reggae shows in South Florida takes patience and an affinity for early-morning reporting. While concerts in other genres can sometimes finish as late as 3 a.m., maybe even 4, depending upon the city, that's usually when things are getting started within the dancehall community. So when a well-needed 20-minute disco nap turned into four hours of deep sleep last Friday night, I knew I wasn't missing a thing. By 2:30 a.m., I was back on my feet, groggy, but still well ahead of schedule to catch one of the wickedest dancehall shows to hit Broward County in months.

For weeks, I'd seen fliers in all the Caribbean restaurants and barber shops promoting "Gully Side," a true rudebwoy soiree, with some of the hardest and hottest names in dancehall on the bill. For starters, Mavado was headlining the show, and he automatically attracts a rougher crowd than most. The so-called "Gangsta for Life" is dancehall's version of 50 Cent circa 2001, both in thug appeal and in his ability to crank out sure-fire hits.

If that weren't enough, Munga Honourable was also slated to perform. Dubbed the "gangsta ras," due to his thick 'locks and shiny gold teeth, Munga doesn't exactly attract churchgoers to his shows. So going in, I knew it would be a rough show.

But as I pulled up to the Gold Coast Roller Rink in Fort Lauderdale, I wasn't expecting to see police Macing the crowd before the show even started. As I searched for parking, though, I couldn't help but breathe in the putrid smell of either pepper spray or Mace — an unprovoked attempt at crowd control that reeked of racism. After this, tensions while standing on line (yes, Dred Scott stood on line for this show) were automatically high, as the police presence seemed extra forceful. It was as if the artists' reputations had reached headquarters, and this was the response.

While a heap of Jamaican insults were hurled at police as the crowd waiting to get inside swelled, the humid heat only made things worse. All of this did, however, add to the mystique of catching Mavado and Munga in concert: If you weren't wearing a blue uniform, you felt like an outlaw just being there.

By the time I reached the front of the line, got patted down thoroughly, and forked over $40 to step inside, Gold Coast looked more like a passa passa straight out of Kingston than a roller rink. Thick plumes of ganja smoke wafted through the air.

Many were complaining about the length of the DJ set, as folks in the audience yelled "artists pon stage" to try to hurry the main attraction. Finally, around 4:30, after the selectors and a few teenaged performers finished warming up the crowd, Bling Dawg grabbed the mic and started running through his mild list of hits. He lived in Miami in the late '80s/early '90s, and he became the hometown hero of the night.

Nostalgia aside, folks still wanted to see Munga, and they went crazy when he finally touched the stage. His style is equal parts Tupac, Method Man, and Sizzla, and it all showed as he flashed his grills and received that hard-to-attain reaction where guys and girls practically swooned at the same time. Everybody in the building was ecstatic as he jumped into "Bad From Mi Born," and the DJ pulled it up 20 seconds later and spun the riddim again. You also couldn't help but notice that a member of the K-9 unit was standing on stage, a reminder that the aggressive police presence was still in effect. The crowd barked more insults, naturally.

Munga worked his magic for about 15 minutes, and then, sans introduction, Mavado walked on stage with a towel over his head and a big smile on his face. These two weren't performing separate sets; they were performing together, and the crowd loved them for it. As the audience went apeshit, the M&M show fed off of it keenly. When the DJ dropped the "Real McKoy" riddim and Mavado started spitting the lyrics with Munga acting like his hype man, the crowd was at a fever pitch. Consider it kinetic energy or something, but as the clock struck 5 a.m., the place felt like a dancehall powder keg ready to explode.

Just as Mavado finished his gangstalicious "Top Shotta Nah Miss" track and jumped into his signature "Gully Side" tune, Bounty Killer walked on stage, as cool as ever with a microphone in hand, and helped him finish the tune. The "Warlord" was an unannounced special guest, and with more street swagger than Munga and Mavado combined, this was turning into one of the rudest dancehall sets a promoter could put together. Just as the proverbial powder keg was about to explode, you could hear a hair-raising pop, pop, pop, pop.

Sure enough, the rudebwoys were firing gunshots into the ceiling out of excitement, like this was Dodge City. Well, it's not Dodge City; it's Fort Lauderdale, and what was quickly turning into a show that surpassed expectations was cut short as police stormed the stage — guns drawn — and everybody either hit the ground or headed for the exits.

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