It´s a sad era for Broward County hip-hop once again. As of two weeks ago, the county´s only consistent hip-hop night, the Breaks, was forced to shut down and won´t start again any time soon. Hosted every week at Roxanne´s on Main by MCs/promoters Alex Cruz and Jasper Delaini, the Breaks was a Wednesday-night refuge for lovers of true-school hip-hop and just good music. It started in September 2006 and grew to be one of the strongest weekly music nights in Broward County. Sure, other venues packed bigger crowds on Fridays and Saturdays, but it´s generally a good sign when a neighborhood bar like Roxanne´s, which is located in Oakland Park (snooze), could consistently draw moderate to large crowds on Wednesday nights -- especially since those who showed up three to four times a month were there not just because the music cranked out of the speakers was good but also because the bar itself was cool. Until recently, it was owned by Isaac Alexander, a 28-year-old progressive businessman who created a laid-back vibe at the bar and was known both as a proprietor and as a scenester who knew what was what. Underground music thrived at the venue when it was under Alexander´s control, and it wasn´t uncommon for music lovers in Miami to drive north for a change, just to be at a small venue like Roxanne´s.
As of February, however, local business owner Jimmy Joiner bought the controlling shares of Roxanne´s, and as he changed management, the laissez-faire attitude of the bar started to change. Club nights began disappearing, promoters were getting the ax, and things became less comfortable for the young patrons who were still showing up faithfully but noticing slight changes.
¨Roxanne´s was the only place I know of in Broward County where you can catch that kind of music,¨ says local musician Black Sno. ¨Everything else is in Miami, man. People would come up [from Miami to Broward] just to check it out, and that´s rare. It was the only place to check out live local hip-hop, but now that´s done.¨
Not only is it done but it´s rubbing some people the wrong way. To get to the bottom of this, I spoke with Joiner, Alexander, and the promoters of the Breaks to sort through some of the rubble and see what´s salvageable.
Joiner, who is made to look like the bad guy in this situation, seems as if he couldn´t care less about what people think of him as long as the quality of his establishment doesn´t suffer. He´s been in the restaurant business for years and also owns Smoke Café, a cigar bar in Fort Lauderdale. He says he´s got nothing against youth culture or underground music but won´t put up with the shenanigans that the Breaks apparently attracted.
¨We were drawing a young crowd that was showing no respect for the neighborhood,¨ Joiner says. ¨The kids were spray-painting graffiti, flower beds were turned over, and kids were trashing the neighborhood. I don´t need that as a business owner.¨
Both Cruz and the previous majority owner, Alexander, are aware that the place drew substantial heat from the City of Oakland Park, and I can attest to seeing police officers patrolling the venue in unnecessary numbers on several occasions to make their presence known. It´s easy to speculate that either city officials or the police didn´t like the black patrons who were showing up for the hip-hop night (they didn´t flex their muscles on any other night except Wednesday), and they probably didn´t like the 20-something indie-rock kids who were there most other nights as well. In that sense, Joiner´s attempts to change the clientele might help keep the place in business.
¨The fact that Roxanne´s is still there is totally due to Jimmy,¨ Alexander says. ¨So you can´t paint it all bad... that we got an extra three months of parties out of that place is because the police saw Jimmy and left everybody alone.¨
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Of course, that begs the question, if Joiner´s just a good businessman with a cold shoulder, exactly what´s wrong with that?
¨The vibe of that place is going to be dead now that we´re out of there,¨ Cruz says. ¨We were the biggest night they had at Roxanne´s, and if he wants to get rid of us, so be it. I understand he thinks it´s just business, but you can´t re-create the culture that place had... it´s the same old story time and time again.¨
In that regard, Cruz is right as well. Let´s face it: Oakland Park isn´t the hippest place in South Florida, and if an underground culture, albeit with a few knuckleheads attached, can give the city an identity, then it´s something worth salvaging. Any bar can have a poker night, jazz on Sundays, and a ladies night (three events that Joiner plans to implement), but culture is impossible to manufacture.
I stopped by Roxanne´s last Wednesday to see how the venue was doing in the post-Breaks era, and it was, in fact, dead. There were four cars in the parking lot, seven patrons inside, and one lone drunk girl there for ladies night. The bartender was giving me free drinks just to stick around. It was nice of him, but as I looked to my left, then to my right, and realized I was the only person of color in the bar, I couldn´t help but wonder if Oakland Park wasn't getting what it wanted.