Yeah, I said it, and you read it. Legions of those left-turn-lovin' rowdies inundated South Florida last weekend for the final beer bash I mean competition of the season, held at the Homestead Speedway. Normally, that fact wouldn't register a blip on Beatcomber's radar. But we got a tip on something called "Racefest" happening in downtown Fort Lauderdale on Thursday afternoon and headed over, convinced it must be some kind of Klan rally.
Showing up to the grassy swale of Huizenga Park, we immediately realized our mistake. This was a docile throng surprisingly large for midday Thursday of "race fans" (Ah! Racefest. Got it.) scoring free NASCAR swag and lining up to meet drivers with names like Rusty and Wally. The only hoods in sight were studded with sponsor stickers and affixed to the several stock cars on display. Wide-eyed sons led wider-eyed dads from car to car while the sweet sounds of KISS Country (99.9 FM) wafted across the lawn. But like most NASCAR groupies, I was looking for a collision. I found it across the street at the Riverfront mall.
Leaving behind KISS Country's Gretchen Wilson and Alan Jackson and rolling past Big 105.9 FM's AC/DC and Aerosmith, I rounded the corner of Riverfront and got smacked in the face by Snoop Dogg. Under a small, green tent, flanked by a pair of mean-looking Ford race cars and backed by bangin' beats from a set of turntables, Miami superstar DJ Khaled barked into a cordless mic at a baffled gaggle of race fans: "Khaled, Checkers, Terror Squad, NASCAR! Let's do it! Nahmean?"
I'm not sure any of the strolling NASCARtel knew what he meant, but Khaled was so damned enthusiastic about whatever he was saying that some passers-by were stopped in their tracks. Khaled and members of his Terror Squad baggy-T'ed hip-hoppers who were way too friendly to live up to their crew's moniker were on hand as partners of Checkers, the drive-through burger chain that's a sponsor of several NASCAR racers.
"Check out our driving simulator and experience the NASCAR experience!" Khaled hyped. "You know how we do!"
"He doesn't know nothing about NASCAR," one of his boys told me, laughing. Not that it matters the sport's attempted crossover into the urban (read: black) demographic is on. It's also part of a growing trend toward the marbleization of typically black and white cultural idioms.
Back in March, hip-hop trendsetter Nelly bought into a NASCAR truck-racing team; his duet with country stud Tim McGraw, "Over and Over," appeared on his recent album Suit. The halftime show at this year's NBA all-star game in Denver featured LeAnne Rimes along with Destiny's Child. If it feels contrived, that's because it's driven less by natural artistic forces than a savvy, long-term marketing scheme. It's a positive exchange, mainly because there's money to be made. And Khaled wants to be in the pole position.
"I'm involved with Checkers because they're so heavy with the urban community," he said. "By doing this with Checkers, I'm showing them I wanna get involved." Commercial opportunities with the company, he believes, are in the works. So he's breaking into a world that's known more for rednecks, pickups, and cheap beer than diamonds, Escalades, and champagne.
"A car is for all types of people, all types of music fans rock 'n' roll, hip-hop, country. Why not bring the hip-hop world to NASCAR? Why not mix it up? It's gonna work, but it's gonna take a while."
Meanwhile, Lauderdale MC Pluzwun sat on the sidelines with a bemused grin. He was supposed to hold court at the Checkers tent but was given the no-go when his rhymes proved distracting to the Q&A with a NASCAR driver taking place 20 yards down the street. While he took the shutdown well, he didn't seem like much of a NASCARnivore. "Ask me anything about car racing but Dale Earnhardt," he said, "and I don't know."
Pluz had a much easier time later that night at the MC battle held at Landmark, a spacious sports bar on West Broward Boulevard. While it's tough to reconcile hip-hop and auto racing, battling and boxing have much in common. So much so that promoter Donovan Thomas, who's been doing Thursday-night hip-hop shows at Landmark for a few months, hooked up with the Miami-based Lyrical Boxing crew.
"Let's let these dudes do their motherfuckin' thing in the boxing ring!" he called out from the stage to open the first round. Different from your typical battle format, Lyrical Boxing is a quick-fire bout that had contestants spitting four-bar lines back and forth, sparring with quick-witted jabs and comebacks like verbal pugilists.
There were a few TKOs in the early rounds glass-jawed rappers battered by their opponents' skills, called out by the referee onstage. But there was a fair amount of talent too. Pluz's meanest fight came against Raven, a buxom, blond-haired fireball who took Pluz's scathing fat jokes in stride and clowned him for taking the obvious route.
"He thinks he can get me 'cause I'm a big bitch," Raven said after the judges scored her a 27 to Pluz's 28, "but it's not about that. I get underestimated, but I use that to my advantage." After an a cappella, sudden-death victory, Pluz went on to win the belt (a serious, WWF-looking, gold-plated thing) by taking out an unfortunately named rapper, T-Bag. Slinging it over his shoulder, he made to leave the bar and said, "Guess I'll be back next week to defend this thing."
As sweet as Pluzwon's science was, I had to give Raven props. Winning as the only female rapper in a roomful of dudes must be something like swimming as the one hip-hop crew in a sea of NASCARps. It's gonna happen, but it's gonna take a while.