The Trigger Effect
Music Editor's Note--This week I turn over Coda to local hip-hop impresario Mr. P-Body Scott, who observes that some of the urban club patrons who complain about club closings are the same ones contributing to the negativity surrounding hip-hop/R&B events. The characters in his time line are fictional, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely intentional.
9 p.m. It's Friday night and Freddy Scrapps, a.k.a. Itchy Fingers, just got paid. Gearing up for the night, he unboxes a brand-new pair of Nikes ($150 is no problem for a good hustler like Itchy). After several sprays from a $50 bottle of the new Tommy Hilfiger fragrance, Itchy's ready to go pick up his homeys. He jumps in his ride and drives off sittin' on 15-inch chrome rims (and a chrome heater under the seat that Itchy never leaves home without).
10 p.m. After several games of craps, Itchy and his boys stop off at the liquor store to pick up a fifth of Hennessy and six bottles of berry-flavored St. Ides. The clerk at the drive-up window has to wait while everyone in the car argues about who paid for the cognac last time. Finally, the crew coughs up the cash--a stack of ones and some odd change (no one wanted to break a 20 or 50)--and heads for Last Chance, the new and only hip-hop club spot in town. Although none of the crew has been there before, all assume they are VIP. After all, Itchy knows a guy whose girlfriend's sister is dating the promoter's best friend. It's a cinch.
10:30 p.m. Itchy and company roll up to the club and drive by the front entrance a few times to see if anyone's there yet. The crowd inside is getting thick, and a small line is forming, but there's no way the gang would ever go in so early, so they park down the street where they can get their drink on. Itchy bumps his Alpine stereo with a 10-disc changer, two Fosgate amps and four 10-inch subs, turning the music down just long enough to sweat every fly-looking lady that walks by the car. When they're all out of Hennessy and hassles for the honeys, the crew is finally ready to go inside.
11 p.m. Faded like an old pair of blue jeans, Itchy and company approach the club. By now there's a huge line, so they shoulder their way to the front and start to bullshit the bouncers, insisting they're all VIPs. It's not working, but Itchy bumps into Malik, an old homey standing at the front of the line with some fine, Toni Braxton-looking girl. Malik is now completely legit, a successful record exec, and it's been two years since he's hung out with the wild bunch. Nevertheless, Itchy and his friends step over the rope and cut in line ahead of Malik. Once inside the doorway, Itchy sweats a bouncer to go find the club promoter so they can hook up free admission. The promoter comes up, doesn't recognize Itchy or any of his boys, and quickly disappears without a word. Itchy and his crew hold up the line another five minutes while they heatedly try to negotiate a "group rate" cover charge. Finally, the four of them reluctantly give up the $5 each and go inside.
11:30 p.m. Itchy orders a Heineken from the beer-tub girl and can't understand why she won't sell him the beer for $2.50 when the sign says $3.25. Itchy forks over four one-dollar bills, then snatches his change and stuffs all three quarters in the pocket of his brand-new Guess jeans. Then he asks the girl for her phone number.
11:45 p.m. Determined not to lose his high, Itchy orders a four-dollar Hennessy and Coke (he offers the bartender three). Moving away from the crowded bar, he bumps into some brother, who spills his drink on Itchy's brand-new Nikes. A sincere apology won't do--Itchy is ready to scrap! Luckily, several bouncers squash the conflict before it gets out of control.
12:15 a.m. Itchy is outside, fuming because the bouncers won't let him back into the club. As he waits for his friends (who have no idea Itchy was thrown out), he finishes off the St. Ides with several other guys who are just hanging out in the parking lot, waiting for the club to close at one. Someone suggests rolling a blunt and shooting some dice to kill time. Itchy pops open the trunk and pulls out a Tommy Hilfiger bag (free with any $50 cologne purchase) where he keeps his dice, Phillies and CDs. Malik and his girl step outside for some air, see Itchy, and ask what's up. Itchy proceeds to tell them all about how this wack-ass club just threw him out.
1:10 a.m. The club lets out, and a mass of people hit the parking lot. Most of them are still trying to get their groove on--scooping up those digits at the last minute. Nevertheless, Itchy (now completely faded) is still upset. A few minutes ago, he discovered that he lost his Guess watch and tore his DKNY jersey in the scuffle.
1:15 a.m. Malik runs into some player haters in the parking lot who are jealous of his success and proceed to verbally disrespect Malik and his girl. A major fight breaks out, and the all-white security staff has difficulty restraining the three brothers involved. Itchy decides to add to the ruckus and vent some anger by firing three shots in the air. A couple of his boys do the same as they speed out of the parking lot.
1:20 a.m. In their panic, club authorities have called 911. Police and paramedics arrive (two bouncers were injured in the fistfight), take statements and disperse the crowd without further incident.
Monday, 10 a.m. Liquor board and police officials welcome the news that the club owner who hosted Last Chance has decided to shut down the hip-hop night.
Four months later Everyone's talking about the grand opening of a new hip-hop/R&B nightspot at a new location.
The sad thing here is that Itchy will probably go to the grand opening and act the fool all over again. And if he doesn't, another Itchy will. Just check the list of clubs and club nights that now rest in peace because someone broke the peace: The Roxy; Jockey Club; The Vibe (Jackson Hole, Saturdays); Club Rio (Saturdays); Club 411 (Mondays); and Anderson's Fifth Estate (Thursdays). Doom seems inevitable for hip-hop spots in the Valley. Which begs the question--why?
Many hip-hop/R&B fans point the finger at racist club owners and city officials. But while there's no question that hip-hop venues are treated unfairly through selective enforcement of liquor regulations and building owners who eject promoters at the first glimpse of trouble, the clubgoers themselves must take some of the blame. We can't just complain about the repeated club closings without at least acknowledging the behavior that triggers those closings and the negative perception of urban-music fans in general.
I don't pretend to offer any specific answers here, but the first step to a solution may be recognizing a few uncomfortable truths:
* It's not enough just to have most nights at a club be "good," or without violent incident. Any form of gunplay on just one night can shut down a club. This includes incidents where guns are drawn but not fired (Thursdays at Anderson's) and ones where shots are fired in the air (twice at the Vibe). Also, while fistfights may be tolerated in high volume at clubs that cater to a primarily white crowd, at a hip-hop/R&B club, more than one in a short period of time usually means a quick shutdown. It's simple: Too many fights at hip-hop spots means no clubs--unless we want to hang out in country bars.
* Urban-club parking lots often look like police conventions after closing time, and clubgoers are prodded like cattle to leave the area. Unfortunately, that's because most of the problems at hip-hop club nights take place in the parking lot. Sometimes it's instigated by "outsiders" who arrive at the club near closing time, just to hang out. If the privilege of mingling after hours is to be preserved, clubgoers and "outsiders" alike have to keep the peace.
* Club owners consistently report that alcohol sales are two to four times higher on alternative or disco nights than evenings with a hip-hop deejay or live act. Bartenders, cocktail waitresses and beer-tub girls frequently complain about getting meager tips on a crowded hip-hop night. Servers at Tribeca Dance Club and the Electric Ballroom, for example, talk of making $18 or $20 on a weekend hip-hop night compared with the usual $100 to $150. Some will argue that an urban crowd is more economically disadvantaged than a typical alternative-rock crowd, and can't afford to drink as much or tip as well. But that's hard to believe when so many customers are seen flossing with gold chains, watches and fresh gear. A lot of them won't tip for good service but will try to negotiate the price of a drink! You can't negotiate the price of a pair of Nikes at Foot Locker--drinks are no different. The big problem here is that, in addition to the hassles they get from the city for having hip-hop, club owners also face lower profits and an unhappy staff that calls in sick or simply refuses to work on hip-hop nights. The question these owners must then ask themselves is, "Why bother?" Although it's not the responsibility of clubgoers to make a bar owner rich just for having a hip-hop club night, the least we can do to support these clubs is pay the correct price for a drink and tip for quality service.
Bottom line: The choices made by some urban clubgoers are adversely affecting the present state and future of hip-hop/R&B nights in the Valley. People should help make a club happen, rather than make something happen at the club.
Top 10 Wack-Ass Excuses Not to Pay the Cover Charge at a Hip-Hop Club Night (Compiled at The Vibe, Summer 1996)
10. "I'm from out of town."
9. "But there's only an hour left!"
8. "I know [insert name of DJ here]."
7. "I won't have enough money left to buy a drink."
6. "I just want to see if my friends are in there."
5. "I come here all the time."
4. "I've never been here before."
3. "I play ball for [insert name of NBA or NFL team here]."
2. "I know Tyree [the promoter]."
And the No. 1 wack-ass excuse not to pay a cover is . . .
1. "Damn! I had to pay to get in last week!
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