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Archive for September, 2008

I’m watching, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid for the umpteenth time. My favorite film besides Warren Beatty’s, Reds and The Godfather I & II.

The old Redford and Newman vehicle is loosely based on the exploits of the bank robbing duo from the “wild west” period. They terrorized the Wyoming and Oaklahoma territories in the early 20th century. Right before the industrial reovolution. When empires were built by the train barrons.

In the film they rob banks and are so commited to their way of life that they decide to move to Bolivia. In order to continue the practice of their craft. Intstead of giving in to the signs of the times and going straight.

Their hustle is portrayed charmingly with a deft and light comedic touch. They are ruthless without being venal. They are rebelious without promoting anarchy. They are loyal to one another and their way of life. They’re on the come up. They remind me of me and my friends who were involved in the early hip hop business.

There’s one who is heavy on my mind this evening. Uptown Records founder, chairman and CEO, Andre Harrell.

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GHETTO FABULISTS ANDRE HARRELL & MARY J. BLIGE

Andre had been half of early black fab rap duo, Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde. In an era when rap groups wore coon skin caps and leather pants, Jeckyl and Hyde wore suits.

He’d also had a day job selling air time for NY am gospel outlet, WWRL. Frustration with the radio exec game led him to quit his day gig and enter the entertainment world full time as VP of Russell Simmons’ Rush Productions, the management and production arm of the early Simmons empire.

Andre, Russell and I did the NY clubs with regularity. Russell and I did the downtown set; Roxy, Danceteria, Area, Palladium, The World, Nells, Save The Robots, Rolladex, Home, Mobile Home and on and on. Anywhere you could find a punk rock kid liseting to a rap record.

Andre joined us on occassion but his regular track was the NY r & b set; Leviticus, Bentley’s, The Silver Shadow and The Red Parrot. He also knew every soul food joint in the city.

The world of the downtown alternative experience led to the creative direction of, Run/DMC. Later it led to the direction of, The Beastie Boys and LL Cool J. The first two signings to Russell and Rick Rubin’s Def Jam Recordings.

Andre’s scouting of the NY r & b scene led to the direction for his Uptown/MCA Records label. Where he found the first home of the “new jack swing.” The music poularized by, Teddy Reily, Keith Sweat, Bobby Brown and Uptown artists, Heavy D, Guy and Al B. Sure!. He eventually signed Jodeci, Mary J. Blige and hired, Diddy, giving the young mogul his start in the music business.

While in his position at Rush, Andre convinced Russell to hire me as the first director of promotion at Def Jam. When he started Uptown he took me with him as his right hand. He briefly became CEO of the moribund mid ’90’s Motown. He was unsuccessful in reviving the label.

Years ago while debating some current issue in the music business in front of Andre, I deferred to someone else’s oppinion. Later on, it turned out I was right. He said to me, “Don’t you realize how much of an inside playa you are?”

Last year Andre was inducted into the VH-1 Hip Hop Hall of Fame in recognition of his contribution to the game. He is quoted on tape saying that all he wanted to do was “put a little champagne in the game.”

I received several calls tonight about my old friend. He’s recently been suffering from a bout of walking pneumonia and two of his heart valves have been damaged.

Saturday night his old intern, Diddy went by his Manhattan apt to check up on his mentor and discovered him in a dire state. He rushed him to Mt. Sinai Hospital.

Tomorrow morning Andre Harrell will be going through an open heart procedure to replace his damaged valves. We pray for his recovery and tonight we reflect on the era of Dr. Jeckyl and his “Champagne Of Rap.”

Get well soon Doc.

insideplaya

shouts to Wendy Credle, Go Beverly, Pam Gibson, Rush, Alonzo Brown, Jimmy Love and Nelson George

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Musically, the earliest hip hop records were dominated by one direction: A hit black dance record would break out of the clubs, emerge on the charts and a few months later, some colorfully named crew from NY would “cover” the track and spit their joint over the top of it.

The Funky 4 +1 rhymed over, Frankie Beverly’s. Before I Let Go. The Jazzy 5 hit over, Gwen McRae’s, Funky Sensation. The Sugarhill Gang destroyed the game while spitting on the CHIC classic, Good Times.

This was changed to a large degree by Russell Simmons with his interest in original production. First, thru his management client, Kurtis Blow’s, Christmas Rapping and The Breaks. Later, thru his production of, Jimmy Spicer’s, Dollar Bill and most famously with his little brother’s group, Run/DMC.

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THE SOUND CHANGERS

Later in the decade, the music of James Brown and Bob James began to dominate the palate of the hit makers that produced early charting rap records. Until the Native Tongues came along; a loosely affiliated group of young artists who were originally comprised of kids from the outlying burbs of Queens, Long Island, Jersey and London. Queen Latifah, Monie Love, The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest were on the initial roster.

The “tongues” spoke In opposition to what came before. This crew changed the sound of hip hop by expanding the hit menu that rappers sampled from. By using the more progressive music that was found in their parent’s record collections. Artists like; Steely Dan, Hall and Oates, Funkadelic, Mandrill, Collage, and others began to supply the sounds that these kids used for production. The most progressive of them all were my favorites, A Tribe Called Quest.

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Frontman and primary contributor, Q-Tip grew up in the same neighborhood that produced LL Cool J, 50 Cent and Run. He had an older sister who was immersed in the funk and soul of the ’70’s, a father who was a jazz fanatic and a mother who was a back up singer for early r & b singers.

I met him 20 years ago at the classic NY weekly, Soul Kitchen. He engaged me in a discussion of the appreciative differences in the way drum sounds were recorded over the years. A little nerdy, yes, but charming

Tip’s understanding of the fusion and funk recordings of Roy Ayers, Freddie Hubbard, Weather Report, Cal Tjader, Milt Jackson and Minnie Ripperton was well beyond his years. His awareness of the dope underground freestyle scene that was taking hold of New York. His feeling for a hot party jam and his unique lyrical perspective all contributed to his hit making ability and his status as The Abstract Poetic.

Making up the other 3/4 of the original Tribe lineup are, Jarobi, producer dj, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and, The Funky Diabetic, Phife Dog providing rough, rugged and raw counterpoint to Tip’s smooth daddy, downtown persona.

As previously stated, Nas had a record that entered the charts at no.1 two weeks before the show. Tribe hadn’t been on the radio meaningfully since ’98 yet they were headlining. They briefly reunited for a tour in the summer of ’05 but didn’t play NY. This would be the first time that they touched a NYstage in a decade.

Spin.com has an article depicting the struggles of my discovery, D’Angelo that I’m quoted in. The article states that his, Brown Sugar album was the beginning of the neo soul thing. If not for the success of Tribe’s break through, Low End Theory album, I would not have understood the commercial appeal of, D’Angelo’s demo.

Tribe DJ, Ali Shaheed Muhhamad was kind enough to lace me with the a co-writing and co-production of, Brown Sugar.

Tip’s got a solo deal at Motown and a hit that’s moving called, Getting Up. His new album is slated for release on election day ’08. The single references, soulful stand up, vocal harmony group, Black Ivory’s, You And I. An early ’70’s begging jawn that he’s revisited to do a bit of begging of his own. He’s opening for his own band with Mos Def taking a cameo as hype man.

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BLACK IVORY

It’s dark and the crowd is going crazy. Tip finishes his twenty minute mini set that features a torrid display by DJ Scratch that includes him taking his shirt off while he’s cutting and Tip and he rotate on the 1 and 2’s.

By now everyone is on their feet and Ali drops the voice of the electronic lady that narrated their, Midnight Marauders album. She introduces the band and it starts to go down.

Bugging Out begins the proceedings and then we are pummeled by hit, after hit, after, hit after hit.

Check The Rhyme, We Got The Jazz, Footprints and on and on. The crowd is taken to fever pitch and then the hottest guest spot of the night. Drama King and prodigal Tounge, Busta Rhymes comes out and takes his star making turn on, Scenario. Then Ali filps it into Busta’s smash, Put Your Hands Where I Can See.

While Scenario is rockin, I run into C-Line. She’s gotten a return call from Faith on her jack. This is the first time that we’ve run into each other in about 9 hrs.

I return the call. Faith is displeased. I try and apologize. She’s having none of it. While she’s riffing, I wonder why she didn’t just come to the building. She would have seen any of 30 people that she knew if she’d gotten to the employee entrance. Faith has forgotten a bit about the hustle from our old club days. I listen a bit more and then remind her that we aren’t married and enough is enough. I hang up.

De La comes out and they all perform the MTV standard, Award Tour. Mercifully it all ends without injury. My clique has put a hurtin on ’em.

After the gig, I checked into the Hudson Hotel. I’ve slept for five of the previous 48 hours. I need a rest.

…to be continued

shouts to Aphrodita, Dan Peisner, Carolyn and Jellybean Benitez, Barry Michael Cooper, Michael Gonzales and… The Wirk

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After about 2 hrs of sleep, Jayson Jackson appeard at my bungalow’s door at 6:00 am sharp. He was ready to make it to the airport, return the rental car and grab an 8:30 flt to Laguardia.

Experience has taught me that, Miami is not the most tolerant of cities. A lot of what was going on under Bautista in the ’50’s is going on 90 miles to the north right now.

To insure as little drama at the airport as possible, I slipped into a cream, linen, 3 button suit and a pair of brown, Louis lace ups. Protective armor for potentially unfriendly encounters.

My itinerary indicated that I was booked on the same flt as Jackson. To my suprise, the ticket agent informed me that I was actually booked on a flt to Kennedy.

This was cool except, I was supposed to meet an old friend. Former Def Jam, Jive and Columbia A & R exec, Faith Newman Orbach. She was flying in from Pittsburgh and expected to meet me at Laguardia not Kennedy.

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THE ILLMATIC CREW DJ PREMIERE, LARGE PROFESSOR, FAITH, NAS, Q-TIP, LES

Faith’s most important discovery and signing, Nas is on the bill again. His untitled release had dropped 2 weeks previously and entered Billboard’s top 200 album chart at no. 1. She originally discovered, the Illmatic one, A & R’d and dropped his first release in ’94. Faith has a bit of vision.

She and I go back to when cotton was king. We met at a triple platinum party for, Billy Ocean on a yacth rented for the evening by, Jive/Arista. I’ve kept up with her career ever since. I’ve got a bit of vision too.

I’m traveling without the benefit of a pda or celly. It’s a bit annoying to friends but it’s cool with me.

The Standard Miami has a tremendous pool scene but shitty internet access. I couldn’t get an e-mail out of the joint to save my life. Jackson’s pda isn’t getting through. Jackson and I split up and I ask him to pick me up at Kennedy. I’m about to have a crisis of Faith.

The flt is cramped and packed as tightly as the A Train at rush hour. I catch a power nap and get ready to view a bit of history.

We landed smoothly. The suit must be cool because Mos Def’s dj’s Rahman and Preservation are making extra sure that my luggage is straight and that they reach out for Jackson for me.

Jayson is outside in his blue, ’06 Porsche Cayenne turbo truck. I haven’t been on NY soil since Super Bowl Sunday ’07. It’s a gorgeous morning and WBLS’s Hal Jackson is playing Herbie Hancock and Bobby Womack classics from the ’70’s. We’re moving toward Jones Beach’s amphitheatre listening to funky soul music. NY is feeling right.

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THE COVER OF HERBIE HANCOCK’S THRUST

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BOBBY WOMACK

We need to get to the building with the quickness because every act on the bill has got friends, cousins, girls, and kids that need to get in. The guest list is over extended by hundreds.

As we pull up to the employee entrance it’s about noon. Mos Def’s mom, Umi is already in effect with a crew. Jackson’s a bit tense. He drops me off and proceeds to handle his biz.

I change into a pair of Timberland jeans and some shell toes. I run into Tribe security stalwart, Muhammad and he coments that I flipped it from “Wall street” to “125 street.”

Soon as I begin to get into the mix, I run into D prosper. Former G-Unit A & R exec and current manager to “The Chosen One”, Jay Electronica. D is looking “Prosperous” cleanly shaven and well presented. He’s got the look of someone who’s about to jumpoff.

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D PROSPER CLIENT JAY ELECTRONICA

As of this writing, his client, Electronica is the hottest unsigned act in the game. Kid’s from New Orleans with Brooklyn style swagger. Says he’s going to shake the game up and go indy. He’s an internet phenomenon and wildfire in Europe right now. Hot new, DJ Khalil produced, Canadian act, The New Royales is doing an ep with him. Stay tuned.

I make my way back stage and run into DJ Beverly Bond. A funky individual who’s holding down the 1 and 2’s for Dead Prez. Beverly is a former model, actress, dancer and personal trainer. She’s also a one time muse to new jack overlord, Andre Harrell.

Whle watching Beverly dance at a house party that he threw, Harrell came up with the idea for his buppy love, Halle Berry starrer, Strictly Business. Berry’s character was based on Beverly.

Her body has been invaded by hip hop and all the rest just doesn’t seem to matter as much as it used to. She’s working on a documentary idea about discriminatory practices in the hiring of dj’s.

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DJ BEVERLY BOND

Those of you in the NY metro area can hear her get down at the Hotel Rivington on Sunday afternoons. She’s the goods.

After a quick hello to Beverly, I posted up in the shade at a picnic table in the backstage area. I met a new friend, C-Line. An up and coming exec in the new game.

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C-LINE

While I was chilling, free style menace, Supa Nat makes his way over to make sure that It’s really me. He caused irreperable damage at, The New Music Seminar’s, Battle For World Supremacy. An incredible dj and mc batle that was one of the features of the old NY alternative/hip hop music conference.

It must have been about ’92 when he won. Atlantic scooped him up to a big deal but couldn’t quite help him figure him out how to harness that lethal rhyme style into hit jawns.

I liked him early. He remembers and gives me a friendly and warm hello. He’s the host for the tour.

I explain to C-Line my predicament with Faith and she’s kind enough to lend me her jack. I call Faith. No answer. I leave a message.

I catch Dead Prez’s set in the afternoon sun. To my pleasure, I find that it’s still “bigger than” Hip Hop.

Jackson has leased a production trailer for friends and family to chill in. The kind that movie stars are assigned on feature productions. He’s gotten one that would normally be appropriate for someone with billing above the title.

The trailer features a bed, couch, a dressing room, bathroom, fold up chairs, Westchester County’s Stew Leonard’s fried chicken, potato salad, sandwiches, fruit, cookies and a well stocked bar. As previously stated, Jackson takes his hedonistic pleasure seriously.

I’ve been given the duty of programming the music. I’m carrying two i-pods packed to the brim with more jazz, funk, soul, classic hip hop and dance cuts than is advisable.

One is a white 60 gig joint with 5,200 plus items from my own collection. The other, a 80 gig joint with about 4,200 jawns programmed as a gift from, The Ab.

I pop the white one in. Set it to a playlist that features ’80’s and ’70’ funk, dance and club classics. The stage is set.

Jackson’s staff is manning the trailer. Rock The Bells principal, Josh Boumel’s wife, Jonelle. is in the place to be and setting a festive tone from the jump. With a smile as big as the beach of her native Maui and shorts as brief as a single mixed for radio, she’s asking everbody what their name is and making sure that they have a drink.

I’m gassed because my favorite hip hop band of all time, Tribe is having their first NY appearance since a ’98 show in support of, The Love Movement.

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THE BEST EVER?

Rumors have been spreading that everybody is going first strike capability with the guest shots.

De La is planning to have Biz Markie come out and do, Just A Friend. They’ve already been giving shine to Black Sheep’s Dres so he can rock, The Choice Is Your’s.

Mos Def is bringing, Talib Kweli to revisit the Blackstar period but isn’t about to stop there. He’s threatening to add, The Ruler, Slick Rick to the show as well.

Nas is adding former battle advesary and label mate, Jay-Z to the proceedings.

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GOD’S SON & JIGGA

I’ve run into Eric Sermon and Parish of the legendary, EPMD. Shit is getting serious.

Meanwhile back at the disco trailer…it’s getting thick.

Visitors include; Mobb Deep A & R man, Scott Free and his wife Virgin Mobile exec, Gizelle Jacobs, independent, hip hop marketing genius, Marcus Logan. Former J Records execs, Jef Burroughs and Jane Morledge. Indian Vouge cover subject, Manjit Devgun, swimsuit designer, Sade Lythcott and rock ‘n roll scion, Zoe Kravitz.

Other visitors included; Umi, Q-Tip, Spank Rock, former Olympian, Ed Go Go Lovelace, Miguel Mojica, Corey Smyth and foul mouthed floacist, Amanda Blank.

I’ve been all over the joint. I caught a bit of, Spank Rock’s set at the developing stage. His cohort, Amanda Blank and he are working something new out.

It’s club music based on trashy internet standards. He’s got a jawn about Lindsay Lohan cavorting without her drawers. Vulgar as hell but I like it.

I’ve been back stage again and run into; Busta Rhymes, Prince Paul, noted culture and social critic, Joan Morgan, Raphael Saadiq co-manager, Sophia Chang and Brand Nubuian and House of Pain A & R, Dante Ross. New York is out in force for this one.

The sun is starting to set and after a long afternoon of eating, drinking and networking, I’m settling in to enjoy the show from the house.

…to be continued

Shouts to Faith Newman Orbach, The LA Posse, Phife Dog, Qiana Wallace and…The Wirk

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Nelly is here in Charlotte tonight. MySpace is webcasting his performance from the Neighborhood Theater.

LA video/tv vet, J. Kevin Swain is in town to direct and produce the show. He reached out for me and asked would I like to attend. It sounded appealing. I don’t know any of the MySpace crew and I haven’t hung out with Kevin in years.

I like Nelly. Country Grammar was an innovative joint. As pop records go, it had strong character, flavor and a point of view.

It’s Gettin Hot in Here was the pinnacle of my man Pharrell’s reign of terror on the charts. Nelly is fun. I chose not to go. I’m still nursing my severe case of Rock the Bells Fever.

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COUNTRY GRAMMARIAN

August 2nd, Miami’s Bayfront Amphitheatre provided the stage for a lineup from hip hop’s glorious golden age. Raekwon, Dead Prez, The Pharcyde, Rakim, Method Man, Redman (with special guest Noreaga) De La Soul, Mos Def, Nas and A Tribe Called Quest all put it down like Allen Carpet. This was where I first began to get flu like symptoms. The show was sick!

The sauna like, Miami in August conditions were unbearable. I sweat through my gear twice. Comparitvely speaking, backstage was mild.

I’ve been a looong time fan and supporter of De La. While serving as National Director of Promotion at Jive, I heard there first joint, Plug Tunning backed with the insane b side, Freedom Of Speak. I immediately knew they were up to something different.

I met them and became an ardent advocate for them in the fledgling NY hip hop community and the greater music industry.

At the time of their debut release, I was working Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince’s, Parents Just Don’t Understand at mainstrream radio and setting up a national marketing plan for, Blastmaster KRS-1’s, By Any Means Necessary, with it’s street anthems, My Philosophy and Jimmy at college radio and mix shows. I was busy but I could always hear something new.

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TURNTABLELIST JEFF TOWNES AND A FORMER MC

As a result, when I saw De La’s Plug 1/Posdonous, Plug 2/Trugoy and Plug 3/DJ Mase. It had the flavor of a reunion. 20 years ago they were all 18/19, bohemian and eccentric creative types.

Now they are no less creative but they are all family men approaching 40. Pos has three kids. Tru introduced me to his wife. Mase brought 3 children to meet me and a wife and informed me that his oldest son who was not present, has made him a grandfather. Whew.

On stage, mad mic technicians did their thing. Red and Meth performed as a tandem and crushed. Like their west coast, cannibis influenced counterparts, Cypress they did a show in praise of weed.

The hits played and in the middle of their set, Miami based, boricua bad boy, N.O.R.E. jumped on stage and did his Pharell produced heat rock, Nothin. The house crumbled.

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N.O.R.E.

Further near the top of the bill, God’s Son, Nas unveiled his new and more overtly political direction. Cautionary tales about Rupert Murcdoch’s ownership of Fox News and MySpace and the previous generation’s black leadership abounded. As always, when he got down to performing jawns from his ’94 classic, Illmatic, especially, The Q-Tip produced, One Love, he was mesmerizing.

New York character actor, Dominic Chianese played deposed don and James Gandolfini’s, Uncle Junior Soprano on the seminal HBO series. He is also remembered for a small but pivotal role that he played in Godfather II as, Johnny Ola, “Hyman Roth’s sicilian messenger boy.”

As I implied in the previous filing, Miami makes me think about Godfather II. So it was an odd coincidence when I ran into long time NY downtown scenester, club dj, doorman and occasional actor, Dominic Chianese Jr. as we bounced from the show. He wanted to know where the after party was. Funny, no matter how old you get, somebody thinks you know where it’s going down ’til the break of dawn.

Rumor had it that the crew was gathering at Club Nikki. I didn’t attend. I caught a late night cheese steak at Cheeseburger Baby, stopped by The Ab’s suite at The National for a minute and made my way back to The Standard.

It was approaching 3:300 am and I had to get up for an 8:30 am flight to The Apple. I needed a bit of sleep. The Rock The Bells tour was playing New York’s Jones Beach on the next day.

I was going to the birth place of hip hop to see an all day bill filled with NY icons. I wanted to catch that flight.

…to be continued

insideplaya

shouts to, Sade Lythcott, Giada, Manjit, Umi, Jane Morledge, Marcus Logan and…The Wirk

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I’ve got a cold, a chest cold. Some coughing along with a bit of sneezing. Had it for a couple of weeks now. I caught it while I was on the road for most of the previous month. I’m getting better thank you.

I’ve been on tour with friends. Old friends and new ones. Members of what was once fondly referred to as, the hip hop nation. They all gathered for a national assault and festival.

As a guest of headlining ATCQ frontman, Q-Tip and Mos Def and Spank Rock manager, Jayson Jackson, my intention was to catch the show in Miami and my home town of NY and then return to North Carolina.

The magic pull of funky beats, dope loops, mad flows, charismatic personalities and dynamic turntablists drew me to the west coast portion of the tour. You could say that I caught Rock the Bells fever.

I left Charlotte on August 1st. Flew into Miami, had dinner with hip hop epecurean and world class hedonist, Jackson at Joe’s Stone Crab. The place was quiet. Bush/Cheyney economic policy had the spot 3/4 empty.

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JOE’S

We did the fresh lobster cocktails, crab cakes, Stoli shots and the whole nine. A player walked by and dropped a Dominican Monte Cristo on the table. I was cool, as I’d already snipped the tip of a fresh Cuban Monte no. 2. It felt like the record business used to.

The Standard Miami was home base for the two nights I was in town. Away from the South Beach scene, it’s on Lincoln Rd. It’s all bungalows. Feels like the 50’s. You half expect Michael Corleone and Hyman Roth to be having breakfast there.

I got up early and made an appointment for a pedicure. Played the steam room and got my shvitz on. Caught breakfast and then found out what’s really good at The Standard.

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THE POOL AT THE STANDARD

There’s a huge pool there. Hidden on three sides by shrubs and ringed by the bungalows, it’s about the size of a collegiate football field. On one end there’s a communal hot tub and a waterfall like shower. The other end has a restaurant/bar that overlooks the bay. There’s a small docking slip for boats. Very cleanly designed sight lines. Cool spot.

The order of the day is euro style toplesness. Features tremendous diversity. Young ones, small ones, mature ones, enhanced ones, natural ones and so on. I had a turkey club and Midori colada for lunch and almost forgot my pedicure appointment. Thanks for the mammories. 🙂

It had been a long time since I’d been on a hip hop tour, an all day festival or faced the heat and humidity of a Miami evening, so I kept it low key. I saved my energy for the game.

…to be continued

insideplaya

mad shouts to Salaam Remi, Grand Master Dee, DJ Scratch, Rebecca, Noriega, Plug 3, Shaheen and…The Wirk

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