It’s a typical Saturday afternoon in Miami Beach. The sky is a bit overcast with pockets of sun peeking through the clouds every few minutes or so. All around scantily clad, plastic surgery altered beachgoers with towels in one hand and plastic cups in the other stumble around. In the six minutes I’ve had to wait for my ride, four cars have driven by with subwoofers pumping at noise-pollution-ticket worthy levels. Three cars were blasting Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen,” while a red drop top M5 had his Drake-assisted “My Way (Remix)” echoing from its speakers. A Matte Black Chevy Imapala pulls up to my hotel on 11th and Collins.
As I nervously open the rear passenger side door to get in, only half confident that this is the right vehicle because of the tinted windows, I’m greeted by the photographer, a Dade County native and today’s driver. There’s also a shadowy figure in the passenger seat. We exchange friendly “what’s ups” and pull off nearly missing a visibly intoxicated chick stumbling down the strip. We’re on our to way scout locations around the gentrifying Wynwood area and the infamous Lil Haiti section of Miami for VIBE’s cover shoot with Fetty Wap. As we exchange small talk and banter about the NBA playoffs, I ask the passenger if he’s from the 305.
“It’s me m*therf*cker,” I hear as a mountain of hair turns around so I can see his face and receive a proper dab. After nearly ten minutes of talking I’ve failed to realize one of my tour guides is Miami born and raised rapper/songwriter Eskeerdo, who has contributed to tracks by Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar, among other platinum artists. I’ve known him for some time now, so a sense of relief and ease flows through the car as we ride over the bridge out of South Beach. Within minutes of leaving the glamorous landscape of Florida’s beachside playground, the scenery becomes noticeably dilapidated. We ride over train tracks where a hipster burger joint, named Kush, now calls home. “A few years ago, you couldn’t even walk around here,” Eskeerdo says referring to the gentrification happening in Wynwood — which is more known as the arts district now.
We then hit a red light in front of a mural I’ve been planning to shoot several weeks prior to landing at Miami International from JFK. The color scheme, the imagery and messaging were perfect for Fetty Wap. But as I look up in both disbelief and shock, there’s now a cheesy auto body repair shop ad painted over the entire thing. I can feel my heart and excitement crumbling within while daggers of panic pierce my body. A few days earlier, I convinced VIBE’s Editor-In-Chief he needed to fly me out to Miami because I had found the perfect location — not because Club Liv and King Of Diamonds were going to be Lit that weekend.
I can hardly breathe at this point, but our shooter doesn’t seem the slightest bit fazed. “I got some other spots in mind,” says Derick G as he mashes the gas to make it through a yellow light. The quiet cameraman has called Dade County home for his entire existence and worked as a photographer/videographer for the likes of Rick Ross, Lil Wayne & Birdman and currently travels with Lebron James to document his every move. He takes me through some active traps in Overtown (Little Haiti) where small groups of fenced in Section 8 homes still look like Trick Daddy music videos from the 90s. Even in broad day light, you can spot hand to hand transactions and feel the poverty that unconsciously makes you double check if the car doors are locked when you stop at a traffic light.
However, after another few minutes we’re out of Little Haiti and colorful artwork replaces the project scenery. The junkies turn into young art lovers and tourists snapping pictures of the hundreds of outdoor paintings and murals splattered around the art district. There’s now yuppie coffee shops and high end designer boutiques all around us instead of run down markets. All of sudden I’m relieved to hear Derick talking about other shoot locations as he points out vibrant locations that look like they’ll be perfect for the task at hand.
After we lock in five exquisite shoot locations and head back to the comforts of Miami Beach, I put in call to Lauryn Hill’s tour DJ who graciously sends his most trusted weed delivery man to ease my stresses. I’m poolside now, feeling confident as my mind drifts into thoughts about the big day ahead. “I just hope Fetty shows up,” I think to myself.