South Beach by Wayne Lawrence


South Beach is probably best known as one of the most decadent entertainment destinations in the world, famous for it’s Art Deco architecture, beautiful people, world-class hotels, dining, and nightlife. Mythologized in films like Scarface and Miami Vice, it’s avenues and alleyways were once the stomping grounds of the “ccocaine cowboys” of the 1970s and 80s. South Beach over the past decade has also become infamous as the backdrop of Urban Beach Week, when thousands of inner city youth, celebrities, and young professionals descend upon the city during Memorial Day weekend in search of a good time and new connections. Urban Beach Week, considered the largest hip hop street fest in the world, remains one of the last festivals of it’s kind geared towards communities of color. Originally marketed as an arena for urban fashion designers FUBU to showcase their latest gear, this controversial event now attracts over 200,000 visitors, mostly from America’s inner cities, as well as a growing number of international tourists, transforming South Beach during Memorial Day weekend into a colorful showcase of popular culture. It’s important to note that South Beach with it’s tropical weather and storied history as a playground for the rich, is perhaps the only place in the whole United States where an event of this magnitude could be realized over Memorial Day Weekend. Wayne Lawrence

Also important is the fact that South Beach was once the seat of a billion dollar drug industry, which flooded America’s inner cities with tons of cocaine, devastating families while simultaneously creating instant wealth for many in these minority communities. The trauma that was inflicted on these neighborhoods, fueled by addiction and violence led to a drug culture where vanity and materialism have been paramount. In no other culture is this more reflected than in hip-hop, with the music video being the vehicle used to promote the flamboyant, aspirational lifestyle. Over the four-day weekend, South Beach is transformed into a frenzied atmosphere where the drama of hip-hop is played out on the city’s streets as hundreds of police stand on high alert. Local youth from Miami’s surrounding ghettos cruise the avenues in their candy painted cars blasting the latest rap, while thousands of college students, aspiring rappers, and entrepreneurs flaunt the latest fashion, exotic cars and other wares, navigating the streets in constant pursuit of the next connection. I personally find our communities’ ever increasing obsession with materiality quite disturbing, yet still I am attracted to the creativity and vigor that I’ve witnessed in South Beach during Memorial Day weekend. As an artist I believe that it is my responsibility to tell this story without prejudice. Wayne Lawrence


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