DERRICK (the beginning)
Sumthin' new. Shhh, don't tell nobody...
Georgia Avenue was jumping per usual this time of night. Hell, like any time of the night on a Friday in July. This was the Nation's Capital after all.
Horns were blaring at people who couldn't drive and people risked their lives to cross four lanes of traffic to get to their choice of vice for the evening.
Women were being cat called, eye fucked and propositioned with new millennium After 7 promises. All while they moved from bar to loft party and back again. Some of them were just out for a good time to start the weekend off. Others, actually were looking for the sun, the moon, the rain, the stars and the mountains.
Silly, ready or not headasses.
A symphony of sounds filled the night air as though it were being directed by a conductor. As did the mixture of various strands of weed that emanated from cars and groups of guys posted on various corners.
The Ritzer neighborhood in northwest DC, had somehow found a sweet spot that natives in metropolitan cities from coast to coast had not been able to figure out. How to stave off full-blown gentrification and still welcome new money into the area. It sat between the historic Petworth neighborhood and a ten block stretch of new condos, grotesquely modernized row homes, a Whole Foods and Trader Joe's…
And a got damn Anthropologie for heaven's sake. The pièce de résistance to the newly created North Georgia development, which was given the cringe filled nickname of NoGa by its planners.
But the Ritzer was different. It looked and felt like both 70s and early 2000s DC. Pristine and maintained, with smart updates where it made sense.
Houses still looked like homes. A few new restaurants and coffee shops looked like they actually belonged in the neighborhood. And the taxpayers, in a sixty-five thirty-five split, still looked like the essence of Chocolate City.
In the middle of it all sat The BlackBerry, a bar and lounge that had been around since the 1920s.
BB's as the natives called it, was one of the few places in the city where you could order a 'dark & stormy', get a shot of Clase Azul and order a southern fried stamped catfish basket all in one sitting. There were no vegan alternatives found in these hallowed walls, but you could find whatever else you wanted as soon as you slid inside of its tight opening. All original construction still existed on the exterior.
Once you made it all the way in however, you never wanted to leave. The smells, the feel, possibilities and overall vibe, BB's had a way of wrapping itself around you. Ensuring you that a memorable night was on the horizon.
Originally founded as the lone black blues club alternative away from DC's famed U Street corridor, music still played a heavy role in its appeal. Sunday's were reserved for live music from two until close. Saturday nights were for reggae and dancehall.
Friday nights however were for hip-hop and r&b from eleven to three in the morning. BB's pulled in people from all over the city on Fridays, partly because of their amazing drink specials. But mostly because their DJ sets and the setting were legendary.
People didn't go to BB's on Friday night's to stand around. It was a throwback destination that existed before social media. Before people went out to strictly show how much they LIKE to go out. When you went to BB's, you were going to sweat.
The alcohol, tight fit of the space and what barely passed as a ventilation system assured that. And the music. Only the best up and coming DJ's in DC, Maryland and Virginia were able to book slots there. And with the way the place was constructed, a good night there could catapult you to big three mixshow status, so they always brought their A game.
"Ey, you heard from Dub yet?"
"Yeah he just hit me," said a man sitting on a stool without looking up. "Said he was looking for parking."
With his back to a brick wall, Derrick Carter watched the door, periodically scanning the room for trouble that wasn't coming. Blame it on the way he was raised or recent drama that was working diligently to become a thing. Either way, he only knew one way to be.
On the other side of the highboy table was Prentice Logan, his eyes locked on his iPhone as usual. Fingers moving furiously across the screen, tapping and sliding up and down, with one airpod in.
"Ey listen to what I just sent you," he said, putting his phone and airpod away.
Derrick lifted his off the table. His eyes still trained on the door. Mindlessly he tapped his screen bringing it to life. Then tapped on the file that had been air dropped to him.
A tune from a melodic harp strummed it's way against his ear drum, causing his face to scrunch up. The DJ in BB's, started his set with an ear splitting remix of Fabolous' early 2000's hit Breathe, that filled the quickly filling up space with a thumping energy.
Distracted, Derrick pulled his second airpod out and stuck it in his ear, turning his attention to lines in the polished wood table top.
Boooogie Niiiights...oh oh ohhhh
Boooogie Niiiights...oh oh ohhhh
The reverb that bounced back and forth between his ears from a track labeled Heatwave, slowed in bpm and started to loop. Then the words, Boogie Nights, slowed to a thick, cold molasses dripping speed as they seemed to repeat, over and over again. Each new repetition chopping its way into the last.
When Derrick looked up he saw Prentice staring at a tall white woman with a rainbow colored asymmetrical. She was dancing in the middle of a group of equally tall white women, but Rainbow Brite was different. It didn't take long for him to figure out P's infatuation.
The woman was put together.
Shaking his head, Derrick turned to his left and saw Dub standing at the end of the table. He had no clue when the man arrived but was glad that he was finally there.
Beer in hand, the short man with the menacing scowl had taken over the sentry duties for the night, allowing Derrick to go back to what he was doing with a renewed focus.
Starting the track over, hazel colored eyes locked in on a single spot on the table. The harp played, words rang out, then they slowed down. When the chopped and screwed syncopation started, the tip of his tongue touched the inner edge of his bottom lip. A familiar snare and bass kick was dropped on top of the beat.
Suddenly, he knew what was coming next and a wave of energy rushed through him in anticipation.
What followed was a violent drum cadence and a familiar voice. His voice. One that he mouthed along with as he heard it.
Derrick looked in Prentice 'Wolf' Logan's direction and grinned, but it wasn't returned. Wolf had finally gotten hold of Rainbow Brite and was in the middle of a crush of people on the dance floor.
"Ey killa," Dub said, breaking his focus and handing him a drink. "It's your usual."
Holding the drink close to the mini lantern on the table, Derrick checked the color before holding the glass up in the air towards a slender Moroccan man with smiling eyes. When their gazes met, the man behind the bar steepled his hands and bowed with a toothy grin in return.
"Everything good LV...uh, Derrick?" Dub asked. He took a prolonged look at the door, then at their immediate surroundings before turning his body to the side. "Wolf, said you seemed a little on edge."
One of the rotating lights from the DJ booth threw a ray of green across the front of both men. The room was red light lit, and the smoke machine was doing its job. Creating just enough of a haze in the air to give the space an old school real smoke filled room vibe.
When the light passed, the red hue once again took over, causing Derrick's hazel colored eyes to hold an eerie hypnotic glow.
Dub turned fully to face the man who he was taller than currently, because of the other man's being seated on a stool.
"Drone sent some shots my way in a track he dropped from his new tape today."
"And?" Dub's tone was flat but clear over the loud thumping music. "We need to go talk to somebody? Because you know BB's is free and clear. Ain't shit happening in here."
In the late 80's on the heels of the crack epidemic, there was a negotiation between the two biggest rival factions in the city, both from uptown, and the larger than life famed college basketball coach who was a king in the city.
The stretch of Georgia Avenue directly around BB's was to be an all clear zone. No violence, no feuding drug traffic, nothing. Three plus decades later, that understanding was still in place.
Save for the occasional petty disagreement, mainly involving an outsider who didn’t know any better, there was no real drama in and around BB's.
A young worker with a towel thrown over his shoulder walked over to the highboy section of the main level, with a small metal device attached to a big ring. With an extended fist from the other side of the table, he dapped up Dub before being waved off to the next table. He proceeded to fold down every other table in the section.
Instantly the crowd that was already close to one another on the main dance floor, spilled over into this new section. On cue, a dancehall set was transitioned into and everyone that had been dancing, got closer and far more familiar with a person in front or behind them.
Instinctively Dub drew a little closer to Derrick, who noticed this, but said nothing.
Though three years older than he and Prentice, Dub was fiercely loyal to Derrick and had been for the last five years.
A former boxer and grandson to a famed local area coach, Dub grew up on Georgia Avenue. His family, existing on both sides of those warring factions from uptown in the '80s. Despite the fact that he had the talent and opportunity to become the next great athlete from the area, the allure from the streets was too much to deny.
Strangely enough, it was his meeting Derrick at a basketball tournament down at the Farms, that helped slow down the path he was on. The way the hazel eyed teen carried himself and was able to get men ten years his senior to hang on his every word on the court, resonated with him.
People knew Dub.
Strangers gravitated towards Lil' Var.
"Nah, I'm tripping," Derrick said, attempting to put his friend’s mind at ease.
He wasn't afraid of Drone, the man that let loose the subliminal lines at him earlier in the day. But Prentice was partly right. It wasn't so much that he was on edge, as his antennae were just up.
No, what he was afraid of, was how Dub would respond if he didn't make it clear no action was needed. Those hands were rated E for everybody and he had unquestioned one hitter quitter power. The last thing he wanted was his boy getting in trouble over what was nothing. At least right now anyway.
"Everything is good my guy," he said. Double tapping a high five with Dub that ended in a quick string of choreographed finger locks, that ended in a clasped handshake.
It was 11:57 PM now, and Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley was riding through the last verse of his iconic Welcome to Jamrock. All throughout the space you could see two fingers being thrust into the air in a riddim that could only be produced by the essence of reggae.
When the song should have been ending it looped back around, repeating the hook.
The DJ scratched the record and played the hook again. Then repeated the same move two more times.
On the third scratch and pass a new voice came through the speakers. A discernible, raspy baritone on beat sang…
Out in the streets, they call it murder-der
The crowd erupted. The DJ sensing he had them right where he wanted, spun the record backwards, then let it go again.
Out in the streets, they call it murder-der
Fucking with me, it's gon' be murder-der
I am DC, Derrick dot Carter-ter
No wan test me, I'm not your father-ther
...black dress for your mother-ther...sister and brother-ther
The volume in the space was palpable now, reaching a feverish pitch when the DJ cut the vocal so the crowd could recite the I am DC line. He could have cut the track entirely from that point forward, because the crowd save for the out of towners in between these walls were locked in.
Welcome to My Block was a year old now, but it had been a big hit in clubs and with mix show DJ's up and down I-95 for the last six months. There were thousands of people that knew the song, that had no clue who the artist was.
But the DJ's knew.
The urban radio program managers in and around DC, knew.
The labels were starting to take notice.
And the haters in the area were sharpening their pitchforks, readying an all out assault on the reluctant new king of the city.
Derrick Carter, was officially up next.
But right now, all he cared about was soaking up this moment in relative obscurity.