Sunday, February 03, 2002


Percy Miller Holds Court at the Mardi Gras

Friday, February 1

5:00a.m. - It does not begin well. I've slept about 2 hours, give or take a few fitful moments of tossing and turning. It must be my own personal Murphy's Law that the more important it is for me to go to sleep early, the more restless I am. If I actually believed that over-the-counter sleep aids would help, I would have popped a few pills but I've been down that road with little avail. I should have gotten to bed at 9pm the previous night, just so I could get the requisite 8 hours, but I confess - I was up until 10pm, reading through Deborah Copaken Kogan's Shutterbabe (a good, quick read). But then I spent the next five hours, lying in bed, trying to will myself unconscious, which, of course, is an impossible task. At 3am, I finally drift off only to be awakened two hours later by my clock radio. Oh well. It's time to quickly consume a bowl of Kellogg's Smart Start cereal. That's breakfast.
sockin' the soy to you

5:22am - I run into my first set-back. I should know better - I should know that I need to pack EVERYTHING the night before because I'll never remember everything I need to in the morning. But I leave home and am already on the freeway and I realize - damn! - no headphones. As a music journalist, armed with a MD recorder plus a stack full of CDs, this is almost as stupid (but not quite) as leaving my planet ticket at home. Exit freeway, make a U-turn, go home. I choose between my lightweight, ear-bud phones and my Sony V700 studio monitors. The ear-buds win. As more time goes on, I try to pack less and less and I just don't need the earmuff earphones this time around. Back to the freeway.

5:50am - I'm rolling through the airport, backpack slung over my shoulder, my blue Rawkus record bag converted into a makeshift overnighter. I hit Oakland Airport's notorious security checkpoint. Don't get me wrong - I love Oakland Int'l - I try to fly out of here whenever possible because SFO's just a headache and a half. But Oakland just can't efficiently accomodate the number of travelers who need to get through the four security gates and I stall at the back, thanking god I brought the morning paper so I'll have something to read. (Note to self: Italian For Beginners gets good review. Remember to view ).
crush, kill, destroy, stress

10:30am - Stopover in Denver. Lunch is an Auntie Anne's Sour Cream and Onion pretzel.

2:20pm - I arrive at New Orleans Int'l, and notice that, yes indeed, it's both Mardi Gras and the Superbowl. The latter is evidenced by this burly, 200 lb. guy rocking a Patriots jersey and a shock blue hair dye job. The former is obvious as passenger after passenger disembarks with gaudy, colorful beads strewn over their necks. It's on.

2:25pm - Hey, peep - New Orleans is one of those airports that's replaced the now ubiquitous National Guardsmen/weekend warriors with U.S. Army soldiers instead. The plus side is that their crisp, black berets make them look more professional, more on-the-job. The downside is that their modest, standard issue sidearm just lacks the big, imposing quality of the National Guard's M16.
dressed to kill

2:27pm - I admire the mural in the airport dedicated to New Orleans' jazz heritage. Then I notice the walking Coors Light Bottle, handing out fliers. I assidiously avoid contact with giant beer bottle.

[Pause]: Oh yeah, I haven't exactly mentioned why I'm in the Big Easy, two days before theSuperbowl and a week into Mardi Gras. I've been flown out here to do a cover story on Master P and his son, Lil' Romeo for The Source Magazine. I have a little over 24 hours to interview the two of them plus as many secondaries as I can get in and then fly home and whip out 3,000 wods by Monday morning

jazz thing

4:10pm - I'm on the road towards downtown New Orleans from the Airport Hilton where I'm staying. I tune into 93.3 FM, where it's a "Master P Weekend!" and listen to what could almost be a New No Limit greatest hits anthology. I also notice that 93.3 is clearly yet another Clear Channel station as evidenced by the same ubiquitous announcer who does radio IDs for all the Clear Channel stations. Corporate radio in the house!

6:00pm - I'm in the massive New Orleans Convention Center, after taking half an hour to sweet-talk my way past staff (note to self: next time, make sure magazine provides press credential). I catch up with Master P and entourage at the 106 and Park booth. When P leaves with Romeo at his side, they're instantly mobbed and trailed by fans, many of whom are teens or younger. Clearly, Romeo is hot with the kid crowd.

First Impressions: Percy Miller is very good with crowds and his public persona is extremely affable - for the rest of the day that I trail him, he signs autographs, takes pictures and never acts like a miva (male diva) despite the fact that, with a net worth a little under half a billion dollars, he could easily afford to put on some airs. But there he is, taking snapshots with members of the Southern University Marching Band still loitering in the parking lot.

Romeo - The cover for his recent, self-titled album, clearly looks like it's been airbrushed - his face is just a little too perfect, even for a 12 year old. Then I meet him in person and realize - no, that's pretty much what he looks like. I can see why he has a lot of female fans - Romeo's a very cute 12 year old and with his corn row braids, he's got that bad boy, thuggish yet oh-so-cute melange going for him. Like his father, he's very good with crowds, signing autographs and taking photos with fans.
baby phat

Silkk the Shocker - Tall, lanky, obviously several years younger than P, Silkk is more reserved, even seeming a little shy compared to P. A good looking guy for certain though, with a baby face set on top of a 6'+ frame. He stops and signs a fan's t-shirt (won't that guy have to wash that at some point?).

6:15pm - I'm in my first ever police escort - ok, let me amend that. I'm in my first police escort that is not part of a funeral caravan. Apparently, when P rolls into town for a public appearance (he lives an hour away in Baton Rogue), New Orleans' finest provide security services for him. But the escort thing is pretty off the proverbial chain. We're literally carving our way through traffic, a bunch of SUVs rolling big dog style through downtown N.O.

I'm hitching a ride with Greg Lyons, Master P's executive assistant and maternal uncle. Four years ago, Greg was running a limo company in Houston. Today, he is the gatekeeper and sh-tcatcher for Percy. This guy's almost always on his two-way or cell phone but his cell phone charger is having problems and he's low on battery juice. Not good.

6:30 - We arrive for a pitstop at the Doubletree Hotel where a few members of the entourage are staying. Some people recognize Master P, mostly black folk - noticeably, none of the white guests have a clue to who he is. I watch this group of old white ladies, their silver hair perfectly coiffed, standing in sleek mink and stole jackets as this entourage of braided black men, in P. Miller collection jump suits and sporting iced-out No Limit medallions cruise by. Only in N.O. Only for Mardi Gras. Or so I think.

7:40pm - The P Caravan is back on the streets, police handling the way. We're driving down Canal Street, according to Greg, the widest "street" in the world (what makes a street a street and not a boulevard?), down the median aisle which is not even supposed to be open to traffic. Suddenly, we come to a stop along Canal and I'm trying to figure out why. Oh - pit stop at the Foot Locker across the street. We're literally stopping to buy atheletic clothing and shoes. Silkk, P and Romeo go in to be warmly greeted by staff (one suspects this has happened before). A gaggle of New Orleans' cops stand outside as security, some wearing big grins on their face, others notably less enthusiastic, at least outwardly so. Anyways, P and company make a quick pillage, buy their goods and we're on the road again.
I'm a nike head, I wear chains that excite the Feds

8:10pm - We arrive at the Unversity of New Orleans where Jermaine Dupri is hosting a celebrity basketball game as part of the pre-Superbowl festivities. Included on the two teams are a bunch of NFL players (though obviously, no one from the Patriots or Rams) including Terrell Owens of the S.F. 49ers (who is both cheered and jeered). Silkk and Romeo both play on the "White Team" while Dupri is on the "Blue" (Note: Dupri is short. I mean, really short.) Master P was originally supposed to play but ends up coaching the White Team instead. He, Silkk and Romeo get, by far, the loudest cheers of anyone here.

Before the game kicks off, he helps Romeo as ball boy as his son takes perimeter Js. It's actually a nice moment to watch - father and son more or less oblivious to what's going on around them, as if this were some playground blacktop.

P and Romeo play catch

8:40pm - Romeo can ball. Sure, his opponents, most of whom are taller by at least three feet and 100 pounds, aren't playing him as heavy as they could. But his ball handling and shot skills are still good despite his size. I watch and he effortless scores a layup off a fast break, then, on another run, slices through two defenders and finger rolls another basket in. Then he drills a three. They he dishes out a nice looking alley-oop. (Unfortunately, his second half isn't as good - no points, and at least two or three turnovers)
faster than the camera's eye

8:50pm- Halftime. Dinner is a ReeseSticks candy bar. I take some time to look around the gym - there's probably about 300-400 people here - not a full house by any means, but a decent crowd. I, much not to my surprise, seem to be the only Asian. I briefly marvel at this demographic disparity and finish the rest of my dinner.
poor man's power bar

9:10pm - Everybody in the stands get onto their feet, the first time it's happened during the game and I realize - they're not watching the game, they're looking at who just walked in the door. At first, I here one nearby girl say, "it's Wu-Tang!" but when I look closer, it's most definitely not the Wu and most definitely is Snoop Dogg, joined by Daz Dillinger, his uncle Junebug and some other cats I don't immediately recognize. Snoop and parts of his entourage are fully pimped-out in fur coats and caps and one cat has this massive green fur combo going with bling-bling rings flashing across his fingers. I learn later that this is the Bishop San Juan - Detroit's pimp du jour who was featured in the Hughes Bros. documentary, American Pimp.

9:40pm - The game's been out for about 10 minuts and I've come to the irrevocable conclusion that I've been left behind. When the game ended, P and crew blew out of there with a quickness and I wasn't quick enough to follow. I though maybe they were still in the locker room but security informs me that they've already taken off. Doh! I'm standing there, feeling the cold creep in and wondering just how the hell I'm supposed to make it back to downtown N.O. where my car is parked. This is not good.

Greg's my pointman but he's unreachable for the time being and when I do speak with him later, he says he assumed that I had caught a cab back but he never called me to check to begin with. Not that he had to mind you - only that, in other situations, this would never have happened. It all depends on that crucial question of how much do you need the artist and how much do they need you.

10:20pm - My ride - finally arranged through Greg - arrives. His name is Vernon Haynes and he's a five year veteran of the New Orleans Police Dept, and a homicide detective to boot. But tonight, he's working security as part of an after-hours job and he take the slow route back to downtown. Vernon is friendly and talkative and I actually get the best interview of the day thus far out of him. He tells me that Sylvester Stallone asks that his security staff not make eye contact with him and when I ask who's been the worst to deal with, he doesn't hesitate at all, mentioning a well known R&B diva. I won't mention her by name but let's just say she's been in the news a lot lately because of drug charges and other gossip-fodder material. Among the nicest folks Vernon's had to work with? He likes Percy a lot and we spend a good deal of time talking about P, Romeo and other members of the fam. But Vernon also really likes Mary J. Blige. Not only does she not cop any attitude, apparently, the last time she was here, she asked Vernon to take her out for some good gumbo and local nightclubs where I'm sure she turned quite a few heads.
Vernon to the rescue

12:30am - I interview Silkk the Shocker while he and his buddy watch Road Trip. We manage not to let the t.v. distract us too much until the scene where whashisname gets his prostate milked. Everybody falls into silence for about two minutes and then we get back to business. It's a good interview - not extraordinary - but good and I dig on Silkk's energy. He's definitely low key compared to his older brother but not aloof either.
silkk, strictly for the ladies

1:45am - I sit down and enjoy my first real meal of the day: a Denny's Superbird turkey sandwich with no cheese, served on grilled sourdough with a side of sesaoned fries.

A word about the joys of grilled bread: When I was still in high school, I spent the summer as a line cook at Magic Mountain, an amusement park located about an hour north of downtown Los Angeles. It was, by all reasonable criteria, the worst job I ever worked, stuck with this meglomaniac supervisor who was no more than a year or two older but let his assistant manager position go straight to his petty head.

mmmmm...grilled bread

BUT, I did learn how to grill bread on the griddle in order to make a killer patty melt. To put it simply, grilling your bread in a little bit of melted butter or even just vegetable oil transforms most sandwiches into pleasure palaces of grease-soaked goodness. Because what you're essentially doing is turning bread into one big french fry. Tasty.

2:35am - I get ready for sleep, but have been distracted by Vegas After Dark which opens with a Kenny G. wannabe wailing on the sax while scantiliy clad women encourage viewers to call their 24 hour "chat" lines. Ah, ain't hotel cable grand? The day, finally, ends.

Saturday, February 2

12:40pm - I finally get my interview with Percy, after two hours of waiting in my room and another half hour in the lobby. We go into the hotel's gym which is vacant at first but then people come in to actually work out, including a star-struck white teen who finally manages to figure out this, damn, it's f*ckin' Master P standing next to the Nautilus! Anyways, it's a good interview, not drop dead amazing - P doesn't reveal dark secrets that will make me look like investigative music journalist of the year - but he's media savvy, knows how to market himself and his label and talks in concise but informative sound bites - a writer's best friend. Romeo, who looked fairly modest yesterday, wanders in fully tricked-out - his hair is blown back like the Bride of Frakenstein, he's wearing cuban links of platinum around his neck and to really top it all off, Chanel sunglasses, complete with the logo sticked on the corner in tiny rhinestones.

1:20pm - I interview Romeo in the car as we ride across town. I'll say this much - he's not so much mature as he's not immature. This is not like a Haley Joel Osmond, who sounds like a 24 year old trapped in a body half that age. Romeo is very well versed in sound bites too - he talks like a knowing star already, making sure I know that he "wants to thank all my fans for their support". And every other sentence out of his mouth is, "it's fun". So no, he's not wise or brilliant beyond his age, but for a 12 year old, he seems to have his sh*t together fairly well and if you remember what it was like to be a 12 year old boy - let alone a ridiculously famous and rich 12 year old - then Romeo is as impressive as he needs to be. We talk a little about video games - he likes NBA Street for the PS2, as do I, and he plays with the Lakers, as do I. I wonder if I can take him? His created player is only 6'4" (curiously, the same, supposed height as dad) and mine is over a foot taller. Maybe next time, I'll bring a memory card and challenge him.

1:40pm - We stop off at a make-shift bakery/sno-cone booth where P and Romeo school the neophytes on "king cake". The young, white woman working behind the booth is clearly shook - she has no idea who these people are, why there's a dozen people gathered around the booth and why there's a photographer with a video camera filming the whole proceedings. But anyways, "king cake" - a colorful, circular cake that contains a small plastic baby baked into it. Well, at least they used to have the babies baked into them - these days, they're on the outside, as to avoid any potentially fatal choking incidents. But the deal is this: you get the piece with the baby in it, you have to buy the next cake BUT you're guaranteed good fortune in the upcoming year.
kings of cake

2:00pm - We travel over to catch an actual, factual Mardi Gras parade. There are actually two different parades following each other - the first is led by the Krewe of Druids, the second, the Krewe of Centurians (word - for a Mardi Gras virgin, the whole concept of two weeks full of themed-parades is pretty damn cool). I'm not going to bother rehasing the whole Mardi Gras parade experience since I'd only be the billionth writer to try. Suffice to say, beads are involved, sometimes breasts, though this parade is set in a nice, family-laden suburb, not Bourbon Street, and there will be no cleavage bartered for beads this afternoon.
duck and cover

What is worth noting is that this parade makes fully clear that Master P is a superstar in his home town, something that I've only seen on television before - the kind of sh*t that Michael Jordan gets or Michael Jackson used to. Standing alongside the parade route, not only were P and Romeo mobbed by all the parade revelerrs - off all ethnicities and ages - but the parade participants joined in too. I watched many marching bands literally distingrate their formations in order to scream, yell and run when they see P.
mob deep

This was especially evident with the female drill and flag teams - one girl would spot P, scream like he was the fifth, black Beatle - this would lead everyone else on the team to point and scream and soon, there's a swarm of uniformed teenage girls swarming him while the band moms are furiously trying to restore order to the ensuing chaos. I've never seen this kind of adulation before in person and while I'm sure it gets old quickly, it's fairly extraordinary. I can only think of a handful of people who could inspire this kind of reaction in any situation and that list is pretty damn small.

My favorite anecdote though comes during the Krewe of Centurians parade. It's the G.W. Carver Marching Band, and they are, god bless their hearts, playing the melody of Outkast's "Whole World" (another song so brilliant that it embarasses me that the rest of hip-hop isn't remotely up to par). The bandleader spots P and quickly passes word down the line. Within a minute - allowing time for a quick photo opp with P and Romeo - the band swings into a rendition of "Ohhhhweee". If that isn't just dandy fly enough, band players down the line - who couldn't make out the commotion from up front, realize why they're playing the song as they march past Master P, grinning ear to ear and his anthem blares away. Priceless.

P and company also stop off at the Subway across the street, which prompts one interloping customer to incredulously remark, "Damn, Master P eats at Subway?" No doubt, Master P keeps it real.

8:49pm - I should have started my transcribing of the various interviews I've had this weekend, especially since I'm on a 3+ hour flight back to Oakland and I've got nothing better to do (especially since I've already finished reading Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, another great, quick, non-fiction). But I hate doing transcription. It's the worst part of a writer's job...ok, maybe that's not completely true. Enduring a long, cumbersome editing process by passive-aggressive editors is actually the worst part of the job, but transcription comes in a close second. It's long, tedious and frustrating especially when ambient or outside noise manages to obscure that ONE word you really need to hear or at least think you do.

I'm really praying for the day that voice recognition software achieves human-like intelligence because it'd sure make my job a helluva lot easier. Or better yet, they should just let writers do what we've always essentially done in the editing process: invent quotes. I mean, these days, most artists are so predictable in what they say, it doesn't NOT make sense to just invent the quotes. I know a big writer, two years back, got into trouble for doing this for European magazines, but really, who'd notice? For real, the proper way a writer should work is to write the entire interview, send it to the artist for approval and a few touch ups, and voila! I'm joking (sort of), but there's got to be a better way. Like making all interviews happen over email.

10:45pm - I'm home in Oakland. I get back to my apartment, open my mail, pop in my MD and start transcribing. No rest for the wicked.