Hip-hop and bling on the boardwalk

EVERYONE told us to leave town. Even the tourism board advised that spending this particular weekend in South Beach, Miami, ''wouldn't be representative of what the region has to offer''.

Which was intriguing, because South Beach isn't exactly renowned for its gentility. Take a stroll along its famous boardwalk and you can expect to encounter an eclectic cast of glistening, steroid-filled muscle men, blonde crop top-sporting rollerbladers, eye-wateringly flexible yoga devotees and pouting supermodel wannabes.

But this was no ordinary weekend. This was Memorial Day Weekend in May, when every year the country's biggest rap and hip-hop stars descend on South Beach for Urban Beach Week.

The festival started eight years ago as a small urban fashion event for a few hundred devotees but has quickly grown into the largest urban festival in the world.

Nowadays, the city braces itself for 350,000 visitors, most of whom are intent on having the most debauched week of their lives. Many Miami residents leave the city and I'd heard reports of Roman orgy-like street parties, gratuitous nakedness and all manner of shenanigans on the beach.

This was something I had to see. My brother and I checked into a hotel right on South Beach Boulevard so we had front-row seats for the carnival below.

Even at 4pm there was an endless procession of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and convertible Bentleys crawling past. Every car was crammed full of shade-wearing, bouncer-sized dudes slowly nodding their heads in time to the deafening beats thumping out from the car stereos.

Clearly this hip-hop business is the game to g et into.

By nightfall, the district had been transformed into one enormous outdoor street party. Every intersection was a writhing mass of gyrating girls in minuscule gold bikinis. Gigantic, shirtless, cigar-smoking man mountains strolled slowly up the footpath, gold chains resting on pecs the size of cushions.

A constant traffic jam of the most outrageously pimped-up cars

edged its way through a cacophony of shrieks, whistles and thumping bass notes.

Within a minute of leaving our hotel, we realised that we were somewhat out of place. For a start, we were white. Second, we were dressed like Crockett and Tubbs from Miami Vice (when in Rome …). Third, our English accents made us sound as if we'd just stepped off the croquet pitch at Eton.

It could have been intimidating. But it wasn't.

We didn't see any trouble - no fights, no scuffles. Sure, there were people who'd had a few too many pina coladas but nothing you wouldn't see in Kings Cross on a Saturday night.

People teased us mercilessly about our pastel blazers but it was good-natured and we got a memorable array of pictures of us posing next to some of the meanest, most muscle-bound, gold-toothed mo-fos I've ever seen.

I'm not a big fan of rap or hip-hop and have no affinity with the culture that surrounds it.

But I wouldn't have missed that weekend for the world.

- Sun-Herald

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