People who live outside Miami view South Beach as a hedonist party Mecca. Locals who’ve been swindled time and time again know it as more of a Ponzi scheme. You exchange money for the prospect of good times down the road. The more people that pay to get into the club, the better the party. Except there’s never really any return on investment: the drinks are watered down, the patrons are usually standoffish, and on the wrong night it can be a lonely and hostile environment. Most locals avoid the scene altogether in favor of more budget-friendly options. The strangest thing about South Beach club culture that people in other cities may not realize is that most people don’t dance. Either they aimlessly stand and look around, or spend all their money to sit down and drink a bottle. There’s always a surreal feeling of disconnection in one of these clubs, because for all of the hype there’s the simple fact that nobody wants to be bothered.
The point being that if I wanted to go out somewhere for a romantic Valentine’s day party or event, a Miami Beach party is the last place I would think to go. If I wanted to have a birthday party in a place that would distract me from the inexorable march of time, I wouldn’t even think about it. Cam’ron, however, did not feel this way, because Cam’ron does not think and act like you and I do. On Saturday, I saw a flyer advertising that the Purple Haze rapper was spending his 38th birthday party at Dream, a club with a reputation for mostly being fake and overpriced. He’d be there with Alshon Jeffery, a wide receiver for the Chicago Bears with a reputation for making ridiculous catches and Tweeting his appreciation for God—a combination that seemed dredged up from the darkest, most cynical part of a club promoter’s how-to manual. The flier prominently displayed their names and faces without exactly stating what they’d be doing—whether Cam would doing a set, whether Jeffery would be running some short routes to show off, or whether they’d stay on the other side of the invisible partition dividing “you” and “us” at every club.At the very least, it seemed intriguing. Appearances are the nadir of South Beach club culture. Performers or celebrities show up to a Hotel or Club at a random time, stand around and do absolutely nothing that has to do with their talents and get paid an exorbitant sum. Promoters are the snakeoil salesmen of the whole operation who make a lot of promises without fulfilling them. Generally, a promoter will come up to you on the beach or on the street and tell you he can get you into a club for free. When you get to the front door, you will be asked to buy an astronomically priced bottle or you won’t be able to get in. The flier claimed that anyone who called the promotional number listed would receive complimentary admission, which sounded too good to be true. I called up the promoter and he told me to text him with my information; if I showed up before 12:30AM, I would only get charged the twenty dollar dick tax. Women would get in free all night. I asked him a few questions.
“So…is Cam’ron actually going to perform tonight?”“Of course.”“What time do you think he’s going to get on stage?”“Probably around two.“Great! So I’m on the guest list? When I show up I’ll text you and you’ll help me get in?”“Yeah dog, you’re good.”I was now in with the club promoter! I was even his dog! Optimism eroded my pervasive negativity toward beach clubbing. When I arrived just before midnight, I figured I’d be promptly inside. I confidently mentioned to the platoon of bouncers that I was on the guest list and therefore I should gain entry. They halted me and told me to call the promoter. The promoter never answered. I felt betrayed. I wasn’t his dog at all. I would have to wait it out and hope for the best. In the meantime, the fleet of doormen and bouncers and hostesses would be letting in ‘important guests’ and ‘friends of the promoters.’ Ten minutes later, twelve energetic black women got in line behind me. As we waited and watched for activity, the bouncers proceeded to pull young, attractive white girls off the street and into the VIP line.There seemed to be no end in sight to the people who’d get in before us..Kayra, the lady next to me, was not having any of it and figured she’d get in by berating the oversized, bearded bouncer.It started off rather innocently. “You think you Rick Ross? I don’t have to deal with this shit at Cameo. They just keepin’ us out here to make this empty ass place look busy. We bein’ embarrassed.” After forty or so minutes of non-movement on the non-VIP side, Kayra started to really dig in. “You about to have your face slapped the fuck out you! You Rick Ross beard havin ass motherfucker!” she proclaimed, shortly before her group left for greener pastures.
After waiting an hour and a half, I gave up and finally pleaded to the doorman that I was in the press and needed to write about the show. He looked at me like I was do gshit and told me to just go in. When I reached the cashier, I was asked to pay a fee for being late. It would be sixty bucks. I explained that I had patiently waited to get in quite a bit before 12:30. They allowed me the privilege of paying the early bird price of thirty dollars.
The inside set up looked expensive and the dizzying show of light, sound, and pole dancers strewn about at seemingly arbitrary locations was an image that wouldn’t be out of place in a Gaspar Noé film. The central area of the club contained the bulk of the patrons and—gasp—the big star of the night. The Dipset general was decked out in chains and a cape—quickly becoming his signature fashion statement, much like his gigantic pink and purple furs of yore—standing just out of reach amidst a flood of handlers and bouncers. Girls were funneled in two or three at a time, handed shots, and allowed to take pictures with him. However, it was VIP only. How does one become a very important person? The only option is to get a table. One bottle for every four people. The lowest bottles run for $325 (plus tax and tip) with more expensive ones going upwards of $800.There was another worrying problem. Despite the high number of patrons in the VIP-area, nobody was dancing. So what the fuck was I supposed to do until Killa went on the stage? There was barely anyone outside the exclusive layer of promoters, thirst-mongers, and club guests. I was going to have to make friends.
I found a short, built man named Mike smoking a clove cigarette who seemed slightly irritated to talk to me. I asked him why he was there tonight of all nights.“Why am I here…I don’t even know…” he said with a sigh and a shrug. He shook his head and continued, “My boy is the promoter. And why else do people come to these things? Girls, right?”“But aren’t you here for Cam’ron?”“Cam’ron’s here?”He looked genuinely confused, but continued to suck on his clove without much change in his demeanor.I tried talking to Terrence, who had a good foot on me and swayed with a stoned gaze.“Why am I here? Because I’m a fucking man!” He grabbed my hand for shake and squeezed painfully tight. He would not let go for the extent of our conversation. When I mentioned the prospect of Cam’ron performing, Terrence stared at me incredulously.“Cam is a legend! He released his dopest shit in ‘96. But he ain’t gonna perform. That fucker’s out of the game, what we like to call ‘on hiatus’.” I pretended to not know the meaning of the word hiatus as he explained the concept to me. “If I didn’t come here tonight, I wouldn’t meet someone as inspired as you. You seem like you really care about your job. I’ll show you how we do.” Terrence walked away and danced by himself five feet from me. That made me feel a little better about myself but I was left worried that Cam would not be performing.I spotted a club photographer, Fernando, who seemed focused and comfortable in the empty aisles. Perhaps he would know the ins and outs of the night. He assured me that every Saturday night a celebrity performs at the club. Tonight would be a fantastic party, because it was one of the stops on Cam’ron’s comeback tour. I just had to be patient.
Alaura and Ezequiel were the only people in the aisles I found dancing. Ezequiel claimed to be on leave from the “Navy Rescue Team” to visit his hometown sweetheart for Valentine’s Day, which elicited a chuckle from Alaura. I couldn’t figure out if he was full of shit or not but I liked the romantic tale. Neither of them knew about Cam’ron being at the club. Ezequiel left Alaura with me. Alaura, a blue-eyed and petite woman softly put her hand on my cheek and spoke to me about how she knew this producer that knew that promoter that got her in. A pole dancer jiggled her ass right behind Alaura’s head. I noticed Ezequiel going up to other women and immediately telling them he was on break from the Navy, and only for a night.
Cam’ron then stepped on a podium in the middle of the VIP area and stood there while another member of his entourage removed his shirt, revealing a tank top. The friend proceeded to take selfies next to Cam’ron. Women and promoters intermittently joined him on the stage to get their twitter-ready shots. Over the din, the stocky DJ kept on hyping up the crowd by steadily reminding everyone how elite their company was. “We got a lot of niggas tonight poppin a lot of bottles! Where my rich niggas at? There is so much fucking money in this building!”Nobody handed Cam a mic. People stood in the VIP area watching as others took photos with his friend. Finally, he was escorted from that area to another tinier VIP area where he quietly stood for two hours. He hung in the back and played with his phone. He was behind two other rows of people and they were all standing still. It looked like they were being forced to take a high-school class photo.
Looking at Cam during his birthday party reminded me of how I felt at my bar mitzvah. It was supposed to be a celebration, and yet I couldn’t help feel forced and resigned to be there. I couldn’t blame him. Appearances are work. Cam’s birthday was February 4th, which means other clubs in other cities probably also paid him to come hang out and pretend it was his birthday party. Perhaps he was tired of celebrating turning 38, night after night, for money. There was nothing for him to do. Nobody danced, and everyone around Cam’ron was basically paid to be there or didn’t give a shit about him being there at all.I ran into Verie, who I met and abandoned in line for the club. She criticized me for leaving her alone at the beginning of the night. Her friendliness gave me a sense of comfort, and I felt I found someone who could accompany my pitifully lonely ass through the rest of the night. I asked her why she came to the club. She said she came down from West Palm Beach to celebrate her sister’s 25th birthday; she wanted to go to Cameo but her sister lost her ID and they had to find a place that would let her in. She lamented the lack of dancing, fun, or general happiness that she found at other clubs. “I would never be treated in West Palm Beach the way I was treated here! I used to party with Lil Wayne! Why the fuck is nobody dancing?! They ain’t let me in because I ain’t as beautiful as I used to be. But they let in all those white girls.”Verie was beautiful, and absolutely lit. She told me the story of her sister losing her ID and how she used to hang out with Wayne about four or five times. She drunkenly started grinding on me, and I felt guilty—because of the girlfriend I’d left at home (she’d known better than to accompany me), but mostly because we were getting sucked into the same vacuous exercise we’d just talked about hating. By this point, it was obvious that Cam was never going to perform. With the promoters beginning to kick people out just before 4AM, I decided to call it a night. On my way out I noticed Ezequiel and Alaura were dancing together again. I felt like I was missing something.I didn’t understand what anyone would get out of the event—it seemed like people just slinging money at a wall hoping to get noticed by the people being paid to be there. In Miami, people make the amount of money spent at clubs a point of pride. Lebron James’ one-hundred thousand dollar night at Club Liv is the stuff of legend down here. It makes sense that the club experience and Valentine’s Day would go hand-in-hand, as they’re both emblematic of the need to fit in using empty gestures. Couples throw money and forced gifts at each other and tell themselves that they are being romantic. Clubbers spend money on drinks and events so they can officially have fun and be at the top party. If I wasn’t having any fun, I could only imagine how Cam felt.Photos by —find more of his work at City Never SleepsJonathan Peltz left the party without grabbing somebody, because peer pressure doesn't scare him. Reach him at