A hotbed for partying, beautiful people and debaucherous decadence, Miami has produced numerous hip-hop stars over the past three decades. Spearheaded by the 305’s unofficial mayor Luther Campbell (aka Uncle Luke) and the 2 Live Crew, Campbell ushered in the career of Trick Daddy whose label Slip-N-Slide Records was the catalyst for the city’s present lynchpin figure Rick Ross.
Miami’s storied history begins with the innovation of ’80s bass music, as lesser known acts like DJ Uncle Al and Poison Clan gained local notoriety. Since then, an assortment of characters have represented a number of demographics and enclaves, with key figures from this generation like the recently deceased XXXTentacion creating distinct styles and sounds of their own.
A major Southern metropolis that’s never been viewed in the same regard as Atlanta, Miami continues to break the mold for creativity within rap. Below, read about some of the most dynamic releases to come out of MIA.
Without so much as a clue of the precedent they were setting, 2 Live Crew (comprised of DJ Mr. Mixx, rappers Brother Marquis and Fresh Kid Ice and lead hype-man personality Luther Campbell) changed the course of Miami’s music scene and hip-hop altogether. Inspired by the likes of raunchy blaxploitation character Dolemite, their groundbreaking third album As Nasty As They Wanna Be was a major breakthrough, chock full of Dr. Seuss-style lascivious rhymes for adults.
Taking simplistic approaches with regard to production, in 1989 2 Live Crew’s cringeworthy vulgarity appealed to society’s sexual revolution in the wake of pivotal moments like Prince’s rise to stardom and Eddie Murphy’s explicit stand-up routines. While Marquis sporadically proved himself capable of reeling it in, the group was ultimately marketed and pegged as a shock-and-awe based one-trick pony thanks to the hit success of “Me So Horny” and Campbell (who took on the stage name Uncle Luke), whose trademark vulgar chants eventually set the stage for his success as a solo act. What was meant to be harmless locker room style fun ruffled feathers with the U.S. court system, with their next release Banned In The U.S.A. earning the esteemed privilege of the RIAA’s first parental advisory sticker.
An offshoot of the 2 Live Crew, Poison Clan’s comparably hardened approach to women often walked the line of outright misogyny. The group’s line-up would rotate over the years, but its original cast consisted of Debonaire and JT Money, who would go on to find solo success with his 1999 single “Who Dat.” With the assistance of DJ Mr. Mixx’s turntable magic again, the duo’s 1990 debut 2 Low Life Muthas could have been considered Miami’s answer to NWA.
Though they were crass, their creativity was never confined to gender warring. “Spoiled Rotten” attempted to one-up Special Ed’s golden age classic “I Got It Made” with ridiculously lavish boasts like “I used to own a acre, now I own Jamaica,” “Jeri Curl” took comedic jabs at the once popular urban hairstyle and “Poison Freestyle” expressly put New York on notice that their rapping wasn’t to be taken lightly.
The victim of a 2001 murder, DJ Uncle Al was known locally as a lead innovator of his creative performance trade. Competing like any other DJ to get his crowd hype, his energetic routines were carried by his voice from the start to end of each song. Making himself the center of attention, on 1993’s What’s My Name? his rapid fire scratching techniques took a back seat to his energetic personality and chants for everything from dance instructions to shouting out popular colleges.
Provided Miami bass was more of a regional sound that never fully crossed over into the mainstream, Uncle Al was more of a local sensation who never got greater recognition as a pioneer. PSA’s like “Peace In Da House” and “Just Say No To Drugs” proved he had his mind set on more than partying, while “#1 DJ” had him actually rapping about his career and prowess with women.
First gaining national spotlight on Luke’s “Scarred,” Trick Daddy’s Miami takeover closed out the last millennium in the wake of New Orleans’ No Limit reign, just around the time the city’s Cash Money clique began gaining traction. Hailing from the disenfranchised Liberty City area, his tales of struggle and strife on www.thug.com took notes from precedents set by the likes of 2Pac, Scarface and the aforementioned No Limit chief Master P.
Reporting on his daily reality from street warfare to custodial issues with his child’s mother, Trick Daddy’s outlook could easily be taken for glorification of the savagery that stems from suffering through hopelessness. In turn, a classic battle of the sexes ensued on “Nann Nigga” as the proud philanderer went head up exchanging trash talk with Trina who proceeded to become the next star from his label Slip-N-Slide Records.
Making the most of the South’s stranglehold on rap culture, Trina became the region’s lead female rap act and a self-contained entity apart from her affiliation with her stylistic counterpart Trick Daddy. Somewhat akin to Miami’s version of Lil Kim, she thrived as a symbol of pride and empowerment for young women below the Mason-Dixon line.
A complete turning point for hip-hop feminism at the start of a new century, Trina’s 2000 debut Da Baddest Bitch placed premiums on the merits of self-confidence, lavish materialism and putting patriarchy in its rightful place. The title track was an audacious independent statement on sexual liberation, while the follow-up single “Pull Over” was an outright celebration of her posterior that similarly curvy women couldn’t help but flock to. In control of her own image and power, Trina wound up setting the stage for Florida’s Khia and Jacki-O to follow in her rambunctious footsteps.
Blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, Rick Ross restored excitement within Miami’s scene before his voice was fully developed. While no one could have predicted a controversial career trajectory that included a maintained relevance a decade later, with 2006’s Port Of Miami he spoke affluence into existence, the beginning of an ongoing process where he’s mastered his own fate.
As a former correctional officer (a field he’s caught considerable flak and backlash for working in), Ross’ visions of a high-ranking position within criminal enterprise are mostly received as a product of artistic license. Fortunately for him, the charisma shown on this debut LP only increased over consecutive releases, this being enough to silence critics and naysayers altogether. In fact, moments like claiming ties to Manuel Noriega on his first single “Hustlin” and its remix featuring JAY Z and Jeezy only cemented his star power early on.
Believed by some to have stolen the show from superstar Kendrick Lamar twice (on Lamar’s “Cartoons & Cereal” and Maybach Music Group’s “Power Circle” posse cut), Gunplay is a powder keg who never quite fully capitalized on his 15 minutes of fame. While his 2015 retail debut Living Legend was the culmination of years of determination, the cartoonish spectacle he creates comes with the sense that he welcomes danger as if it were a spectre following him.
Having earned his stage name from literal activity, Gunplay was perhaps the closest hip-hop came to a modern-day Ol’ Dirty Bastard when you consider both parties’ outlandish behavior tied to drug use. Having grown up poor, his addiction to criminal life ultimately wasn’t conducive to entertainment business success, no matter how technically gifted and magnetic his presence was. Generally averse to industry shenanigans, all-star appearances from Rick Ross on “Be Like Me” and YG on the potential club hit “Wuzhanindoe” didn’t translate well enough to ever score him another major release.
Considered among the leaders of Miami’s underground, Denzel Curry has made music since being a high schooler as a part of SpaceGhostPurrp’s Raider Klan. Diligently working toward improving his craft, after the group disbanded his talent proceeded to blossom with 2013’s Nostalgic 64. Released to much critical acclaim, the album put him on display as the complete package: a prodigy who mastered the technical aspects of rapping while showing sharp lyrical ability.
While he’s too multifaceted to be labeled a “conscious” rapper, his observations urged society in the way of civic responsibility with streaks of activism as the album spoke on the plight of his schoolmate Trayvon Martin. Though he’s creatively advanced at age 23, other releases like 2016’s Imperial would show he’s well immersed in the drill/trap sounds responsible for hyperactive mosh pit shoving matches. Pushing the envelope while growing musically, Curry appears to have no creative ceiling.
In less than a decade’s time, SpaceGhostPurrp has gained low-level notoriety for a number of things: he created the once internet-renowned Raider Klan, had close ties to New York’s A$AP Mob at a point, innovated his own sound of throwback macabre rap working with web-centric acts like Lil Ugly Mane and developed a reputation for social media antics.
A collection of reworked material released by U.K. label 4AD, 2012’s Mysterious Phonk was full of dark free-spirited deviance not limited to samples of moaning women, a likely predecessor for the rise of Atlanta’s similarly minded Awful Records crew. More of a rebellious nuisance than an actual threat, Purrp’s methods were ahead of his time but he didn’t sustain ongoing public interest despite his ability to manipulate the internet at his will. That aside, he remains a reminder of the brief window where talent matched online clout.
Hailing from Los Angeles by way of New York and Philadelphia, Jesse Fairfax has written about music for a number of online publications since 2004.