Florida Rap History
“When hip-hop was coming of age in the ’80s, Florida was famous for one sound…booty music.”
Florida is hot! Okay, not exactly a news flash on The Weather Channel. But musicwise, the Gunshine State’s current climate has less to do with its proximity to the equator and more to do with the wide variety of hits emanating from within its borders. From kingpin coke rap (Rick Ross’s “The Boss”) and club-bumping party starters (Flo Rida’s “Low”) to raunchy bedroom talk (Trina’s “Look Back at Me”) and thug-love cavalier poetry (Plies’s “Bust It Baby”), hip-hop’s current place to be finds strength in its diversity.
This wasn’t always the case. When hip-hop was coming of age in the ’80s, Florida was famous for one sound, and one sound only: the combination of frantic tempo, heavy 808 beats and sexed-up lyrics known as Miami bass, or booty music.
Like hip-hop itself in the Bronx, Miami bass had its beginnings in outdoor dance parties. Celebrated DJ crews like Jam Pony Express and Ghetto Style DJ’s would set up in neighborhood parks and play for hours. Albert “Uncle Al” Moss, a DJ from Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, came to dominate the scene with his penchant for “ridin’ out”—shouting a series of rhythmic dance instructions to the crowd—while the beat rocked. “Back then, it was the DJ that was doing raps off the top of his head,” explains DJ Irie, the official DJ for the NBA’s Miami Heat. “And the patrons would try their best to do dances on what the DJ said.”
Despite the regional popularity of acts like Gucci Crew II and Clay D, it wasn’t until Luther “Luke Skyywalker” Campbell, of Ghetto Style DJ’s, joined a transplanted California rap group named 2 Live Crew that Miami’s sound achieved nationwide notoriety. Armed with trunk-rattling beats and explicit tracks like “Throw the ‘D’” and “We Want Some Pussy,” 2 Live Crew’s 1986 debut album, The 2 Live Crew Is What We Are, sold an impressive 500,000 copies. “Luke was the one to take the whole ridin’ out movement and put organization to it,” says Irie. “Let’s still keep that heavy bass line. Let’s still keep the BPMs. But let’s make records. Let’s have hooks and verses and make great songs.”
2 Live Crew’s great songs made them stars in the hood, but their naughty lyrics made them targets for the government. In June 1990, a Broward County District Court ruled the material on the their third album, As Nasty As They Wanna Be, to be obscene. Record-store owners were arrested for selling it. 2 Live Crew were arrested for performing it. The decision was overturned in 1992, and, of course, the controversy only fueled sales. Nasty sold two million copies, with Campbell’s own Luke Records the beneficiary.
Another Luke Records act, JT Money’s Poison Clan, scored with 1992’s dance smash “Shake Whatcha Mama Gave Ya.” And in the mid-’90s, Orlando producers Jay Ski and C.C. Lemonhead kept FLA at the forefront of urban music with a modernized strain of bass called rhythm and quad, epitomized by 95 South’s “Whoot, There It Is” and 69 Boyz’ “Tootsee Roll.” But in 1996, Campbell would again dictate the future of Florida rap—this time on his single “Scarred,” with the introduction of a gutter-voiced guest MC by the name of Trick Daddy Dollars. Dropping the “Dollars,” Trick went on to popularize Dade County’s gangsta lifestyle with singles like “Nann Nigga,” “Shut Up” and “I’m a Thug.” He sold millions and set the stage for a generation of harder artists, like Rick Ross and Plies. “Everyone had mad respect for Trick,” says Irie. “He was one of the first to really take advantage of the spotlight he had from the bass records and use it to captivate the audiences with his hood records.”
Today, Florida’s got the spotlight thanks to an expanded array of rap characters. But without its booty-bass origins, it would have never made its mark on hip-hop’s map. “The West Coast had their own thing, the East Coast was the birthplace of hip-hop and Atlanta had their sound,” says DJ Irie. “It’s not like every city has a musical movement… For Miami to have a sound that we birthed, it was a very proud thing.”
For more on the Miami hip-hop scene, including interviews with Rick Ross and Trick Daddy, the ten Florida MCs on the rise, and our report on rap across the U.S.A., check out XXL’s July 2008 issue on sale now.