Business is Booming

Jose Armada, Jr., has built his own empire from the spine-rattling, ass-shaking success of bass music.

Allapattah is an unlikely place to find a kingdom. A mostly industrial landscape dotted with paint-chipped garages, dingy warehouses, and an endless line of pawn shops and used-car lots, the north Miami neighborhood bears the distinctive marks of urban blight, and it wears them with neither shame nor pride. It is in this scuffed-up working-class community that music entrepreneur Jose Armada, Jr., has built a music-business empire, on a dusty patch of NW 24th Street, surrounded by lumberyards and scrap-metal graveyards and a lived-in bar called Los Laureles del Rio. This is where Joey Boy Records has sat for the past twelve years, a nondescript beige building flanked on one side by the General Metals Corporation, on the other by the Caribbean Records Manufacturing Corporation, the pressing plant owned by Armada's father, Jose Sr.

From a ramshackle office just barely big enough to house a desk, some file cabinets, and a constantly humming computer printer, Armada oversees operations of the label, one of the city's most successful and aggressive marketers of a strain of hip-hop-based dance music that is usually referred to as bass. The walls of these tight quarters are adorned with framed photos of Joey Boy artists such as DJ Uncle Al, as well as plaque-mounted reproductions of Joey Boy album cover art, the majority of which feature shots of tight, round female asses surrounded by gigantic speakers -- visual reminders that, because of its rump-shaking propensities, bass is also known in some quarters as booty music.

Even if you don't know bass from bebop, you've probably heard Armada's product, or at least happened across the booming bass product released by similar labels throughout Florida and the U.S., such as Pandisc, Neurodisc, So-Lo jAM, and NewTown. Most likely, you've felt its shock waves in traffic or while tangled in the exhaust-laden knot of weekend CocoWalk gridlock, where it booms from tricked-up Jeeps and hot-waxed low-riders. The monstrous throb rattles the pavement and the windows of every vehicle, apartment, and house within its formidable sonic reach. For the uninitiated, bass sounds something like this: Imagine your average rap track -- say, Dr. Dre's "Nuthin' but a G Thing" -- stripped of its vocal, melody line, musical samples, and sound collages. Basically, stripped of everything but the computerized beat that holds it all together. Now imagine that beat multitracked and recorded at an eardrum-busting level that makes it rumble like a waking Godzilla foraging for breakfast -- a beat so thick and dense it can blow out speakers with just the slightest boost of the volume knob. Finally, imagine that beat sped up to such a rhythmic frenzy that only the most hyperactive set of snake hips can follow it. That, pretty much, is the bedrock of bass. Occasionally you'll have some vocals thrown in, usually a chant concerned with doing the nasty. Mostly, though, bass is about bass. Lots of bass.

"Once you get used to hearing bass, the rest of the music just sounds weak," explains Armada, a stocky Cuban-born man of 36, dressed on this boiling early summer afternoon in businessman casual -- gray trousers and blue striped button-down shirt, his brown hair slicked back into a short ponytail. From the cramped quarters of his office (which, he announces -- with equal amounts of relief, pride, and apology -- is in the process of being expanded and remodeled), Armada offers a crash course in bass history. The music is an offshoot product of rap's nascent era and is rooted in the early Eighties electronic hip-hop innovations of producers such as Afrika Bambaataa, whose thumping, throbbing 1982 hit "Planet Rock" is a cornerstone of the bass legacy. "The people just wanted more bass in the music," he continues. "All they wanted was that bass. They got used to it, and then other guys added more bass to it to make it sound bigger and better, and it just caught on. It was like a drug. They had to have that bass. And that's what I've been giving them."

Although the Joey Boy catalogue currently bulges with bass releases -- by local, regional, and national acts such as Half Pint, Bass Patrol, and Miami Boyz, among others -- the label wasn't always a low-frequency boom mecca. Joey Boy's first release was actually a reggae record by a now-forgotten group named Rock Five, a single from 1984 named "Ooh Means I Love You," that arrived just as rap and hip-hop were making inroads into the pop charts via New York ensembles such as Run-D.M.C. Before Joey Boy's debut, though, Armada was enrolled at Miami-Dade Community College, taking night courses in photography, studio production, and electronics while working days as a vinyl cutter at his father's record plant. "I was about ready to quit the record business. As soon as I graduated, I was going to leave," Armada recalls. "I was getting my hands all cut up at the plant -- cutting vinyl can be dangerous -- and I was studying different things at school. I just didn't see a future in the music business for me. Of course, at the time I didn't know how much money could be made in it."

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