Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
There isn't a large pool of Grammy-winning songwriters born and raised in Hialeah. But there is a songwriter, producer, and artist who's made the big-time in the past year. Alexander Izquierdo, AKA Eskeerdo, got his foot through the door of the music industry in 2010 thanks to a knack for writing powerful songs. After penning hits for Big Sean, Rihanna, Meek Mill, Diddy, and Selena Gomez, the Cuban-American won two Grammys for his songwriting efforts and also started his own career as a rapper. In 2014, he assisted in crafting hits such as Kendrick Lamar's "The Blacker the Berry" and Justin Bieber's "The Feeling." But he still had the energy to debut his breakthrough single "For the City," which went on to become the Miami Heat's official anthem. Since then, he's made plenty of noise in the rap game via EPs such as Cuban Jesus and his latest single, "Bitta." And he's still writing for others. Over the past year, Eskeerdo has crafted records for the biggest pop stars on the Billboard charts. He's responsible for hits like Fifth Harmony's "Work From Home" and Charlie Puth's "Dangerously." He even flexed his skills behind the boards as a writer and producer of smash hits such as Jason DeRulo's "If It Ain't Love" and Meghan Trainor's "Thank You" featuring Rock City. It's clear this 29-year-old songwriter stands out.
Brendan Tobin is the hardest-working personality on Miami sports radio — and it's not even a close contest. In addition to his duties as producer of 790 the Ticket's morning show, Zaslow, Romberg, and Amber, he also hosts the station's 1- to-3 p.m. show alongside former NFL running back Leroy Hoard and jack-of-all-trades Brian London. Then, to top it all off, Tobin heads up a weekend MMA-centric gig called Fighter's Fury. Yet he isn't dialing it in. Through those countless hours of airtime, he consistently delivers a fun and knowledgeable vibe. Let's be honest: We need the brief respite of good sports chatter more than ever given the dumpster fire raging in global politics. Who really wants to tune into an angry host spouting off and battling irate callers for three hours? Miami wants a chance to laugh and maybe learn a little something about their favorite franchises. Tobin has this formula perfected. From his video and audio talents to his fake-call bits to his terrible yet somehow addictive Jay Ajayi impression, he'll keep you coming back for more.
Readers' choice: DJ Laz
Sports radio doesn't need to be so damn serious. Who needs endless hours of x's and o's or unending debates about who will start at left guard for the Dolphins discussed with all the gravity of the latest North Korean missile test? Besides, sports fans in 2017 have probably already spent hours upon hours ingesting enough of that kind of content on Twitter. Sports radio should be fun. It should feel like you're two IPAs deep at a sports bar, kicking it with a buddy, looking up at the TV, and hollering, "Can you believe how well Dion Waiters played this year?" When you tune into 560 WQAM's Hochman, Crowder, and Krantz, that's exactly what you'll get. Every weekday from 2 to 6 p.m., this show gives fans a fresh, fun, and informed take on the day's sports happenings. Veteran sports talker Marc Hochman is joined by sidekick Zach Krantz and former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder, and the three get on and argue good-naturedly like, well, buddies knocking back IPAs at the local watering hole. Pop open a local brew and join the conversation.
Full disclosure: Jim DeFede spent roughly a decade crafting brilliant investigative stories and weekly columns for New Times back in the Wild West days of the '90s, when Gianni Versace roamed Ocean Drive and Lincoln Road was still full of bohemians. But while DeFede has long left the ragtag world of alt-weekly malcontents behind, his reporting is sharper than ever. During last year's U.S. Senate race, he outed Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy as a fraud. Murphy, who was running to unseat incumbent Marco Rubio, had claimed to be a certified public accountant and a self-made small-business owner. But DeFede showed that neither of those claims was quite true and that Murphy had exaggerated his resumé to make himself seem like something more than just the son of a rich dude. The report caught national attention and potentially stopped voters from helping to elect a liar. Which ended up giving us six more years of Marco Rubio. Hey, all you can do is dig up the truth and hope for the best! DeFede has been doing just that longer and better than anyone else in town.
Most TV-news anchors are drab automatons, trapped in identical suits and dresses, stuck reading near-identical news about shootings, muggings, and dogs that can water-ski. WSVN's Belkys Nerey is a breath of fresh air. The Cuban-born, Florida International University-educated anchor eschews the teased-up TV hair for a simple pixie cut. She ditches the always-grave, forever-serious anchor voice for a Miami-accent-tinged reading style that — gasp! — actually has real human personality. This was a huge year for news in Miami, from the death of Fidel Castro to the election of Donald Trump, and Nerey was a constant, reassuring presence on the air no matter the subject. In fact, she even hosts a 30-minute cooking show called Bites With Belkys that injects some literal spice into the TV-news landscape.
Readers' choice: Belkys Nerey
Working as a weather forecaster in Miami is much more fun than in most American cities — and truth be told, the job is a more important one here than almost anywhere else. Every summer and fall, South Florida residents dash off a prayer and hope a vengeful God doesn't level the city with an epic tropical cyclone. And CBS 4's Craig Setzer is dedicated to making sure Miamians know every single twist, turn, and tendril that makes up each storm. Setzer is an unabashed weather nerd and an adrenaline-hunting storm-chaser, the sort of person willing to drive right into the middle of a tempest just to see nature's awesome power. But Setzer isn't just some plastic TV talking-head: He's an instructor at the National Hurricane Center, a guest lecturer at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS), and serves on the RSMAS Advisory Board for its Masters of Professional Sciences Program. Before moving to Miami, he spent his time chasing tornadoes. Now, he uses his mastery of weather science to — hopefully — prep the Magic City before the big one shows up again.
In a blatant attempt at a Friday-afternoon news dump, Miami-Dade State Attorney Kathy Fernandez Rundle quietly announced in March that no one would be punished for the death of Darren Rainey. Rundle couldn't keep the decision on the down-low, though. Condemnation soon exploded over the decision not to charge prison guards who'd locked Rainey, a schizophrenic man serving time for cocaine possession, in a steaming shower until he died on the floor, skin peeling off his body. But Rainey's grotesque death would never have been public knowledge without the work of Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown. In 2014, her front-page story about Rainey's agonizing last moments appalled readers, creating enough pressure that Rundle had to open an investigation. When Rundle's office inexplicably decided this past March not to press charges, Brown didn't back down. She followed up by obtaining thousands of pages of records, including, most striking, photos that showed the skin coming off Rainey's body. It was exactly the kind of hard-hitting reporting for which Brown is known. In more than a decade at the Herald, she has established a track record of exposing injustice, including suspicious prison deaths such as Rainey's and the now-infamous harassment of store clerk Earl Sampson, who was arrested by Miami Gardens cops at his workplace 258 times in four years. Brown's important work is journalism at its best, holding public officials accountable and giving a voice to the voiceless.
The world's cinephiles got a welcome reunion with their favorite Scottish ne'er-do-wells this year thanks to T2:Trainspotting, the long-awaited sequel to the iconic film about drugged-out Glaswegians. The film was also a wonderful reminder, though, that the man who created these colorful characters has made a winter home in South Beach for more than a decade. Though Irvine Welsh has stated in interviews that he's been loath to make the 305 his full-time residence — what with all the warm weather and cultural goings-on constantly distracting him from writing — Miami has been the place where he's recharged his batteries and done countless hours of people-watching as inspiration for his latest works chronicling fascinating mischief-makers. In recent years, Welsh has cranked out a novel a year, including 2014's The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins, 2015's A Decent Ride, and 2016's The Blade Artist. So all of that Dade County humidity must be doing something right for his creative juices.
The age of rogue bloggers making huge waves in the music and fashion worlds has, sadly, passed. But some independent Florida bloggers still have the social media heft to move the needle. And in the 305, one group of writers is changing the music scene while doing everything in its power to give Miami artists a voice online and in the streets. Meet Citrus Rap. Since its inception in 2015, the team of nearly a dozen writers has been repping tunes from top-charting natives and helping new artists make names for themselves. Citrus Rap has bolstered the rise of hometown icons such as Kodak Black, Pouya, Robb Banks, and Denzel Curry by spreading their talents to the blog's 27,500 combined followers on Twitter and Instagram. The well-crafted content ranges from interviews with Miami rappers and trending MCs like Post Malone to branded series such as Florida's Natural and The Juice. Though its specialty is music, Citrus Rap also boosts local fashion designers and their unique brands. Once festival season rolls around, Citrus Rap teams up with Rolling Loud and promotes local shows with headlining artists like Lil Pump, Wifisfuneral, Smokepurpp, XXXTentacion, and Ski Mask the Slump God. Miami is lucky to have such a thriving constellation of talent in our backyard — and we're equally lucky Citrus Rap is here to point us toward the next stars in the making.
Ask any Dade resident and they'll rattle off five problems with their hometown in a matter of seconds, but photographer Oasis Jae isn't here to focus on the negative. His timeline is filled with snapshots taken around Miami from unique angles that even longtime locals have never seen. Jae highlights the carrot-orange hue splattered among the clouds as the sun rises over the ocean in Miami Beach, and makes Metrorail look mighty as he catches a train car speeding through downtown. The gifted photographer can transform a flight of stairs inside Vizcaya Museum & Gardens into a work of art. His nearly 54,000 Instagram followers have taken notice. As a professional photographer for the University of Miami Hurricanes, Jae spends his days snapping sharp team photos on and off the field. But his Instagram page reflects his true passion for capturing the best of life in the 305. In his nighttime shots, a midnight-black sky is a striking backdrop for the crimson-red light beaming from the Freedom Tower. Oasis Jae can teach Miamians a thing or two about the true beauty of their metropolis.
Ana Navarro is a Republican strategist with a standing invitation on CNN, but it's her Twitter feed — in all of its Trump-bashing, MAGA-dismantling glory — that has rocketed the Miami resident to new levels of political fame. The Nicaraguan-American grew up idolizing Ronald Reagan and worked for Jeb Bush and John McCain. But horrified by the rise of the Donald, she became an early queen of the #NeverTrump handle. Now she spends hours every day striking out at the party hypocrites still backing the Cheeto Jesus, and she never pulls punches. When Newt Gingrich recently parroted Sean Hannity's insane conspiracy theories about a murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, she whacked him over the head with his wife's new gig as ambassador to the Holy See: "Good thing he'll have access to Vatican. Can squeeze in a confession & plea for absolution," she tweeted. When news leaked that Trump had called fired FBI head James Comey a "nut job" to the Russians, she tweeted, "Folks, Trump's best defense is dementia." And as the Donald's tweets have gotten ever more insane, she pulled from her Miami street cred to invent a new hashtag for the disaster-in-chief: #PresidentLoco. Got 'em!
Readers' choice: Billy Corben (@BillyCorben)
Parties: Fun. Finding party venues in Miami: Excruciating. Unless you want to get ripped off, you'll spend hours scouring reviews, mapping GPS sites, and making phone calls to check availability in this mecca of fiestas. Luckily, Villa Woodbine in Coconut Grove is a sure thing. Whether you're organizing a wedding, bar mitzvah, birthday party, or especially classy liquor-soaked soiree, Villa Woodbine provides a setting straight out of a high-budget rom-com — with a dash of Miami history worth the price (which varies depending upon how many guests you'll expect, though there's always a $3,000 deposit). Built in the 1930s as a winter retreat for a Wisconsin paper baron, the Mediterranean Renaissance building was designed by renowned architect Walter De Garmo, who peppered it with touches from Cuba such as handcrafted tiles shipped from the island. These days, the setting is bolstered by amazing catering and a pleasant staff. Woodbine isn't some warehouse for a rave; it's a place you'll make the kind of memories you want to hang onto for a lifetime.