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A guide to must-see artists at the Best of the Best concert

Machel MontanoEXPAND
Machel Montano

Thousands of musicians, celebrities, and party people have flooded Miami Memorial Day Weekends over the years, and the Best of the Best concert has become the unofficial crowning event. Even before the music sounds early on Sunday afternoon, an official welcome party will be held Friday night at Opium at the Seminole Hard Rock. There will be a pool party on Saturday at the Deauville Beach Resort, an afterparty Sunday night at Mia at Biscayne, and yet another afterparty Monday night at Mansion. (Check out our clubs directory for complete listings of Memorial Day events and satellite parties.)

Still, it's the concert itself that's the main attraction, where live performances rule. While Best of the Best began as a virtually all-dancehall event, in recent years it's morphed into a more globally urban lineup, with American hip-hop stars sharing the stage with the legends of the Caribbean. Here's a guide to some of the can't-miss artists set to perform. For complete preview coverage of the concert, visit Crossfade, Miami New Times' music blog, at blogs.miaminewtimes.com/crossfade.

Machel Montano

This 30-something singer holds it down for Trinidad this bill, one of the few artists here to represent soca. Still, if anyone has a shot at bringing the Caribbean over into the mainstream, it's Montano. While he's been recording and releasing albums since his teen years, recently he's focused on collaborating with artists from other genres to expand soca's reach. His latter-day discs have seen him teaming up with the likes of Collie Buddz, Shaggy, Buju Banton, and even Lil Jon and Pitbull. In fact, in his quest for global dominance, Montano recently decamped to Los Angeles. A new full-length, tentatively titled Album 34, is due out this year.

Cocoa Tea

Born Calvin George Scott, Cocoa Tea hails from Kingston and carries on the island's reggae tradition. The early/mid-'80s saw him flirting with early dancehall stylings on chilled-out songs like "I Lost My Sonia" and "Too Young." But when dancehall veered into more aggressive, hip-hop-influenced territory, Cocoa Tea stayed put, and these days sounds almost rootsy in comparison to the latest of the dancehall crop. Most recently, he gained some Internet notoriety for his 2008 song "Barack Obama," which repeated the now-president's name over and over again in a maddeningly catchy melody.

Mr. Vegas

One of the biggest stars of current urban Jamaican music, Mr. Vegas was among young artists leading the charge in the '90s to take dancehall in a more American-influenced direction. His smash hits fused sparse riddims with plenty of hip-hop swagger and R&B melodic flavor, and his recent synth-heavy singles could blend seamlessly into commercial party-music radio. While he briefly announced a retirement from music in 2008, that came to a relatively quick end, and his latest single, "Gallis/Sassa Step," is fomenting its own dance craze.

Baby Cham

While he tried to grow up and become just Cham, he'll perhaps forever be known to fans as "Baby Cham." It's a sign of affection, though, because even though his studio albums are few and far between, Cham remains a popular live performer. He also makes his bones as a frequent crossover guest star on other peoples' songs, lacing tracks for people like DJ Khaled and Mario. Still, it's been four years since his sophomore album (which came six years after his debut), so hopefully, his set at Best of the Best will reveal some new material.

Serani

This 27-year-old's 2008 single "No Games," with its sped-up, hiccuping beat and indelible chorus, was everywhere that year. A debut album of the same name followed in 2009, but since then, he's been working to prove he's no one-hit wonder. Newer songs like "When It's Cold," "Naked," and "Romance" center on the same R&B-style beats and syrupy melodies, aiming squarely at the females.

Lady Saw

Since the mid-'80s, Lady Saw has represented for the females in the highly male-driven world of dancehall. And throughout her career, she's racked up a lot of firsts. She was the number one female dancehall artist to headline major genre events outside of Jamaica, the first to win a Grammy, and the first to go triple platinum. Saw has accomplished much of this thanks to her outspoken talk. While her male peers have usually taken to macho posturing, Saw's own perspective is decidedly female, and often, frankly sexual. It's not all bawdy pillow talk, though — her songs have duly railed against mistreatment of women, and even advocated for safe sex.

Capleton

The mere mention of Capleton anywhere fans the Internet flames, as the reggae legend has been accused, on and off, of homophobia — or, rather, for refusing to cosign on various anti-homophobia efforts in Caribbean music. His defenders, however, claim that he's moved past all that and instead these days prefer to focus on his Rasta religion. Fans who missed the Bob Marley Movement Caribbean Festival this past February will be glad for this appearance, his second in Miami in just a few months.

Barrington Levy

Barrington Levy has had two musical lives, it seems, in the past few decades. There was his first one, as a wildly popular singer of reggae and a splash of early dancehall, a career which began in the '70s and netted him hits like "Collie Weed" and "Under Mi Sensi." His second musical life, though, has come about mostly in the form of samples. Levy's unmistakable tenor and his penchant for scatting along the words "skiddly-widdly-whoooaaa" have made him a favorite of producers of hip-hop and electronic music. These days, he records new material somewhat sporadically, but unlike many of his peers, he seems to be plugged in to the latest of the web. Just check Levy's active Twitter account; he big-ups Best of the Best itself there pretty regularly.

Rick Ross and Magazeen

Rick Ross needs little introduction in this town, but what's curious is that he's billed here alongside a new protégé. Meet Magazeen, a Miami-based dancehall artist who's a new signing to Ross's own label, Maybach Music. You may have heard him on a remix to Ross's single "Here I Am," and the two recently collaborated on an original track, "Rich off Cocaine." Unsurprisingly, Magazeen has also teamed up with Ross cohorts Triple C's, and the rest of his tracks continue to straddle the dancehall/hip-hop borders.

Nicki Minaj

Hip-hop's Barbie princess may be most recognized for her outrageous curves, her outspoken bisexuality, and of course her slightly squeaky-voiced verse on the Young Money smash "Bedrock." But what most ignore about this heiress to the Lil Kim throne is that behind all the girly-overdrive flash, this 25-year-old can actually rap. While she's still readying her debut studio album, a number of street-level mixtapes show off her skills, full of spitfire girl-power braggadocio and a Weezy-worthy selection of alien beats.

Gucci Mane

Welcome back, Gucci Mane. The Alabama-born, Atlanta-based trap rapper's songs are full of street swagger and sordid tales, and his latest series of personal misfortunes back it all up as reality. While he finally scored a major deal with Warner Bros. last year, his celebration period would be short-lived. Late last year, Gucci Mane was sentenced to a 12-month prison stint for violating probation on an earlier assault conviction. Still, while Mane was away, singles like "Wasted," "Spotlight," and "Lemonade" only continued to gain heat. Released just this past May 12, he finds himself now both a free man and a bona fide star. His appearance at Best of the Best marks his first major concert since his release.

Diddy and Friends

Miami is Diddy's adopted second home, and the media mogul wouldn't miss the opportunity to celebrate his continued hold on mainstream pop culture. Despite his recent forays into television (both of the reality and fictionalized kind), his cologne, and his plans to, apparently, open a business school in New York, Sean Combs always returns to music. Not only is he the official host of Best of the Best, but he's also slated to perform a headlining slot with "unnamed friends." Considering Diddy's endless celeb-packed list of such friends, this should be one for the boldface-name books.

Machel Montano

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