Recording the song "Highs and Lows" at Scott Storch's lavish Palm Island waterfront mansion was a dream come true for the young members of Miami quartet Bottom of da Map. After all, the renowned Storch is one of the top producers in the business, having sired major hits for megastars like Beyoncé, Daddy Yankee, and 50 Cent. But for the group's chanteuse, Princess Asia, a.k.a. Alicia Cooper, the meeting with the notoriously ganja-loving, chain-smoking production wiz turned out to be short-lived.
"He smokes a lot, and I can't be around it because it messes up my voice," says the 22-year-old, "so I had to leave and do my vocals in another studio. But [Storch] was laid-back. He doesn't act like it's all about him; he was really cool."
When the smoke cleared, Bottom of da Map ended up with a precious commodity. Asia and her bandmates -- Bizerk, Daddy Bone, and Lunch Money -- now had a club banger custom-made by one of the most sought-after hit-makers in the world.
As for Storch, the recording offered him a chance to lend his distinctive touch to a new project deeply rooted in the burgeoning Miami-Dade urban music scene. "It's great to work with a group from Miami," says Storch. "The Miami sound is unique, and [I think] that Bottom of da Map can take R&B and hip-hop to the next level."
The ultramellow piano man is not the only one who has great faith in the four youngsters' shimmering sound collage. Bottom of da Map's hard-hitting debut single, the R&B-inflected hip-hop booty shaker "What's da Bizness," was the top requested song on Power 96 during the first weeks of May. (Bigg D, a.k.a. Derrick Baker, the group's manager, produced the track, along with most of its upcoming album.) Major label Universal Records recently signed the foursome to a recording contract and is planning for a release before the end of the year. The group's album will be a star-studded affair, featuring local hip-hop luminaries such as Trick Daddy and Rick Ross, according to D.
These achievements would be significant for any artist. But they're even more impressive given that BODM has existed for less than two years.
It helps that D has coproduced major hits for the likes of Rick, Trick, and Pitbull. And it doesn't hurt, either, that the four members spent their formative years hanging out at North Miami's renowned Circle House recording studio, long considered to be the number one meeting ground for local hip-hop glitterati.
"Circle House is the link between all of us," says nineteen-year-old Bizerk, one of the group's rappers. "That place is my second family. We grew up in there; we were everybody's little brothers."
The BODM tale began in late 2005, when Bigg D and Circle House Studio co-owner B.B. Lewis were inspired to form a teen band. D had begun his musical career as a guitarist for the famed gospel duo Bebe and Cece Winans. Later, as a producer, he scored a string of platinum-selling tracks as part of the duo The Unusual Suspects. Along with ex-partner Jim Jonsin, D scored hits like Trick Daddy's "Let's Go" and Pitbull's "Dammit Man." "I always wanted to do a group that represented the whole culture here in Miami," he says.
But as luck would have it, Bigg D and Lewis didn't have to look too far for their young guns. In a peculiar twist of fate, what was meant to be a prefabricated foursome actually grew in an organic manner: All the members were independently working at Circle House but already shared close friendships.
Their tight bond is clearly evident as they interact in the lounge of their Miami postproduction studio. "We are not afraid to step on each other's toes," says eighteen-year-old Lunch Money, a.k.a. Gamal Lewis.
The friendship began when Bizerk and Lunch Money met in school when they were about twelve years old. Lunch Money was impressed with Bizerk's hallway rapping skills, and casually invited him to pass by his father's music studio to try out a few verses.
Little did Bizerk know that Lunch Money was the son of Ian Lewis, co-owner of Circle House, brother of B.B., and bass player for the legendary reggae band Inner Circle. From that moment on, the pair spent free time at the studio, rubbing elbows with Rick Ross, Trina, and Trick Daddy. They also encountered other young, local aspiring rappers, including Evan Mila, a.k.a. Daddy Bone, another future BODM member.
During those early days, the boys also met Bigg D, who, along with then-partner Jonsin, would soon create the sound behind the Miami boy band sensation Pretty Ricky. That group scored a massive hit with the song "Grind with Me," which, at its peak, reached number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 2005.
But Bigg D's association with Pretty Ricky came to a sudden halt that same year when he and Jonsin broke up their lucrative partnership. It was then that D decided to form his own pop group. Still, he's adamant that BODM is not just a Pretty Ricky clone. "It's a new Miami sound. I always tell the kids to be trendsetters -- the public will love you for that," he says. "We are doing a new type of Miami bass record that has lots of pop elements thrown around it."
By early 2006, Lunch Money, Daddy Bone, and Bizerk began working with D in the studio. The three young men had penned an original song, "Daddy Like," but all thought something was missing. So D brought local R&B songstress Princess Asia into the studio. "I didn't know that I was auditioning. I thought that I was just going to do a feature on their track," says Asia, who joined the group right after the recording session. And in a nod to the city's musical past, they named the group after a phrase coined by seminal Miami hip-hop MC Mother Superia.
A former back-up dancer for local rapper Jacki-O, the beautiful Asia gives the group its remarkably sweet, melodious vibe. On the breezy "What's da Bizness," she intones the chorus in an alluring range that rests somewhere between Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson. In the meantime, the boys take turns at rhyming, while a storm of beeping synthesizers accompanies a cascading piano. The beat switches from Southern hip-hop to Top 40 R&B, giving the track a fresh pop feel -- a Magic City version of the Black Eyed Peas. The unique Miami flavor features a bass-heavy thump, clearly owing to the legacy of Luther Campbell and 2 Live Crew.
Though their sound collage comes courtesy of producers like Bigg D and Storch, the group members write their own lyrics. "We have all the creative control," says Lunch Money. "We start with the beat and write the song from there."
Another single, "Miss You," finds the foursome looking at their lives for inspiration. "My two-month son, Amari Cooper, passed away because he was allergic to cow milk," recalls Asia, "so I dedicated the song to him."
As for the Storch-produced "Highs and Lows," BODM can thank Bigg D for making the connection with the superproducer -- they share the same management team.
"Storch is the only other producer that I would let in on the project," says D.
With enough tracks for a full-length album, D hopes to launch Bottom of da Map's debut sometime before the end of the year. In the meantime, the members imagine brighter futures. "I could pay off my mom's crib," Bizerk says. "She wouldn't have to worry about payments."
To hear Princess Asia tell it, they've already succeeded on their home turf. "As soon as our single dropped, people started recognizing me," she says. "I went to Pembroke Lakes Mall and everyone was asking for my picture; it was fun to see people smile."
"It has been a roller coaster ride," says Lunch Money. "We all rely on each other; we motivate ourselves. We want to be the best group in the world. That's why we work so hard."
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