Poplife's Jake Jefferson on Miami's Party Scene, "Literally the Wild West"
In the eighth grade, he snuck out to a Cypress Hill concert, made his way backstage, smoked weed with rapper B-Real, and helped DJ Muggs pack his turntables. In college, when he was just 12 credits short of a Florida International University degree, he dropped out to tour the world as part of the DJ Shadow-inspired production duo Climber.
For years, his parents thought he was nuts — until one day on a family vacation in Japan, a record store owner recognized him on the street and asked him to sign some vinyl for display.
Jefferson's priorities have paid off. He's lived and traveled all over the world making music, but Miami is the only place he considers home. He's been a producer, rapper, personality, promoter, event curator, and artist manager, but Jefferson has most made an impact on the Magic City as a partner and main booking agent of independent promotion and event company Poplife.
Aramis Lorie started Poplife in the late '90s as a weekly party alternative to South Beach's bloated
scene. Then underage, Jefferson attended religiously. When Climber broke up, he was inspired to host and throw his own parties. The first day he got a big check, he quit his day job at Adidas and threw himself into nightlife full-time. Lorie saw him making waves and offered a partnership in 2009.
Back then, Miami's nightlife scene was vastly different. Anything west of South Beach was a commercial wasteland. Poplife succeeded because it tapped into the marginalized local market, and Jefferson helped transform Poplife from a stand-alone weekly into an all-encompassing nightlife brand.
Jefferson pulled off underground cool amid LIV's opulence. He was tapped to activate Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) into a community gathering space. He's taken Poplife as far as New York City and Los Angeles, but he considers the 2,000-capacity sweatbox Grand Central to be his greatest achievement.
During its five-year run, Grand Central helped metamorphose downtown Miami from SoBe's eyesore neighbor to its cooler rival. "You're not going to get anybody's attention by just opening a club and seeing what happens," he says. "Wherever we go, the goal is to activate the community."
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Grand Central was demolished in late 2015. Its now-trendy real estate will be the site of the $1.7 billion Miami Worldcenter. It leaves behind a midsize-venue void, but Jefferson stays busy.
As a partner in the artist management team Super Music Group, he guides the careers of artists including Amtrac, Craze, and Steven A. Clark. Jefferson books shows at 1306, Heart, and PAMM, and soon he'll program entertainment in a public park just blocks north of where Grand Central once stood.
"Miami is literally the Wild West," Jefferson says. "If you stake your flag, you can accomplish a lot here... People complain, but this city is yours for the taking."
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