It has been a little more than two years since I wrote my first "Basshead" column. It ended with the sentence: "Perhaps that's why, when I first moved here, I was scared shitless."
Why would I publicly admit Miami is an intimidating place? The foreignness of this city, with its considerable Latin and Caribbean populations and its commitment to ostentatious wealth and absolute power at any cost, is unlike anything else I have encountered. The dialect here is salsa, reggaeton, and crunk as well as New York pop-rap, garage rock, and Nashville country. The national identity of Miami-Dade County, a land mass sprawling with dozens of neighborhoods and enclaves, is dominated by a small stretch of land on an island in Miami Beach overrun with nightclubs that do not allow a man without an attractive woman (or two or three) on his arm inside their doors; and reward their patrons with the opportunity to purchase a bottle of vodka worth $40 at Walgreens for $250 a pop.
This was heady stuff for a grungy hippie guy from Oakland to deal with. I came here looking for adventure, and I got plenty of it in the nightclubs, strip clubs, and bars of this town. My response in dealing with the diverse, often diametrically opposed communities here was to try to serve them all.
I recruited writers to cover the annual Winter Music Conference and the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards with equal fervor. I ran stories about the rise of the District and Pawn Shop Lounge as well as the splashy debuts of Rokbar, Mansion, and Club ZNO. I featured Pretty Ricky and Pitbull as they became genuine national stars, and documented the Latin alternative music scene via stories about the Spam Allstars and Suenalo Sound System.
Along the way I worked with some interesting and occasionally brilliant writers, including former and present staffers such as Celeste Fraser Delgado, Terra Sullivan, Kris Conesa, and Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik; and local scribes such as Javier Andrade, John Anderson, Judy Cantor, Hunter Stephenson (Miami's enfant terrible), Lee Zimmerman, Abel Folgar, Julienne Gage, and Jessica Sick. Their diverse strengths allowed me to create a section that encompassed far more than my distinctly "mainland" tastes (i.e., hip-hop, rock, and dance music).
It is ironic that many readers assume we stick to covering hip-hop culture. I can cite numerous statistics to demonstrate how wrong they are. But while as an editor I have led a team dedicated to chronicling this city's panoply of sounds, I usually devoted "Basshead" to hip-hop. It is both heartening and disconcerting to imagine that a small column can so dominate a section filled with six to eight pages of varied content.
People who listen to music are usually zealots, fiercely protective of their own scenes. The dance music fans who post on Cooljunkie.com don't like how the South Beach club scene has been taken over by hip-hop DJs (even though we covered at least one, if not more, dance music artist or record every week). The rock kids over at Churchill's Pub complain how the South Beach club scene gets all the press attention (even though we covered one, if not more, of Churchill's shows every week). Both camps, I suppose, have their reasons for disapproving of me.
But I probably should have spent more time in South Beach's nightclubs, not less. After our beloved and controversial club columnist Humberto Guida defected to Ocean Drive in August of last year, I missed out on a lot of trends and stories. When I did write about the Beach, it was mostly to offer predictably knee-jerk criticisms, calling it shallow and celebrity-obsessed. I rarely took the time to understand why it is so influential and popular.
When I first began thinking about my final column, I imagined myself settling a lot of scores. I've made my fair share of enemies, and part of me would love to tear them down in print. But none of that matters now.
More than two years have passed since I first began this column, and my thoughts drift toward all the interesting people I encountered. There was Phoenecia, the brainiac team behind the Schematic imprint. There were Manuvers and Danny Dollars, the two men behind Counterflow Recordings. El Mano Fria at Beta Bodega Coalition rarely returned my e-mails, but he gets props too. And I can't forget Gabe Koch at Merck.
There were DJs such as Induce, Contra (Good luck touring with M.I.A.!), Plot, Irie, EFN, Lolo, Los Four Amigos, Le Spam, Khaled, Shawn Rudnick, DHM, Ari K, Tommy Ryk, Salim Rafiq, and Amira.
There were musicians, rappers, and producers such as Shift, PM, Crazy Hood Productions, Modernage, Doormouse, Ed Bobb, Push Button Objects, the Holy Terrors, Supersoul, and Awesome New Republic.
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And I can't forget 305hiphop.com, Abebe Lewis at Circle House Studios, the Poplife crew, Shawn King, Puzzle Marketing, Harris Public Relations, XO Publicity, the Nocturnal staff, Cornbread Productions, Josh Menendez, Keen One, Aquabooty, Carmel Ophir, the Womb, Jessica and Jay O'Brien at Soho Lounge, Gary Bini at Buck 15, Nastie, Vanessa Menkes at Opium Group, Alan Roth at TAI Entertainment, J at Churchill's Pub, Dancestar ... the list goes on and on. Sorry for all the names, but what can I say? Hip-hop is all about shout-outs. Apologies to anyone I didn't think of while I was writing this.
Yes, I made plenty of friends, acquaintances, and a few lovers (though not nearly as many as I would have liked). But at the end of the day, as a grungy hippie guy in a city obsessed with aesthetic beauty, I felt like the odd, eccentric outsider in a class full of cool kids, always accepted but rarely embraced. I don't take it personally. Miami may be fly, but it's too fly for me.
So I leave you in the capable hands of music editor Sam Chennault. He's from the Bay Area, too, and hopefully he won't be as "scared shitless" as I was two years ago. I hope he accepts Miami for what it is, not what he wants it to be. This city's fledgling music culture, with all of its wildly combustible colors, sounds, and personalities, needs someone who will love it unconditionally.