Best Record Label To Leave Town In The Past Twelve Months

Chocolate Industries

Our city's international reputation as a hotbed of bass-influenced oddball electronica is owing in no small part to the steady stream of ear-grabbing records released by Chocolate Industries. Boasting a roster that includes local artists Edgar Farinas (Push Button Objects) and DJ Craze plus kindred Austrian spirits Funkstörung, the label is known for producing works with elaborate cover graphics that seem as labored over as the music within. The label's proprietor, Seven, has departed Miami for the chillier cultural climes of Chicago, but thankfully he's kept up Chocolate Industries' intriguing output, continuing to issue sonic weirdness from South Florida and abroad.
More than a decade since Luther Campbell's 2 Live Crew grabbed the nation's headlines, South Florida still seems to be living in that outfit's shadow, saddled with the widespread notion that its hip-hop scene is just one long porn film. On Dirty Life Miami's latest rap hopeful, X-Con, doesn't exactly depart from his hometown's trademark sound of jittery beats and prominent synth lines, or its lewd lyrical tone. ("Whoa! Lil' Mama" offers a warning to a lap-dancing stripper -- "I don't care where you shake it/Just don't drip it in my cup" -- that would surely garner ol' Uncle Luke's approval.) What separates this gruff-voiced rapper from the current horde of gangsta-rap clones is his flair for vivid storytelling, gift for fashioning head-noddingly infectious hooks, and impassioned delivery that seems to summon up every ounce of his body's 285 pounds to drive home his gritty rhymes. Fuse all those traits, and you've got one of the past year's most memorable collections of songs.
It was one of the stranger sights of late: On an early Tuesday evening, about 50 people were enthusiastically gathered in the middle of Spec's record shop on South Beach. They weren't shopping; they were staring. And the performer who transfixed them wasn't singing or playing a guitar. In fact he didn't even look up at his audience. Instead DJ Stryke (a.k.a. Greg Chin) hunched over a set of turntables placed in the center of the store and simply spun records for an hour, artfully segueing in and out of throbbing techno tunes, cutting the low end out here for a disorienting lurch, slamming back there for a primal rush. The clipped beats of techno aren't a sound heard too often in Miami's currently trance-obsessed clubs and raves, but it's a testament to Stryke's mixing talent that when he does get an opportunity to play out, the faithful will be there -- even at a spot far from the dance floor.
Lucky us: The pull of the Latin music industry means we can count among us monsters of song like Cuban crooner Francisco "Pancho" Cespedes, who moved from Mexico to Miami Beach this year. Fortunate were clubgoers who caught his show at Club Tropigala or his impromptu guest appearances at Radical, Starfish, and Café Nostalgia. No one knows heartache like Pancho, a master of the dramatic musical style filin', whose voice breaks like a powerful wave on the rocky shores of passion. Donde Está La Vida, this year's followup to 1998's Vida Loca, is pure pathos, late-night suffering, and impeccably arranged jazz.
Over the past year, makeshift venues from Señor Frog's to Bennigan's have been pushing the tables against the walls and squeezing in stages to feed our city's hunger for live music. Home to the ever-shifting roster of musicians who make up Grupo Nostalgia, the swanky nightclub Café Nostalgia has done its own double duty by clearing a space for guest artists in the hours before the house band starts to swing. The club's luxurious booths proved the perfect vantage point from which to view the Jerry-Lewis-meets-Beny-Moré antics of trovador David Torrens, while generous sightlines and dappled lights revealed pan-Latin rockers Bacilos even as dancers packed the floor. The holiday-in-Havana décor is a fabulous backdrop not only for the son-to-timba traditions of Cuban dance music but also for forward sounds such as Aterciopelados' future-lounge.
Okay, so it's not a rap group. It's a label. It's a lifestyle. It's the Dirty South, straight outta Liberty City. Founded in 1994 by Ted Lucas and home to Miami's number one nann, Trick Daddy, Slip 'N Slide represents the 305 to thugs worldwide. A graduate of Uncle Luke's luv-dem-'hos hip-hop school, Trick broke out on his own in 1997 with a heavy dose of urban reality on his autobiographical Based on a True Story. When www.thug.com shot up the charts in 1998, Trick took da baddest bitch, Trina, along for the ride. Two thousand one was the year Slip 'N Slide took it to da house, though. Trick proved once again that Thugs Are Us, while Slip 'N Slide associates Iconz got everybody crunked up. The whole crew broke out on the beach in Slip 'N Slide's documentary Dirty South. If y'all ain't feelin' Slip 'N Slide, shut up!
You could literally see the changing of the cultural guard as the Orishas whipped through their set of rumba-steeped rap at Starfish this past November. In front of the stage was a sweaty mass of Cuban-American teens and twentysomethings, singing along with every verse. Back at the bar was a cluster of older Cuban exiles, curious to hear the latest spin on Afro-Cuban music and perhaps a bit bemused to catch some Buena Vista-styled samples cropping up between the Orishas' percussive beats. It's certainly true that the group isn't the cream of Havana's burgeoning hip-hop scene. (In fact since they now reside in Paris as Cuban expats, their current material seems to owe as much to the smooth strains of French rap as to any of their native island's musical currents.) And some of its choreographed dance moves invoked a bit too much of 'N Sync's slick vibe for comfort. But once the Orishas got over their microphone troubles, they definitely proved they could not only bring the noise but introduce Miami to yet another revolution bubbling over across the Florida Straits.
Miami's own heavy-metal warrior by way of Sweden and Los Angeles, Yngwie Malmsteen has settled on a novel solution to the ol' "Hope I Die Before I Get Old" quandary that plagues so many aging rock singers. Sure he still pens the same Dungeons and Dragons-esque tales of teen angst, marauding goblins, and demonic armies as he did nearly two decades ago. He just lets someone else sing them. And should that hired vocalist begin to lose his heavy-metal mettle, or (shudder) begin to mellow, Malmsteen simply fires his leather-jacketed ass and hires a new microphone slinger. It's a modus operandi that leaves him free to concentrate on his guitar playing -- the main reason, after all, his fans keep coming back, album after album. War to End All Wars certainly doesn't disappoint on that count. It's chock full of Malmsteen's squealing solo work and gloriously over-the-top allusions to his classical composer heroes. Bonus feature: The CD booklet reprints the lyrics so you can sing along. All together now: "In there dwells the wizard/His breath like a blizzard/Ancient incantations/Evil revelations."
Last year Liliana Rodriguez's show (7:00 to 10:00 p.m. Wednesday) took honors for Best Latin Radio Program. This year the show breaks out of the barrio to take the prize for Best Rock Radio Program, period. This is a plea to all the powerful commercial stations across the dial: We want our Latin alternative!
It's hard enough to be a working jazzman in South Florida, let alone one who treads the avant-garde side of the tracks. So rather than worry about pleasing club owners searching for nothing more than background noise, saxophonist Keshavan Maslak (a.k.a. Kenny Millions, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the local success-crazed vibe) devotes most of his live appearances to European music festivals. And rather than deal with record-company pressures, Maslak has recently taken to recording in his own living room, setting up the microphones himself and issuing the results on his own Hum Ha label. On his latest outing, he's invited noted pianist Burton Greene -- a fellow exiled veteran of the downtown NYC jazz scene -- for a series of forceful duets titled simply Detroit Meets Chicago, a reference to each performer's hometown and musical roots. Both men skip back and forth between traditional riffs and free jazz, with Maslak effortlessly shifting from a tender melodic line to some truly wigged-out honking. Likewise Greene is a master at both gentle ivory tickling and a jarring attack that could give even Cecil Taylor shivers. Yet as heady as the music gets, Maslak never lets listeners forget the point of it all. As he growls out loud in one song: "C'mon and have some serious fun/Don't worry about who's dead and gone!"

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®