Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
Imagine having to perform your job in the middle of a party music blasting, people talking and dancing, buzzed eyes focused on you. That's exactly what artist Kiki Valdes does he paints live to music at events, setting his brush strokes to the tempo. "He uses the energy from the event around him and focuses it on the canvas," says Luis André Gazitua, president of Next in Line, a local networking organization for young professionals, at whose events Valdes has appeared. "He's a firecracker; he just goes for it." The young Cuban-American artist has painted at the Biltmore Hotel alongside Latin Grammy-nominated Locos Por Juana, at Princeton University for the Princeton and Harvard Cuba Conference, and at the B.E.D. club/restaurants in Miami and New York. His style taps into Thirties and Forties avant-garde Cuban art. "There's passion in the person and artwork. When he paints, it's like a fire," adds Gazitua, who owns one of Valdes's "Medusa" paintings, along with two others by the artist. Inspiration for the Medusa comes from a girl Valdes knows. "She has a strong stare. You can't look at her too long," the artist says. "She's like Medusa. When you go into the cave, she looks pretty from the distance, but as you get closer, she's deceiving." Valdes, who is actually good friends with his muse, is all about the transformation of images. When he paints live, he starts with one image, which evolves into something else as the music bumps and the evening progresses. Just when you really come to love the image on the canvas, Valdes messes with you, splashing color on it and starting over. The experience is all-consuming for both him and the viewer. "With him," says Gazitua, "it's hard to separate artwork from the person."
The members of Pretty Ricky should be feeling pretty damn good about themselves. After all, it's not every day that a Miami pop group gets to hit number one on the Billboard album charts (they held it for a week). The four brothers Baby Blue, Spectacular, Pleasure, and Slick Em have been working for this moment their entire lives, playing virtually every venue in South Florida since 1997. All of that hard work started paying off when the group's 2004 ditty to the thrills of heavy petting, "Grind with Me," became the most requested song in the history of Miami's Power 96. Soon after, Pretty Ricky signed a deal with Atlantic Records, and this year released the top-selling album, Late Night Special. Now the group is riding high with the hit "On the Hotline," a delicious, slow-burning R&B-meets-hip-hop jam with a cool 2007 twist: a story of phone sex with a beautiful lady met on MySpace. This is canny subject matter for a group that understands the best pop should always be fun, catchy, and, above all, up to date with the latest craze.
We've all heard it before: "There is no music scene in Miami." Although the 305 may not be a band-manufacturing machine like Chicago, even elitist naysayers can't argue that the Magic City has its share of laudable live acts. The ubiquitous Spam Allstars have garnered a loyal following playing Afro-Cuban jazz, while the tight-knit Down Home Southernaires appeal to throngs with their indie-pop sensibilities. These and other local bands span a variety of genres including rock, hip-hop, electronica, and more. So what is the one factor most of these groups have in common? They are mostly men. Good thing the all-girl trio known as AKA is around to represent for the ladies. Since 2004 these gals have spread their cute-but-tough look and infectious sound across Miami-Dade's expansive borders. Lately the band has limited its live shows to focus on its first album, Break Free. In the meantime, AKA manages to play a few gigs a month and work on new material. The group is made up of lead vocalist Lori Garrote on guitar, Natalie Martinez on bass, and Nabedi Osorio on drums. Their pop-punk sound is both energizing and haunting; their appeal is reinforced by powerful singing and high-powered beats. An undeniable influence from the likes of Green Day and Alanis Morissette is audible when the threesome drops its sonic bomb. For those in doubt of AKA's staying power, Garrote proudly assures, "We're going strong."
Miami based T-Vice is the undisputed king of the new konpa, a deliciously melodious Haitian tropical blend infused with American pop influences like hip-hop and R&B. Founding members Roberto Martino and Reynaldo Martino have been doing their thing since the mid-Nineties, when they moved to Miami and reunited with their father, Robert Martino, leader of popular Haitian band Top-Vice. Naming their group after their father's, the Martino brothers and T-Vice would soon earn a large following, thanks to a series of innovative pop albums that rejuvenated the konpa movement with English-language lyrics. Hot collaborations with luminaries like Wyclef Jean and dancehall superstar Buju Banton (on the song "Party By The Sea") have turned the T-Vice squad into the new ambassadors of Haitian music. And while they travel the world, bringing their audiences delight with solid konpa hits like "4 Las," there's no greater joy than watching the boys let loose in their adopted hometown. Banm T-Vice Mwen, indeed.
In the Eighties, Carl and Carol Jacobs were the lead singers of the band Shandileer, and they were stars on the calypso scene in Trinidad and Tobago. They came up alongside luminaries like David Rudder and Charlie's Roots, in an era when calypso was still about lyrical content and pushing the music into new forms of expression. Their hit songs "Pressure," "Luv Up," "Scandal," "Savage," and "We Wanna Live" were popular on Caribbean airwaves. But calypso is a fickle and seasonal music. "Home is a sweet place, but it's a small place," Carl Jacobs says. "By the end, we had done every club, every party." To provide for their growing family, the Jacobses moved to Miami. "We just fell in love with Miami," Carl says. "It's like a home far away a home with green money. It didn't take me long to get work here. Because and I don't want to brag the other calypso bands that we met here were on a little kind of tourist level. But we were a professional unit. Our sound was very different." Carol and some of the kids have moved back home to Trinidad, but Carl's residency at Monty's Raw Bar in Coconut Grove has continued. If you stop by the often-bustling waterfront eatery on Friday nights, or almost any time Saturdays and Sundays, you'll find the troubadour with the distinctive green eyes and husky voice entertaining the public. He's now 54 years old, and his hair is turning gray. But his voice is still as unforgettable and resonant as ever. He doesn't play his own hits as often, with his repertoire consisting mostly of calypsofied cover songs. But he plans to start incorporating more of his own material into the weekend shows. He stays young by collaborating with the new generation of calypsonians. His latest album features a duet with Maximus Dan, and a recent experience during this year's Carnival in Trinidad made him realize how much he still means at home: "I played at Machel Montano's big fete this year, and so many young people came up to me after, calling me 'Uncle Carl' and telling me how much they loved my performance. It was so surprising to me. It really is one culture, you know. One country, one music."
You're not officially a punk rock band until you come up with an offensive moniker. A year ago Mekago NT officially joined the club when these Miami thrashers decided on a name that literally translates to "I crap on you" in Spanish. Yet the name is appropriate. Mekago NT'S music sounds like a cacophonous amalgam of frenzied guitar riffs, banshee wailings, and the kinds of groans, grunts, and moans usually heard coming out of the men's bathroom at Churchill's Pub, which is coincidentally the venue where you are most likely to catch Mekago NT performing.
If you're good at what you do and you stick to it long enough, success will come. That's essentially Rick Ross's story in a nutshell. "He's been grinding for a long time, put in work for 12 years, and stayed humble, helping other people in his camp," says DJ Khaled, of 99 Jamz (WEDR-FM 99.1). "He deserves everything he got." Ross is on Khaled's upcoming album, We the Best, scheduled for release in June. (Miami New Times's best rap artist, Pitbull, also appears on it.) Ross, who's from Carol City, finally got the recognition he deserved with his debut album, Port of Miami, which featured "Push It" and "Hustlin'." The album reached number one on Billboard's 200, and also number one on its top rap albums and top R&B albums charts. "Hustlin'" peaked at number seven on Billboard's hot rap tracks chart. The single also received a "plaque bearing a golden cell phone" from the RIAA for selling more than 500,000 ringtones. "His style is amazing, his lyrics he talks and answers himself in rhymes," Khaled says. "He's the boss. He reps the city so hard."
Whatever you call him Pitbull, Mr. 305, or his real name, Armando Christian Pérez this talented young rapper stays ahead of the game. Last October he released his sophomore album, El Mariel, which quickly ranked on Billboard's charts as number one top independent album, and number two rap album. Despite losing his dad and best friend back to back last year while he was writing the record, he kept at his music, eulogizing both in the track "Raindrops," featuring local R&B songstress Anjuli Stars. And when word came down that Fidel Castro was on his deathbed, or possibly even dead, he headed over to the studio and recorded "Ya Se Acabó," with tight lyrics set to an Afro-Cuban beat. The message to Fidel: Shut up, it's over. Luther Campbell ("Uncle Luke"), who gave the rapper his first break, says Pit represents Miami well. He recalls the early days when he would take Pitbull's music to radio stations like Power 96, and they didn't want to play it. Airplay is far from a problem today. Pit's first album, M.I.A.M.I. (Money Is a Major Issue), was certified gold. He's appeared on MTV Tr3's Mi TRL and Univision's Sabado Gigante. But for the rapper, things are just getting started. His next project, a Spanish-language album titled Armando, is slated for release later this year. So what makes Pitbull so specialç For the ladies, it might be lyrics that highlight what he can do with his tongue. For everyone, it's clear: This artist has really grown since his debut album. He works his ass off, and has an uncanny talent for surmounting generational differences when things Cuban are concerned. Now he can't walk the streets of his native Little Havana without being approached for photos and autographs by people of all ages. He graciously obliges, and even signs dollar bills for them. Artistically, versatility is his golden ticket. "He can adapt to any style on any record. He can flip it: fast rap, slow rap. He keeps with the tempo," Campbell says. "His lyrics are incredible; he takes words right out of the air." Armando has paved the way. 2007 is the year of the Pitbull.
Luther Campbell paved the way for Pitbull, Trick Daddy, and Rick Ross. And his fight for freedom of speech, some say, laid the groundwork for performers like the late Notorious B.I.G. and Ludacris. You may remember Luke from his days with 2 Live Crew, when his album As Nasty as They Wanna Be launched a court battle over obscenity that went national. The album was deemed obscene by a Broward judge and led to the arrest of a Fort Lauderdale record store owner, as well as that of the group's members for performing songs from the album, which featured the hit single "Me So Horny." But in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, Uncle Luke prevailed. He also got the last laugh, because the publicity helped the album sell more than two million copies. Luke would face the courts again for copyright infringement and win. He eventually became a solo artist and launched his own label. He's credited with giving Miami rapper Pitbull (who he says is "like his son") his first break and was a pioneer in spotting Miami's, and Latin rappers', potential in the rap game. "Cubans are our brothers and sisters," he says. "Latinos in the U.S. ... I said, ÔI have to jump on that shit.'" Zay, a Miami rapper now living in Atlanta, recalls, "It was a learning process being around him. He takes you under his wing. He's bigger than just local he's the pioneer of the South. He stood up for us and paved the way." Today Luke continues to tap new talent. "I don't look for artists every day," he says. "Artists are like girlfriends: Don't go looking for them, just let it happen."
Remember the first time you heard Trick Daddy's "Bet That"ç The track opens with a heavy-duty bassline exploding underneath voices fluttering like an operatic hiccup. T Double D's gravelly voice and Miami lilt are distinctive, so it didn't take you long to realize who it was. And once you did, you reached over to the dial and thought, "Been too long." And yes, it had been too long since the Dade County Mayor had been on the radio with something new. But one listen to the opening line of "Bet That" and Trick makes it clear that shit hasn't changed:Sitting high still riding on the big whips Still fly still grindin' getting big checks Still thuggin' still leanin' to the back You can bet that, you can bet that I ride I shine nigga you know I smoke I drank go loco 22s, 24s how we roll I'm a dunk rider fuhh sho'.
What happens when one of the most widely respected musicians in hip-hop sets up shop in the 305ç Although Timothy "Timbaland" Mosely is a Virginia boy to the core, you can find him chillin' behind gates in a two-story, $8 million compound in Pizzinecrest. And so far, you can go ahead and call 2007 the Year of Timbaland. He spent the year crafting hits for his new best friends Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado, and now he's claiming some of the spotlight for himself with Shock Value. Critical response has been mixed to say the least Rolling Stone only gave it three stars and the New York Times lamented, "There are times when this CD feels more like a compilation, and times when Timbaland goes overboard trying to prevent that." Much of the criticism has been about Timbaland's poorly chosen list of collaborators bringing rap/rock back by way of duets with She Wants Revenge and Fall Out Boy was a horrible misstep. But gaffes aside, there are some in-fucking-credible tracks on this album that make it more than worth the purchase for forward-thinking hip-hop fans. "Fantasy" is a pitch-perfect fast slow jam, and "Miscommunication" sounds like a lovemaking soundtrack for androids. "Give It to Me" is already burning up the charts, and the star of the album is "Bounce," which features oversexed verses by Dr. Dre and Missy Elliott. Timbaland's residency has already proven to be prolific. Now we're just waiting for Missy to move to Cutler Ridge.
These are hard times for Latin singers. What with everyone playing reggaeton and Latin hip-hop, there's almost no room on the radio for traditional Latin artists. So what's a young tropical singer to doç Adapt, of course. Miami's Andy Aguilera is the best example of the new breed of Latin crooners. After debuting in 2003 with the wonderful bachata-infused Cita de Amor, the Cuban-American vocalist invited Luny Tunes, from the top production team in reggaeton, to help him craft his new record. The result was Reggaeton Bachateo, a tropical bachata album with a modern reggaeton twist. A gifted singer/composer with a voice made especially for ballads, Andy Aguilera excels at bridging the gap between two generations of Latin music, while at the same time revitalizing the good old bachata ballad.