Calle Blowup

Sam Phillips probably began in just such a manner. A room. A knack. An ear. And some unsung talent. Sam's room, of course, was the Memphis Recording Service; his knack was in knowing the soul of sound, for which he needed an ear. Or to put it how the man himself might've put it: His talent was talent.

But this isn't Memphis then; it's Miami now, on Calle Ocho, not Union Avenue, and in place of a Sun there's a Signature. Signature Sound of Miami, the one-stop pop shop for all the young thugs determined to get good.

Established a mere eight months ago by Lino de la Guardia — a Miami-born, Los Angeles-bred man of both a certain ill-reputable past and a certainly irrefutable future — Signature Sound reaps the streets and their consequences. De la G should know. As a Cali kid, he ran with the Chicano crew Venice 13, and the run ended on a three-and-a-half in Folsom. Dead-stop enough to wise up even the wisest of gang-bangers.

De la Guardia was exceptionally no exception. And for a while the swap of cage for stage looked like it'd become the rule. His band Chadir (New Times Best of 1996) drew the ear and the interest of none other than Clive Davis, while a subsequent outfit called South City Funk Mob blew down some of South Beach's swingiest hot spots.

Yet studios rather than stages seem to be De la Guardia's stock in trade, and with Signature he has at last found his sound, and his vision. Equal parts producer, engineer, beatmaster, and songwriter, De la Guardia does it all, and in so doing he has set himself up as the go-to guy for the gone-wrong set.

And they don't come merely to rehash Bobby "Digital" Dixon's "Dem Bow" for the reggaeton regulars either. Sure there's a touch of El General's echo of that fabled dancehall echo among them, but the Signature set is vaster than any singular horizon.

And larger. Nebula is more akin to Ja Rule, except smoother and better pitched; Manuel is like TKA rolled into one, but right now; ABL could be an Enrique with street cred; Dean is a charmer, Philly soul-to-soul by way of a barrio Maxi Priest; and Jessie is so crunked up he's got everywhere to go.

Then there's Gambino, the veritable star of Signature's street show. Naturally compared to the two kings of hard-core Latin hip-hop — Big Pun and Fat Joe — Gambino could be just the cat to make of it a true Holy Trinity. His first Signature sounding ("What Dey Do") is already a sing-along dance-floor smash down in his Homestead hood, and a new track chronicling the life and death of a brother in Fallujah ("Fallen Soldier") promises to bring the tough tear of war to every door in the nation — and each iPod. With a bead in every ear, the corner boys don't have to leave the hood to get heard.