I admit it. I fucked up.
Last year, the inaugural Miami Awards were held at the now-defunct Bar Code in South Beach, and yours truly was the only mainstream journalist to cover it ("Triumph of the Will," August 28, 2003). It was the calm before the storm: Jacki-O was riding high on her "Nookie" single, Pitbull was still pushing his Unleashed mixtapes, and Trick Daddy, who was nowhere to be found, was making more headlines for his run-ins with the law than for hit records.
What a difference a year made. Last November 21, so many media organizations attended the second annual Miami Awards that one of its producers, Sound Bwoy Entertainment head Abebe Lewis, says he might have a "media section" next year. (Word of advice: Don't do it. Journalists hate "media sections.") Jacki-O is known by rap fans around the world for her critically acclaimed debut, Poe Little Rich Girl, and Pitbull, thanks to his Top 40 album M.I.A.M.I. , is probably the most omnipresent rapper in MIA right now. Though Trick Daddy has a hit album, too, in Thug Matrimony: Married to the Streets, he didn't go to the awards this year. And neither did I.
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Where was I that night? Uh ... doing something else. But one thing I noticed amid all the postshow coverage was that everyone focused on Jacki-O, Pitbull, and all the radio DJs and programmers. What about the little-known MCs who were nominated for awards?
So, to make amends for not attending one of the biggest local hip-hop events of the year, I drove out to Circle House Studios -- Sound Bwoy Entertainment is its entertainment division -- to talk with Lewis and 305hiphop.com's Carlos Garcia about Miami's best up-and-coming acts.
It wasn't easy to extract the information, though. Lewis, to use an old-school term, is a "talker," and Garcia was all too happy to follow suit. This led to long, discursive conversations about things other than Miami's next to blow, such as the state of local hip-hop, the state of the rap industry, etc. But Lewis and Garcia managed to identify six local artists whom you will be hearing a lot more of in 2005.
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Urban Mystic: Urban Mystic won in the New Upcoming Artist/Group category. "Urban Mystic, he's only the guy [other than Trick, Trina, Jacki-O, and Pitbull] who was on major TV this year," says Lewis.
But Brandon "Urban Mystic" Williams isn't a rapper. A native of Fort Lauderdale, this R&B singer has drawn national attention for his debut single, "Where Were You," which reached the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop singles chart and garnered airplay on BET's 106 & Park countdown. Meanwhile, his debut album on SOBE Entertainment/WMG (which had a brief distribution deal with Poe Boy Entertainment earlier this year), Ghetto Revelations, has earned solid reviews, and currently sits on Billboard's Heatseekers chart at number fifteen. "He's got soul. He kinda reminds me of an Anthony Hamilton," says Lewis.
Lunch Money: At age sixteen, Lunch Money, who was also nominated in the New Upcoming Artist/Group category, is the definition of the term "rising star." He's written verses for Mystikal ("Pussy Pop") and Petey Pablo ("Freek-A-Leek").
Lunch Money is also Lewis's brother, which gives him access to the parade of platinum artists who record at Circle House Studios. "He gets in because he's my brother," admits Lewis. "But he really has to show his talent. When he's in the room with those artists, how the fuck is Mystikal going to be listening to a sixteen-year-old kid? ... If the shit ain't hot, [Mystikal] ain't rapping that shit."
Piccallo: Piccallo, who won a Miami Award for Best Group, is part of Pitbull's crew. They appear on his current hit single "Dammit Man." They've been grinding it out locally, too, putting out mixtapes and dropping songs such as "Get Loose." "They're about to be the next group to get out of here and do something," says Garcia.
"They've got the hood on lock," adds Lewis.
THC Crew: Yeah, 305hiphop.com is part of the THC Crew, which is why they're getting mentioned here, too. So what? This is hip-hop, man.
"They're putting in a lot of work, doing a lot of shows," says Garcia, adding that they've opened for everyone from KRS-One and dead prez to Mobb Deep. THC Crew is heavily featured in Miami's mixtape circuit, and has released two mixtapes of its own this year, 420 and High Times. One of its members, UB, is in talks with several major labels for a solo deal, and is reportedly working on a Spanish rap album. "I think they're diverse," says Garcia. "They do both the English and Spanish thing."
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Smitty: Like Lunch Money, Smitty is another local kid who earned his stripes as a ghostwriter, most memorably on P. Diddy's Grammy-nominated "Shake Ya Tailfeather" single. Though Smitty seemingly hasn't been heard from since signing with J Records last year ("Hip-Hop Cyrano," December 18, 2003), Lewis assures me that he's still out there. "That's Clive's priority, dog," he says, referring to famed industry mogul and J Records owner Clive Davis. "But Clive wanted to get [Smitty's] mix show [appearances] up.
"You notice that most rap things never work on J. It's mostly R&B," continues Lewis. It makes sense: Davis is best known for mentoring R&B divas such as Whitney Houston at Arista Records, and Busta Rhymes left the label last year for that same reason. But Lewis says that is changing, thanks to the turmoil that came when L.A. Reid took over Island/Def Jam earlier this year. "All of Def Jam's staff is going over [to J Records]. All the street people," he observes. Will Smitty reap the benefits?
Ric Ross: The winner of the Best Freestyle on Mix Tape award has already been around for a minute. As part of Trick Daddy's crew, Ric Ross made several appearances on Thugs Are Us and Thug Holiday. Ross was supposed to issue his solo debut on Slip-N-Slide Records, but he had a falling-out with label owner Ted Lucas.
Ross's career is currently in limbo, but Lewis praises the rapper, noting that Ross is still a hot prospect capable of packing clubs around South Florida. "If Ric Ross was from New York, he'd already be signed by now," Lewis continues, because there are several major labels in the Big Apple that are hungry for talented street rappers like Ross. "But Miami, it's like Slip-N-Slide ... E-Class [(from Poe Boy)] is trying to get shit off the ground. Everybody's trying to get off the ground." This is why 305hiphop.com and the Miami Awards are vital to local rap, argues Lewis: They bring much-needed structure to an industry in its formative stage.