It's hard to describe the so-called Miami sound. Regardless of the genre, it's always around, lurking in the background until it loudly makes itself known. To paraphrase U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's landmark ruling on obscenity, you know it when you hear it. The Miami sound is swampy and murky, it's both lo-fi and overproduced, and it's wildly experimental without being rule-agnostic.
It seemed like 2019 was the year Miami acts finally came to the agreement they no longer had to follow the styles set by musical powerhouses such as New York and Los Angeles. It's a lesson that has taken everyone a long time to learn, because though South Florida has been routinely called a hot spot for the next big music trend, more often than not, things don't pan out that way — hell, even SoundCloud rap has begun to fizzle.
If Miami is to be a true music capital, it will have to carve out its own sound and style. Thankfully, 2019 showed a lot of promise. Here are 20 songs released by Miami acts in the past year that are unabashedly 305.
Try listening to this five-and-a-half-minute trip-hop track without bobbing your head once. It's impossible. "Travels” is the sonic equivalent of finding ants in your pants. The song is based on a subtle synth groove that will have you moving in a low-key way before you fully understand what's happening. Composed and performed by Ashiyushi, a West Kendall-based one-man band with a Nintendo-inspired aesthetic, the song is the spiritual descendant of Juan García Esquivel — retro, space-age bachelor-pad music for the 21st Century. — David Rolland
City Girls, "Act Up"
Megan Thee Stallion may have declared it a “Hot Girl Summer,” but "Act Up" — Yung Miami and JT’s breakout hit from their debut album Girl Code — might have been the official summer anthem of 2019. From its flagrant recitable lyrics — co-written by Lil Yachty — to its up-tempo elements and banging bass, the track had a hypnotic effect that spread like wildfire, even prompting the viral #ActUpChallenge on social media. When the inevitable list of the best twerk songs of the 2010s drops, don't be surprised to find this song at the top. The track proves the City Girls' no-nonsense style is sprouting beyond their 305 roots into international acclaim. — Shanae Hardy
The Darling Fire, "The Constant"
Fans of '90s shoegaze bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins, Dinosaur Jr., and Slowdive, rejoice! Everything old is new again with the aptly named the Darling Fire. The quintet's debut, Dark Celebration, is like a warm hug accompanied by crashing cymbals, crunching guitar rock, and tender, ghostly harmonies. Perhaps the most familiar aspect of the Darling Fire is its members, who assuaged so many emo hearts and souls throughout the early part of the 2000s in bands such as the Rocking Horse Winner, Further Seems Forever, Dashboard Confessional, Poison the Well, Shai Hulud, As Friends Rust, and Strongarm. The band's second single, “The Constant,” is a hypnotic throwback of sweet harmonies and grandiose wall-of-sound alternative that brings together everything the bandmates learned in their past lives for a song that has us introspectively reflecting while slowly headbanging the pain away. — Angel Melendez
Debbie Deb, "Everybody's Jammin'"
“Everybody’s Jammin'” wasn't released in 2019, but this year marked the first time it gained the audience it deserved several decades ago. A collaborative release from Schematic and Sweat Records Records — the 2018 label cofounded by Lolo Reskin of the longtime Miami record store Sweat Records — “Everybody’s Jammin'” dates back to the mid-'80s, when it was originally made by vocalist and Miami freestyle queen Debbie Deb. It’s a quintessential cut from a quintessentially Miami style of music; it was songs such as this one that helped cement the Magic City’s reputation as an incubator and global destination for dance music. Ultimately, the musical era in which it was recorded and released really don’t matter: “Everybody’s Jammin'” is a timeless tune that’ll tear up any dance floor. — Zach Schlein
Denzel Curry, "Ricky"
You can take the artist out of South Florida, but you can’t take South Florida out of the artist. Although Carol City rapper Denzel Curry left the city a few years ago, he saluted his hometown with his latest album, Zuu. “Ricky,” the standout single from the project, pays tribute to his father while incorporating the slick flows and the trunk-rattling bass for which Miami is known. “Ricky” is a reminder of Curry's upbringing, and as long as he's performing it live, home will never be too far away for the rising star. — Cristina Jerome
The title of Donzii's second EP is a lot like Miami: incredibly bright, vaguely sinister, and running on borrowed time. After 2018's Mines, Gladugly sees Donzii's intentioned performance art–meets–no wave–meets–postpunk architecture coalesce, particularly on "Sand," a mournful, synthed-out Italo-disco track driven by a drum machine and a sinking bass riff that's as hungry as the track's lyrics. "Nothing takes the place of you/'Cause time is material," Jenna Balfe snarls from behind the instrumentation. At every juncture, "Sand" is always just slipping from its tethers, losing track of time alongside you. — Stefanie Fernández
Hurricane Party, "Pamplemousse"
There is a bizarre variety of elements, a whirlwind of genres, involved in the existence of the yacht-rap duo Hurricane Party and its debut record, Juice, that feels haphazard and random. South Florida rapper Jacques "Bleubird" Bruna and singer-songwriter-producer Rick "Rickolus" Colada mash up so many sounds — from alternative hip-hop to '80s soft rock to punchy, glittering indie electro — that it should come off like a tidal wave of noise. But the result instead is an incredibly catchy and infectious set of tunes that tears through the night like the breeziest summer storm. In particular, standout single "Pamplemousse" showcases the group’s ability to make absolutely no sense while parlaying thumping beats, warmly deadpan vocals, and Bleubird’s left-field rapping into something utterly charming. It’s fitting that the music video is a collage of newspaper cutouts, old wallpaper bits, and anime imagery. It whips by and leaves the viewer with so many questions but also (and more important) the desire to do it all over again. — Angel Melendez
Jaialai, "In the Catacombs"
For Jaialai, 2019 was a year of many accomplishments. The psych-rock band released its debut album, Say So, joined the record label Public Works, performed on the main stage at III Points, and toured through Mexico. Also among this year's feats is the release of "In the Catacombs," a dark and heavy psych track featuring an eerie music video directed by Nick County. The song matches County's visuals with echoey guitars and howling vocals that at times teeter into surf rock before being pulled back into a wall of fuzzy instrumentals. After checking off so many goals in 2019, Jaialai has left fans wondering what could be in store for 2020. — Catherine Toruño
Las Nubes, "Hellbag"
In less than a year, Las Nubes released its debut album on Sweat Records Records, performed as Iggy Pop's first all-female backing band during a Miami Art Week show, and was dubbed by New Times as the best band of 2019. The debut — Smvt — is a nine-track LP filled with grungy dream-fuzz perfection. And if you haven't burnt your speakers out from listening to this gem of an album on repeat while cruising (ahem, stalled) on the Dolphin Expressway by now, you're doing it wrong. “Hellbag” is a catchy, high-energy punk bop that features a shredding Saint Nick in its music video shot at Santa’s Enchanted Forest. Blink and you'll miss something magical from Miami’s lo-fi garage-pop goddesses. — Jessica Gibbs
Manu Manzo, "Te Quiero Ver"
Miami isn't lacking for Latin music, but Mano Manzo injects extra sazón into the scene. Through exquisite storytelling and a notable vocal range, “Te Quiero Ver” stands out from its contemporaries. The song sees Manu unfold a story around missing a lover and realize life isn't the same without them. Though it’s easy to combine the Spanish language with rhythmic beats, Manzo opts to keep R&B and soul notes in her music, giving her work a refreshing quality. — Cristina Jerome
Morgan Bryson, "New Kids on the Block"
After spending the majority of her career as a vocalist for the local band Paperwater, Morgan Bryson developed her own sound in 2019 and made herself someone to watch. “New Kids on the Block” reflects on the underdogs coming for the top spot, with ASMR whispers set against bass guitar-heavy production to help soothe the soul. She effortlessly fuses alternative R&B, rock, soul, and a variety of sounds to compose a breath of fresh air. — Cristina Jerome
Opal° featuring Bear and Nick León, "Limited Only"
Take the experimental stylings of Miami record label Space Tapes, imbue them with a pop bent, and you wind up with something like “Limited Only.” The result of a collaboration between Space Tapes acts Opal° and Bear with label head Nick León, the song is an aural signpost for where the city's music is right now, as well as the dozens of directions it might take next. The sound of “Limited Only” can be traced back to everything from drum 'n' bass to the chill variety of production pervasive in the electronic music of the early 2010s. All the while, Bear’s vocals lend the song the sort of synth-pop expertise that’s on display in his solo output. It’s an exciting moment for Miami’s music scene; as we collectively move into a new decade, “Limited Only” stands as a notice for both the city’s deep reservoir of talent and the infinite possibilities that lie ahead. — Zach Schlein
Palomino Blond, "Creature Natural"
If you’ve been paying attention, it should come as no surprise that Palomino Blond has taken Miami by storm. The youthful, genre-bending four-piece draws inspiration from a spectrum of influences, combining genres such as emo, doom, punk, shoegaze, and dream pop in its sound. “Creature Natural,” a dark and heavy track about singer Carli Acosta’s inability to fall asleep after waking from a nightmare, is a standout single that establishes Palomino Blond's staying power. — Jessica Gibbs
Rick Moon, "Magic Pity"
“Oh, Sunny, you fooled me so bad/You stole my time/I guess I had high expectations,” Rick Moon wistfully sings in the opening line of “Magic Pity.” If you’ve lived in the Magic City long enough, you can probably attest to the cliché of Miami being a sunny place for shady people. The Puerto Rican singer-songwriter’s “Magic Pity,” the second single released from his album Electric Lunch, is a melancholy, sun-drenched track written in frustration. He sings the question, “If this is the Magic City/Where did the magic people go?/Are they all stoned?/I feel a magic pity/A beautiful sunset telling me to find a new home and leave this city alone.” Moon recently revealed on Instagram that “Magic Pity" is a song about having mixed feelings about the lot of being a Miami-based musician. "It used to have a section in it where I’d reveal my love and infatuation [with] the city, and I took it out,” he said. File under: Miami-Shade County. — Jessica Gibbs
Savannah Cristina, "Rebound"
Relationship woes are inevitable, but at least for Savannah Cristina, she gets something to write about out of the ordeal. No one wants to be a rebound, but the South Florida songstress' track talking through a past relationship, “Rebound,” gives listeners a reason to empathize. In the music video, Cristina sings on a basketball court and invites the audience to not only listen to her pour her heart out, but also watch an intense game of one-on-one in the background. Her songwriting is a highlight of her releases; through attention to detail and tantalizing vocals, she has effortlessly become an R&B force to be reckoned with on the local scene. — Cristina Jerome
Seizure Machine, "Hos"
Miami gets no love as a comedy city, and comedy music gets no love as a musical genre. With "Hos," Seizure Machine tries to right both of those wrongs. Marlon Sinvergüenza and Fxsnowy took their electro duo's name from an incident when a Pokémon episode caused mass seizures in Japan. With "Hos," they continue their ongoing march to test the socially acceptable limits of irreverence and absurdity. Though the song title screams of rap cliché, the song is more "Weird Al" Yankovic than Ludacris — the hoes Seizure Machines raps about are of the garden variety. With a catchy refrain and Spanish-laden lyrics, "Hos" lets Seizure Machine's nerd-rap freak flag fly. — David Rolland
Ski Mask the Slump God, "Costa Rica"
If you follow any of the artists from J. Cole’s imprint, Dreamville, on Instagram, you might remember the epic golden-ticket rollout that signified the genesis of Revenge of the Dreamers III. Months later, the anticipated result of stuffing more artists than we can count into a ten-day recording camp was teased with the single “Costa Rica.” Featuring the homegrown genre-bending rapper Ski Mask the Slump God, the energetic track employs all the elements of a classic record: a silky beat, a catchy chorus, and lyrics that slap. Relying on his quirky tone and magnetic personality, the Slump God stands out as a singular hip-hop figure of the moment on the Grammy-nominated compilation album. — Shanae Hardy
Suzi Analogue featuring Junglepussy, "2Deep"
“2Deep” is as effective an introduction to Suzi Analogue’s production prowess as you’ll come across. As the opening track on the Miami-based artist’s record Zonez V.4: Love Me Louder — the latest installment in her beat-oriented series, Zonez — the song captures Analogue’s knack for synthesizing a variety of styles and influences to produce music that’s as idiosyncratic as it is unpredictable. With the assistance of a vocal appearance from raunchy rapper Junglepussy, “2Deep” is an earworm wrapped in a glitched-out coat. — Zach Schlein
Twelve'Len, "Thank the Gang"
Tell the truth: Did you thank your gang for supporting you through 2019? Nothing is possible without the support of your gang, and no one knows this better than Carol City singer Twelve’Len. His single “Thank the Gang” is a bouncy tribute to the bros that invites everyone to sing along. His unconventional vocals embrace the fluidity of contemporary R&B, and the song even finds the time to sprinkle in a rock reference or two. — Cristina Jerome
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Walk into the fictional Twin Peaks venue Bang Bang Bar and you'll likely find Womanhouse performing its deeply emotional debut single, “Gaucho" — or head to Las Rosas or Churchill’s Pub, Miami’s equivalents of the Lynchian bar, and experience it in real life. After forming in April, Womanhouse has since floored listeners with its dark, gloomy, and powerful live performances. However, “Gaucho” is only the beginning for Womanhouse, which announced that its first self-titled EP will be released at the end of the month — a New Year’s Eve indulgence for fans. — Catherine Toruño