It's not easy to find Bay Eight Studios in North Miami. If you don't know what you're looking for, you'll pass it in the cut-off section of West Dixie Highway near 123rd Street. But a white kid with his hat turned backward can help you. Walk straight to the back, past the bathrooms, he says.
There you'll find Fort Lauderdale rapper Xali Unknwn. He's in the booth warming up to a beat that his producer Von prepared a few weeks ago. As Xali sits in the chair, he vigorously grinds marijuana using a shiny silver grinder while nodding his head to the beat.
The lighting is dim, but the green scented candles crowding the perimeter of the room set the mood. The table in the center is filled with leftover McDonald's, half a bottle of Jim Beam, and marijuana that didn’t yet make it into a rolling paper. “What’s good?” Xali asks as he steps out of the booth with a cloud of smoke following him. He turns to Von and asks the engineer to play back what he just recorded. The first blunt is lit and passed around the room.
“This is a song I wrote weeks ago,” Xali says after he releases a breath full of smoke. “I have albums written out; I write all of my shit beforehand and then come to the studio and knock it out.” While he rolls up his second L, the engineer works on mixing his first record. The rapper wears a long-sleeve black crew-neck shirt that spells “fuck” in capital white letters. A beanie is pulled down on his forehead to hide his eyes. He nods to the hook, “put it on me” blaring through the speakers in the room. “I’m releasing this as soon as I shoot the video,” Xali says.
He's been rapping since 2013. After his dad died in 2012 of cancer, he needed a hobby to channel his energy. He created a hip-hip collective, SoFlo Hip-Hop — now called SoFlo Forever — which hosts rappers, producers, and models, along with his record label and management outlet Regal Life Records. The name change stems from Xali wanting to represent the culture of South Florida.
“I don’t want to be put in a box and want to be known for just doing hip-hop. I can do a lot different styles. I just haven’t released [them] yet,” he says. “People compare me to Joey Badass a lot, and it kind of pisses me off,” he says as he takes another hit of his blunt while Von lights the second one.
“I don’t want to sound like anyone,” Xali says as he rolls up the third joint and hands it to Von.
The engineer cues up the second beat, and Xali walks back into the booth to record. He runs through his verse a few times to warm up but stumbles through a few words. “Fuck,” he yells as he tells the engineer to run it back. “Project it how you want them niggas to feel it,” Von says as he lights the third blunt. Xali instantly finds the rhythm and delivery he’s looking for and finishes the track in record time.
“And that’s song two. It doesn’t take me long to finish songs,” Xali brags. “My goal is three. You think I can do it?” The engineer mixes the track on the spot so Xali can hear exactly what it will sound like on his upcoming project, set to release in June. “Yeah, I’m putting this one on the project too,” Xali says, nodding to the beat and rolling up a fourth blunt. “I wanted it to be an EP, but there’s just so much content that it’s going to be more of a project — not an album, but a project.”
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Still nodding his head to his creation playing in the background, he walks over to the table and picks up the bottle of liquor. “Want some of this Jim Beam?” he grins. It's 2:57 in the afternoon.
“Last one,” he says as he hops into the booth and takes the Jim Beam with him. Von continues to roll and lay the blunts in a row on the table. He inhales and blows into the air.
Xali runs through the track like he’s been practicing the verses for months. “Lets do the ad libs,” he yells over the in-house speaker system. The track is a lot smoother than his recent track "Off the Head," which he recently dropped on video. You can easily bob your head to the beat, but Xali effortlessly glides over the pulse of the track. He knocks ad libs and walks out of the booth to light another blunt.
"See, I told you I'd do three," Xali smiles as he takes another hit of his blunt and passes it to Von. The engineer is on a time crunch to finish mixing the last track before Xali's session is over at 4 p.m. "Yeah, I'm thinking June for this release," Xali says. He blows smoke into the air, and the finishing touches to three of the tracks to Xali Unknwn's unnamed project are finished.