Jose El Rey Retrospective: "It Was A Little Like Being Possessed"

"Back in 2006, I had no band, no car, and a lot of free time," says Miami musician Jose Flores.

"So I was doing hundreds of home recordings. I always thought freestyle and Miami bass were these fun and lost genres. I noticed that the simpler, funny bass-heavy jams were getting the best reactions from my friends.

"I thought, What kind of guy would sing these songs? And I pictured a wetter, hairier version of myself on vocals, and I named him José El Rey."

See also: José El Rey's "¿Que Pasa, M.I.A.?" Column Archives

As the former leader of punk outfits like Pin Kai and the Getback, Flores has been no stranger to South Florida's music scene. But "José El Rey" became, for a rough span of three years, one of Miami's most recognizable figures -- even penning a New Times column called "¿Que Pasa, M.I.A.?"

At a time when local hipster identity was seeking the next thing, Flores' invention produced an agreeable and believable cultural type, the so-called "spicster." A semi-ironic Latin tough-guy, party-boy character, José El Rey made it cool to eat croquetas and drink Jupiña mixed with rum down at the club.

Usually flanked by bodyguard El Tigre and booty dancers, El Rey's fever-inducing performances at now-defunct NE 14th Street clubs PS14 and The Vagabond produced surreal, culture-bending forays into freestyle and Miami bass that shared more with breakcore and punk rock than 2 Live Crew -- though the crassness was on par.

It was all fun and fuego. But at a certain point, reality and make-believe blurred.

See also: José El Rey and Miami Bass Warriors in Miami's 50 Best Bands of All Time

"Some people were probably bummed to find out I wasn't a cokehead lothario. I think I was seen as somewhere between Super Mario and a party clown," Flores says.

"One magazine had no idea there was music associated with José El Rey," he laughs. "That was the best. They just wanted to do a photo spread on the guy in the shiny suit!"

The realization that he had lost control came at an oh-so-Miami moment. "My closet had more gold chains and pink polyester than blue jeans and T-shirts," Flores recalls.

So, as with all good things, José El Rey had to come to an end, since being the king was "a little bit like being possessed." And on November 1, 2009, Flores "murdered" his "wetter, hairier" self.

Now, a few years later, Flores can recall some of the better side effects of the persona: "The abs! Eating nothing but pastelitos and dancing to 180 BPMs on stage leads to a real handsome physique."

Though with hindsight, he also laments what he should've done differently: "Ask consistently for more money! You'd be surprised how much one can make singing along to a CD of pre-recorded beats!"

On Wednesday, December 17, Flores will even indulge a little "spicster" nostalgia with the aptly titled "A Little Strong: José El Rey Retrospective," presented by Borscht Film Festival. He will be joined in conversation by some surprise guests during a screening of El Rey's recorded works, as well as live footage from his notoriously hectic and sweaty shows.

Long live the king!

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"A Little Strong: José El Rey Retrospective." Presented by Borscht Film Festival. As part of Shirley's Cinema. Wednesday, December 17. Gramps, 176 NW 24th St., Miami. The event begins at 10 p.m. and a $5 donation is requested. Admission is free with the purchase of a Borscht 9 ticket. Ages 21 and up. Call 786-752-6693 or visit grampsbar.com.

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