Rising Local R&B Singer Twelve'Len Sees Beauty on the Streets of Carol City

Twelve'Len sees beauty in the palm trees and faded pastel houses of Carol City, the neighborhood where he grew up. It's rife with poverty. But he knows there's more to the place than its two most famous exports — football players and rappers. 

"It's very dark and gritty but it also has its moments, a lot of moments, where it's not as dark," Twelve says of his hometown, much of which has become modern-day Miami Gardens. "Communities can come together and kick it and just vibe out."

Speaking with New Times about his experience in Carol City, the rising R&B singer says sports-driven rivalries often ramp up the tension between neighborhoods, and violence can erupt. Just the other day, he says, one of his close friends was killed in a shooting.

"People die senseless deaths," he says. "Sports help develop the mentality of having to be somewhat of a gladiator. And, you know, that's really the only thing presented to our communities as an outlet, outside of being a scholar. If you're not a scholar, you're an athlete. If you're not an athlete, you're probably going to have a hard time discovering what you're actually into. That's because the school system given to the urban community, the less fortunate community, it doesn't really grant... views of how you can grow yourself.

"You turn 18 years old, you graduate high school, and you don't know who you are," he continues. "So now you have to go out there and figure it out. You pick up what was left behind, which isn't always good."

(Carol City High won a state football championship in Division 6A in 2016. Rick Ross was an All-Dade offensive lineman for the team in 1993.)

Twelve is emerging as a deeply thoughtful voice for the underrepresented, predominantly black community. He's also the subject of Definition of a Florida Boy, a short documentary produced by Red Bull and the Miami-based production company Exilium. Impressively, filmmakers Jose Daniel Freixas and Fred Vogel need less than seven minutes to construct a narrative that ties Twelve to the past, present, and future of Carol City.

Twelve'LenEXPAND
Twelve'Len
Photo by Ian Witlen

"We're Miami guys," Vogel says, "so we've known about this rich culture in Carol City and these monster legends like Flo Rida and Rick Ross that have come out of there. And we knew about the new generation coming up — like Spaceghostpurrp and Denzel Curry — but we really didn't know about Twelve'Len. Just hearing his unique sound and finding out how he has these ties to Carol City legends, that's really what turned us on. That's what pulled us into the story." 

The short documentary is set to premiere online Tuesday, August 7, coinciding with the release of a new Twelve'Len single, “Let’s Stay” off his upcoming album, Precious. Wynwood Marketplace will host the film's first local screening Thursday, August 9, with a drive-in-themed event featuring local donks and verts.

Twelve — real name Lavares Joseph — used to be on a typical path for a Carol City kid, playing football and aspiring to be a rapper like Flo Rida. In fact, he recalls tagging along with the OG emcee before he blew up, often sitting in on his recording sessions and taking notes. Outside of music, Twelve grew up fast. He started running the streets and hustling, but a high-school teacher introduced him to the Afro-punk scene and poetry clubs in Wynwood, providing a creative outlet that allowed him to shake the street-survivor mindset.

"The mentality I had growing up was very premeditative and aggressive," he says. "It kind of helped me to be able to finesse and maneuver my way through those scenes in Wynwood and the Little Haiti area. It was artistic, and people were expressing themselves in ways outside of sports and music."

As his career as a rapper progressed, Twelve fell in with Spaceghostpurrp, Denzel Curry, A$AP Rocky, Lil B, and Soulja Boy, but it was difficult to stand out in the crowd. "It just became oversaturated, and everybody was doing it," Twelve says. "I needed to do something different, so I started adding melodies beneath my raps. It got to where I was like, You know what? I'm going to sing on these tracks. Eventually, I just weaned myself off rapping."

Twelve'LenEXPAND
Twelve'Len
Photo by Ian Witlen

Despite whatever assumptions people make based on his tattoos, dreadlocks, and mouth of gold teeth, Twelve isn't following in the footsteps of Flo Rida — not anymore. He describes his music as "rock and soul," and he's more inclined to write uplifting lyrics than slummy street narratives.

"It's crazy. I'll stand up there for an hour, sing all of these records and get them rockin', and they still want to call me a rapper," he says, "even though I didn't do nothing that was rhythmic at all."

Twelve embraces a modern hip-hop production style, but as a vocalist he takes cues from classic R&B crooners such as Marvin Gaye, Al Green, and Frankie Beverly and Maze. "They're people just like me — people who grew up in these high-poverty neighborhoods and were able to create music for the soul, music that made you want to go outside and barbecue," he says. "It's music that made people want to come together regardless of how ugly the community was."

He's proud to have overcome his everyday circumstances and put out music that speaks for his hometown. It's a matter of keeping things in perspective, he says. "Carol City can be a very beautiful place, but it's up to us to paint that picture. If I don't do it, nobody else will."

Twelve’Len. 7 to 11 p.m. Thursday, August 9, at Wynwood Marketplace, 2250 NW Second Ave., Miami. Admission is free with RSVP via redbull.com.

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