September will mark the two year anniversary of the death of iconic Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández, after a tragic boating accident off the coast of Miami Beach. Fernández not only left behind his family, a pregnant girlfriend, and a baseball organization starved for young talent, but a legacy that the city of Miami has yet to recover from.
Enter Raptilia Militia, a Miami-based hip-hop group who have been performing under the radar for roughly the last decade. The band consists of rappers Fabio Mendes, Anthony Guzman, Joseph Rabassa, and producer Raul Colom.
One of their most popular songs is titled "Kaught Looking," which was also the name of Fernández's boat on which he and two other men perished that fateful evening.
"My friends and I would only go to Marlins games when Fernández pitched," Guzman says. "He was just so young and yet meant so much to the city of Miami. This song is our way to pay homage."
Raptilia Militia aspires to make music like the hip-hop greats. Their influences come from legendary artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, Black Star, Jurassic 5, and Wu-Tang Clan. All the lyrics they compose and each beat they create have considerable significance to them and their fans.
"It's nothing like that garbage rap you hear on the radio these days," emphasizes fan Wilfredo Quijada. "Their style of hip-hop is a dying breed."
So when the tragic death of Fernández took place, Raptilia Militia immediately began collaborating on a song to express their distraught feelings. This wasn't just the death of one of their favorite hometown sports stars. This was personal for each member of the group.
Fernández's story represented the journey of so many Cubans before him. The player attempted to defect from Cuba unsuccessfully three times, with each failed time followed up with a prison term. In 2007, Fernández, along with his sister and mother, finally defected successfully, but at an excruciating price. During the trip, Fernández's mother fell overboard into choppy waters, and he had to dive into the ocean to rescue her.
They finally reached Mexico, then moved to Tampa in 2008. In 2011, Fernández signed with the Miami Marlins and received a $2 million signing bonus. By 2013, Fernández was an MLB All-Star and was the National League Rookie of the Year. He was not only the face of the franchise but the face of the city of Miami as well.
"My father immigrated from Cuba under similar circumstances," Colom says. "I consider myself fully Cuban. I am the same age as Fernández, so my family, my friends, our nation as a whole looked up to Fernández as a representation of what we could achieve here in America."
Mendes found much fulfillment in serving Fernández on numerous occasions at the restaurant where he works. "Obviously, you envy a guy your age making millions, coming from the same background as yourself," Mendes says. "But it wasn't like that with José. He was always gracious and polite and took care of those of us around him. He was a man clearly filled with joy. It's something that all of us could see, whether he was on the baseball field or out in public."
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As Raptilia Militia walks onto the main stage of Churchill's Pub to fading jazz music, the lights slowly rise and shine through the clouds of cigarette smoke. The opening beats of "Kaught Looking" begin to reverberate throughout the iconic bar.
"This song is dedicated to our boy José Fernández," the group echoes into the microphones. "Only the good die young, may you rest in peace."
The crowd begins to cheer; some are hugging each other. For the next few minutes, everybody remembers José Fernández, his legacy, and what he meant to the city of Miami. Fans are recording with their cellphones, the flashes from cameras providing a constant illumination. Heads are nodding, hips are swaying, and everyone is dancing, with smiles on their faces and love in their hearts.