For all the awful stuff that happened this year, rest assured of one thing: Miami's music scene is alive and well. Whether it's dance, hip-hop, rock, metal, or everything in between, 305's artists made themselves heard with an amazing body of work that had listeners in awe.
If your knowledge of Miami music goes only as far as Pitbull and Rick Ross, now is the time to get to know the acts who actually made the most of 2016. From beats by breakouts such as Nick León and Twelve'Len, whose buzz extends beyond our swampy borders, to tracks by established acts like Locos por Juana, Heavy Drag, and Oscar G, these picks should make it onto your Spotify playlist not because they are from Miami but because they are of the best work we've heard this year.
Honorable mentions go out to Eskeerdo's "Weekend Behavior," SunGhosts' "Hydro Pump," Lazaro Casanova's "Calle Ocho," and Aleicia's "Love You Too (feat. Rmromm)," whose songs would have made this list if it were just a bit longer.
1. Nick León, "Prophecy"
Nick León's album Profecía is top to bottom an amazing album, and if this were a best-albums list, we would easily rank it in the top spot. A great introduction to the producer's work is "Prophecy," a cut that sounds so menacing that it probably could soundtrack a David Fincher film. León easily blends traces of hip-hop, techno, and electro to create something that is both ambient yet oddly danceable. It's only a matter of time before the music industry starts calling on León for his beats. — Jose D. Duran
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2. Denzel Curry, "Ult"
If Rick Ross and DJ Khaled are Miami's hip-hop ambassadors to the rest of the world, Denzel Curry is its young upstart, the superstar intern with the brightest future. Chosen for the (always controversial) XXL Freshman Class of 2016, the Carol City rapper has had a triumphant year. His most impactful record of the year is "Ult," the lead single off his latest album, Imperial. The track is Curry's biggest release to date, but it doesn't come at the cost of his trademark hyperaggressive flow. Rapping in triple time, Curry touches on the prison-industrial complex, police killings, hater friends, black liberation, and racial unity in just two verses. To the untrained ear, Curry's lyrics can leave you at a loss for words and feeling tongue-twisted. For those paying attention, they are a reminder to strive for our highest, "ultimate" selves. — Jorge Courtade
3. Danny Daze, "Swim"
Like the "Macarena" and "Cha-Cha Slide," "Swim" by Danny Daze has a corresponding dance. It's easy: Just do the backstroke. This track should be blasting in the headphones of a gladiator walking into the Coliseum for a fight to the death. The isolated bass line to get the track going is reminiscent of New Order. Around 2:25, as the track escalates to a crescendo, if your backstroke transitions to jumping and fist-pumping, your soul is functioning properly. At 5:20, if you want to lie on your back, kick your feet, wave your arms, act a fool, and go bananas, your spirit is alive. — Elvis Anderson
4. Virgo, "Disappear"
Virgo only whetted our appetite for her icy electro beats in 2015, so when she returned the following year with her EP Water Planet, it properly laid the foundation for where Elizabeth Ann Clark would take her audio-visual project. While the four-track EP is full of gems, "Disappear" stands as her most accessible work yet. It pulsates with life as Clark sings, "Makes me want to disappear/From here... Fading to the deep/Fading to the blue." The track showcases Clark's ability as not only a skilled producer but also a strong vocalist. And with a looming Virgo videogame, there's no limit to what we can expect from Clark in 2017. — Jose D. Duran
5. Twelve'Len, "Star Dust"
Twelve'Len effortlessly sends his listeners on an astronomical adventure every time he performs his hit single "Star Dust." The R&B- and rock-infused single led his album Friends, which marked the beginning of his solo career. The track, produced by Nick Léon and Zach Fogarty, creates a feel-good ambiance that forces everyone in the audience to get up and dance. He says his lyrics urging listeners to "share this dance" correlates with a deeper urge. "It means to share this life as one people and understand the world don't need us; we need it and we are just living on it," he says. "Star Dust" has quickly became a South Florida dance anthem. — Cristina Jerome
6. Sndngchllz, "Poison"
"Poison," the lead single off ascendant vocalist-producer Sndngchllz's Tension EP, fuses indie-pop sensibilities with the characteristic sounds of South Florida's burgeoning alternative electronic scene. Spawning a handful of popular remixes and edits, "Poison" tells the story of a dangerous kind of love that draws its primary actors together like moths to a flame. It's a familiar story, but one that Sndngchllz tells in a novel way, with scratchy vocals and polished production. "Poison" feels like a cautionary tale and an irresistible invitation all at once. If it's any indication of what Sndngchllz has in store for the coming year, "Poison" will be remembered as a glimpse into the future, the catalyst that helped pushed the young musician into the highest tier of South Florida's alternative scene. — Jorge Courtade
7. Vnusamr, "Affection"
Vnusamr has a funny name but makes seriously cool R&B. (The moniker might be a mashup of "Venus," the goddess of love, and "amour." Get it?) The Miami singer, who graced the III Points lineup this year, has so far released a handful of songs, each stranger and more darkly sexual than the last. It's like sex music for ghosts, or like your parents' slow jams slowed down and crazy pitched-out. Her smooth vocals on top of "Affection" have us totally mesmerized. Definitely watch out for this one, and peep her debut EP, In This Church. — Kat Bein
8. Fudakochi, "Black Love"
One of 2016's most tragic story lines has been the unjustified police-involved killings of black men, often caught on camera, with no justice to follow. That trend has been met with a groundswell of exceptional art by black artists who aim to not only memorialize those who have been lost but also assert their own value in society. Fudakochi's "Black Love" is an ode to black people's beauty and resilience in the face of struggle. He sings the song with the affectation of a man crying out for those who didn't survive and for those who are fighting to survive. "We are that sea that keeps on flowing," he wails. "Majestic is our legacy/Royalty flows through my veins/My crown won't be compromised!" It's a Black Power anthem for the age of Black Lives Matter. — Celia Almeida
9. Rick Ross & Skrillex, "Purple Lamborghini"
Skrillex is a name so much bigger than dance music. His work on Justin Bieber's Purpose proved he's got pop chops, and his work with rappers A$AP Rocky and Pusha T goes hard in the paint, but nothing has ever sounded so dark and sinister as his collaboration with Miami's Teflon Don on the Suicide Squad soundtrack. Even the Bawse had to acknowledge "Purple Lamborghini" as one of the illest beats he'd ever "hruhhed." It's all the clomping blackness of Ross' usual MMG style, but with an added element of electricity. It's subtle but oh-so-strong, and we can't wait to see what Skrill and Ross cook up together in the future. — Kat Bein
10. Locos por Juana, "Se Fue la Luz"
Locos por Juana has long been one of Miami's most beloved and successful exports, but 2016 was a banner year for the band with the release of its album Caribe, featuring collaborations with Collie Buddz and living rap legend Talib Kweli. "Se Fue la Luz" draws on the influence of the Afro-Colombian hip-hop sounds of collaborators ChocQuibTown and marries that with Locos' fast-paced, upbeat take on their native Colombia's signature cumbia sound, led by singer Itawe Correa's energetic delivery. After your family's Nochebuena feast, invite your friends over and fire up the grill, because "Se Fue la Luz" is the perfect addition to your Little Havana block-party soundtrack. — Celia Almeida
11. Oscar G, "Rain," featuring Seri
"Rain" is a song about innocent love that ends in heartbreak and leaves a mark, something we've all experienced in Miami. Seri was the third vocalist to give it a go on "Rain" by Oscar Gaetan (AKA Oscar G). She was worth the wait, because her sexy-soulful voice complements Gaetan's drums like a saltine to a croqueta. In a dance-music world of monotonous loops and smashing techno, this one is for those looking for love or a good old-fashioned dance-floor bump-and-grind session. "Rain" keeps the congregation moving and offers the vibe needed to close the deal. Good luck, Miami. — Elvis Anderson
12. Keith Johns, "Grateful Fool"
Keith Johns is one of those people who's gifted with so many unique talents that your inner mean girl envies them. His full-length debut, Grateful Fool, maps the realizations that led him from kid in a lab coat to folk troubadour. Though his journey was unconventional, his lyrics tell universally relatable sentiments about the confusion of finding your purpose in a world riddled with false starts and false promises. "The land provides/It gives all you need," Johns advises on the album's title track. "So travel light/Go wild and free." Johns is a travel guide lighting the way through a cave of youthful doubt and insecurity. His conclusion: "Rejoice, 'cause we don't know a damn thing." We could've told you that, but Johns sings it way sweeter. — Celia Almeida
13. Shroud Eater, "Destroy the Monolith"
Shroud Eater, the power trio composed of Jean Saiz, Janette Valentine, and Davin Sosa, is one of the bands keeping Miami's metal scene vibrant. "Destroy the Monolith" is a sludge/stoner track that should be played loudly as you slowly walk toward the gates of Hell or head home on a summer night after having way too much fun at Churchill's. This song was included on a seven-inch split record released in November via Southern Druid Records. Let's hope 2017 will bring more of Shroud Eater's doom and distortion. — Flor Frances
14. Basside, "I Like Bass"
The Basside girls have always been bad, but this song has them showing off their baddest sides. The trap beat is a good look under their whiplash flows. Que Linda and Caro Loka rep the 305 to the fullest. We hear you with that Club Space, that Wonderland, that L'Trimm. Also, "I like bass 'cause it has ass in it" is a wonderfully cheeky hook. Move over, Will Smith, because the ladies of Basside have given the city a new tag: "Welcome to Miami/Where the bass is hot/Where the girls are cheap/And the drinks are not." — Kat Bein
15. Heavy Drag, "Kinda Slow"
In 2016, Heavy Drag released its album Sábana Ghost, which the Miami quartet proudly described as gloomy. "Kinda Slow" encompasses that kind of too-depressed-to-get-out-of-bed ethos not only lyrically but also in the prolonged guitar riffs that seem to weigh down the track the way a bad breakup makes you feel like you're drowning in quicksand. It finds inspiration in acts such as Nirvana and early-'90s Beck, giving the track a grunge feel without abandoning its swampy Florida roots. It's the perfect track when nobody understands what you're going through. — Jose D. Duran
16. El Dusty, "Cumbia Anthem," featuring Happy Colors
Happy Colors is a hyperactive style-spinner, and he's been on his turn-up grind for a minute. He's a fast talker and a mean beat-blaster. His concoctions mix everything from bachata to cumbia to merengue with dubstep, moombahton, and trap. His productions can sometimes be stressful, like listening to someone's beautiful seizure. "Cumbia Anthem" is one of his most easily palatable works, and it garnered him and collaborator El Dusty a Latin Grammy nomination for Best Urban Fusion Performance. Congrats, guys. You earned it! — Kat Bein
17. Jesse Perez, "Fake"
Miami is unashamedly fake, but it has needed the right anthem to celebrate that quality. Enter Jesse Perez, who gives the fake-and-proud crowd a track to jerk their bodies to. "Got a fake booty/Got fake titties/Got a fake nose/Got a fake face," a female vocalist sings. The track isn't so much throwing shade as it's calling out all them clubland thotties. But this is Miami, where being fake is celebrated, so even with its schoolyard taunting, Perez's beat still implores listeners to party. So press play and get your Brazilian-butt-lifted ass on the dance floor. — Jose D. Duran
18. Trina, "F*ck That (Forget That)," featuring Steph Lecor
Earlier this year, the reigning queen of Miami hip-hop, Trina; and the newest addition to We the Best Music Group, Steph Lecor, joined forces to cook up a dope track that's on the official soundtrack to the film Meet the Blacks. In "F*ck That (Forget That)," Trina brings Steph along to stunt on their haters together as they exchange bars on the upbeat record. Amid scenes from the comedic horror flick starring Mike Epps and Lil Duval, Steph does her best to keep up with her veteran cohort as they cruise around Wynwood in a fancy ride for the official music video. It's amazing to see two successful women in hip-hop from Dade County work together to make a solid song that all of their fans will be bumping to well into the new year. — Tony Centeno
19. Kent Jones, "Alright"
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In the latter half of 2016, Kent Jones made a strong return to the airwaves with his single "Alright." We the Best Music Group's shining rapper and producer tapped into his love for Earth, Wind & Fire as he constructed his own spin on that group's classic record "Let's Groove." With the help of producer Colin Tilley, Kent successfully reciprocated the feel-good aura that legendary band brought to the airwaves decades ago. "Alright" is a refreshing followup to his smash hit "Don't Mind" that will lighten up a lame party or any rough situation. Kent Jones knows his journey to superstardom is nowhere near finished, but he's confident his tunes will make the whole world feel "Alright" in 2017. — Tony Centeno
20. Edan Archer, "Cruel Mother"
While Edan Archer's single skews more toward the grungier side of her alt-country EP, she keeps with the country tradition by offering a good old-fashioned murder ballad. On "Cruel Mother," off her album of the same name, Archer trades in the city smog for the crisp country air, rush-hour traffic for a horse, and beat machines for haunting harmonies à la the Civil Wars. The song is a centuries-old dark fairy tale about a mother who murders her newborn children and is haunted by their spirits later in life. When the Cruel Mother offers to dress the ghosts in "scarlet fine," they remind her of her beastly crime: "Oh, mother, when we were yours/Well, scarlet was our own heart's blood." — Celia Almeida