Living in Miami, one thing is glaringly obvious -- the rich are very rich; the poor are very poor.
"I used to live downtown, right across the street from the arena, on Ninth and Biscayne," says Mandon Lovett, a documentary director who just moved to L.A. after five years in the MIA. "It's like a luxury building, and I can look out over my pool deck, and you can see Overtown. You can see that's it a whole 'nother world over there. It's so close, but it's worlds away."
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Lovett just released the trailer for his latest project, The Field: Miami. It's the second installment in a series, produced by WorldStarHipHop, which takes a close look at America's thriving rap meccas, telling the real story of street life through the lens of local artists.
"I'm a fan of hip-hop as well as culture in general," he says. "In my work, I like to tie in both music and society. I think that a lot of the work I do focuses on the artist and how the artist sees the world around them."
The Field's first exposé was a close-up inspection of Chicago, murder capital of the country and breeding ground for buzz-worthy rappers. There, the story is one of gang violence, an epidemic of young people killing other young people for territory and power.
"I wanted to go there, talk to those artists, hear their story, and see what their world is like. That's essentially what the Miami one is like too, but Miami faces a different set of issues," Lovett says. "We asked [Chicago] what the violence was about, and it was gangs and territory. When you ask those guys the same questions in Miami, it's all about money. People die in Miami over money."
The Field: Miami touches on all the major points of contention in our day-to-day lives: gentrification, economic disparity, police harassment, immigration policies. These realities affect our populace whether you're in Overtown or not.
"It's supposed to shed a light on a portion of Miami that people don't see," says Leon, the Lion, a local producer and frequent Lovett collaborator tapped to write the film's score. "People are blinded by the light when it comes to Miami -- the clubs, the women, the fashion, the cars, the sports teams. Everything is glitter and gold. [The Field is] just exposing another side."
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Shot over about seven days, The Field: Miami follows eight local rappers, telling their stories and painting a larger portrait of the metropolis as a whole. Rap is the art of storytelling, and the local music Lovett highlights gives the film its plot.
"Hip-hop has also been not only a form of expression but also a means of gaining economic growth for a person," he says. "A lot of these guys come from an environment where they don't have the same opportunities as a lot of people, and so they use music as a positive way for them to make money as well as express themselves."
To Leon, the juxtaposition of music and culture is a no-brainer.
"When your leaders are musicians in your community and that's who you're looking to, yeah, [music is] everything," he says, adding that he took his work in the studio very seriously. "I just wanted to capture what I've been exposed to in this city, from what I've heard and how I've developed as a producer. The eclectic amount of music that I'm hearing in this world, I just wanted to throw that at them."
"Eclectic" is the key word. Lovett and his crew were careful to select artists that represent the different neighborhoods and cultures that give Miami its flavor. Of course, they couldn't capture them all, but they made a real effort to be as well-rounded and honest as possible.
"If you really want to tap into what the streets are listening to, you have to be in the streets," Lovett says. "The artists that we really profiled are artists that are poppin' on the street, as opposed to poppin' on the blog. A lot of the artists you hear about, you might not see them on the local blogs or national blogs, but if you go to the meccas of Miami music -- the local street music, local strip clubs -- these are the artists that you'll hear."
Of course, it's not a doc on Miami hip-hop if you don't talk to some of the legends.
"I'm honored to have scored that shit. Trick Daddy? Uncle Luke? That shit's fucking crazy," Leon says. "[The trailer is] almost at 6 million views. I recorded those strings in a tiny-ass room, you know? I'm happy people can share that and listen."
From the score to the interviews, the production, and the locales, Lovett and his crew put in serious work to make sure the final product represents as much of the real Miami as possible.
"We want to use this as a platform and hopefully, almost essentially as a way of giving back to them," he says. "A lot of times, these communities are completely forgotten. If it wasn't for this platform, The Field, a lot of these voices would never be heard. We hope that everyone appreciates and respects the reality of what's going on, and not just in Miami, but in all of our American cities."
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