Even 25 years later, echoes of Miami freestyle's powerful influence can still be heard on the radio, in the clubs, and in the electronic dance music that's dominating today's music industry.
During the mid '80s and early '90s, freestyle boomed from Miami's wildly creative and prolific scene. But thanks to the timeless skill of producers like Pretty Tony Butler, songwriters like Garfield Baker, and singers like Trinere, our local bass music is still making asses clap like 808s, from São Paulo to the San Fernando Valley.
The truth is freestyle will never die. So ahead of a free concert at Magic City Casino on January 11, we here at Crossfade caught up with Trinere to talk about her music, strippers, Gloria Estefan, lawyers, and twerking.
Crossfade: Talk about the early days of freestyle.
Trinere: The early days? You didn't know it was the early days of freestyle. We just did music. Pretty Tony did music that he was feeling. I was feeling. Coming up in Miami with all the percussion sounds and multicultural sounds, he just kind of mixed his own black thing with Latin, and different percussions. We didn't set out to do freestyle. It's just music that makes you dance and gets you grooving in the club. I told Tony, "If it doesn't make me dance, I don't want it."
There were writers like Garfield Baker putting together lyrics for everybody. What was the studio like?
We were like a family, just having a good time all night. The writers looked at my life and all the different relationship issues women go through and wrote about it, like, "Why you hesitating, how long must I keep waiting, why you treat me so bad?" Every woman can relate to that. They wrote about my life, my relationships, my memories. Sometimes, I had to be like, "Whoa, I'm not ready for that to be out there." It was real life.
Well, me and Tony had a son together, Brandon Christopher. He goes by Miami Marci. He's in the music business too as a producer, engineer, following in his father's footsteps.
What was your first hit?
"All Night." It wasn't the first song we thought we would put out, but we played all my tracks for a bunch of different DJs and asked for their feedback about which one the people of Miami would most relate to, and they chose "All Night." I remember DJ Laz, Bo Griffin, Cox on the radio, and Power96 used to really push our music.
What was it like as an independent?
That's all there was. The independent labels had to make it happen. Tony got our own records printed up and went to the radio station himself and pushed the records. I would be with him when he would press them, make the labels, put the plastic on them. I would help him package everything. It was hard work. And it was harder for us because we had to make the people listen. We didn't have the money for promotions. We had to hustle to make it happen.
How old were you then?
I was 19 years old. I was just about 18 years old when I met Tony. It was a whole new life. We put out a song and it was on the radio. Fast. And then the clubs started calling. I didn't even have a show yet. I only had one song. But I went and performed and sometimes I would sing it three times in one night.
How did you start recording?
Well, I was introduced to Tony through a mutual friend. And at the time, Tony had already put out "Fix It in the Mix" and "Lookout Weekend" [with Debbie Deb], so I knew who he was. I went to meet him at his home studio in West Palm Beach, and he was like, "Show me what you got." He wasn't rude, but he thought I was the typical singer that says she can sing, but can't. He played me a track, I learned the song, and in 25 minutes, we had "I Know You Love Me." That was the first song I ever recorded and that's how I proved to him I could sing.
You're from Miami, right?
I am born and raised in Miami. I went to North Miami Beach Senior High School, and then the University of Miami's school of music. I originally planned on being a classical singer, but I loved Madonna, Donna Summer, Natalie Cole, and I just kind of fell into the dance music scene.
What is your most memorable performance?
The most exciting concert I did personally was the first time I went to Brazil in 1992. I had no idea how huge I was there, but I had a great following waiting for me. Over there, they call freestyle music Miami bass or funk melody. Everybody knew me. I went down to do 15 shows and ended up getting booked for 30 and did a whole tour. It was amazing, seeing people who don't even speak the language singing along to every word.
Do you still perform there today?
I do. I'm there at least twice a year. It's been a great run.
And what about in the States?
We have a lot of fans. I do huge arena shows. We are selling out arenas. Freestyle still has a huge and dedicated fanbase. The genre doesn't get the respect and appreciation we deserve, but we still get out there, hustle, and do our thing. The faithful freestyle fans still love us.
Maybe I was dumb for not getting a lawyer, but I was 18 years old. I was thinking, "This is my dream." I got my ass in there and I recorded. I wasn't thinking paperwork. But my song was a hit. And the next one was a hit. Tony and I went to a lawyer together and they drew up some contracts, but it was, like, 100 pages. Who was gonna read all that? I just wanted to sing. That was my mistake. I put all my trust in the producer who was helping me get to the next step.
I could tell you a million bad stories, but if I didn't go through them, the people in Brazil would not know me today. I didn't know anything about the business. He was helping me and I was helping him. I'd go in and record and then I had clubs calling and begging to pay me thousands of dollars to sing one song. A minute ago, I was working at Burger King.
So I've always made most of my money through concerts. And thanks to Pretty Tony, I'm gonna be performing at Magic City Casino 25 years later, just 'cause he told me, "Go in the studio girl. Let me hear what you got."
How big was freestyle in Miami?
When I did "I'll Be All You Ever Need," Gloria Estefan was my opening act for a concert on the beach. Gloria Estefan used to open for me. Once she did "Conga," she went to the next level with that big machine behind her. The so-called freestyle got lost in the shuffle. But our music is still influencing everybody today with that 808 sound. I just call my music dance music, 'cause it makes you dance. That's what Miami was all about then and to this day it still is. It's the culture of Miami to dance and get buckwild.
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They say the strippers are famous in Atlanta? Miami girls was strippin' way before them. Shoooot ... Luke Skyywalker had it goin' on back then. He was a bad boy. Now Miley is twerking? Luke had his girls twerking a loooong time ago, baby.
Trinere. With the Cover Girls. Saturday, January 11. Magic City Casino's Stage 305, 450 NW 37th Ave., Miami. The show starts at 9 p.m. and admission is free. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-649-3000 or visit magiccitycasino.com.