Miami People

Abebe Lewis, Sound Magnate

A typical day with recording studio magnate Abebe Lewis might include coordinating a limo ride from the Delano for Miley Cyrus, facilitating strip club accommodations for Puerto Rican rap star Ñengo Flow, sending an intern to pick up cigars for Waka Flocka, booking afternoon studio time for Will Smith, and finding the right mixing engineer for Rick Ross.

And that's all before breakfast. Because the music business is alive and well at Circle House, the iconic North Miami studio Lewis owns and operates.

From pop to rap to Latin, artists and labels flock there for its unparalleled atmosphere (poolside recording booth, private chef) and history of recording hits (see Justin Bieber's catalogue).

But the studio's reputation is just as strong for its success at building hometown artists. After all, it's where Trick Daddy, Trina, Pitbull, and Flo Rida all got their starts.

"Watching Trick go from an unknown rapper to selling platinum was my first real milestone," Lewis says. "It opened my eyes to really making money in this music business."

But the story of Circle House begins with Lewis' father Ian and uncle Roger — founders of Jamaica's Fatman Riddim Section — and the bass and guitar players for pioneering reggae band Inner Circle.

After losing singer Jacob Miller to a car crash in Kingston, the band reformed in Miami and wrote the song "Bad Boys (Watcha Gonna Do)."

Young Abebe watched his father closely during and after that hit. "He didn't go out and buy a Bentley or Ferrari. He put the money back into the business. You gotta invest in what you're doing to see a nice outcome out of your income," he says.

The band bought a house in North Miami and converted it for recording. Replicating the irie vibes of a Jamaican studio, they dubbed it Circle House.

Today, Lewis runs that venture. The former standout basketball prospect from American High has gone from being a kid in Miami Lakes to calling Nas and Ne-Yo friends. But he remains humble. "I take my daughter to school, hit the gym, hit the studio, see what's happening, and buy new equipment to remain on the cutting edge of sound."

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jacob Katel
Contact: Jacob Katel