Shout-outs to South Beach women and South Florida zip codes are a dime a dozen in popular music. But each year, some songs truly seem to represent Miami and its diversity, its flashy vibe, its sunny/shady dichotomy, or its lesser-known rock 'n' roll chops. And this year is no exception. This is the most Miami music of the first half of 2017.
Ski Mask the Slump God featuring XXXtentacion, “Take a Step Back”
Whatever happened to the punks? Where are those intrepid young scumbags who thumb their noses at polite society and make loud, dissonant music that's angry and nihilistic? Answer: They’re in Broward, and they’re rappers. Of all the brash tunes coming from Lauderhill’s Members Only crew, “Take a Step Back" best epitomizes the area’s nascent, SoundCloud-conquering sound. It teams up producer Ronny J of Denzel Curry’s similarly grand “Ultimate,” Ski Mask the Slump God, and XXXTentacion. Together, they codify all of their scene’s signature moves. The distorted, purposefully boosted bass, the gonzo ad-libs, X’s deranged sexual boasts (“They call me Young Dagger Dick, that’s my handle”) paired with Ski Mask’s wicked-fast flow — it’s all here. This is the new sound of South Florida rap, and it’s fucked up. — Douglas Markowitz
DJ Khaled featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller, “Wild Thoughts”
DJ Khaled is hip-hop’s version of Jay Gatsby: Though he’s by no means mysterious, he certainly does throw the best parties. For the music video to his latest single, “Wild Thoughts,” Khaled brings the party to Little Haiti. Hailing from a city dripping in decadence and excess, Khaled knows everyone, and everyone knows him. In fact, his upcoming album, Grateful, features a parade of A-listers from the music industry: Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Drake, Justin Bieber, Calvin Harris, Nicki Minaj, and Alicia Keys. For “Wild Thoughts,” he has appropriately recruited one of the sexiest beings on the planet: Rihanna. For those able to pry their eyes way from Riri, the video is a sultry, steamy midnight romp through a tropical urban paradise that pays homage to Miami’s Haitian community. The searing guitar riff, sampled from Carlos Santana’s classic “Maria Maria,” elevates the innate desire. And although Khaled finally got to work with Rihanna, he’s still chasing his own Daisy: the songs that will define him. Maybe that’s why he keeps shouting, “Another one!” — Angel Melendez
Photo by Squid Stills
Proper Villains, “Spazzmatik Bass”
Miami was especially popping in the '80s (and we're not talking about gunshots), so it’s logical that the city’s signature club music genre, Miami bass, would emerge during the coke years. But don’t assume the sound is a relic of the Reagan years. In her annual Magic City mix series for Opening Ceremony, Miami native Jubilee brings together the choicest cuts of international bass music and puts them back in a Floridian context. This year’s mix is her third, and though it gathers tunes and talent from as far away as London (Ikonika) and New York (Proper Villains), rest assured: When you hear that bass, you’ll only think of the 305. — Douglas Markowitz
J. Balvin and Pitbull featuring Camila Cabello, “Hey Ma”
This could be the most Miami song of 2017 even though, or perhaps because, it’s almost entirely centered on Cuba. As the most prominent single off The Fate of the Furious soundtrack, “Hey Ma” features the talents of Cuban-American rapper and sunglasses mannequin Pitbull and former Fifth Harmony vocalist Camila Cabello. The 20-year-old rising star was raised in Miami but was born in Havana, where the opening race scene for the film was shot. The music video is spliced with clips of that harrowing race through the rustic streets of the beautifully preserved city while J. Balvin and Pitbull vie for Cabelllo’s attention. (Balvin totally wins that contest, by the way; watch for the chemistry between him and Cabello and how Pitbull is left dancing in the corner by himself near the end.) There are two versions of the song, one in English and one in Spanish, but in true Miami form, they each include sprinklings of Spanglish. — Angel Melendez
Lil Pump, “D Rose”
Of all the South Florida SoundCloud rappers shoveling coal into the hip-hop hype train, Lil Pump is certainly the most. He has pink dreads and wears BAPE like a uniform. He drives a bright-yellow Porsche, and when he crashed it, he joked about it on Twitter. His catch phrase — of course he has a catch phrase — is “essketit," which is how you say “let’s get it” if you’re fucked-up on lean 24/7. He has way too much money for a 16-year-old, and he wants you to know about it. He looks and acts like James Franco’s character from Spring Breakers. Basically, he is the most Miami person imaginable, and he can put out a less-than-great track like “D Rose” and still ball out because he makes up for it with personality. You’re not watching the vid for the music; you’re watching for Lil Pump. — Douglas Markowitz
Rick Ross featuring Ty Dolla $ign, “I Think She Like Me”
Rick Ross is a man so infatuated with the idea of wealth that for “I Think She Like Me,” the lead single off his ninth studio LP, Rather You Than Me, he employed the services of a singer who has a dollar sign in his name. On multiple occasions during “I Think She Like Me,” a song about how he thinks women are attracted to him because he’s rich and famous, Ross name-drops innumerable proper nouns specifically related to the fact that he’s rich and famous. One verse in particular stands out, referencing Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Hermès, and French fashion house Maison Margiela. He boasts about trips to Greece, the Maldives, Portugal, and Cannes. He compares himself to and counts as friends Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Brady, and Cristiano Ronaldo, all top men in their chosen professions. The entire song champions celebrity culture in a manner that would make Robin Leach proud. And, after all, isn’t that what we see when we look to Miami entities such as Fisher Island or DJ Khaled? (Both, of course, get shout-outs on this song.) — Angel Melendez
Spam Allstars, "Trans-Oceanic"
The six-minute-plus track "Trans-Oceanic," which opens the Spam Allstars' album of the same name that came out in February, begins with a sample of a local weather report telling you "bay waters choppy, a chance of showers, and a light chance of thunderstorms." Then the horns come in, followed by a synthesizer, and you're off on an instrumental voyage. With no vocals to direct you, you could be floating to Latin rhythms on a stolen dinghy on the Miami River. The handclaps could be a celebration of the greatest night of your life or an attempt to silence the hundred thousand mosquitoes swarming. It's a groove-induced song open to as many interpretations as the Magic City. — David Rolland
Twelve’Len, “Riley Reid”
Feeling less like a song and more like an interlude between two more fully realized tracks, “Riley Reid” is a sultry two-minute homage to what happens between the sheets — or, in this case, what happens on camera. Carol City native Twelve’Len croons about “laying in my bed” at 3 a.m. with someone on his mind. That someone could very well be Riley Reid, a 25-year-old porn actress and onetime Florida International University student who was born in Miami Beach. Maybe the song is a love letter to his favorite porn star, or maybe it's a lament over how the “love” part of lovemaking gets lost in porn. Either way, it’s fitting that the song hails from an area where the porn industry is booming and adult film production companies such as Reality Kings are just that: kings. — Angel Melendez
Deaf Poets, "Meet Me"
Though hip-hop, electronic, and Latin music is what tourists think of when they assemble a Miami playlist, stumble into Churchill's any random night and you'll find a thriving rock scene. With the song "Meet Me," the duo Deaf Poets pays homage to the past and present of Miami rock. The heavy guitar and booming drums have a hint of the sludge aura that was once ever-present in our fair city. But the vocals are sung clearly with a hint of distortion on the guitar that is a staple of bands influenced by garage and psychedelia. While it sounds like Miami in 2017, there's also a hint of Seattle in 1991. — David Rolland
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Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee, “Despacito”
This damn song is everywhere, but, man, is it catchy. “Despacito” has been number one on the Billboard charts for eons. The last time a Spanish-language song was at the top for this long was “Macarena” in 1997. God help Luis Fonsi. Let's hope his hit single won’t be relegated to awkward and ironic dances at gringos' weddings. For the time being, though, it’s the sound du jour, and everyone wants a piece of it. Even pop music’s afterbirth, Justin Bieber, is trying to cash in on the song’s ubiquity even though he doesn't know the lyrics or, you know, Spanish. However, Miami’s connection to the song is more abstract and tangible. Fonsi is a Puerto Rican-born singer who lives part-time in Miami. He went to high school in Orlando, attended college at Florida State, and recorded his first demos in Miami. As for the song, Fonsi has a hit equipped with a tropical, reggaeton vibe so familiar that it sounds like it was spontaneously manifested at the behest of every Hispanic who’s ever swayed at a Miami nightclub. — Angel Melendez
Bonus song: Billy Joel, "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)"
Obviously, this is not a song recorded in Miami or in 2017. The New York-born-and-bred Piano Man released it in 1976, and it sounds nothing like Miami or 2017. But with a title of "Miami 2017," how could we not put this on the list? On the record Turnstiles, Joel sings a tune that is one part out of his piano-lounge roots and another part overtheatrical showstopper about a time in the future when New York is abandoned and everyone heads to Florida to reminisce about what a great place their hometown once was. The song has become an anthem for New York any time it hits hard times, from 9/11 to Hurricane Sandy, but because of the title's relevance, Joel has brought it out of mothballs lately. He played it at his New Year's Eve show at the BB&T Center and a week later on Late Show With Stephen Colbert. — David Rolland