As Houston has blown up, Atlanta continues to churn out new sounds annually and Memphis rap is now Oscar-worthy, Miami has played a disproportionately small role in southern rap’s rise to the top. True, Dade county has its share of rap stars. Trick Daddy hasn’t made a bad album in about five years (with 2004’s Thug Matrimony: Married to the Streets a genuine classic) and labelmate Trina has been equally prolific. Others have found success outside the city: Lil Jon has propelled Cuban rapper Pitbull into stardom, while Bloodraw now rolls with Young Jeezy in USDA. But these artists produce seemingly at random, with Trick’s semi-annual single as a dispatch from the area confirming its continued existance.
Meanwhile, Miami hosts several industry conferences a year and rappers across the country shout out Miami clubs as often as Miami emcees. Bronx legend Fat Joe spends half the year down in Dade. Everybody’s already there. The city exists in rap’s collective conciousness, who needs lyrics? But things have looked up for Dade rap this year. Producers Cool and Dre have become major figures and Rick Ross ruled the spring with his trunk-destroying anthem “Hustlin’”. DJ Khaled’s official mixtape, Listennn, is another huge step forward.
As well as being the biggest radio DJ in south Florida, Khaled is an industry veteran; as a testament to his networking prowess, the liner notes to Listennn are more than half shout-outs and pictures, including an extensive “FOR ALL THE DJ’S WORLDWIDE” segment. It takes connections to assemble the all-star roster that appears on Listennn, with Young Jeezy, Bun B, Lil Wayne, Juelz Santana, T.I. and damn near every other rapper that made a notable move in the last two years contributing. Not surprisingly, half of Listennn has shown up on more than a few mixtapes.
“Gangsta Shit” is practically a time capsule, with Bun B, Young Jeezy, Slick Pull and Bloodraw at their best over some giant organs swells. On “Problem”, Jadakiss joins his old enemy Beanie Siegel, as Beanie reflects on recent schisms in the industry. The super-smooth single “Holla at Me” still bumps, featuring Lil Wayne, Paul Wall, Fat Joe, Rick Ross and Pitbull rhyming over a Bambaata sample (although without the video, one misses Fat Joe’s grill that looks like the Puerto Rican flag). Twista brings his nasty flow to “Destroy You”, with help on the hooks from Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. Even Kanye West represents with “Grammy Family”, though he sounds out of place. Juelz Santana’s “Addicted” and Lil Wayne’s solo track “MIA” are also a little weak.
Despite all the big names, Khaled’s local agenda is clear, as two Miami-centric tracks bookend the album. Listennn opens with “Born N Raised”, in which the afforementioned local heavyweights Trick Daddy, Pitbull and Rick Ross reestablish their status as the leaders of the pack. The beat barely contains Trick’s greasy flow as he proclaims once again, against his own wailing overdubs, that he is a thug. Pitbull bilingually shouts out Trick and Luke (of 2 Live Crew). Rick Ross shines the most, closing the track with carefully enunciated statements proclaiming his greatness and namechecking neighborhoods. “Born N Raised” and “Gangsta Shit” open the album back to back and feature almost identical beats and hooks, a juxtaposition which equates Jeezy and Bun B, whose stars couldn’t be higher right now, with the constantly overlooked embodiment of Dade county rap. Listennn closes with “The Future of Dade”, a line-up of up-and-coming rappers whose enthusiasm renders the hook obselete. The seven dudes destroy the track back to back over a rowdy piano lick and a dissonant build, courtesy of the Diaz Brothers. Despite all the frequent headliners who show up on this album, “Future” is the highlight of the album. Literally, Khaled’s work begins and ends with his home.