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We here in South Florida have an appreciation for freestyle music that doesn't always translate to others around the rest of the country. The once popular upbeat style of electro-pop from the '80s and early '90s was mainly lauded in urban locales such as Miami, New York, Chicago, and the West Coast, where the genre's performers once gained a maximum amount of respect. There were a ton of artists, from Debbie Deb to Lil Suzy, Exposé, TKA, Stevie B, and others who carried freestyle forward out of the barrios of Miami and New York and made it an American phenomenon. Sure, some probably saw it as just rollerskating music or simply a fad, but here in South Florida, freestyle was king, and those in the know recognize it as the precursor to Miami bass as well.
So when long-time freestyle booking agent and manager Latif Mercado was thinking of a way to help give the genre its props, creating the first annual Freestyle Awards and setting it in Miami only made sense. "I'm so proud to do this in Miami because Miami artists are so key in this genre," Mercado says during a recent phone interview. "I'm from New York and a lot of people wanted me to do the Freestyle Awards there. But there's so many Miami artists and fans that I thought it was the perfect city to host this." The Freestyle Awards also takes place during the Winter Music Conference, which was part of the plan.
What Mercado and his crew are trying to accomplish is no easy task. There are various freestyle tours and ceremonies around the country that honor the genre each year and trying to make this one definitive won't be easy. But the line-up assembled already looks impressive — Lil Suzy, Company B, Debbie Deb, and Freestyle Evolution are just a few of the acts performing, and Mercado is promising a star-studded freestyle affair. His first order of business, ironically, is letting go of the past.
"I'm booking freestyle artists around the country every weekend," Mercado says, "and I get promoters who tell me, 'When the artists come out, tell them to only play their hits. No new material!' And that's hard, telling my artists, don't play your new stuff. Listen, everyone has new material but there's no support from radio. So this is all about moving beyond the past and looking forward."
There's already some hateration pouring in from a California blog site, Freestyle Flava LA, which thinks the Freestyle Awards here in Miami are too East Coast-centric. But Mercado says he's doing the best he can to honor as many freestyle legends as he can in one ceremony. Aside from having real trophies to present to all the winners, they've also got Ernest Thomas AKA Raj from the '70s television show "What's Happening," to be the event's host. That's a random connection, but if there's one thing you can count on, it's that the first annual Freestyle Awards are going to be off the chain.