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"Laz was the right guy on the right station at the right time," filmmaker Billy Corben says. "He connected with young Cuban-Americans and non-Cubans because he spoke the Miami vernacular. Laz represents the generation that used to write '305 till I die' on their MySpace profiles."
Laz's career at Power 96 started with the same gig he had at Hot 105: mixing party songs. One evening at home, he mixed Miami rapper Clay D's "Boot the Booty" with Wilfrido Vargas's "El Africano." It was Laz's first stroke of genius.
"I got really excited about it, so I played it during my Power 96 mix," he recalls. "The phone lines started blowing up." Buoyed by the positive reaction, Laz linked up with Danny D, added bass lines and his signature scratching, plus a few lines from Cuban comic Álvarez Guedes. He named the track "Mami el Negro."
"Once we finished it, I couldn't get anyone to sign me," Laz says. "I went to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles trying to find a label."
In 1991, after months of disappointments, he signed with Miami-based Pandisc Records, whose owner, Bo Crane, knew Laz from Power. "He was a smart-alecky guy brimming with confidence," the 64-year-old music producer says. "I knew there was something special about him, so I gave him a shot. The single was a hit. It launched his career and put Pandisc on the map."
Two years later, in 1993, Laz married his girlfriend, Desiree, whom he'd been dating since he was a teenager. Those days were about enjoying the ride and just making people dance, Laz says.
"Back then, it was all about big butts bouncing to the bass," he affirms. "To this day, I still have dudes coming up to me, thanking me for getting them laid."
When "Mami el Negro" sold 500,000 copies, Crane pushed Laz to make a full-length album. He collaborated with Danny D to make the self-titled DJ Laz and then followed with five more records on Pandisc between 1994 and 2004. In 1996, he launched his own imprint, Limp-A-Lot Records. Luther Campbell also recruited Laz to produce a few songs for his solo albums. "He was the Cuban guy making hot bass songs," Campbell says. "Laz got big before any other Latin rapper came along, including Big Pun and Fat Joe."
His musical success dovetailed with his radio career. In 1998, Power 96 made him the DJ on the morning rush-hour show, during which he mixed party songs for commuters stuck in traffic; within two years, he was hosting the afternoon rush-hour show.
In a few years, Laz went from a teenager making $200 a gig to commanding an annual six-figure income in his late 20s with his recording career and Power job. He traded in his Celica for a Corvette. And he bought a four-bedroom house in Weston, adding a state-of-the-art studio and storage for 15,000 albums.
"I bought my mom a brand-new Nissan Altima in 1996," Laz says. "I found the biggest bow I could find, put it on, and drove it to her house. I paid for it in cash."
More hit singles followed, including "Journey Into Bass," "Hump All Night," and "Esa Morena." Listeners tuned in to his afternoon show to hear him crack jokes while mixing booty music and hip-hop. It was the perfect recipe for teens on the way home from school.
"Laz spoke the universal language of kids growing up in Miami," Corben says. "Booty music is one of the few things that unite us as a community."
In 2001, Laz helped Campbell introduce South Florida to another Cuban-American rapper, who has since become one of the most famous pop stars in the world.
"He's telling me he has this white Cuban chico with light eyes who is supersharp," Laz says. "So Luke brings him by the station. This was when Pitbull had gold teeth and cornrows. After spending a few minutes talking to him, I could tell he had that it factor. He lit up the room."
Laz formed a bond with Pitbull, who appeared on several songs on Laz's most recent album, Category 6. Laz is still Pitbull's touring DJ.
In February 2005, Power gave Laz hosting duties for the coveted morning rush-hour slot. During his seven-year tenure hosting The DJ Laz Morning Pimp Show, he interviewed celebrities, engaged in lowbrow high jinks, and made the show one of the top-rated programs in South Florida. He titillated listeners with fake prank calls between cheating lovers and set up a hotline so uninterested women could give the number to men asking for their digits. Laz would then broadcast the embarrassing messages from desperate suitors.
Sometimes his gags didn't go over so well. In 2009, to poke fun at the Colorado "balloon boy" hoax, Laz told listeners he wanted to see how many helium balloons it would take to lift a cat. For two hours, he pretended a cat had accidentally floated away. Animal activists were outraged.
"I punked everybody, from my bosses to thousands of listeners," Laz says gleefully. "We had 4,000 emails demanding my resignation. You can only pull off that kind of prank when you have the credibility of being on the radio for as long as I have."