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Ominous, bass-heavy beats rumble the wall speakers inside a two-story house that's been converted into a music recording studio. SpaceGhostPurrp slowly nods along, pausing to sip from a cup of Gatorade mixed with prescription cough syrup and to puff on a blunt stuffed with California dank.
Dressed in a red hoodie, black skullcap, khaki skinny jeans, and suede Air Force Ones, the 22-year-old bobs hypnotically and raps in a drowsy drawl: "A movie, a movie, finna make a movie/I don't chase no pussy, but these bitches wanna do me."
The eight members of Raider Klan, SpaceGhostPurrp's crew, toss back shots of sizzurp and dance around their sleepy-eyed leader. No one is puff-puff-passing because everybody has his own to toke. A fog of chronic smoke envelops the cramped space.
"I'm feeling good about this movement we've started in Miami," SpaceGhostPurrp rhapsodizes between takes. "I'm trying to show everybody that rappers in Miami are lyrical too. Miami rappers need to turn the fuck up and stop worrying about what other motherfuckers say about us."
Haters or not, there's no question people are talking about SpaceGhostPurrp. His debut album last year won critical acclaim from Rolling Stone to Pitchfork to MTV, and the rapper moved crowds at Coachella in April. The album he's recording today might just hit the coveted sweet spot of indie acclaim and hip-hop street cred.
Along with another hugely talented and notably temperamental star named Gunplay, he represents the next wave of Magic City rappers set to follow Rick Ross onto the national stage. The three artists share more in common than just a penchant for gangsta parables — they all hail from the same tiny, damaged section of urban Miami known as Carol City.
Over the past decade, the predominantly black Miami Gardens enclave strafed by drive-by shootings and riven by turf wars over dope holes has also become a world-class breeding ground for future hip-hop hall-of-famers. Before they became international icons, native sons Flo Rida and Rick Ross hustled their craft along Miami Gardens Drive, and their success opened doors for a new generation. Their goal: making Carol City what Compton was to N.W.A. and what the Bronx was to Boogie Down Productions.
But for SpaceGhostPurrp and Gunplay, their turf's violent pedigree is more than just a pose. In the past year, Gunplay has narrowly dodged a long prison term for armed robbery, and SpaceGhostPurrp has instigated fights that ended with shootings. Both rappers openly brag about their decadent substance abuse, start beefs with out-of-town rappers, ignite Twitter wars, and alienate collaborators.
There's little question they've got the talent and the backing to follow the Bawse's tracks in etching Carol City onto the hip-hop map — if they don't flame out first, that is.
"Coming out of Carol City is hard," says Kadafi Tunsil, chief executive of SpaceGhostPurrp's Raider Klan label. "We've been overlooked. Rick Ross has been rapping for a long time and just started to make his impact. Purrp wants to show everybody in the music industry that Miami, especially Carol City, has talent. We have rappers who can spit and who can really turn up."
To understand Carol City's up-and-coming stars — and the dangerous, violent line they skirt — dig first into the turbulent neighborhood that created them.
Founded in the '60s as Coral City, the eight-square-mile town was mostly farmland. After some rumblings from Coral Gables that visitors might confuse their names, community leaders agreed to become Carol City. By the early '70s, integration at Carol City Senior High attracted middle-class African-American families who saw an attractive refuge from poverty-ridden blocks in the inner city.
"Carol City was the last place in northern Miami-Dade County where black folk moved to escape places like Liberty City, Brownsville, Overtown, and even neighboring Opa-locka," says Khalil Amani, a hip-hop writer and Carol City native.
Ben Bell and his family moved to Carol City a decade after Amani. "The neighbors in the houses next to ours were rednecks," the 48-year-old founder of M.I. Yayo Music Group recalls. "And Arthur McDuffie and his family lived across the street."
Oddly, it was McDuffie's death at the hands of police — and the vicious riots that followed — that helped cement Carol City's status as a safe place for black families. On December 21, 1979, McDuffie was beaten to death by four white Metro-Dade police officers after a high-speed chase. When a Tampa jury acquitted the officers a year later, race riots tore apart Overtown and Liberty City. But Carol City was unscathed.
As more black households moved in, Miami's homegrown hip-hop culture followed. In the late '70s, when New York kids were starting to bug out to Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, Miami's youths found a rap hybrid known as freestyle, which combined catchy pop lyrics with hard scratches and thunderous bass beats.
One of freestyle's godfathers, Garfield Baker, was born and raised in Carol City. In his late teens, Baker co-wrote the hit "Don't Stop the Rock" for his aptly named group, Freestyle. "The first niggas that was makin' records from Carol City was us," Baker boasts. "The DJs used to come out there, set up the music, they bammin', we high, we drunk, the music just gettin' in you."