DJ Epps has both good and bad to say about making music in South Florida in 2013. You might think the East Harlem-bred, Haitian DJ is contradicting himself. But the truth is, he thinks Miami is making progress, thanks to some of our shining stars of hip-hop. His beef is with bottom-feeding rappers and local radio stations not representing the voices of the area.
And Epps is a voice worth listening to, especially on the subject of South Florida music. He first gained ground as a DJ at the Sugar Shack on South Beach and then as Liquid's resident DJ at Fat Black Pussycat, a hot hip-hop Monday-night party that started in the mid-'90s. But most people know DJ Epps from his former after-dark Friday- and Saturday-night show on Power 96. Though he was signed to G-Unit Records, his current closest ally is Pitbull, who offered the DJ safe haven from a stormy situation a few months ago.
"Just 'cause I was one of their DJs," Epps says of his time with 50 Cent's crew, "people would categorize me as a certain type of DJ. When they would go to my show, they would notice that I'm all around, [that] I play everything. So Pitbull decided to take me out of that misery. Put me on his label. I've known Armando [Pitbull] for a long, long time. Even before he was Mr. Worldwide, Mr. 305. He just puts in effort, grind, hustle." He calls working with his old friend "an honor" and a "great situation." The new alliance is major, he says: "My career just shifted."
When Epps was younger, staying in Miami had a lot to do with the mamís. But now, the weather is what suits him. That, and the cooperation and brotherhood he sees growing among hip-hop artists. "Back in the day, it was tough out here. Everybody was against everybody. Nobody wanted to help anybody. It was rappers against rappers, and DJs wanted to battle DJs. It wasn't a good look. But now, it's getting together. If anything's the enemy of the growth of rising musicians in this town, it's radio.
"My situation, when I worked at Power 96, was a little different. I spent time and effort on my career, just like Pitbull, but I didn't receive the proper promotions as DJ Epps on Power 96," he says. "It wasn't making money for me."
Not only wasn't it making him money but his experience turned him off from the medium here entirely. "The radio stations, how they're working these days — the music, the employees, it's just horrible. I can't deal with it," he laments. "I was playing by the rules, but we weren't winning. It wasn't making sense for my brand. It wasn't making sense for my listeners. It's not where it's supposed to be, in my opinion."
The sounds playing on the radio don't represent what's out there musically in South Florida, he explains. "We have a lot of local talents here that have hit records that are blowing up in the clubs," but due to a lack of airplay, "they can't move. We can't really find another Rick Ross right now; we can't find another Flo Rida; we can't find another Pitbull, because radio stations aren't allowing us to reach an audience and make Miami become this mecca it needs to be."
And the reason radio's to blame? "The radio's playing records from New York, L.A., Missouri, I don't know. When we play these records, it don't make no sense. It's not even a hit record, and when they overlook the Miami talent, of course I'm going to be like, 'What's wrong with my city, what is wrong with these stations, what is wrong with those people who are put in a position to make things happen for the station? Are they thinking right? Are they testing the records the way they should be tested?' " The answer for Epps is a clear no. He compares Miami to Atlanta, where, he believes, "everybody supports each other, and everybody makes it happen. All we have to show for it are Rick Ross, Flo Rida, and Pitbull, and to take it back old school, Uncle Luke, Trick Daddy, and Trina. That's it."
Pitbull, Ross, and Flo Rida do their best to pick up the slack, he concedes. "Those guys, they know they have to do it. They're in a state in their life where they have a lot of responsibility. But at the same time, Flo Rida makes sure he takes Brisco on the road with him or helps him out with his music or jumps on one of his tracks. Rick Ross comes back and hangs out with IceBerg and helps out some Latinos in Hialeah or Okeechobee." And, of course, Pitbull. "I have no problem with those guys. At the end of the day, they do look back."
But with the recent attempted shooting of Ross on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, things aren't all cool within the rap community, and Epps is in the middle of all the weird beef. "There are a lot of hungry rappers out there that think differently from what I just said. They don't think Ross comes out to help them or Pitbull doesn't come out to help them." Most frightening is that these guys threaten rappers on YouTube and other social-media sites. "That's just showing you're hungry and you're trying to make a threat," he says. "You're just trying to get a big-name artist to give you 10 G's to shut up. It doesn't work that way."
How it does work is through expended energy. "With me trying to help out artists as well, I've come to realize, those guys are always looking for a handout. They don't put in the grind, the effort, and time into their projects to make things happen for themselves. They expect people like Ross or myself to make it happen. No — you have to go out there and shake hands and kiss babies and make people love you as a person. And then people can respect your music and respect your personality, and they can support you in whatever you want do."
Epps' hands are likely sore from all the handshaking he must be doing. He has put out four albums since September, including Mr. Miami; had a hit with "Twerk," a single that ended up on Bad Girls' Club; and Blow's song with French Montana — out on Epps' album Feed Me More — is doing well.
"I'm proud of what I've done in the past four months, but 2013 is a bigger situation for me," Epps says. He wants to showcase other artists; is working on a new release, Heart Attack; is planning his annual four-day-long, tricounty birthday bash in April; and his wife just opened a clothing store, Lady Lux Boutique.
Also, as a Miramar resident, he knows about the long, hard drive home at the end of the night and is expanding his parties north of the Miami-Dade County line to accommodate more people. "The vibe, it's different," Epps says. "In Miami, they have their own certain type of party. I can tell they appreciate the DJ'ing skills more [in Boca]. They appreciate the music more. You don't have to play hip-hop all night. You can just play some old school, a little bit of everything, and they appreciate the quality of the music."
Even with all of the songs unplayed on the radio and the cars pockmarked with bullet holes, Epps knows it's primarily about just that — the quality of the music.