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SpaceGhostPurrp and Gunplay Will Stamp Carol City on the Hip-Hop Map... or Die Tryin'

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...
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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."

Baker's career was cut short when he went to prison, though, and no one in Carol City took his place. "Hip-hop was more of a New York thing," Amani says. "I don't remember any rap groups from Miami outside of 2 Live Crew trying to get things popping."

By the late '80s, Carol City's image as a safe haven for African-American families began to crumble. White flight, an influx of low-income projects, and a growing drug trade sent property tax revenues plummeting to the third lowest in Dade. Then, in 1993, Carol City was torn apart by a turf war between the homegrown Boobie Boys, Liberty City's John Doe Boys, and Vonda's Gang in Overtown. The street battle raged for five years, leaving 61 dead and 36 wounded in shootouts.

The violence, which began with an attempted hit on Boobie Boys leader Kenneth Williams, rivaled the battles tearing up Mexico today. Killers donned ski masks, camouflage, and body armor. Victims were riddled with as many as 99 rounds, while others were shot execution-style. It took the feds until 1998 to stem the bloodshed, when they at last busted up the gangs by leveling mass racketeering, drug conspiracy, and murder indictments.

That's the Carol City that SpaceGhost and Gunplay knew as kids. But amid the carnage, the two musicians also watched a hip-hop renaissance. Long identified by the party anthems made famous by Luther Campbell and 2 Live Crew, Miami by the late '90s saw new artists hailing from Liberty City, such as JT Money, Trina, and Trick Daddy (whose older brother was one of the Boobie Boys' victims), who brought a harder street edge.

A pair of Carol City siblings named Elric "E-Class" Prince and Elvin "Big Chuck" Prince helped put the neighborhood front and center by founding Poe Boy Music Group and launching the careers of Opa-locka's Brisco and Liberty City's Jackie-O. Poe Boy truly caught fire in 2006, when E-Class took a chance on a heavyset Carol City native with a melodic voice and gritty tales of moving bricks of Bolivian marching powder.

William Leonard Roberts II shed his street-cred-killing past as a state correctional officer to become the self-proclaimed Teflon Don of rap, appropriating the name of a legendary Los Angeles cocaine hustler. E-Class takes credit for getting Rick Ross a multimillion-dollar, multialbum record deal with Def Jam that began with the platinum-selling 2006 debut, Port of Miami.

Two years later, Poe Boy ushered in another Carol City success, Flo Rida, whose 2008 record, Mail on Sunday, had three singles spend ten weeks each in the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100. "Low" is still among the most successful digital downloaded singles ever. Poe Boy is now pushing another breakout Carol City star, female rapper Brianna Perry.

Ross, meanwhile, conquered the gangsta rap subgenre. Even being outed as a fraud in 2008 — when website MediaTakeout released photos of Ross during his 18-month stint as a Florida prison guard — couldn't stop the Bawse's claim to hip-hop's throne. Last year, he was the first artist signed to Diddy's management company, Circo Entertainment. MTV named Ross the hottest MC in the game.

"It's amazing, as far as hip-hop is concerned, all the talent that is coming out of Carol City," Amani says. "These days, there is a rapper on every corner."

When the gunshots rang out, Markese Rolle was chatting on the phone with his girlfriend and watching BET's hip-hop awards show. It was Father's Day 2009. Suddenly, seven shots popped over the TV set's drone. Peering cautiously out the window of his grandma's Carol City home, Markese watched his neighbor jump a fence, collapse into a heap, and quickly bleed out.

"It was some crazy shit," recalls Markese, better known today as SpaceGhostPurrp. "His body was lying by my window for like five hours. When they went to pick him up, his head hit the concrete. It sounded hard as a rock 'cause he was so cold."

Later that evening, as he lay in bed, SpaceGhostPurrp felt the dead neighbor's presence. "I knew him," he says. "He was a good nigga with a baby girl on the way. When I went to sleep that night, I could feel his spirit floating around my room."

That violence laid the foundation for his metamorphosis into SpaceGhostPurrp, a dark, brooding MC who speaks a semisecret language that substitutes geometric shapes and arcane symbols for letters and numbers. The then-18-year-old began spitting lyrics in his signature low voice that sounds like a poltergeist communicating with the earthly plane. Onstage, he began donning all-black clothes, thick gold chains, and gold caps on his teeth, like a wraith collecting souls on the streets of Carol City.

"Everything I seen growing up," SpaceGhostPurrp says, "the things I been through in my life, mentally and emotionally, I put it all in my music."

Born on April Fool's Day 1991, SpaceGhostPurrp has roots in Carol City that run deep. His mom, Sunnie Morrison, is the youngest of 12 children whose parents bought a house in the neighborhood more than 30 years ago. "We've lived in Carol City since I was in the fifth grade," Morrison says. "We have always been a close family, always doing things together, from making music to doing weekly fish fries."

Morrison moved back in with her mother shortly after Markese was born. She and the baby lived in the garage, which had been converted into a two-bedroom efficiency. When Carol City's gang war exploded, it soon hit close to home. Morrison's ex-boyfriend and Markese's father, Mark Rolle, was a member of Opa-locka's 22nd Avenue Gang. Her brother and nephew were locked up for roles in the Boobie Boys' crimes.

Markese clung to hip-hop, eschewing the bloodshed for beats with his cousin, Kadafi (now the chief exec of Raider Klan's record label), and DoughX2, now an impish rapper in SpaceGhostPurrp's crew.

"I was 7 years old when I started rapping," SpaceGhostPurrp says. "Me and Dough Dough would freestyle for Kadafi and his friends at our grandma's house. We used to spit 1,000 bars in an hour."

Kadafi, now a slender 31-year-old with a bushy beard and dreadlocks, remembers their nonstop rap battles. "It would go on all day," he says. "We could be walking to the corner store and they'd go at it."

When he was a student at Silver Trail Middle School in Pembroke Pines, though, Markese got into heavy metal, skateboarding, and painting his fingernails black. "A nigga goes through a time in his life when he's not doing what everybody else is doing," he says. "Back then, a nigga riding a skateboard in Carol City or any black neighborhood in Miami was considered lame. But shit, I still blended in with everybody."

His mom at the time was trying to build her own career as a rapper, working with Miami hip-hop artist and producer Disco Rick, who was then cutting tracks for Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. "I'd bring Markese with me to the studio," Morrison says. "He'd just sit and watch Disco Rick work the engineering board. It definitely got Markese's attention."

Morrison's musical dreams fizzled because she didn't want to rap about Carol City's street violence. "I tried to go that route, but it wasn't me," she says.

Drifting into the hip-hop scene so early wasn't all positive for Markese, though. He was only 13 when he began experimenting with marijuana and purple drank.

In 2006, when he was 15, Purrp, Kadafi, DoughX2, and another friend, Ladarius Frazer, who went by "Y.M.F. Jitt," established Raider Klan. They holed up in a one-bedroom apartment near Ives Dairy Road where SpaceGhostPurrp made beats on his laptop. At the time, Markese went by his producer name, Muney Jordan, a nod to basketball god Michael Jordan.

The crew was tight and helped Markese develop his unique style. But their world was jolted on March 13, 2010. Frazer was playing dice in Carol City Park when an argument erupted. Someone pulled a gun and shot him dead. "We had a vision. We had a dream," SpaceGhostPurrp says. "But he just ended up on the wrong path."

Six months later, after graduating from Everglades High School, Markese ­adopted his SpaceGhostPurrp moniker and released his first mixtape, NASA. "He's just like the character from Adult Swim, except he's black instead of white, has golds in his mouth, and a cup of lean in his hand," he says of his new identity.

Between 2010 and 2011, SpaceGhostPurrp released four mixtapes, making beats in his bedroom at grandma's house. Other rappers took note, including California's Kreayshawn, who turned other artists onto him. "She let everybody in Los Angeles hear my shit," SpaceGhostPurrp says. "Then Odd Future heard my shit," he says, referring to the collective led by Tyler the Creator at the vanguard of the indie rap scene.

"[They] started playing it at their shows," he says. "Before I knew it, I had niggas looking for me on Twitter."

His Twitter followers hooked him up with Juicy J, the Memphis rapper and member of Three 6 Mafia. SpaceGhostPurrp also linked up with New York City up-and-comer A$AP Rocky. "Once Purrp did his first show in New York, he really took off," Kadafi says. "People fell in love with his Miami persona — the all-black clothes, the black hoodie, and the golds in his mouth."

By the beginning of 2012, Raider Klan had ballooned from three members to 12 apostles, and SpaceGhostPurrp had signed a deal with British indie label 4AD. In June of that year, he released his full-length Mysterious Phonk: The Chronicles of SpaceGhostPurrp to rave reviews. Pitchfork gave it an 8 out of 10, praising it for celebrating the "weirdest, unprecedented mutations of hip-hop."

The rapper and his crew toured Europe and the West Coast. But by last fall, some observers thought the fame was getting to SpaceGhostPurrp's head. He got into a childish squabble with onetime pal A$AP Rocky and accused a member of his crew of jumping Raider Klan homeboy Matt Stoops in New York.

After exchanging threats via dis tracks and interviews with MTV, the animosity came to a head November 8, 2012, when A$AP Rocky performed at the Fillmore Miami Beach. SpaceGhostPurrp and the Raider Klan began shouting insults and heckling A$AP Rocky, who looked out into the crowd and yelled, "Shut the fuck up!"

When the show was over, the crews collided outside. The melee ended when four gunshots rattled the air, scattering the crowd. A Miami Beach Police gang detective then handcuffed SpaceGhostPurrp, but the rapper avoided arrest.

Two months later, on January 26, he found himself in another altercation following a show. After he performed at Grand Central in downtown Miami, two witnesses told Miami Police they saw the rapper aim and fire a gun at a group of people outside. An officer stopped him near North Miami Avenue and Seventh Street and found SpaceGhostPurrp holding a silver pistol. The rapper denied firing it, but he was arrested on two felony counts of aggravated assault with a firearm and discharging a gun in public. The charges were dropped a month later.

Today, SpaceGhostPurrp says he is done acting like a goon. "I feel all this rap beef shit has slowed things down for me," he says. "The shit backfired on me. Kids don't care about that shit. All they care about is the hottest songs and who is putting out good music."

Dragging on a Newport menthol, Gunplay leans forward in a lawn chair in the backyard of a beige house with a red brick portico in west Pembroke Pines. For the past four hours, the menacing rhyme-slayer with long dreads and bloodshot eyes has been locked in a room while cutting and slicing a song for his upcoming debut album, Medellin.

It's been seven months since Miami-Dade prosecutors dropped armed robbery and aggravated assault charges that could have sent the Carol City rapper to jail for the rest of his life. Every day since then, Gunplay has tried to shed some of his thug past. Once poised on the edge of national success and coming so close to losing it, he won't let it slip away again.

"I am in a transition right now from the streets to being in the music industry full-time," he says. "Shit is real hard. A lot of niggas get in the industry but are still stuck in the streets. A lot of people don't make it."

He is on the cusp of becoming the next gangsta rapper to come out of the neighborhood. Mainstream outlets from Rolling Stone to Grantland can't get enough of a bugged-out Gunplay spitting rhymes with a rapid-fire deep baritone that reminds hip-hop heads of Wu-Tang Clan's Method Man.

Gunplay is close to joining Rick Ross on center stage. All he has to do is keep his volatile street persona in check. But "that's extremely hard to do," he concedes.

He was born Richard Welton Morales Jr. on July 18, 1979, in El Paso, Texas. "Nah, man, I'm Rachet," Gunplay jests. "Call me Rachet Morales." His Jamaican mother and Puerto Rican father are New York natives who met while serving in the Army. His parents divorced in 1982, when he was 3.

When he turned 10, he and his mother moved to Miramar. She worked two jobs, making it difficult for her to keep tabs on him. Gunplay was 13 the first time he was arrested, for retaliating against a bunch of white kids who had pelted him using slingshots. He started smoking weed around the same time. Two years later, he dropped out of Miramar Senior High because he was told he had to repeat ninth grade.

"They said I didn't have enough credits because I never went to class my freshman year," he says. "I just hung out in Carol City, hustling in the streets."

At 16, he was selling $5 and $10 baggies of cocaine and marijuana. "I sold a little here and there to pay bills," he says. "Nothing major." He used some of the cash from his drug sales to buy a small voice recorder to tape himself freestyle rapping.

"When I got a little more money, I bought myself a sampler," he says. "I'd sample a beat and write lyrics to that beat all day."

He studied Busta Rhymes and Wu-Tang Clan and mimicked them in his bedroom mirror.

"I did my homework on every aspect of hip-hop," he says, incorporating gritty events he witnessed in real life. "I seen a nigga get his head bashed in with a bat," he growls. "I seen motherfuckers get shot up in their cars on the highway. I seen slimy hos set a nigga up to get robbed. If you really listen to my music, you realize this is what I am rapping about."

As he got deeper into the drug game, though, Gunplay forgot to follow Ice Cube's advice in the N.W.A. classic "Dopeman" about not getting high on your own supply. By the time he turned 18, he was spending $600 to $700 a week on drugs. "All my homies sold it; nobody really did it," he says. "But I didn't give a fuck."

His life changed in 1997 when he met an overweight former state corrections officer named William Leonard Roberts II. "He would just be swerving through the hood, hanging out in Carol City," Gunplay says. "We just clicked. He took me under his wing."

As Roberts transformed into Rick Ross, Gunplay — alongside fellow Carol City rappers Torch and Young Breed — formed the group Triple C's, short for "Carol City Cartel." He supported Ross during the Bawse's lean years, driving with him up and down I-95, hitting strip clubs, and sleeping in $30-a-night hooker motels while hustling mixtapes.

In 2004, Gunplay married a 23-year-old Bahamian woman named Phillippa Tanya McCartney. But the union didn't last long. The couple divorced four years later and share custody of their 8-year-old son, Richard III. (Gunplay also has a daughter with his current squeeze.)

After Ross' breakout 2006 hit, "Hustlin'," Gunplay quit his day job at KB Toys but kept peddling nickel and dime bags. And his own drug use intensified. During a photo shoot for Ozone magazine a year later, he swallowed a Molotov cocktail of Ecstasy, purple drank, yeyo, weed, and Xanax. "That day, I told myself my new name is Five-Drug Minimum," Gunplay says proudly.

His drug-related criminal history is surprisingly bare. He was popped in 2001 on two felony counts of weed possession and tampering with evidence, but one charge was dropped and the other withheld from adjudication; in 2009, he was busted in Pembroke Pines for illegal possession of a firearm and misdemeanor pot possession, which landed him two years of probation.

But onstage he became a caricature. He was the goon in Ross' entourage, the guy responsible for procuring ganja buds and starting beefs. In 2009, a visibly inebriated Gunplay called out 50 Cent in a grainy cell phone video posted on You Tube. During concerts, he often looked like he just cleaned out a Walgreens pharmacy counter.

Yet Gunplay believed he could make his own mark as a rapper and not a character. In 2010, he scored his first commercial hit, "Rollin'," a gangster party anthem with Waka Flocka Flame. In early 2012, he won over critics and mainstream listeners with his bars on Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar's "Cartoon & Cereal."

The rapper also got press for his outlandish ink, including a swastika he unapologetically had etched into his upper back. In an interview with hip-hop blog Pigeons & Planes, he summed up the tat as his "symbol of genocide to the bullshit. Mass murdering the bullshit... I came to Hitler, that motherfucker."

His headline-baiting personality and powerful delivery led Def Jam to sign him.

Then, last spring, it all began unraveling. On April 14, 2012, Gunplay was caught on a security camera pulling a semiautomatic pistol on a North Miami accountant named Turron Woodside and grabbing him by the throat. When the rapper's friend Randy Devon Jones tried to intervene, Gunplay bitch-slapped Woodside in the face with the butt of the gun. Before fleeing, he snatched a diamond necklace off the bean counter's desk.

A month later, in March 2012, Miami-Dade prosecutors viewed that same security tape and filed armed robbery and aggravated assault charges. Even worse, the footage made the rounds on the internet, from TMZ to WorldStarHipHop. Gunplay's side of the story goes like this: Woodside had cheated him out of money. His volatile reaction was exactly what you'd expect from a Carol City rough rider.

Facing serious time in prison, Gunplay did what came naturally: He got out of Dodge. He spent five months shacked up in a flophouse in Atlanta and released a mixtape on the sly featuring his deepest song to date, "Bible on the Dash." The song's hook explains his state of mind: "I got a problem and a plan, revolver in my hand/Trying to keep it cold, but y'all don't understand."

Eventually, though, he took his lawyer's advice and returned to Miami, turning himself in to police October 10. He was released on a $150,000 bond and placed on house arrest, and spent the next three months making new tracks, playing Xbox, and contemplating the life sentence hanging over his head.

His trial was set to begin this past February. But before jury selection, prosecutors dropped the charges. Woodside had left town and refused to continue cooperating.

Gunplay insists he's become a better person through the ordeal. "I've realized I can't deal with niggas like I normally deal with them in the hood," he says. "If you put words in my mouth, I can't punch you in the mouth, break your kneecaps, or do any other stupid shit."

Before he heads back inside to record another track, Gunplay shows off his newest tattoo: a razor blade slicing his left wrist, and blood pouring out of his vein.

"It means the old me is dead," he says. "The stubborn, disrespectful motherfucker who got money one day only to be broke the next is gone. I stopped not giving a fuck all the time. Sometimes, you have to give a fuck."

Ben Bell rides through the parking lot of a dilapidated public apartment complex at NW 185th Street and 29th Avenue. He points at a crumbling façade.

"These apartments used to be called the 'pink and white buildings," the Carol City music producer says. "This is where Flo Rida was born and raised. He shot one of his videos over by the basketball court."

The CD player in Bell's beat-up white Chevrolet Caprice blasts tracks by one of his own artists, Beast Mode. "Carol City was once a thriving middle-class, mixed-race community," he rhapsodizes. "Now we've got countless murders on a daily basis, and the crime rate is at an all-time high."

As its native sons teeter between violence, prison, and rap greatness, the town that birthed them is still fighting its own struggle for stability. More than a decade after its gang wars ended, Carol City has never come close to regaining its distinction as a safe middle-class black neighborhood.

In 2003, Carol City became part of the newly incorporated Miami Gardens. But the killings continued. By 2011, Miami Gardens was second in murders per capita in the county, with 24 killings, trailing only nearby Opa-locka. The next year, Miami Gardens notched 25 more homicides. By comparison, Hialeah, which has roughly double Miami Gardens' population of 110,000, had just four murders in 2011 and seven in 2012.

The crimes are often just as gruesome as the gangland killings of old. In a 32-hour span last month, unknown shooters killed a 12-year-old girl and injured her grandmother near their home on 42nd Avenue. Two other men were critically wounded in a hail of gunfire while they were at a McDonald's drive-thru at NW 27th Avenue and 183rd Street.

Bell wishes Carol City's success stories would do more to build up the community. "You can divert a lot of that negative energy into something positive," he opines.

For now, SpaceGhostPurrp and Gunplay might be too focused on beating their own demons and notching hip-hop success to worry about their hometown's fate.

After his two run-ins with the police this past November and January, SpaceGhostPurrp and his Raider Klan signed with the William Morris talent agency, which booked them for gigs at Ultra Music Festival in downtown Miami in March and Coachella in April.

But SpaceGhost's prospects have taken lumps in recent months. In June, hip-hop blogs buzzed with the news that he'd parted ways with talented Klan artists Denzel Curry, Sky Lex, Chris Travis, and Eddy Jordan. wrote on June 17 that "SpaceGhostPurrp's unpredictable streak is precisely what got people interested in the first place, but it seems like these days it might be bad for business."

Yet SpaceGhostPurrp dismisses the criticism, insisting the remaining eight members of Raider Klan, six of whom hail from Miami, form a strong core. Their recent marathon recording sessions have produced dozens of tracks, which SpaceGhostPurrp and Kadafi will whittle down into Raider Klan's album set to release on Empire Records next year.

"I'm trying to elevate the hip-hop movement in Miami," SpaceGhostPurrp says. "[I need to] stop worrying about what the haters say about us."

Gunplay isn't rushing to put out his debut, which he now expects will hit stores next summer. When he's not shooting videos for the songs on his mixtape Acquitted, he passes the time by taking his son to football practice, posting 15-second videos of himself acting a fool on Instagram, and penning lyrics.

"I've been gone for a minute," he says. "I want to capitalize on the buzz I am generating now. I want to take my time rallying up the troops."

While hip-hop journalists have obsessed over his swastika tattoo, a massive work on his back is the one that really warrants attention. In fact, it speaks louder than lyrics about the musicians' — and their neighborhood's — ongoing struggle. The huge portrait shows Christ holding a six-shooter to the chin of a big-horned Lucifer.

Asked what it means, Gunplay says, "I am a good soul caught in a bad world."

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