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

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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.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.