"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."