Tootsie Rolls, 'Hoochie Mamas,' and Cars That Go Boom: The Story of Miami Bass
Part one of our series on the history of dance music in Florida.
Bmore. Jersey club. Parental advisory labels. The Space Jam theme song. Without Miami Bass, none of these things are possible.
Yes, the salacious sound of that "sunny place for shady people" is important not only in the 305, but around the world. Miami Bass, Booty Bass, Booty Music, or whatever you want to call it, changed the scenes of hip hop, dance music, and pop forever. Those back-arching 808 kicks are too persistent to be denied, and we can tell you from experience, Miami Bass + Roller Rinks = The Greatest Childhood Experience Ever. That's math.
The story of music's dirtiest genre reaches back to the '80s with roots set firmly in Afrika Bambaataa's elektro-funk. That spacey, bleepy style is all over the work of foundational artists Amos Larkins and Maggotron, both of whom have been credited as kicking the regional sound into motion. According to Stylus Magazine, Larkins and the Miami Bass conception can be traced back to work on the ridiculous 1986 movie Knights of the City, which looks kind of like Warriors but in Miami, and makes the story all the more cheesy and lovable.
Inspired by the humid and vice-ridden melting pot of cultures, Miami Bass was a reflection of life in the Magic City's disparate yet flashy streets. MC A.D.E.'s "Bass Rock Express" gets the title for first hit of the genre, but it was 2 Live Crew who became the poster boys of movement. They set the tone for the genre as urban-centric, sweat-inducing, over-the-top sexualization with their 1986 single "Throw That Dick," and after that, Miami was never really the same.
The Crew was perfectly named. Armed with the booty-bouncing rhythms of David "Mr. Mixx" Hobbs, fronted by the notoriously nasty Uncle Luke, and totally lacking any verbal filter, the late-80s group was literally "2 Live" not to blow up.
Their debut album The 2 Live Crew is What We Are caught a lot of heat for explicit lyrical content, but the 1989 follow up, As Nasty As They Wanna Be, was so unapologetically perverse it was considered an illegal substance. Record store owners who sold the album were arrested and charged with crimes of obscenity, and 2 Live Crew members were arrested just for playing shows.
Uncle Luke and his boys weren't about to let a bunch of prudes ruin the fun, and the US Appeals Court system agreed, ruling that it is within our First Amendment rights to rap "face down, ass up," "pop that pussy," and "I'm so horny." Essentially, 2 Live Crew made it safe for hip-hop as we know it to exist. You're welcome, Nicki Minaj, Ludacris, and everyone.
Proving the adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity, all this national media attention brought Miami Bass to house parties way beyond the Tri-County Area. In the early and mid-90s, booty-bangin' beats were everywhere. From Uncle Al to the 69 Boyz, Tag Team to Quad City DJs, Freak Nasty, L'Trimm, Poison Clan, and more, the sound of the decade was definitively shaped by Miami. We will remind you once more of the total booty-fication of Bugs Bunny in Space Jam, and moreover, "Esa Morena" by DJ Laz remains possibly the most unifying and important song in Miami history.
The influence of the genre is far-reaching, perhaps more obvious on the dancefloor now than even in its peak. The world's addiction to bed-springy Jersey Club has the mark of Miami Bass all over. The fast tempo, sexual undertones, hype-inducing repetition, all circles back to the feels of ""Tootsie Roll" and "I Wanna Rock."
Modern Miami rappers like Trick Daddy and Pitbull follow in the footsteps of figures like Uncle Luke as well. All that bass mixed with Latin flavor and perfect weather positions Miami to be a hub for breaks, house, and all manner of dance music, even when most of the country thought techno was lame. Modern Miami producers like Otto Von Schrirach and Jesse Perez keep making gnarly Miami Bass tracks, then share those sounds with crowds at home and around the world.
Miami Bass remains not only one of the most ridiculous and enjoyable genres of music in recent memory but also one of the most important. What would the world of jock jams be without it? How much does the thong owe to the bootylicious beats? Would Winter Music Conference and Ultra Music Festival even exist? Nay, a world without Miami Bass is a world we don't ever want to see, and thank the glorious bass gods, we never will.
Keep an eye out tomorrow for Part II of the History of Dance Music in Florida: Florida Breaks