Miami bass (booty bass) is a subgenre of hip hop music derived from the electro-funk sound of the early 1980s. It reached its peak popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, but is still developed underground today.
It is characterized by the use of the Roland TR-808 sustained kick drum, raised dance tempos, and frequently sexually explicit lyrical content. Music author Richie Unterberger has characterized Miami bass as using rhythms with a “stop start flavor” and “hissy” cymbals with lyrics that “reflected the language of the streets, particularly Miami‘s historically black neighborhoods such as Liberty City and Overtown“.
Despite early national media attention in the 1980s Miami bass has never found consistent mainstream acceptance, though its importance has had a profound impact on the development of hip hop, dance music, and pop.
SOUND AND CONTENT
Miami Bass beats were developed from the Electro-hop style that would include various drum patterns often featuring TR-808 bass drums and constant hi-hats in 32nd notes. It would also include percussion sounds such as claps, snaps, cowbells, shakers, and other sounds found in electronic music. Most notable in Miami Bass was the booming 808s, hissing cymbals, excessive scratching and raised dance tempos. The fat low ends of Miami Bass were influenced by the heavy bass of reggae music.
In the early days of Miami Bass, when music was still mostly pressed on vinyl, getting more bass into a track posed a technical challenge. It was hard to press a lot of bass into a vinyl without sacrificing higher tones. The Roland TR-808 changed bass forever since it made adding bass easier. The sampling in Miami Bass usually focused on electronic, dance, soul, funk, disco, rock, and latin music. Tracks typically have a tempo more similar to dance music falling between 100 to 140 bpm but can certainly be slower or faster.
The content of Miami Bass comes from block parties, skating rinks, clubs, and strip clubs. It mainly centers around partying, booty shaking, hooking-up, sex, or having a lot of bass in the music. It is noted to be first subgenre of Hip Hop to have a lot of sexually explicit lyrical content that was considered obscene. Often Miami Bass music was viewed as raucous and full of debauchery. Despite this controversy, Miami Bass differed from Hardcore Rap as it didn’t focus on toughness and violence. The songs tended to have an upbeat happy feel to them about having a good time.
The first Miami Bass music was more DJ driven and featured excessive scratching and vocal coding. Often short phrases would be repeated throughout the track and scratched in. As lyrics became more prevalent, Miami Bass relied more on a lot on call and response lyricism. This crowd participation amplified the party atmosphere generated in the songs making it popular in clubs and sporting events.
Rapping in Miami Bass tends to be simple and straight forward as the focus is to command a party as opposed to showcasing lyrical techniques such as advanced rhyme schemes or wordplay. Miami Bass rappers do not seem to take themselves too seriously and often the lyrics can contain a comedy or absurdity to it given the subject matter. Also, the pace of rapping runs the full range in Miami Bass. In the 80s acts such as 2 Live Crew and Gucci Crew II had songs with very slow rapping and late 80s act J.J. Fad’s song “Supersonic” featured an early example of “speed rapping.”
As similar to the Electrohop that preceded it, Miami Bass often utilized the Roland TR-808 and samplers common in Hip Hop at the time. Additionally, Miami Bass utilized synthesizer in the music.
Some popular dances from Miami Bass include “Throw the D” and the “Tootsee Roll”.
Scratching, sometimes referred to as scrubbing, is a DJ and turntablist technique of moving a vinyl record back and forth on a turntable to produce percussive or rhythmic sounds. A crossfader on a DJ mixer may be used to fade between two records simultaneously. In hip hop culture, scratching is one of the measures of a DJ’s skills. In recorded hip hop songs, scratched “hooks” often use portions of other songs. Miami Bass often include scratching to some extent and often will have scratched hooks.
In music, sampling is the reuse of a portion or sample of a sound recording in another recording. Samples may comprise rhythm, melody, speech, or other sounds. They are usually integrated using hardware (samplers) or software such as digital audio workstations. The 1988 release of the first Akai MPC, an affordable sampler with an intuitive interface that made sampling accessible to a wider audience.
Sampling is a foundation of hip hop music, as the original breakbeats used were of older records. In order to create new beats, the DJs would play two breakbeats at once or scratch on one breakbeat while letting the other play. Samplers allowed DJs to take these techniques to another level and mix different sounds from multiple records or multiple parts of a song into a beat.
Typically, Miami producers sample electronic music, soul, funk, and latin music but certainly is not limited to this.
Sound and Content Summary
Summary of Common Elements of Miami Bass Music
- Fat low ends and heavy syncopated bass.
- BPM – Usually around 100 to 140
- Looped drums and samples
- Electronic Percussions
- Percussion that uses 32nd notes or similar fast percussion
- Hissy Cymbals
- Wide range of electronic percussion that can be inserted in and out of the track
- Scratching – Scratched hooks or sometimes other parts of the beats.
- Sampling – Samples of electronic music, soul, funk, and latin music.
- Centers around partying, booty shaking, hooking-up, sex, or having a lot of bass in the music.
Amos Larkins II is a trained bass player and engineer that entered the Miami music scene during disco music’s decline. A few years later he changed the course of music history by making a cocaine-induced mistake during a hazy all-night session — a mistake that birthed the Miami bass subgenre.
As a teenager in the early 80s, Larkins demonstrated a skill level beyond his years and earned himself a stint as a session musician at Miami Sound. Soon he started hanging out with people involved in the Miami club scene.
During this time Larkins took in musical influences from hit records that would later become staples of Miami bass. One particular song that stood out was the electronic song “Computer Funk” by Osé, which Larkins later credited for introducing him to the Roland TR-808 drum machine. “It wasn’t called bass then, but that’s when I first saw the 808,” he told Red Bull. “It just had a thump to it. That was cool, so that’s what got me into the 808. Nobody was calling it bass music, nobody was calling it nothing.”
While he absorbed the sounds of popular electro records and worked his studio gigs, Larkins was hired to produce for a movie called Knights of the City but the song didn’t make the cut. Despite the missed opportunity, the gig led to Larkins’ gaining the attention of Sunnyview Records, who hired him to produce for them and their smaller labels like Prime Choice and Double Duce.
As Larkins’ professional career was blossoming, he remained a steady presence in the Miami nightlife in the mid 80s. Soon he developed a serious coke habit. “I was a frequent cocaine user and strip-club patron,” he told the Miami New Times in 2015. “So whenever I took breaks to clear my thoughts, I would frequent strip clubs to get inspiration or just to totally get away from the studio for a second to
give my ears a break.” In early 1985, one such strip club visit started the Miami bass subgenre.
After a night filled with cocaine and champagne, Larkins invited a stripper back to Sunnyview with him to finish a mix of “Commin’ In Fresh” by Double Duce. He played the song Knights Of The City (1986) for his guest and started adjusting different levels, giving particular focus to the 808 bass.
After starting the music, Larkins and his guest partied in a separate room in the studio and he put off mixing the music. After several hours, he realized that morning had came and the Sunnyview employees would be arriving at work soon. In a rush to finish the final mix for “Commin’ In Fresh”, Larkins admitted that he failed to do a final sound check before recording the song.
A few days later Sunnyview/Prime Choice distributed “Commin’ In Fresh” to local music shops all around Miami. Larkins visited a mixtape store his friend owned at a local flea market when the record first hit the shelves. As he entered the store, the owner played the Double Duce single.
Larkins initially was in a state of panic because the bass was low enough to destroy the store’s speaker. As Larkins thought about how his mistake could cause him to get fired, he looked around and noticed that everyone in the store was enjoying the song and asking about it. Realizing his unexpected fortune, Larkins rushed back to Sunnyview and told the label co-owner about the discovery. This allowed him the opportunity to further experiment and develop the Miami bass sound until he mastered it.
Miami Bass 80s
In the 80s, DJs and record producers were the focus of Miami Bass as opposed to rappers. The main record labels releasing Miami Bass included Pandisc, HOT Records, 4-Sight Records, and Skyywalker Records.
James (Maggotron) McCauley (also known as DXJ, Maggozulu 2, Planet Detroit, and Bass Master Khan) and DJ Kurtis Mantronik (aka Mantronix) were major acts in the early days of Miami Bass. Mantronik’s single “Bass Machine” was a local hit that featured New York rapper T La Rock.
The originator Amos Larkins produced “Bass Rock Express” by MC ADE which is considered the first Miami Bass record to gain underground popularity internationally. Soon after 2 Live Crew released the single “Throw the D” which is a highly influential song in the subgenre. Fresh Kid Ice was the only MC in 2 Live Crew at the time and is considered the first Miami Bass Rapper. Many claim that he is the first to coin the term “Miami Bass” as well.
The 2 Live Crew became the most recognizable Miami Bass group and popularized the style in the late 80s and early 90s. Their albums were controversial for its sexually explicit lyrics which led to legal troubles for the group and retailers that sold the album. The 2 Live Crew went to court to defend their right to release sexually explicit lyrics and won the case. This allowed all rap music going forward to allow cussing on records as long as the CD case indicated a parental advisory warning label.
From the mid ’80s to early ’90s, many DJs were heavily involved in playing Miami bass at local outdoor events to large audiences at area beaches, parks, and fairs. Many clubs in southern Florida such as Pac-Jam, Superstars Rollertheque, Bass Station, Studio 183, Randolphs, Nepenthe, Video Powerhouse, Skylight Express, Beat Club and Club Boca hosted bass nights on a regular basis. The Miami radio airplay and programming support was strong as well in the now defunct Rhythm 98, as well as WEDR and WPOW (Power 96).
Orlando also contributed and promoted Miami bass. The prominent Orlando radio station 102 Jamz (WJHM) spread Miami Bass to Central Florida and was important in its popularity rise.
Miami Bass 90s
By the mid 90s, Miami Bass saw a commercial and mainstream resurgence with acts such as Luke, L’Trimm, 95 South, Tag Team, 69 Boyz, Quad City DJ’s, Freak Nasty, and Sir Mix-A-Lot all scored big hits. Miami Bass acts had clearly spread outside southern Florida with acts such as 69 Boyz, Quad City DJs, and 95 South being from Jacksonville, Atlanta acts Tag Team and Freak Nasty, and Sir Mix-a-Lot from Seattle.
These songs all reached the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and exposed Miami bass nationally. These artists generally used a Miami bass sound and production but did it in a far less explicit and far more accessible way than had been previously done by Luke Campbell and the 2 Live Crew.
By the late 90s, Miami Bass music and acts started fusing their sound more with the upcoming Dirty South Rap.
Miami Bass 2000s to Present
Since the 2000s Miami Bass has been relegated to the underground but is still being made. It had a major influence on the Dirty South Rap of the 2000s and in the Trap Music that is still dominant today. Also, the Miami Bass sound is closely related to the EDM subgenres of ghettotech and booty house.
NOTABLE ARTISTS, DJS, PRODUCERS, ALBUMS, AND SONGS
Popular Miami Bass DJs
- Luke Skyywalker’s Ghetto Style DJs
- Norberto Morales’ Triple M DJs
- Super JD’s MHF Dj’s
- Space Funk DJs
- Mohamed Moretta
- DJ Nice & Nasty
- Felix Sama
- DJ Spin
- Ramon Hernandez
- Bass Master DJs
- DJ Laz
- Earl “The Pearl” Little
- Uncle Al, Raylo & Dem Damn Dogs
- DJ Slice
- Jam Pony Express
Popular Miami Bass Rap Acts
- 2 Live Crew/Luke
- 95 South
- J. Fad
- MC Luscious
- Tag Team
- 69 Boyz
- Quad City DJ’s
Popular/Classic Miami Bass Albums
- 2 Live Crew – 2 Live Crew is What We Are (1986)
- 2 Live Crew – As Nasty as They Wanna Be (1989)
Popular/Classic Miami Bass Songs
- MC ADE – Bass Rock Express (1985)
- L’Trimm – Cars that Go Boom (1988)
- 2 Live Crew – Get Loose Now (1989)
- MC Luscious – Boom I Got Your Boyfriend (1991)
- Luke – I Wanna Rock (1992)
- Sir Mix-a-Lot – Baby Got Back (1992)
- 95 South – Whoot There it is (1993)
- Tag Team – Whoomp There it is (1993)
- 12 Gauge – Dunkie Butt (1993)
- Splack Pack – Scrub the Ground (1993)
- 69 Boyz – Tootsee Roll (1994)
- 69 Boyz & 95 South – U Need Dick In Your Life (1995)
- Freaknasty – Da Dip (1996)
- Ghosttown DJs – My Boo (1996)
- Quad City DJs – C’Mon and Ride It (1996)
- DJ Taz – That’s Right (1997)
Electrohop – Electronic music combined with hip hop elements such as sampling and scratching.
Ghettotech – Ghettotech (also known as Detroit club) is a genre of electronic music originating from Detroit that combines elements of Chicago’s ghetto house with electro, Detroit techno, Miami bass and UK garage.
Bounce Music – Bounce music is an energetic style of New Orleans hip hop music which is said to have originated as early as the late 1980s in the city’s housing projects
Dirty South – A combination of hardcore rap, Miami bass, and bounce music that developed in the southern United States.
Trap Music – Spinoff of Dirty South music developed in the early 2000s in Atlanta that was typified by sub-divided hi-hats, heavy, sub-bass layered kick drums in the style of the Roland TR-808 drum machine, typically in half time syncopated rhythms.
“Amos Larkins II created Miami Bass Music by Accident”. https://medium.com/micro-chop/amos-larkins-ii-created-miami-bass-music-by-accident-20511dd12125
“10 Essential Miami Bass Bangers”. Cameron is Mixmag’s Jr. Editor. Cameron Holbrook|
29 March 2019. https://mixmag.net/feature/10-essential-miami-bass-bangers
“Miami Bass”. https://rateyourmusic.com/genre/Miami+Bass/
In Miami, Bass Is King: Performance Recalls History Of Miami Bass. By Wilson Sayre. Nov 30, 2016. https://www.wlrn.org/post/miami-bass-king-performance-recalls-history-miami-bass