I spent twelve years in Miami and in that time I grew to love reggae and dancehall music. It was a bit hard to get into in the beginning; prior to moving down there, the most exposure I’d ever had to these genres of music were the Shabba Ranks, Maxi Priest, and Mad Cobra videos in rotation on BET at the time. While I certainly liked and listened to “Slow & Sexy,” “Mr. Loverman” and “Flex” when they came on the radio, they weren’t necessarily the kinds of songs I’d bump of my own volition.
That all changed when I began college. My school’s brown-skinned population was overwhelmingly Caribbean and parties at the on-campus bar, The Rat, reflected that. DJs would spin all kinds of tunes that were seemingly familiar to everyone else but me. And these same tunes enticed the ladies to the dance floor—to wine, to grind, to sweat. I determined that if I was to have any type of fun, I had to get involved.
Thank God for Flea Market USA. Situated on NW 79th Street in the heart of Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, Flea Market USA was home to many booths selling bootlegged albums and mixtapes. (And I’m taking actual cassette mixtapes, Dear Readers.) My favorite spot was Lion Records & Tapes. In the beginning I was only buying hip-hop mixes, the newest releases from DJ Clue or classic Jam Pony tapes. But slowly I began picking up dancehall tapes and familiarizing myself with names like Beenie Man, Buju Banton, Spragga Benz, Tanya Stephens, Capleton, Lady Saw, Red Rat, and Sean Paul.
Yes, that Sean Paul. This was long before “Gimme The Light.”