If Jadakiss' old line that "gangstas don't die, they get chubby and move to Miami" is true, then all the retirees living down south are gonna need to make some more room. Hip-hoppers are already using the city both as a retreat to record and as a test market to break music. If they continue to take up residence at the current rate, things are gonna get crowded.
You thought Sylvester Stallone and Gloria Estefan were the biggest stars down there? Not a chance. Luke Campbell put Miami on the map, Trick Daddy and Trina kept the city's name out there, and Will Smith and producer Scott Storch set up shop there a long time ago. It's the only place you can find Lauryn Hill these days, and P. Diddy, Timbaland, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Fat Joe and Usher have either just bought homes or are in the process of purchasing Miami cribs.
If you ask most people who can't stay away from Miami, they'll cite one or both of the two W's: the weather and the women.
"MIA is the spot," Jadakiss said. "It's marvelous. The weather is marvelous, the party scene is right. If you've got a house on the water, you're living right. It's just the place to be. I'm actually looking for a house down there. I gotta do South Beach. That's one of my dreams. I'll probably just go there in the wintertime, though, so I'll have a whole year of summer. I love to wear shorts."
"I love Miami," said Lil' Kim, a frequent Shore Club visitor who recently received a key to the city. "The water is hypnotic, I love the water. I get to relax. The people are beautiful there, and they treat me like royalty."
This year alone, Nas, Lil Jon, LL Cool J, the Diplomats' Jim Jones, Lauryn Hill, Timbaland and Fat Joe have been in Miami putting together smash hits. If you ask most artists why they leave their hometowns to record, most of them will give you the same answer: It's easier to give attention to their craft. Sometimes it's hard to stay focused when you have your boys, your girlfriends, your aunts, your uncles and fans all trying to come to your session and hang out.
"It's hard for me to concentrate up top," Harlem native Jim Jones said several months ago from South Beach, where he went to record his upcoming ... On My Way to Church. "It wasn't there for me in New York to get the music out how I wanted to do. I said, 'I'mma vacate and come down here where nobody knows me on a personal level and get in tune.' "
Plus Miami can provide new inspiration.
"I know certain artists like to come to the clubs out here and then go straight to the studio and record," said Terror Squad member DJ Khaled, one of Miami's top spinners. "The ambiance in the clubs here is incredible, it's something special. We do it all night. ... On a regular night you can go in the club and see J. Lo or Usher, and paparazzi will be outside flashing cameras. Some people think that they won't be focused on the music if they come to Miami and start partying, but actually you are focused because you're in Miami partying and making the music to please the type of people you're partying with."
For a different flavor than the club scene, artists can find some of the roughest 'hoods around just a few miles from South Beach.
"We tell people that Miami Beach is not the real Miami," says DJ EFN, who makes mixtapes in Miami. "It actually intrigues them more 'cause they're not just seeing that bullsh-- on South Beach. [In] the 'hood they see everything. Somebody like N.O.R.E., I'll take him around the city, I'll take him to the grimy strip clubs like Coco's and Rolex. They see everything that encompasses Miami. Even the big studio out here, the Hit Factory, is kinda in the 'hood."
Which brings us to one of hip-hop's new trends. Since plenty of the stars are in now in Miami soaking everything up and making music, it's only right that the city has become a breeding ground for some of the latest big hits. Artists recording down south can take a song they think is a banger straight from lab to the nearest hot club and radio DJs.
"I get it straight out the studio or straight from the label or a CEO that knows me," revealed Khaled, who's been steadily breaking records this year, like Tony Sunshine's "Oh My God" and Pitbull's "Culo." "I've got a lot of relationships with artists. I was the absolute first person to play LL's 'Headsprung.'
"Timbaland gave me that record before Def Jam had it," he continued. "Me and Timbaland are real cool. I go to his studio sessions all the time, and he always gives me his records first. A lot of people thought 'Headsprung' was just all right because it wasn't your average LL record. I was like, 'This is crazy.' Regardless of my relationship with the artist, if I like a song, I go real hard and [play it] like crazy. I'm going to try and really break it. Now it's real big in the club."
Of course, having one of the biggest songs of the year recorded in your home studio by your best friend is another way to stumble across a hit first.
" 'Lean Back' got recorded in my studio, so I knew the record before DJs got a chance to hear it," said Khaled, who also spins on radio station 99 Jamz. The DJ met Fat Joe a few years back and the two have since developed a strong kinship. "I kept telling people on the radio and across the country, 'There's a record coming that's so big. I'm telling y'all, I ain't gonna lie to you.' When we dropped it, everybody remembered them words and it ended up being history from there."
Another thing that's making Miami such a musical hotbed is its diverse cultural population, and DJs aren't afraid or too caught up in politics to give some love to the local crop of MCs.
Hometown heroes Jacki-O, Dirtbag and Pitbull have all been able to build a national buzz from the love they generated in Miami, while up-and-comers like Garcia look to follow in their footsteps. So with the MTV Video Music Awards approaching, chances are that some of the biggest artists will be leaking new music to DJs like EFN and Khaled, knowing that the whole industry will be in one spot. What better time to show off?
Catch all the sizzlin', star-packed VMA action direct from Miami on August 28. MTV News' preshow kicks things off at 6:00 p.m. ET/PT, followed by the big show at 8 p.m.