Meet the seven Miami musicians blowing up the local music scene

They might come from different genres, but these Miami musicians have one big thing in common: star power
Photograph: Devin Christopher
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The Miami music scene has a bit of a chip on its shoulder. For years, touring bands seldom made it this far south, Miami music venues were few and far between, and just when an artist would start to gain some traction, they’d hightail it to New York City or L.A. Through a combination of self-fulfilled prophecy and truth, we convinced ourselves that nobody wanted to play with us. But the state of Miami music has, like much of the city, grown at a breakneck pace over the past decade.

“Miami has the musical infrastructure—venues, studios, record stores, musical
diversity—everything is just on a smaller scale,” says Hilary Saunders, associate music editor at Paste and a Miami native. She's been covering South Florida music for over a decade, which can, at times, be a lonely gig. “The city’s music scene doesn’t get much national attention.”

But there is a revolution brewing from within, courtesy of a new generation of Miami musicians who are putting down roots in South Florida, building thriving careers and, in the process, laying old stereotypes to rest.

Miami musicians you need to know

Sam Stan
Photograph: Johnny Fan

Sam Stan

If you take one thing away—just one—from Sam Stan’s music, let it be this: Be happy. That’s the mission statement of the Pembroke Pines rapper, who makes what he calls “happy raps,” which sound like a syrupy combination of Chance the Rapper, D.R.A.M and J. Cole while remaining honest and contemplative. “I was blessed to grow up in a cool environment where I didn’t have to stress that much,” says Stan, who’s translated that relentless positivity into music that currently averages 40,000 Spotify streams a month. A savvy millennial, Stan has found nearly all his collaborators via the internet (one lives in Australia) and is currently working on a new EP and LP, which he hopes will uplift a demographic that sorely needs it. “In society right now, there are a lot of sad young kids doing a bunch of drugs to escape reality. I’m in that age group. I want to show that you can be cool with what you have and what you are standing for. Don’t stress over the small things. It’s all love.”

Nick León
Photograph: Koury Angelo

Nick León

We caught up with Nick León the day before he was about to turn 24—a jarring reminder of how young Miami’s fastest-rising producer is. León has produced for Florida hip-hop stars such as Denzel Curry and Robb Bank$ and opened for Norwegian DJ Cashmere Cat in Miami. Now he’s quickly sneaking up on the Miami music scene, not unlike the patient, methodical beats he crafts, sometimes with recordings taken right from the natural sounds of the Everglades, a short drive from his native Oakland Park.

How old were you when you started experimenting with music?

I was 12. I learned a little bit of guitar and started using my brother’s beat-making program. I kind of stole it off his computer. When he found out, I thought he was going to be mad, but he was like, “This is really cool. You should keep doing it.”

When did you move from the bedroom to the real world? 

At like 18 or 19. I was just doing stuff with friends. But then I found out about Miami [and the music scene].

It must have been nice to discover this scene you never knew about in your own backyard.

My idea was like, Okay, it’s Miami. I know what’s there. I don’t have to go check it out. But then I started meeting people and the ideas they were adding to the cultural space at the time. It was like, “Oh, so I guess I don’t have to leave Florida just yet.”

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Raquel Sofía
Photograph: Ruben Martin

Raquel Sofía

Raised on an eclectic musical diet that hit everything from James Taylor and Bob Marley to Latin classics, Raquel Sofía was finally won over by jazz as a teenager. She followed that first love all the way to the University of Miami Frost School of Music and then to formative gigs singing backup for Shakira and Juanes. Now the Puerto Rican native is well into her own solo career and working on a yet-to-be-titled second album that very well might shove her heart-first into worldwide fame.

Do you remember the first song you wrote?

I started singing and writing songs when I was really young. I would write poems and carry them around in notebooks.

What were those poems about?

Boys. Kind of exactly the same songs I write now.

They say write what you know.

[Laughs] Unrequited love. I was nerdy and I had my head stuck in books and I went to band camp. I was in love with all these cool guys and they never looked at me and those were my songs. And those are still my songs.

Your songs are mostly in Spanish. Do you see more non-Spanish speakers taking an interest in Latin music?

Definitely. I think there’s a big difference in the type of crowd. It’s still mostly Latin, but people who don’t speak Spanish are getting into Latin music. Big crossover hits like “Despacito” and even before that with “Bailando” are unifying all of us. One of my favorite compliments to get is, ‘I don’t speak a word of Spanish, but I felt everything you said.’ I love it when people say that. It means I’m doing my job.

Yoli Mayor
Photograph: Max Reed

Yoli Mayor

Half the battle of putting on a show in Miami is getting people to show up—unless your lineup includes 21-year-old Yoli Mayor, who consistently packs venues such as El Tucán, the Wynwood Yard and the Miami Flea. Many call her the Cuban Adele—a marketing tool that’s stuck, thanks to her soulful voice. But the real Mayor provokes a sound closer to classic jazz vocalists like Etta James. It’s a vintage style that won over everyone on season 12 of America’s Got Talent. Well, almost everyone. “That was really the hardest moment I have ever experienced onstage,” says Mayor, recalling when the notoriously crotchety Simon Cowell stopped the music and forced her to change “I Put a Spell on You” to something more youthful. “But I knew that giving into my nervousness wouldn’t do me any good and decided to give everything I could.” (At press time, Mayor had moved through to the competition’s live rounds.) The consummate professional has adapted the same brazen approach to her career at home, taking the plunge at 18 years old to sing full-time. “I remember I stepped onstage and sang an original song,” says Mayor, describing that pivotal moment in her career. “By the time I got off, half the room was crying with me.”

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Patrick and the Swayzees
Photograph: Mia Myselfandi

Patrick and the Swayzees

“Oh, I thought you were somebody calling me about the RV,” says singer Les Greene, laughing, when he finds out it’s Time Out Miami on the phone. Just like Greene’s vintage forest green Chevy camper (which is, sadly, broken down at the moment), his band Patrick and the Swayzees’ sound is straight out of the past. The wailing, dancing, gyrating frontman of the rockabilly band is a force onstage and a big part of the reason this five-piece ensemble (founded by bass player Patrick Stecher) has gone from playing Key West dive bars to becoming one of the most exciting bands in South Florida. “I don’t know where it comes from,” Greene says of his frenetic stage presence. “But I know it does come from a place of fear.” If it’s failing he’s worried about, Greene can relax. There’s a debut album on the way—just as soon as the perfectionist can find a sound engineer to record it the way he wants: in one straight, authentic take. “There are old Ray Charles records on which you hear him hit a sour note or the band mess up, and I want our music to bring that back. Nothing is ever perfect. I’m not the best singer in the world, but I give it my damn all every time.”

Twelve'len
Photograph: Devin Christopher

Twelve’Len

Last year, when the world was biting its collective fingernails to stubs in anticipation of Frank Ocean’s new album, Fader published a piece titled “While you wait on Frank Ocean, try Twelve’Len.” High praise, to say the least. But Twelve’Len’s music—which bounces from rap to hip-hop and soul with a foggy ease—proves a tantalizing appetizer for Ocean. Now the independent Miami artist cooks up Move, a highly anticipated sequel to his debut LP, Fri(end)s, due out “somewhere in August,” he says.

Tell us about your new album.

The title is Move. I wanted to feature a lot of different dudes on it. I reached out to lots of homies like J.K. the Reaper, Ski Mask the Slump God, XXXTentacion and Denzel Curry. I wanted to create something experimental and fun—something I could play in my car. I just bought my first car, a 1972 Cutlass Supreme. 

Have you gotten the chance to play Move in your new car yet? 

No, not yet. My car’s actually going to be done probably like a week before the release date. I can’t really say the [exact] date.

Where do you want to be the first time you play it?

I’ll probably drive to Opa-Locka Airport and park inside this empty lot, watch planes take off and just, I don’t know—smoke, chill and just vibe out.

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Magic City Hippies
Photograph: Fro Rojas

Magic City Hippies

This trio—John Coughlin, Pat Howard, Robby Hunter—lives up to its moniker with a repertoire of beachy tracks that are at once breezy and sticky, a blend of alt rock and funky pop that is never afraid to go out on a limb with surprise rap verses or demonic vocal manipulation. Its sound might be easier to pin down than the guys themselves, though. Hunter, Howard and Coughlin, who have been recording and playing together across South Florida for four years, are fresh off a two-month tour that took them as far as North Dakota and to a performance at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, where they found themselves in a bizarre alternate reality known as the artist cafeteria. “It was definitely the craziest thing we’ve ever done,” says Hunter, the founder and lead singer. “Francis and the Lights asked me where the frozen-yogurt machine was,” adds the drummer Howard, still slightly dazed, as if emerging from a dream. And as the band hammers away on its second full-length album, as of now untitled, the craziness only intensifies—especially when a glimpse at its Spotify page reveals a combined 8 million streams. “It gives me goose bumps for sure,” admits Hunter. “Pretty much everything that’s out right now was recorded and mixed in a bedroom and uploaded in my boxers. To think that somewhere right now, our song’s in the air. That’s pretty surreal.”

Now check out the best places to see these acts perform live

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