In December, I wrote a list of the 50 greatest Miami rap songs for Complex Magazine. Scott Brown wrote a very thoughtful response on his Miami-centric site, Black Beans Blogue, pointing out some of the tracks I’d missed. Among those he discussed was “T-Shirt” by Picallo. I asked him to elaborate on the song, and it’s place within Miami’s substantial yet slept-on history of distinctive, Caribbean-inspired hip-hop concoctions. —Jesse Serwer
If hearing tales of street life from guys with anime-like dreads is of interest to you, you should meet the duo Desloc and Vido of Piccalo, from Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. In the early 2000s, they were becoming the leaders of the underground music scene in the area. This classic track from the 2001 album Everyday Reality features some of the Caribbean inspiration that is sprinkled throughout the album.The video, meanwhile, happens to be one of the first by the prolific and well-known director, R. Malcolm Jones. (Note: “T-Shirt,” preceded here by “Big Money Ballers,” doesn’t begin until 1:00 into the clip).
Desloc utilizes effective imagery on the chorus of “T-Shirt,” partly due to the lyrics, which reference the popular hood practice of honoring murdered young men with memorial T-shirts, and partly due to his delivery. His signature half-singing, half-rapping abilities are sick and makes every song he’s on a little bit better. It clearly never gets old since few artists have lasted as long in the city as Desloc has—he still makes songs that bang in trunks and on dancefloors around Miami. Piccalo has consistently had a presence in the inner-city, but never reached the level of national attention as Slip-N-Slide artists that emerged during the same time period. It makes you wonder how well they would do if they ever decided to move on up from the strip club circuit.
The Caribbean has had a major impact on Miami’s culture—food, language, and especially music. Rap music from the area has had reggae influences since the Jamaican Quad Squad‘s bizarre bass creations in the 80s and the stoner rap themes of Madd Blunted in the 90s. There’s even the Bahamian carnival-inspired annual street parade, Junkanoo.
While the piano keys in “T-Shirt” kind of appear then disappear throughout, the rhythm is based on a reggae skank. The brass intro is partially rooted in the prominence of the high school band culture in the area (remember the “Shut Up” video?). But the other aspect is the layered stabs that are common salsa, either of which you’re likely to hear in a jam alongside Luke’s “I Wanna Rock” and Beenie’s “Romie.”
The message of “take heed” in “T-Shirt” is one that still applies 10 years later. Walking around the flea market in Carol City recently, I noticed that the market, usually packed with shady vendors selling bootleg goods, had notably fewer sellers than in previous times. The key booths still surviving in a tough economy were shops that sold synthetic hair and ones that screen-printed oversize t-shirts. Most of these bared the faces of the recently deceased, many of whom were notably young.