Broward County is home to one of the hottest scenes of new and emerging rappers in the country.
In the past two to three years, Broward has become a legitimate exporter of wildly popular hip-hop — fueled by the success of rappers such as Pompano Beach’s Kodak Black and Lauderhill’s XXXTentacion, as well as the emergence of other artists like Ski Mask The Slump God, Koly P, and Lajan Slim.
Artists from Broward are topping charts, going viral and breaking through from the rap underground into the mainstream.
Record labels have been signing them: Black joined Atlantic Records in 2015; XXXTentacion signed a distribution deal with Caroline, an imprint of Capitol Music Group, in 2017; and Ski Mask The Slump God inked a deal with Republic Records.
Big-name news and music media outlets like Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Pitchfork and XXL are covering them.
Hip-hop-oriented blogs and websites, whose audiences reach tens of millions of people, regularly post about them.
“Broward County was the underdog — it is the underdog — and now it’s on top,” says Shawn Cotton, whose popular Say Cheese blog, which features up-and-coming rappers, recently listed South Florida as the top area for emerging hip-hop music in the country.
“I believe Broward County is poised to go on a run like Chicago did [from] 2012 [to] 2015, New York had for decades and Atlanta from the early 2000s until now,” said DJ Akademiks, a popular hip-hop blogger and co-host of the “Everyday Struggle” show on Complex.com.
But there’s an ugly side, too.
Kodak Black and XXXTentacion — the two most famous and successful artists to emerge from Broward — also are the most controversial. Both have been in and out of jail over the past few years, and each still faces disturbing allegations of violence against women that could derail their careers.
Fueling the recognition of and interest in Broward is the fact artists are rapping about the places in Broward County where they grew up, and they’re being explicit and specific in their references to local places and culture.
It means listeners all over the world are hearing — many of them for the first time — vivid and often realistic accounts of a very different kind of South Florida lifestyle, one that exists a few miles inland but a world away from the gleaming hotels and condos along the beaches.
Kodak Black, the most famous of Broward’s new wave of rappers, frequently references Golden Acres, as well as the slang terms “Ugly Corner” and “1800 Block,” all of which reference the neighborhood in and around the public housing projects off Hammondville Road where he grew up.
XXXTentacion, whose given name is Jahseh Onfroy, also is a huge name.
XXXTentacion represents a more experimental, punk-infused and indie rock-influenced subgenre of hip-hop known as SoundCloud rap, named after the online music streaming service that many of the artists post their music on.
Onfroy, now 20, started making music in his bedroom and posting it online. His breakout track, “Look At Me!”, was released in December 2015, drawing more than 110 million listens on SoundCloud, 85 million views on YouTube and 220 million listens on Spotify.
Kodak and X have become the poster boys for Broward’s popularity. At one point in the same week of August 2017, Black’s “Project Baby Two” was No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 200 albums chart while “17,” XXXTentacion’s debut album, hit No. 1 album on Apple Music.
And in March, X’s second album, “?”, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard.
“It’s great, we deserve it. We’ve been working hard for like the past four years, to be real,” said Khaed, a producer from Lauderhill who works with XXXTentacion. “People think it’s been overnight but it’s not. We’ve always been working.”
But trouble may be brewing as the music industry tries to distance itself from sexual abuse, harrassment and violence against women.
Kodak has been in custody in Broward County since his most recent arrest in January. The bulk of the charges in that case, which included a child neglect allegation, were dropped. Left over were some lesser charges that, taking into account he was on house arrest and probation at the time, are expected to keep him behind bars until fall 2018, his lawyer Bradford Cohen has said.
But more seriously, Kodak is accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a South Carolina hotel room. The pending case has yet to go to trial. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.
Meawhile, XXXTentacion is accused of viciously assaulting his pregnant ex-girlfriend, among other charges. He’s slated to go on trial in Miami. The music-streaming service Spotify announced in May it was removing XXXTentacion’s music from its curated and algorithmically generated playlists.
Cal Hickox, editor at Genius.com, a music website, has been observing the path Black and XXXTentacion have been on.
“The big question to me is how far can these guys go, considering their legacies are always going to be tainted by these charges?” Hickox says. “So that’s the question going forward, I think.”
‘Exposed to the world’
Broward isn’t the only county in South Florida to be a hotbed for hip-hop. Over the decades, Miami-Dade County had produced icons such as 2 Live Crew, Trick Daddy, Trina and Rick Ross.
Regardless, Broward has had a fertile musical scene, locals say, even if it was relatively rare for an artist to break out to achieve widespread fame. “It’s always been a hot spot for music, we just getting that light on right now,” said B. Noza, a Lauderhill-based rapper, referring to the spotlight being shone on Broward.
But what makes Broward’s urban culture different? It’s in the music, slang and style.
Hugely popular in Broward is fast music, in which DJs take existing tracks, and remix them to sound sped up, replete with chipmunk-sounding vocals.
Street nicknames for cities and neighborhoods are common. “Da No” or “Noya” are used for Pompano Beach, and “Deepside” and “Shallow Side” are two neighborhoods’ nicknames in Lauderhill.
Another term is ‘jit,’ which refers to a younger person.
“It’s like we always had our own different little lingo, way of dressing, how we is,” said El Snappo, a Lauderhill rapper currently in federal prison stemming from a weapon charge for being seen unlawfully possessing guns in behind-the-scenes footage to a music video. “Like, we always had our own little culture, now the world just seeing it. It’s exposed to the world because of Kodak.”
The kid from Pompano
By the early part of this decade, a seeming lack of interest in Broward was about to change.
Kodak Black put out a video in 2013 for “Ambition,” a song that made the right people stop and ask themselves, “Who is this?”
Kodak’s wordplay was unpolished and he was still finding his form, but his depictions of getting swept up in the streets were jarringly vivid, especially because his still-high-pitched voice made one thing clear: He still was a child.
“I’m 14 and I’m already thinking about death,” rapped the teen.
His friends said his vivid rhymes had a photographic quality to them, so he performed as Kodak.
One of the people who noticed him was Orlando Whartonberg, an A&R man at Atlantic Records who signed popular rappers Fetty Wap, PnB Rock, and A Boogie With a Hoodie.
Whartonberg recalls the first time he saw Kodak Black perform live. It was at a club in Gainesville, home to the University of Florida, he said in an interview for the podcast “No Jumper.”
“It must’ve been 3,000 people in there. Mind you, he wasn’t that famous. … He did like 15 songs. Yo, the club knew everything word for word for word. I was like, naw. This is crazy. When I went back to New York, I was like, ‘They know his s--- word for word.’ It was like, ‘For real?’ I’m like, ‘Kodak Black, bro.’”
Recently, the rapper legally changed his name from Dieuson Octave to Bill K. Kapri, though he still performs as Kodak.
Now 20, he is one of the biggest-selling, most popular rappers in America, and is often cited by other musicians. Cardi B’s chart-topping breakout single, “Bodak Yellow,” was inspired by one Kodak’s songs, she said. And most recently, he got a shout-out in a verse of the song "This Is America,” Childish Gambino’s new single that debuted at No. 1 this week on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Kodak’s success has made other Broward rappers hungry.
“We’re somewhere worth looking at,” says SupaSand, 29, a rapper from Lauderhill. “So while they’re looking, you wanna be on your best behavior, know what I’m saying? So that’s why everybody’s doing their thing right now.”
One example is Koly P, who is also known as Kolyon. A promising rapper at the same time Kodak Black was coming up, Koly P and Kodak were close friends and recorded together.
But when Koly P lost a few close friends in quick succession to violence and was shot and nearly killed himself, he said he sank into a deep depression. For a while, he bowed out of music.
Meanwhile, Kodak Black kept working, releasing new music and playing shows all over the southeast, building his fan base.
By the late 2015 Black had a major label deal. In 2016, he was named to XXL’s coveted Freshman Class, widely regarded as the authoritative roundup of the most exciting young rappers in the industry.
“By the time I got discouraged, Kodak Black kept going,” Koly P said. “And it’s like he blew overnight. He blew. So that right there — it motivated me. So I gave it one more try and that’s where I came out with ‘The Koly Bible’ [in 2016]. And from there I ain’t where I want to be, but I ain’t where I used to be.”
‘There’s no blueprint’
Koly P is making his way. He regularly releases new music, including his recent “Koly Bible 2,” which in mid-May had over 2.7 million hits on a prominent hip-hop streaming service, MyMixtapez.com.
He plays shows all over Florida and elsewhere in the southeast, collaborates with other well-known and influential rappers, and gets a moderate amount of media attention.
But there also are setbacks.
He wonders why a major label hasn’t signed him. And in March, shortly after he opened up a small corner store in Pompano Beach called the Koly Stop, Koly P posted to social media that he was recovering after being shot in the hand while at the store.
He continues to work, though. In early May the video for his track “One Two” debuted, featuring Koly and his friends at the Koly Stop.
Legions of other rappers from Broward also are trying to make their way, but the music-listening public will ultimately rule on who rises and who doesn’t.
“There’s no blueprint,” Cotton says. “You can put millions of dollars behind your craft. You can do shows, open mics. You can be super-talented. But if we don’t want to hear it from you, it’s kind of like, ‘sorry.’
“There’s nothing really you can do.”
The smoke had been swirling for a few years, but in particular over the past year, Broward caught fire with talent. The question in 2018 is how long it can stay lit.
“If only these young rappers can stay out their own way, realize the torch they carry for the region, and continue to embrace and highlight their upbringing through their art,” DJ Akademiks said, “Broward County hip-hop scene seems to be only on the rise from here.”