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A Love Letter to Miami

Florida is at the literal bottom of the map. Geographically speaking, it is The South. And yet, the further down the peninsula you go, the less southern it becomes. Glittering skyscrapers, endless malls, and shiny sports cars certifying its’ big city feel. But it is the people who make South Florida a second Black Caribbean space. Creole, Patwa, and African American Vernacular English slipping and sliding into a distinctly Black lingua franca. Some of us speak like Yung Miami. Halting and speeding through words. Skidding into them like a teenager learning to drive. Sentences jump, bump, skip. If you from Pompano, you say “baze” instead of “bathe.” If you were born in Tallahassee but raised in Lauderhill like me, you might say “workjob.” Your Jamaican friends might ask why you pronounce “hat” with an e in the middle.

“Hand me that het.”

“You going to your workjob?”

And if you really old school Black Florida, you know “Whose own this is?” is simultaneously a question of possession and inquiry into an item’s worth.

When I first hear “Fuck that N” by the City Girls, I am living in upstate New York.

"Fuck that N'" Video

I am more than homesick. For Fort Lauderdale and Lauderhill. Cities that raised me. Fort Licky Lauderdale. City of donk Chevys dripping candy paint, swaying mango trees, and musky humidity that only a local can love. Navigating snow, black ice, and a northern linguistic landscape completely devoid of y’all, I cultivate my “Home” playlist.

Trick. Trina. Betty Wright. Tre-oh-Five.

Music that transports me back to walking from my Granddaddy house to the storehouse next door, where I hand the candy lady fifty cents for a pickled egg. Another fifty cents for a hot sausage.

When I first discover the City Girls, I hear my people.

I know, almost instinctively, that they are from Dade. Not South Beach. South Beach is for snowbirds. Tourists. Ballers. Or, the balling on a budget speeding past in foreign rentals. The place Black people could not go without a pass. As JT raps in “City on Lock,” “I’m from Liberty City. Across the Bridge. Nah, bitch, I ain’t from South Beach.” The only thing that Liberty City and South Beach have in common is both were forged by segregation. Across the bridge is Dade. Growing up, girls from Dade were the taste-makers.

Girls from Dade did not simply determine what was cool; they were the very definition of it.

During a cookout at my Granddaddy house, one of my aunties challenged the kids to a dance-off. Dade versus Broward. 305 versus 954. I’ll never forget seeing them execute dance moves few outside of Miami can perform without looking foolish. Scrub the ground. City boy with it. Stickkkkk. Rolllll. Even my Granddaddy gave 305 the win that day, dropping crumpled twenty dollar bills in the driveway for the winners. These memories come flooding back to me while watching JT and Miami rap outside the flea market over Khia’s classic “My Neck, My Back.” I think of my little cousins, the ones eager to grow up so that they could drink beer and smoke cigarettes like our aunties. I think of the way that racism is etched into the geography of American cities. I think of Black Floridians, who sick of being confined to “an uninhabited and inconvenient strip of land,” desegregated pools and beaches via wade-ins.

The Sir John Hotel in Overtown, a popular resort for Black residents and entertainers who performed in Miami Beach but could not stay in the all-white hotels there.

Muhammad Ali training at the Sir John Hotel in Overtown, 1961.

I think of Muhammad Ali and his home in Overtown. Back then, residents knew him only as Cassius Clay, the young boxer running from his home to Fifth Street Gym, a whites only gym in South Beach. It was during these runs where he, noting the very different living conditions across the bridge, became Muhammad Ali.

The City Girls’ gritty demand for designer handbags and a lover “who gon swipe them visas” is more than hyper-capitalist anthem. It is Black Floridians pronouncing our right to beaches, property, and wealth within our own cities.

In “Period (We Live),” the rap duo pull up on jet skis declaring themselves “city girls from the 305, ghetto booty, pretty face, thick thighs.” Bikini clad, standing defiantly on Miami sand, they claim space along the beach. Then they head straight to Ocean Drive. Contested territories marked and reserved for whites.

And when JT explains calling a past lover “Monopoly” because she fucked him so good she owns a few properties, it is a clever bar but not a new concept in hip hop as Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown attest. But what the City Girls consistently draw attention to — staging their music videos in flea markets, beach shores, and street corners — is Black Floridians seizing land within a red-lined city excised of Black people. When Black South Floridians are absented from the terrain, or blended into the background, our complexities get swept away in a tide of anti-Blackness.

“A lot of people don’t understand it, and they take it as being, like, illiterate or not being able to talk properly. I always think about it. I’ll be like, I’m gonna [change the way I talk], but I never followed through. I can’t disguise my voice even if I wanted to.” -Yung Miami

Yung Miami is relatively new on the rap scene, but the racist contradictions she faces are ancient. Girls who talk like her are acceptable only when they are anything other than Black. Then their speech is edgy, cool, and even endearing. But because she is a non-ambiguous Black woman, Yung Miami’s contributions will be diminished as “ghetto.” Uneducated. Embarrassing. Yet everybody and they mama, including the professional, educated, and classy Blackerrati, has asked at least once, “You trying to get flewed out?”

Yung Miami gifted us with her Opa-Locka speech much like Zora Neale Hurston regaled her Northern peers, among them Langston Hughes, at Harlem parties with tales from Eatonville. When Langston suggested that Zora keep some stories to herself, she shrugged off the advice. Art overflowed within her; trapping it within would be criminal. It ain’t tricking if you got it. Even when some Harlemites thought she spoke funny, Zora clung to her Black Floridian roots. Reminding us that home is not a place so much as it is an anchor steadying us as we drift out into sea.

My grandfather joined the ancestors three years ago. Gentrification efforts by city officials to expand downtown Fort Lauderdale have not ripped apart his old neighborhood yet. His two-tone lavender house is still standing. He was a South Georgia man, known for sporting a gold crown and pressing his jeans with a stiff crease down the middle. When he drove my grandmother, mother, and aunt to Fort Lauderdale, he altered our familial line. They were country folks prior. Country like they just got a Walmart ten years ago. Southern like people shot into their living room window.

I am Southern-inflected, but not Southern. I am a city girl. Nervous in wide open spaces. Comforted by neon store lights. But I sometimes drawl my words like my granddaddy. Repeat his phrases because they make me feel closer to the man who walked like he owned the earth. What a gift to carry our people, both living and dead, in the language we speak.

“I really want to change the way I talk. I just feel like it’s my accent. It’s growing up in Miami, it’s my slang. I talk like my mom.” -Yung Miami

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