The Brooklyn-based label Mixpak has earned renown for its commitment to dancehall: several years before Jamaican inflections became the top 40’s flavor du jour in 2015, Mixpak founder Dre Skull was working with the dub legend Lee Scratch Perry and the dancehall veteran Vybz Kartel. In this context, the label’s latest release, Jubilee’s After Hours, seems like a left hook after a series of jabs: an album full skittering bolts of electronic music heavily informed by the dance/hip-hop fusion dubbed Miami Bass, which flourished in its namesake city during the second half of the ’80s and early ’90s.
“Sometimes I’m worried people will listen to my album and be like, ‘what the fuck is this?'” Jubilee told Billboard. “I have a weird crossover thing. Brenmar [a producer who puts out music on another Brooklyn-based label, Fool’s Gold] always says he’s too dance to be rap and too rap to be dance. [With dancehall,] I’m all three.”
On a blustery, grey day last week, as an occasional flake of snow gusted outside, Jubilee was seated in the studio housed at Mixpak’s office in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. She wore matching Kenzo sweatpants and a hoody, along with black socks emblazoned with white weed leaves. The studio was clean and well-lit, containing various articles of label memorabilia — a poster of Kartel, a vinyl copy of Palmistry‘s Pagan, which Mixpak released in June — and other musical knickknacks: Beat Box, a photo book entirely devoted to drum machines — including the Roland TR-808, which pounded through quintessential Miami hits like 2 Live Crew‘s “Me So Horny” — and a prominently placed autograph from Perry, who signed a box containing a limited edition Japanese doll of himself.
Jubilee made most of After Hours in this studio, and Mixpak values that sort of direct connection with its artists. “By having the studios here, it’s kind of an old school approach,” Dre explained. “In this day and age, an A&R is often sitting crunching numbers. Historically, A&Rs were in the studio helping to rework the bridge. The idea is that we can be here with artists and provide them access to the studio and tools.”
Jubilee’s debut album arrives at a propitious time: just as shades of dancehall have become newly popular with American listeners, the inflections of Miami Bass are also enjoying their latest resurgence of popularity. The sound of the genre underpins Kelela‘s “Rewind,” from last year, and Tinashe‘s single “Superlove,” which references 2 Live Crew’s Uncle Luke in its opening line. Ghost Town DJs’ “My Boo,” a smooth Miami Bass-inspired cut from 1996, became a hit again this year thanks to its use in the popular Running Man challenge. K.P. & Envyi‘s “Swing My Way,” a 1997 song with many similarities to “My Boo,” resurfaced on the airwaves this year as a sample in Bryson Tiller‘s hit “Exchange.”
Growing up in Miami and listening to the radio, Jubilee was steeped in the sounds of her city. “Miami Bass was always on,” she remembered. “I used to fall asleep to the radio all the time and wake up to weird dance music at four in the morning. I used to dream dance music.”
If she had time to sleep, that is — she took to raving early. “My parents gave me this rule when when I was little: you do anything you want, just be in your home room,” Jubilee said. “Even if you don’t sleep, be at your desk at 8 in the morning or whatever.”
“In Miami,” she continued, “you didn’t have to be a certain age to do anything at that time, so if DJ whatever was playing on a Wednesday an hour away, I went. I was driving all the time. I was listening to a lot of local DJs’ mixtapes while driving.”
Those automotive memories percolate through After Hours, even though Jubilee lives in New York and no longer has a car. (“It sucks,” she said.) She moved north after college in Orlando, and it was in New York that she started DJing, and then producing her own music. She also met Dre, who attended many of the same parties as she did. “He invited me to be his friend on Myspace,” she recalled. “Uncle Luke from 2 Live Crew was in his top friends, so I was like, I can fuck with this dude. You don’t see that often in New York.”
Dre started Mixpak in 2009, and every one of Jubilee’s solo projects — three EPs before After Hours — has been released on the label. “It just seemed like a natural fit,” Dre said. “We were spending lots of time talking about music, maybe we should be working together.”
An interest in making music not solely suited for the confines of the dancefloor eventually spurred Jubilee to write a full-length. “I’d never made a not-club song,” she noted. “But with an album, you can put that weird song in there. And a couple of really inspiring albums came out, Popcaan’s being one of them, that I could listen to all the way through.”
After Hours is only the fourth full-length Mixpak has released — following Vybz Kartel’s Kingston Story (2011), Popcaan‘s Where We Come From (2014), and the Palmistry album earlier this year. The lead single, “Wine Up,” features the Bronx-based dancehall singer Hoodcelebrityy, nodding to Mixpak’s reputation for dancehall. But this isn’t a streamlined tune like Mixpak’s high-profile cuts — Kartel’s “Yuh Love,” Popcaan’s “Everything Nice” — or the recently released “Don’t Worry,” with Konshens: Jubilee said Hoodcelebrityy was initially foiled by the beat: “She was like, ‘I’m not gonna lie, I had to really challenge myself on this one, because I don’t know what this is.'”
“Spa Day” is even more of a glorious mishmash. Dre identified “rhythmic stuff from Miami Bass, but other cadences that come from a more Caribbean template,” while Jubilee cited the drum and bass producer LTJ Bukem as an inspiration on the track. At the last minute, she removed the percussion at the beginning of the song to make it less danceable, but it’s still a champagne shower, frenetic and jubilant.
Across these high velocity twists and turns, spindly, nagging percussion and sharp, intrusive squirts of low-end — the key identifiers of classic Miami Bass — serve as reliable signposts. Jubilee recruited another south Floridian, who DJs as Burt Fox, to help with mix After Hours. “He really has an ear for all the old records,” Jubilee explained.
To add a vintage crust to her Miami homage, Fox brought in an old reverb machine, “a Roland piece that he brought from the ’80s that was what they used on all the Freestyle tapes.” Jubilee also made “Bass Supply” with another Miami veteran, Otto Von Schirach. The beat sounds like it was constructed with a Bop ‘Em toy, in the best way possible, and Von Schirach shouts randy commands.
What’s the key to Miami Bass’ enduring appeal? Dre suggested that the music turned out to be “kind of prophetic,” interested in vicious bass frequencies long before the rest of pop caught on. And Dre and Jubilee both mentioned a Miami-Atlanta connection: producers like DJ Toomp put together hits for 2 Live Crew and later worked on world-beating Atlanta records like those by T.I. Today, the sound of Atlanta hip-hop has infiltrated nearly every corner of pop.
Though interest in Jubilee’s work has picked up following the release of After Hours, she isn’t looking to leverage her Miami roots as a path into the mainstream. “I’m not even really trying to work with vocalists,” she said. “I don’t need to be making pop money.”
“I’ve always been a raver, and I don’t think that’s gonna change,” she continued. “I just want to play dance music and pay my bills.”