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Swamp Thing 

A hip-hop subgenre emerges from the heart of Florida

To get to music producer Nate Martin's personal compound and recording studio in southwest Florida, you have to take I-75 to the last exit before the highway veers eastward, becoming Alligator Alley, as it cuts across the Everglades. It becomes immediately apparent why the tiny subgenre known as swamp-hop could only have been born in a place like Naples, Fla., with its sprawling suburbs and golf courses far removed from any urban centers, and with the muck and vines of the Everglades never too far away.

Martin's rustic property, a quasi-country outpost near tony developments in über-rich Naples, is indeed a compound. There's a couple of ponds, cages of massive snakes and rabbits (occasional snake food), and a well-stocked recording studio in the rear of his home. Martin produces records for anyone who can pay -- including a host of below-the-radar Miami MCs. But when he and his friends do their own thing, swamp-hop takes over.

The genre aims to dodge the derivative brainlessness of mainstream music. "Most rappers, period, are very corny," says Martin, 27, who also raps under the name Rubee Jawbotik. "If you consider yourself a rapper ... [there's a] probably 85 percent chance that you are corny."

Swamp-hop does borrow a lot from classic hip-hop: the funky drum patterns, dense samples and expert rhyming. But rather than trying to play themselves off as urban thugs, the guys who do this kind of music -- part of a loose collective called Audio Composers League -- instead rap about what they know. Like coral snakes. Alligators. The swamp.

In fact, Martin is adamant that I acknowledge Jerry Reed as the ultimate figurehead of swamp-hop. Yes, that Jerry Reed: the country warbler, singer of "Amos Moses," famous for his appearances in Smokey and the Bandit flicks. To Martin and company, hip-hop is more of a sonic foundation and aesthetic template than a strict guide.

"Hip-hop is the rock and roll of today," Martin says. And just as the original blast of rock inspiration splintered into countless subgenres, so has hip-hop.

Locals are starting to take notice, too. Martin has organized weekend campout shows in the 'Glades that have attracted as many as 450 fans. Why do a hip-hop show out in the middle of nowhere? Martin shrugs: "That's where I feel at home, you know, in the swamp. In the lowlands."

As much as Nas or Dr. Dre, Martin and the League rap about what they know best, and they do it well.

For Your Ears (and Eyes):

• Rubee Jawbotik: Botany

• Audio Composers League: Florida -- Photosynthesis Vol. 10

www.audiocomposersleague.com

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