‘Ghetto gospel’: Miami’s JT Money returns with his first studio album in nearly a decade

JT Money starts off the lead single for his upcoming album “Immortal” with a bold question.

“How can you not say my name when you make your lists?” JT Money asks on the track “Miami Mt. Rushmore” which features Rick Ross and Trick Daddy, later adding “More than 30 years, a player done been through it. Out of 50 MCs, how many did I influence?”

The Miami rapper rose to fame with Poison Clan under the wing of Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell of 2 Live Crew in the early ‘90s. His subsequent solo career yielded several Southern hip-hop anthems, many of which, to paraphrase his verse on “Miami Mt. Rushmore,” received “minimal airplay” but were “big in the streets.”

But after this many years in the game the message is clear: JT Money wants his respect.

“They say it’s a young man’s game but how you gone tell me to stop?” JT Money, 51, told the Miami Herald in an interview at one of his favorite restaurants, Miami Gardens Diner, later adding, “I plan on being like Frankie Beverly and Maze, Rolling Stones.”

Though many older MCs have stepped away from rap, JT Money returns July 4th with his sixth studio album “Immortal.” The album features the first Poison Clan record in more than 30 years, and brings the Miami native into 2024 with a collection of bass-thumping trap beats, stripper anthems and even one jook song. As arguably the best lyricist of the Miami bass movement, the first subgenre of Southern hip-hop, whose brash and raw insight of South Florida street life really shined as a solo artist, JT Money believes he’s a pioneer.

“They don’t even know it but they’re all mimicking my lifestyle anyway from the dress code to the chains,” JT Money said of the younger rappers. “That’s when you got to ask Luke and them about us. Them Poison Clan boys. But that was Miami back then. Just check the dates. Look at the old videos. Look at the old album covers. You’ll see when it was, who said what first, who did what first.”

Trick Daddy certainly agrees.

JT Money is one of “the people I grew up listening to, people I respected,” Trick Daddy told the Miami Herald in 2023, later listing his fellow Miamian in his top 5 rappers ever.

Born Jeffrey Thompkins, JT Money began rapping his sophomore year at Miami Gardens’ Norland High. The Poison Clan moniker also developed around this time, according to member Paul “Uzi” Clarke who made up the group along with Steve “Madball” Watson, Patrick “Debonair” Watler, Jeff “Drugz” Watler and Raymond “Big Ram” Mitchell.

Around their senior year, JT Money and Debonair slipped into a club for a talent show that had 2 Live Crew’s Mr. Mixx as a judge. The duo came out on top and with a little help from Mr. Mixx, they were signed to Luke Records. What followed was the album “2 Low Life Muthas.”

“I swear, 40 days after meeting [Mr. Mixx], we had an album,” JT Money told the Miami Herald in 2023. “Once Luke heard the music, he damn near adopted us.”

Eric Narciandi (far right) a.k.a. DJ EFN poses with Miami legend rapper JT Money (center) and Charles Rivero, during an event to celebrate the Crazy Hood Productions 30th anniversary at La esquina de la Abuela space in Miami, on December 02, 2023.
Eric Narciandi (far right) a.k.a. DJ EFN poses with Miami legend rapper JT Money (center) and Charles Rivero, during an event to celebrate the Crazy Hood Productions 30th anniversary at La esquina de la Abuela space in Miami, on December 02, 2023.

Poison Clan would undergo various iterations over the years as members branched off to pursue their careers. The hits – from “Shake Whacha Mama Gave Ya” to “Action” – kept coming. During his time at Luke Records, JT Money was one of the best MCs on the label so when Uncle Luke got into it with Dr. Dre, he tapped JT Money for verses on “Fakin’ like Gangsters” and “Cowards in Compton.”

“You’re talking about a guy who went to war with Death Row,” said filmmaker and former Miami Herald reporter Peter Bailey. Bailey delivered a spoken word piece on the “Immortal” intro.

By the late ‘90s, however, JT Money left Luke Records and decided to go solo.

“I think everybody went after their own money early,” JT Money said. “My plan was never to break the group. I wanted to build the group up then we can all do individual projects. But as we was going, somebody would change they mind and want to do something else. It was always still Poison Clan. Even during that, we all still hung together.”

‘He’s their blueprint’

With the 1990 release of Poison Clan’s “2 Low Life Muthas,” JT Money brought a sense of lyricism to Miami rap.

“JT was living that gangster life so JT brought that type of narrative storytelling to the Miami hip-hop scene,” said Bailey. “He was the first to do that.”

But it was his 1999 solo project “Pimpin’ on Wax,” which many consider JT Money’s magnum opus, that really established him as a solo act. Featuring hits like “Who Dat” and “Ho Problems,” the album cemented JT Money as one of the preeminent forces in Southern rap.

“JT is such an integral part of the fabric of southern hip-hop that doesn’t get talked about as much,” said Jemael “Breeze” Bazile, JT Money’s manager who co-produced “Immortal.”

“The same way Rakim changed the way rappers rap in New York, JT did the same for Florida,” said Breeze. “There was no lyricist before JT Money. It was all Miami Bass records. When JT comes in the game with Debonair and they’re infusing Miami bass with old school funk, with lyricism they created something brand new which birthed a Rick Ross, a Trick Daddy, which every other rapper that picked up a microphone in Florida. He’s their blueprint.”

Uzi, who has known JT Money since junior high, wasn’t surprised when his friend’s solo career popped. Since the dawn of gangster rap, fans have always been infatuated with street tales and JT Money actually lived that life.

“He always had a little edge to him,” Uzi said with a chuckle.

Subsequent studio albums never quite resonated like “Pimpin’ on Wax” but JT Money’s cultural impact was stamped. “Who Dat” even became the theme song for “MTV Cribs.”

Though it’s been nearly a decade since his last studio release, JT Money kept rapping with a steady stream of mixtapes. He sees his role in rap far differently now than when the then-18-year-old released “2 Low Life Muthas.”

“I share good game,” JT Money said, referring to his street wisdom. “I’m not holding back and I’m not competing with anybody. My music is influential, inspirational. Ghetto gospel.”

Asked what’s been the key to his longevity and JT Money’s response is priceless.

“Being awesome,” he quips, flashing his gold tooth-smile. “I started this. I’m not trying to be nothing other than me. That’s how I was able to go from 17 to 50. I was that same dude growing up and [the fans] actually grew up with me and watched me grow up. I came in the game with game and talking about the hustle mentality, the club and whatever insight I gained from my little street knowledge.”