Forget west coast, east coast, north and south. Hip hop has become music's universal offspring in the 21st century. Bubbling up into the ranks of hip hop's new school are Florida's Smilez and SOUTHstar, with their debut single, "Who Wants This," dropping in February, and debut CD, titled Crash the Party, coming later in the Spring on Ted Field's ARTISTdirect Records.

Like the best Florida cooking, Smilez and Southstar bring together the spicy flavors of underground hip hop (where skills are honed in dirty South freestyle competitions) with the crisp perfection of an infectious hook. What they create is home-cooked hip hop with enough flavor to keep heads nodding in the jeeps that line Orlando's main drag as well as clubs in New York and California and just about all points in between.

Previous to their collaboration, both Smilez and Southstar were fixtures in Orlando's competitive hip hop underground. Both enjoyed strong local support, showcasing their skills by spitting freestyles on some of the hottest underground mixtapes. In addition, whenever national hip hop acts would pass Orlando, it was either Southstar or Smilez who would get tagged as the opener for such hip hop luminaries as Ja Rule, Mobb Deep, Jadakiss, the Beatnuts, and D12. "We had heard of each other from playing ball, and we did a freestyle together on a local DJ's mixtape," says Smilez. "The chemistry was there." But it wasn't until a few years later that a producer named Dakari (N'Sync, O-Town, LFO, 95 South) working in-house for Transcontinental Records, suggested they bring their skills together. "We were already cool," says Southstar. "Dakari brought us together and when we kicked some freestyles and started writing, there was major synergy. We just clicked."

Smilez knew he wanted to be an entertainer since he was young, growing up in Bronx, N.Y. "My mother worked in a hospital and I would perform for the sick and elderly," he says. At 17, he and his mother moved to Orlando. "I was unhappy about it at first," says Smilez, "but it ended up being a good move. Once I got to Orlando I started taking acting classes and writing rhymes a lot, and along with Dakari, I was able to ghostwrite for other artists in the industry." Southstar was born in Hawaii and grew up in Los Angeles up until the time his family lost their business in an earthquake. He then moved to New Jersey, but it wasn't until he moved to Orlando at the age of 15 and became immersed in the local hip hop scene, that he began realizing his talents as an MC. Just after graduating from high school, he began working for an urban marketing company called Streetdwellaz Promotions, primarily so he could learn the business side of the industry. "I did street team stuff for labels like Atlantic and Priority and was really interested in the business side of things. I got really serious about rapping over the last three years." His knowledge of both sides of the game has served him well. "I know first hand that the business is really hard work. It's not just about spitting a rhyme and collecting a check."

Crash the Party is scheduled for a June 25, 2002 release. The single, "Who Wants This," which hits radio in May , features catchy rhymes and tight production that is sure to delight both mainstream and underground hip hop heads alike. With this type of debut, Smilez and Southstar will take their home-cooked Florida style and place Orlando smack dab in the middle of the hip-hop map.