On a lone desolate strip off Broward Boulevard, among barefoot crackheads and auto-body chop shops, lies a deserted strip mall with few signs of life. One can drive by it for months without figuring out that, on the corner of SW 27th Avenue and SW Seventh Street, stands one of the coolest sneaker-freaker boutiques in Broward County. Walk into the tiny 200-square-foot shop and you'll be greeted by an array of graphic T-shirts and neon-colored kicks lining the walls. This is Hi-Top Studios' unofficial lobby.
Past a wooden door and into the cramped foyer, there's a state-of-the-art recording studio packed with topnotch equipment and a vocal booth. A giant flat-screen TV hangs from a wall, projecting the interface of ProTools Version 7. Next to a pristine 32-channel mixing board and the latest iMac sits a worn-out futon sofa that serves as a bed for 25-year-old rapper Moe Green, also known as MC Verbal Kush. "I live here, pretty much," he sheepishly admits. "We all live here."
The "we" that Kush is referring to is Major League, a Fort Lauderdale-based hip-hop group featuring Kush as MC, along with Mike Beatz, 20, Lex One, 26, and the baby of the group, Komakozie, 19. All four South Florida transplants acknowledge their birthplace as New York City, but they're all convincingly proud to rep Broward County as "home." "I was surprised how much talent that's coming out of Broward; so many cats are bringing their A-game, and it's inspiring," says the Brooklyn-born, Kingston-bred Beatz, who not only graces rhymes but also does production for some of South Florida's finest lyricists (e.g. Dynas, Garcia, and Protoman).
The group has been together officially only since March of this year, but Major League is already building a reputation and creating a buzz among the local hip-hop grapevine. It's scored a tour opening for '90s hip-hop great Souls of Mischief, shared the same stage as legend KRS-One not once but three times, and, just recently, performed on the second stage at the Rock the Bells concert in Miami.
According to Lex One, Major League was founded on a whim. While still rapping with his original group, Real Life Dialect, he and Mike Beatz connected via MySpace and began working together musically. "We were sick of the backpack stuff and wanted to do something that would appeal to commercial hip-hop heads and indie heads at the same time," Lex says. Beatz puts it this way: "We wanted to make dope music."
Eventually, Lex's original group disbanded, and his attention was focused on the potential of a new endeavor. What was planned to be an album featuring music strictly by Lex One and Mike Beatz called Major League Try-Outs quickly turned into a full-fledged group called Major League. The two soon recruited DJ Trippin, a popular local hip-hop DJ, as their official DJ and took in Komakozie, who not only raps but beatboxes and sings. As a final member, Lex sought out an old friend from junior high, Verbal Kush, who persuaded him to move down to South Florida from New York, promising that big things would soon take place. All this in the span of one year.
"First day he [Kush] came out here, he slept in the studio," says Lex, pointing to the futon. "We did about 75 songs in 30 days, and that's including making the beats."
Their first release, an unrelenting, 39-track, marathon mixtape titled The Grand Larceny, is hosted by Miami's own DJ EFN and rapper N.O.R.E. (AKA Noriega) and features a concept only they could pull off. "We took all the classic '90s hip-hop joints, took the original samples that they used, and created our own version of the track," Lex explains. "Hence the title Grand Larceny... yeah, we always need to explain the concept before people get it." Surprisingly, the album is rather good, great even, at times outshining the originals. Even the untouchable hit "Dead Presidents" by Jay-Z gets a makeover, with Major League's version outshining J-Hov's.
The idea behind such a feat is daunting, but what's more impressive is the group's means of distribution. It was released only a few weeks ago, but Grand Larceny has already sold more than 1,000 discs. How do they do it? "Las Olas on Saturday nights!" Lex exclaims, referring to their street-peddler mode of sales. "Major League is known as the illest hustlers in South Florida, hands down," Beatz says. It's a rather bold statement, but the group does not back down. "I don't mind saying that either," retorts Lex. "We are out there seven days a week, and I don't see anyone else doing that.
"We got it down to a science! We've sold our CDs to people who don't even speak English! It's all about your approach... We make people stop, get in front of them, start asking them questions... If they're skeptical about the music, we carry a mini boombox and play the CD right there. We even freestyle if we have to; it's all about your hustle." When asked if Lex is the only one manning the mean streets of South Florida, the rest flare up in retaliation. "Man, I can outhustle him!" Komakozie exclaims. "It's like a competition — who can outsell the others."
The group's unyielding DIY spirit is visible on and off the streets. All claim to sleep only three hours a day; when they're not in the studio working, they're out in the public selling. When night falls, you can catch them onstage anywhere between West Palm Beach and Miami, their bright-eyed energy converting nonbelievers into hip-hop evangelicals.
So is there light at the end of the tunnel? Will Major League get picked up by the majors? Is that something they even want? "Eventually, we'd like to get signed, if the money's right, but right now, we're just trying to make good music, both lyrically and musically," Kush says. "Some of the stuff out now is just awful; it's not even English. We're changing all that."
Lex continues: "Music is what we do; this is our full-time job. None of us eat very well, sleep very well... but we're doing what we love, and hopefully people like what we're doing."