Local Rap Group takes Over the Bronx One Train Ride at a Time
by Jon Minners
Whether you are riding the Number 5 train from Morris Park, the Number 6 from Pelham Bay, the Number 4 from Jerome Avenue, the Number 2 from West Farms or any other train in the Bronx, one thing remains the same: criminals are taking over, but not the kind riders may think. These “criminals” carry a positive message to straphangers in the form of hip hop.
A local rap act, the Most Popular Criminals, has found a new and innovative way to bring their music to the masses by selling CDs on subways throughout New York City, including the Bronx, with the hope of making a name for themselves. “This is hip hop – straight up,” said Eshawn Hall, a Bronx rapper who performs under the name Smoke. “We bring listeners a blend of Kanye West and G-Unit. We are not overly political, but we are not unconscious. Not everything is about politics, dead presidents or reparations, but we know what is going on around us and we bring it to the people in the form of music they can relate to, picture vividly and continuously vibe to. We are on a mission to create tantalizing conversation through though provoking rhymes and provide entertainment and positivity in a non-conformist fashion.”
The Most Popular Criminals, named because of their belief in being rebels to the music system in the manner they sell their music and also to attract “gangster rap” listeners to their brand of positive music, have been trying to succeed in their mission for 10 years, dating back to when the group first formed at South Carolina State University. Hall, who lives in Parkchester, but grew up in the Bronx River Projects where hip hop was born in the 1970s, grew up listening to Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One, Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane and NWA. “When I was a kid, my older cousin was a member of the Zulu Nation and I grew up across the street from the local community center where they’d hold parties,” Hall recalled. “I could look right out my window and see hip hop from its birth.”
Hall attended P.S. 102, I.S. 127 and Cardinal Spellman High School, intending to be a lawyer or rapper when he grew up, even saving the autobiography he wrote in school stating this fact. Hall was a deejay with close to 40 crates filled with music when he went to college in South Carolina and met Erin “Nire” Porter of Queens and Andrew “Driz” Armstrong of Long Island. “There was an argument about what to watch on television, either Batman: The Animated Series or Rap City and the three of us wanted to watch Rap City, so we teamed up,” Hall explained. “We started talking about things and realized we had a lot in common, including how we grew up, our favorite rappers and our dreams.”
Most Popular Criminals was born and the trio performed in venues in South Carolina and eventually New York, where they cultivated their craft alongside The Notorious BIG, Uncle Luke, Monifah, OutKast, A Tribe Called Quest, 2 Live Crew and The Junior Mafia, realizing their dream with some of hip hop’s hottest acts. Using the contacts they made in the south, MPC passed on the usual method of selling CDs and started something completely different on the city’s subways.
“There are some people who sign contracts and never make any money,” said Hall. “We hustled and sold our CDs on the streets in the major hubs of Fordham Road, 149th Street and everywhere in the Bronx and the rest of the city, but you have to walk with each person, talk to them and they might buy your CD and they might not. There had to be a better way.”
While riding the train, the group paid attention, watching kids sell candy and homeless people panhandle for change. “We thought it was a perfect idea,” said Hall.
Realizing the potential for new business, Hall and his “partners in crime” would leave work at 5 o’clock and head to different trains, selling CDs from a $1 and up to anyone who would listen. On average, Hall says he makes $70 to $130 a day, and the sales he made helped him pay for his wedding, honeymoon and other expenses. In total, the group has sold over 100,000 CDs and have a catalog of over 700 songs that they hope to use in a distribution deal that their attorneys are currently working. But the group is not looking to sign the traditional deal that leaves many acts still penniless and going against what they believe.