Straight Outta Somerville
Already legends in their hometown, hip-hop group DC FAM takes aim at the national scene.
By Maja Orsic
While attending Somerville High School (81 Highland Ave), Wilner Alexis and Leanis Almanzar saw versions of themselves on the silver screen. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was playing at the Somerville Theatre (55 Davis Sq). A character known alternatively as Lo and Dark Cloud leads a group of desert bandits until he falls in love with one of his victims. Dark Cloud’s desert bandits, says Almanzar, 26, “were just blue-collar dudes from the 13th century who still got the chicks. We saw ourselves in them.”
Almanzar (Third Degree or 3rddy Baby) and Alexis, 26, (RealWil, the Role Model), both East Somerville natives, went on to form DC FAM (Dark Cloud Family and Money), a hip-hop ensemble that now includes Kenny Neff (K Street), 25, and Larry Travaglione (Renzo), 22. “DC FAM is more of an umbrella, a team, as opposed to being a group,” says Alexis. With Travaglione offering soulful melodies as a counter to the dizzying raps Almanzar, Neff and Alexis each riff, the description is apt; DC FAM aims to transcend the limitations of one musical style. A fifth member is Maro Chon, 21, a Las Vegas native who came to Boston to study at the Berklee College of Music. He is the only instrumentalist in the band. “All the guitar stuff you hear, it’s all me,” he says.
The group initially shared their thoughts with Scout while sitting outside Chipotle in Davis Square (276 Elm St) on a Thursday night in late July. Their comfort here – mere blocks from the theater that inspired their dreams – is obvious in their smiles and relaxed poses.
To catch the magic of DC FAM, just visit YouTube, where the power of the group is palpable in a whopping 45 (at press time) videos (youtube.com/user/MainConcernTV). These four-minute bursts are not only entertaining – they are the soul of DC FAM’s marketing efforts. “Our goal is to get as many views as possible and eventually to even get them on MTV or BET,” says Almanzar.
He hopes the videos – buttressed by DC FAM’s reputation as a live act – will land the group a record deal. Their Boston-based lawyer, Chris Brown – yes, that’s his name – is shopping them to major labels. Brown, as it happens, represents Bobby Brown and Lil’ Mo. According to Almanzar, the band’s dream labels are DefJam and Atlantic Records.
In the Boston area, DC FAM already has a following, thanks to their live act and DJ Pup Dawg of Jam’n 94.5. The DJ was the first to show love for the single “Beam Me Up,” which debuted on New Year’s Day, 2011. “Even though I’d had my own remixes aired on Jam’n before, hearing “Beam Me Up” felt like the first time,” says Almanzar. “It was rush hour, everyone was in their cars. There was an overwhelming response to the song. I got 30 texts and phone calls. The social networks were going crazy.”
Next on DC FAM’s local agenda is a show on September 10 in Quincy at Marina Bay. There’s nothing else on the immediate calendar. When there is, DC FAM will get the word out on their Facebook page. In terms of previous concert high points, the group gained tremendous exposure in November, 2010, when they opened for Mastah Killa and Inspectah Deck of the Wu-Tang Clan at Cambridge’s Middle East.
Ashlee Scala, the group’s manager, whom most members call “mom,” is also a Somerville native. Scala, 28, met DC FAM in 2010 while working at Sagra (400 Highland Ave), having been a fan for over a year. “They were always trying to make that movement [toward success], but they’re definitely putting out more music now,” she says.
As far as cracking the national scene goes, DC FAM took a first step by performing at Detroit’s MGM Grand on August 13. They’d also like to visit New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta. They recognize travel is a key ingredient to achieving their ambitions. “Boston music is so hard,” says Travaglione. To be successful as a solo artist or group coming from Boston’s hip-hop and R&B scene, he says, “you have to move. You have to leave Boston, but at the same time you don’t want to.”
If there’s one member of DC FAM who draws groupies, it’s Travaglione, whose appearance on stage at Club Samba (608 Somerville Ave) on July 28 prompted several young women to scream. The Club Samba performance was emceed by Jam’n 94.5 FM DJ Marc Provenzano, a Somerville native who grew up with members of DC FAM. Speaking loudly to be heard over the crowd of 200, Provenzano assured Scout that DC FAM had “the home team advantage. A lot of people came out tonight to support [the group].”
Earlier that night, at a studio session at JamSpot (111 South St) before the Club Samba show, the atmosphere was charged with creativity. Almanzar, experiencing acute back pain since midday, stepped up to play drums when their drummer failed to show. Travaglione fiddled with an electric keyboard in the corner of the room while Almanzar rehearsed “Body of a Model.”
“If I can get studio time booked, I will,” Travaglione says. He works full time at Razors Barbershop and Shave (308 Highland Ave) and insists that while he loves doing hair, music provides an outlet he can find nowhere else. He is also totally committed to the group, despite his day job. So is the rest of the group. “We’re all putting 100 percent into the success of DC FAM,” he says. So far, the work seems to be paying off.