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Back in 2004, the four teenage members of DMG spent every waking moment writing and recording songs. The plan was simple: to come up with a mainstream hit in the same vein as Top 40 acts such as Jay-Z and Outkast. But there was a rather obvious problem: copying a bunch of hip-hop stars made them sound derivative.
That predicament changed in 2005 when their producer, Adrian "Drop" Santalla, offered the hopefuls some valuable advice. "He asked us to think of what made us different from everybody else out there," says group member Q (a.k.a. Gabriel Pelaez, age nineteen). "So we started experimenting with a lot of harmonies. In the end we came up with a new sound that no one else had yet."
Two years later, DMG's vibrant neo-soul has begun to pay off. With the studio help of Drop, the Miami-based quartet consisting of singers/songwriters Kalli, Phenom, Eqwote, and Q has been turning heads. A high-octane performance at March's Calle Ocho festival lit up the crowd. The group's Myspace page (www.myspace.com/dmgmyspace) boasts more than 15,000 devoted fans. Strong word of mouth led the international trend-spotting Latino website elhood.com which normally showcases supergroups such as Maná and Calle 13 to add DMG to its coveted featured artists section.
But the band's most remarkable feat may be in converting Miami's top Latin hip-hop luminary, the infamous Pitbull, into a fan. "I heard a couple of their records and not only are they good, but they got a new vibe," says the MC, who was introduced to their work by Santalla. "I think they'll have a couple of hit records and success in the near future."
And yet, for all its current acclaim, the self-professed boy band has yet to release an album. That may change soon enough. The group has recorded enough songs for at least two full-length albums. And according to their manager Orlando Leyba, DMG is currently negotiating with major labels.
For now at least, DMG is making do playing local clubs while recording tracks under the tutelage of Drop, a well-known local hip-hop engineer and producer who has also worked with the likes of Fat Joe and Diddy. For the past two years, the quartet has been cutting its tracks at a small downtown Miami recording studio owned by Drop.
At first glance the bandmates come off as your average South Florida teenagers, decked out in loose-fitting designer threads and the latest retro Air Jordan kicks. But once they start talking, it becomes clear that music, not fashion, is their top priority.
"I sacrifice time with my friends and family," says 22-year-old Phenom (a.k.a. Andres Garcia), who put on hold his studies in sound engineering to concentrate on the band. "Right now it's all about the music."
DMG was born in 2002 when Kalli (a.k.a. Jesse Michael Nieves) met Q while they were attending La Salle Academy, a private school in Coconut Grove. The pair shared a passion for music and a working-class background. "A lot of the kids were well off, but our parents had to work really hard to put us there, so we stood out from the other students," Q says.
The two friends spent hours writing up original rhymes. Soon they began attending the all-ages Saturday hip-hop night known as Catalyst, in Pembroke Pines. The weekly event is known for providing a safe environment for young kids who want to practice the four elements of hip-hop culture: graffiti, breakdancing, DJing, and rhyming.
It was during one of their weekly treks to the aptly named party that Q and Kalli came up with the concept of DMG. "The original name of the group was Demographics," Kalli explains. "We wanted to hit every area and every race with our music." Which made sense, since the Miami-born friends shared a multicultural heritage: Kalli is half Cuban, half Puerto Rican; Q is half Colombian and half Cuban. Using hip-hop as their musical template, the duo concentrated on writing rhymes, while creating rudimentary musical rhythms with their home computers.
Their ranks expanded when Kalli came across Eqwote (a.k.a. Arthur Morera, age nineteen) a talented South Miami rapper who also frequented Catalyst. Impressed by Eqwote's skills as a battle-ready MC, Kalli and Q asked him to join their group. They also decided to shorten the name of the group to DMG.
All the boys needed now was a skilled DJ/producer to translate their compositions into fully crafted musical arrangements. After asking around they came across 22-year-old Phenom, a North Miami soundscaper with a solid reputation for assembling bombastic collages of modern hip-hop.
Phenom was content to sell the trio his beats until one day, intrigued by their work ethic, he asked the boys if he could listen to one of their tracks. Amazed by the quality of their vocal work, he agreed to sign on full time. "I wasn't looking to be a singer," Phenom says. "But once the opportunity came along, I ran with it."
The boys had been renting time at Miami recording studios like Circle House, but the vibe wasn't right. "We were going in and out of studios," Kalli recalls. "But [the studio owners] were constantly looking at the time, to see if we went over an extra fifteen minutes; and if you are not comfortable in a place, it all shows up in your music." To make matters worse, the boys were unsure of their musical direction. "We just looked at what sold, and said, öLet's go for that!'" Q admits.