DMK Embraces Detroit’s Musical Legacy While Forging Their Own [INTERVIEW]
DMK's approach to R&B is rooted in the genre's rich history--and, of course, their own personal backstory. The Detroit-based girl group consists of Damoli Harris, Melanee Felton and Kourtney Lenton; three friends who have been together since elementary school. Being of the Motor City means a steep lineage in the history of classic R&B and soul; and for Lenton, that heritage is literal. She's the granddaughter of legendary Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs, whose booming baritone was among the most distinctive voices in music history. With so much forming their foundation, it's no wonder that these three young women have a strong sense of who they are--even at this relatively early juncture in DMK's career.
"We started off twelve years ago in a non profit organization," Kourtney shares. "We met doing a play and there was a part where we all had to sing together. The crowd reaction and the chemistry we felt singing with one another just confirmed that we should probably start a group. It's been the three of us ever since."
It's odd to hear three 22-year olds describe bonds that stretch more than a decade, but DMK's connection was born of that childhood meeting. That unity and sense of sisterhood is at the core of DMK's sound. Damoli believes it to be the essence of who they are creatively.
"We've been together for twelve years--our harmony and our blend, just how we work together--so somebody can just start singing anything and the others can jump in," she explains. "A lot of groups don't have that because they were thrown together. We decided at a young age to be together. You can hear the twelve years in our music."
In tandem with that synergy, their connections to legendary Hitsville acts reaped benefits ("We've actually had the chance to have, not only musical, but personal experiences with them.") and provided a template for them to follow ("Stay true to our sound. That's what made Motown so legendary.") And once they decided to forge ahead as DMK, their focus has been relentless. With singles like "Love The Way You Love" and "Major," DMK has been featured on TIDAL Discovery and landed a showcase as “FOX’s Empire New Artist” with a coveted appearance on the hit TV series this season.
As their collective star has risen, DMK has been learning the do's and don'ts of dream-chasing.
"One of [the] challenges that we had turned out to be great because we had to learn it at a young age," Melanee states matter-of-factly. "And that's how to separate the personal from the business. Because outside of this group, we are friends--literally like sisters. But we had to separate the personal and the business. i think that's where a lot of groups go wrong; that's one of the main reasons that a lot of groups break up. They don't know how to separate the two. We can have a disagreement over DMK but five minutes later we're trying to figure out who is going to drive us to the mall."
DMK released their debut EP in May, and with a variety of tracks like the effervescent "Maxin' Out" and sultry pulsing of "On My Way Over," the trio has already tapped into a sound that recalls the best grooves of 90s hip-hop soul a la SWV or Brandy while also pointing towards newer, bolder soundscapes.
"It's true R&B," says Melanee. "It showcases our voices, both individually--because we are a group that doesn't have a specific lead--and as a collective, which is our strongest suit. Some of the beats will remind you of how Mary J. Blige started out; with these hardcore hip-hop beats, but there's soulful singing on it. Really just true R&B. Good singing. Good music. Feel-good music."
And the people are responding. Damoli is already relishing the impact the group has made on listeners and using those positive vibes to drive DMK to the next step.
"Next year, we'll be releasing an album," she says assuredly. "It's about grinding and continuing to work hard. We've had people email us from different countries saying 'I just heard your music and I absolutely love it. Keep doing what you're doing.' It's affecting people who don't know us but they hear our voices and say 'I love what you're doing.' It's a great feeling."
They are a melding of voices steeped in R&B's storied past; as indebted to the Supremes and the Vandellas as they are Xscape and En Vogue. They pay homage to their forebears every time they perform or record, and the greatest joy is knowing that they are taking their steps towards fulfilling their own destiny as a unit. Kourtney relishes the chance to realize their dreams together.
"We are sisters and best friends who share the same passion," says Kourtney. "Melanie is an only child so i know she always says 'I didn't have siblings so it's good that i've gained two sisters."
Melanie confirms the sentiment.
"I [love] being able to do this with two people who i absolutely love and adore," she adds. "I didn't have siblings that i grew up with. Meeting Kourtney and Damoli when I was 10--they've literally become my sisters. I don't consider myself an only child anymore because i'm always with them."
Check out this Instagram clip of the ladies of DMK on FOX's May 11 ep. of Empire and you can hear the DMK EP below:
Check out the full DMK EP below: