The Harrell brothers say their father was a strict disciplinarian, but being raised with a hard hand has apparently paid off. The R&B quintet, now known as Brutha, signed to Island Def Jam/Good Fellas Entertainment in 2007 and the lead single, "I Can't Hear The Music," featuring Fabolous, from their self-titled debut (out Dec. 23), entered the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart at No. 92 two weeks ago.
"Our dad was a singer, so he basically put music in us at a young age," says Anthony Harrell, whose father was a member of an R&B group once signed to RCA Records. "Before we could walk we were singing and dancing. It was all our dad's doing."
Based in Los Angeles, Grady, Anthony, Jared, Cheyenne and Jacob have been performing since early childhood, at school talent shows, weddings, parties, bar mitzvahs and even on street corners. But it wasn't till 2003, after a show at the L.A. Key Club for the celebrity basketball team the Hollywood Knights, that they decided to make the five-member group official.
"It just felt natural," says Jacob Harrell, who adds that before becoming one unit, he and Cheyenne (also known as Papa) had their own group, and Anthony and Grady had another, while Jared (aka J.R.) was trying his hand at rapping.
Special performances for Brian McKnight, Wayne Brady and Michael Jackson followed, but still, the siblings felt something – or someone – key was missing in their efforts to achieve success.
"We were trying to mess with Draino, but he knew we were knuckle heads," says Jacob about their desire to team up with their uncle Donny "Draino" Harrell, an industry veteran. "But
we begged our grandma to speak to him in our behalf, and within weeks he'd taken us to Shakir [Stewart, former executive VP of Def Jam], and they made it happen together."
Stewart and Draino took Brutha to perform before Island Urban/So So Def President Jermaine Dupri, and "within weeks we were signed," adds Jacob.
Days later the brothers were on a flight to Atlanta to work at the Marvin McEntyre Studios for an intense, six-month, six day a week training that included sessions with a singing coach, choreographers and work-out trainers. "It was hard, but we did it," says Jacob. "We put our hearts in it."