Derek Gray and James Moody have shared a bond through music since they were children growing up together in Haygood-Neal Garden Apartments.
Moody, 36, who is four years Gray's junior, remembers Gray as more of the "music man," buying cassettes, writing and recording music as they perfected beats by drumming on buckets.
"He kept everything organized and mostly everybody followed him on the music tip. I've probably known Derek since I was 7 or 8. We've been doing music since the 90s," Moody said.
Gray said he wrote his first song, an R&B riff, at the age of 11. A member of his church choir, Gray also wrote and performed gospel music.
When Gray received his first mixer at the age of 16, he, Moody and other family members churned up their musical aspirations and formed a rap group, the Dec Boyz.
The name was inspired by a deck of cards to symbolize unity and solidarity among group members.
Gray began cutting CDs -- mixtapes and singles. It was after the second CD, "Pain," that he and Moody connected and realized their musical chemistry.
"I was 17 at the time," said Moody.
The year was 2003 and the CDs became must-have items among local fans. Gray said the Dec Boyz placed their CDs for sale in Mr. Mike's CDs and Tapes, also known as Mr. Mike's Music and Artwork.
"That was when (store owner Michael Jackson) first got started and we sold out. We also handed them out to sell to people," Gray said.
The Dec Boyz developed a loyal following and began performing shows around the region.
They even auditioned for "Star Search" when the nationally televised talent search program, which originally aired from the early 1980s until the mid-1990s, was briefly rebooted in the mid-00s.
The show helped to propel several contestants into superstardom in various entertainment categories, including singing, dancing, comedy and modeling.
"Star Search" contestants include late R&B singer Aaliyah, Beyonce (as part of the singing group Gyrlz Time), Usher, LeAnne Rimes, Sawyer Brown, comedian-actor Brad Garrett and more.
When the show relaunched, the Dec Boyz leapt at the chance to try out in Texarkana.
They were invited to Orlando, Florida, for a follow-up audition but they were unable to fund the trip.
Still, the group kept grinding, pulling in a fan base who related to their raw and gritty lyrics.
"We write about stuff that we've been through. Just from the response from it, people were relating to stuff we were rapping about and that motivated us and kept us going," Moody said.
"We would be packing out parties, clubs and other venues and people would come just because of our name. People still ask for those old CDs," added Gray.
The road was not always easy and the group had to overcome some obstacles along the way, including clearing up widespread misconceptions that they were a gang.
The Dec Boyz were cited by the El Dorado Police Department in a 2004 News-Times story about gang activity in El Dorado.
After the story appeared in the Jan. 2, 2004, edition of the newspaper, the group publicly spoke out in a follow-up story to straighten out matters, including the correct spelling of and meaning behind Dec Boyz.
At the time, Gray acknowledged that the group had gotten into fights but did so when provoked, noting they were often targeted as a group while growing up.
Another issue that added to the confusion was that non-members would often claim to be a part of Dec Boyz when trouble would arise.
Gray and Moody said they have moved far past counterproductive activity and behavior and continued to pursue lofty goals that have led them along a different path in the music industry.
Gray and Moody learned that they also connected on the business side of the entertainment industry and are now working to help guide and develop other artists.
Enter D-N-B Entertainment, which offers a variety of entertainment management services out their new office at 606 N. College.
Gray and Moody said the business acts as a one-stop shop for artist development, including consulting, recording and producing music, booking shows, management, etc.
"We've dropped 17 or 18 mixtapes and three, four years ago, we became CEOs. We wanted to become CEOs and build this thing up," said Gray.
"We still had one foot in the streets and we took the Dec Boyz and transformed that into D-N-B," he continued.
Added Moody, "Where we started from back then, we didn't take it as seriously as we should have."
They explained that D-N-B is an amalgamation of the Dec Boyz name and "Boot Boy," part of a nickname for Gray's cousin from Louisiana who was part of a rap group in the city's sister state.
In February of 2022, Gray and Moody secured the office building on North College.
Gray said his brother, Denito Norman was named VP of D-N-B.
In terms of growth for the business, Gray said he is thinking far beyond El Dorado and the mid-South region to make D-N-B the premier entertainment/management services company in the nation and pull in clients from other areas.
He said he looks to such luminaries as Russell Simmons, Sean "P Diddy" Combs and Jay-Z who have used hip-hop to build labels and brands and become moguls in the industry.
"It's not just about making music. There's a business side to it. It's not just about getting in the (recording) booth and rapping," said Moody.
He said he and Gray hope to use their years of experience, knowledge and music industry contacts/relationships to help artists succeed and avoid some of the pitfalls and challenges they have faced in the industry -- as has been done for them.
An executive producer for "106 & Park," the former BET video countdown show, taught the pair valuable lessons about the entertainment business when they performed during show's weekly, amateur competition segment in 2009, they said.
"He taught us how to be professional and he dropped some other jewels on us," said Gray.
A word of advice the pair have for aspiring artists is to be careful about who they trust in the entertainment industry.
"We've come across people that have been genuine and helped us and we've come across other people that have taken advantage of us because we didn't know any better at the time," said Moody.
"We want to help people understand contracts, their publishing rights, trademarks -- those kinds of things -- and that's what they'll get with us. We want to make sure they get the same tools and knowledge that we've got," he continued.
Such perspective is what D-N-B can offer any artist who seeks management services from the upstart company.
D-N-B is working with its first female artist, Blacc Lyriqq, a 22-year-old Hope native who sings, raps and writes her own music, à la Lauryn Hill.
"She's versatile. She can go either way. She can freestyle. She can battle rap," Gray said, explaining that he came across the talented find quite by chance.
He said he had stopped at a local convenience store and a store clerk, who is related to Blacc Lyriqq, touted her talents, saying that Blacc Lyriqq had just put in a job application at the store.
As a part of their artist development process, Moody and Gray said they will sit down with potential clients to ascertain their goals and vision for their careers.
"With (Blacc Lyriqq), we felt the passion in her. You've got to be like us. We're hungry and was hungry. You've got have that passion. You've got to have that grind, that focus. If you don't have that, we can't work with you," Gray said.
Since signing with D-N-B last August, Blacc Lyriqq has released music, including a single, "Toxic," which is available on Spotify audio streaming service, and has gone on a promotional tour.
On Feb. 4, the artist performed at the Memphis Hip Hop Awards, having impressed a music industry executive during a set last fall in Birmingham.
Gray said she was invited to Memphis by the manager of GloRilla, a Memphis rapper who was nominated for a Grammy for her 2022 single, "F.N.F. (Let's Go)."
The 65th annual Grammy Awards ceremony was held Feb. 5, the day after the Memphis Hip Hop Awards.
"We want to get her performing at the Grammys, the BET Awards and the Billboard (Music) Awards," said Gray.
In addition to helping artists record and produce music in a studio that is available for booking, D-N-B does artist promotions and offers packages for music distribution deals.
Gray and Moody said they are looking to expand services at D-N-B.
The duo said they intend to rent the office space for events, such as listening parties, and sell D-N-B merchandise.
For more information about D-N-B or to book an artist or DJ, call 870-639-1386, stop by the office at 606 N. College, send an email to [email protected] or visit the D-N-B Facebook page.