From auditioning for "Star Search" as kids to getting their first gig as overnight radio deejays on KPRW-FM "Power" 106 15 years later, Romeo and DeJai, also known as Tha Goodfellas, have stuck together through false promises and lucky breaks. And with the help of their recently completed debut album, they are ready to move from announcing songs back to performing them.
"We always told each other to wait until the time was right to set out and record," Romeo says.
"Well, it's been four years since we've been here, and we think it's now," DeJai quickly adds, picking up his cue.
The duo's afternoon show, "The Goodfellas and Tito," was last year's top-rated 3-to-7 p.m. broadcast in L.A. among 18- to 34-year-olds, despite initial skepticism from critics who believed that the departure of the Goodfellas' predecessors, the Baka Boyz, from Power would lead to plummeting ratings for the show.
"They were filling some pretty big shoes," says Tony Novia, the contemporary hit radio editor for Radio & Records magazine. "The Baka Boyz were very well-respected and had a huge listenership for this market. It's intimidating walking into that position."
Romeo and DeJai attribute their success and quick ascension--just two years ago they were behind a cash register at a Blockbuster checking out videos--to their natural on-air chemistry and the "hunger" that drove their ground-level efforts to promote their name.
"We've been trained by the entertainment industry to take the negative energy into positive energy, so the more you say no to me and Romeo, the more we're gonna find a way to get in the door," DeJai says. "A lot of people in L.A., they're around it all their lives, so they take it for granted. And we've been trained to be hungry; that's all we know."
On the radio that means infusing energy into every talk break so that listeners stay hooked. And like the theme of their first single, "MVP" or most valuable players, the Goodfellas work as a team, each with a well-defined role.
Subtle with his humor and deep voice, DeJai serves as a foundation, while Romeo is more the showman, periodically belting a few lines of song and injecting spontaneity. Laughing with a rumbling echo is Tito, their spicy sidekick who just makes everything funny.
"We've known and been on the stage together so long, we know how to play off each other," DeJai notes. "We were so in sync sometimes, we needed to mess up to show people it was real and not an act."
The show didn't always run so smoothly, though.
Almost two years ago, the Goodfellas left a Power Christmas party early and headed back to the station's Burbank studio to broadcast their first show. They had come to the city from their native St. Louis in 1997 on the promise of a record deal. When that fell through, DeJai began working for Blockbuster, until a chance encounter with a Power deejay on the basketball court led to an audition and ultimately to the Goodfellas radio debut on the weekend overnight show in December 1999.
"We knew everybody from the station was listening because they were driving home from the party," DeJai says, recalling that night.
"But we had never done radio before, and it was the guy at the board's first day too," Romeo continues. "So we had like two seconds of air between every commercial because we didn't know what buttons to hit. . . . It was a disaster."
Romeo says they gave deejay work "110%" and began juggling day jobs with their overnight radio show. In their free time, they hit the road to build up the name Tha Goodfellas. And they quickly learned to wing the assignments on which the station would send them.
"They would just throw us out there at movie premieres like to 'Rush Hour' and major events with no type of advice." DeJai says.
"We're there with [comic] Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan," Romeo chuckles.
"We got them singing on the mike, and the people around us--like CNN--were like, 'Who are these guys?' " DeJai adds.
After a few months, no one asked anymore. Tha Goodfellas worked quickly to establish their name by visiting high schools and performing their routine, a practice they continue now, and filling in for other Power deejays.
"When we started, it was a sink or swim situation because [the station] never knew how we would do or how professional we were, but we worked hard," DeJai said. "We'd go to schools and the kids would say, 'Goodfellas? Who are you? We don't hear you on Power' because we were still doing the weekend and overnight shows. But by the time we left they were fans."
The two met as kids in St. Louis when Romeo was pulling together a Parliament-like funk-R&B; band in seventh grade. Long after the original band split up, Romeo and DeJai continued to perform together. Traveling to Houston for a two-year stint at college, they returned to their hometown to form an "earthy sounding crossover" R&B; group called Illegal Assembly, which landed four singles on the playlist of St. Louis's top radio station and effectively opened the door for local talent like Nelly and St. Lunatics.
Since those days, the Goodfellas' music recordings have been limited to promotional songs for various Power shows and the opening song to BET's "Comic View." The song developed such a following that club owners in Atlanta, where "Comic View" is taped, have asked Romeo and DeJai to fly cross-country to perform it live. But for the time being, they are sticking to the local club scene, where they perform their R&B-rap; blend up to three times a week.
"We get propositioned all the time in the clubs," Romeo says with a smile. "But our motto is, 'We bring them to the table, but never feed them.' "
Tha Goodfellas have taken their "don't take no as an answer" business-only approach to their new record as well. The album, which has no name yet and is a collaboration with a friend from Seattle, will be sold under an independent record label.
"We know that we can get it played here, in the No. 2 market, and in our sister station Hot 97 in New York," says Romeo.
If a big-label record deal should follow, DeJai and Romeo say they will continue their show on Power in the same way they kept two jobs when starting out in radio. But their afternoon sidekick has other ideas. "I don't think they'll be back working on the radio," Tito says. The 'fellas shoot each other a look, smile and shake their heads unconvincingly. "Nah, nah, Tito. We're in this long term," Romeo claims.
"The Goodfellas and Tito" can be heard weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. on KPWR-FM (106).