"Everybody’s a rapper nowadays,” Travis Sethman says ruefully, as he sips on a shot of whiskey from the bar at Old Chicago. He’s supportive of everyone chasing their dreams, but the hip-hop scene has gotten crowded.
“Every song we’ve done — they’re not chump songs, but I do think that they fall through the cracks because they’re nothing extreme," he explains. "They don’t cut through the noise.”
For the past decade, Sethman and Johnny Childress have been searching for success as hip-hop duo the Famm. But it hasn’t gone as well as they had hoped or expected.
In 2008, Sethman, Childress and three other friends in the Colorado Springs area came together to make a rap collective called the Famm. It was a community to share their dreams with one another, an outlet for burgeoning creativity, and a chance to test their own ambition.
Despite some early success, including locking down their first show through a connection with Colorado Springs rapper Black Pegasus, the collective never made it from the Springs to Denver fully intact. By 2011, the project had dwindled down to Sethman and Childress.
“We thought we were doing really good, so we said, ‘Let’s move to Denver and see what we can really do,'” recalls Sethman. “Not everyone was about it, because some people just ain't about it. That’s just how it is.
“To some people, it’s fun, but they wonder, ‘Is that really what I want?’ You gotta have that true moment, and they decided it ain’t for them," he adds. "Me and Johnny were the only two that said, ‘Yes, yeah, it’s for us.’ So we moved up here.”
Running the risk of losing momentum in Denver, Sethman and Childress took out a bank loan; from their perspective, it was an alternative to a record-label deal, but with more freedom.
“We were pretty broke, man. We just started to feel like, well, fuck it," he says. "We’ve already had a few dips, a few moments in our music career since we started the band that was like 'Yo, we got a buzz. We could really do something with this buzz.'”
For the most part, borrowing from the bank did not pan out.
“We were like, 'We need some money, and Johnny’s got some pretty good credit. Mine’s not terrible. We both bank at the same spot; let’s get a bank loan, because we can do a lot with that," he says. “We ended up getting some good music videos made, some content came out of it, a few good moves came out of it, a few good things. We got some nice wireless mics, some decent equipment. But we definitely made some bad decisions and fucked that all off.
“We’re still paying that off,” he adds with a smile.
Since squandering the money, the musicians have tried to do things differently. They reassessed what it meant to be successful in their own eyes, what it looked like to invest in their passion in ways that wouldn’t ruin their finances, and they’ve had to honestly reflect on their own weaknesses.
“A big problem with me and Johnny is that we got what it takes, talent-wise; all around, we feel like we got what it takes, but we’ve definitely lacked the guidance," Sethman says. "We’ve been sporadic. I don’t know what goes first, what goes last; there seems to be no real right way to do it, and that in and of itself is kind of like, well, where do we start?”
To their credit, Sethman and Childress have made good on their commitment to doing things differently: Over the past twelve months, the Famm has dropped many EPs, more than fifty songs. In their weekly exercise, “Famm Fridays,” they have released a new verse to a different beat on their social-media accounts over the past two years.
“I guess it just comes down to, we don’t have to do nothing. We don’t have a lot of money, we can’t do what we really want to do, but we don’t have to do nothing. So let’s just give people something for now.”
Throughout their hip-hop careers, Sethman and Childress have seen their dreams begin to come true, fall apart, be slowly built back up, stall out, crumble under the weight of debt and now bounce back once again.
Now in their mid-thirties and feeling the distance between the younger generation of rappers and themselves, Sethman and Childress can see their place in the youth-driven hip-hop hierarchy, and it’s not ideal.
“I think there’s a part of it, too, that we’re a little bit out of touch with what’s hot," Sethman says. "Not that we really give a fuck that much. We just want to make the music we make. We just want to create the music we want to create, and put it out [our way].”
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Sethman and Childress might always be in pursuit of what they have defined as “success” — they wouldn’t be the first. But now that they’re doing the work, regardless of who is in or out, how much money they have to their name, or if Denver cares at all, a little bit of contentment and satisfaction can be picked up in Sethman’s voice.
“I do feel good about myself," he says. "I feel good that I wake up every day with a purpose. I feel like that’s the majority of happiness that I see in people.
“Why a lot of people aren’t happy is because they haven’t sat down and asked themselves, ‘What are you passionate about? What would you do every day, with no money? If money didn’t matter, what would you do?’ I do feel secure and successful in that.”