By Micaela Kimball
Photos By Shef Reynolds
One of my first interactions with Nephtaliem “Neph” McCrary – of local funk band The Nephrok Allstars –occurred outside the Bank of America ATM machine in Central Square, where the singer told me he had just come from spending almost three hours posing nude for an art class.
Turns out the local singer can express himself both with and without clothes.
Difficult to miss, Neph has a no-holds-barred, flashy style that not only shows up in his fashion but is also ever-present in his music. He’s not afraid to show off on stage, and his performances both lure you in and bring you back; he transports audiences back in time to the funk-heavy ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. And seeing Neph perform is almost a theatrical experience: he dresses the part and plays covers from the Funk era, acting out the performances of some of the greats on stage. One can see the likes of James Brown, Prince and Michael Jackson living not only in his voice and fashion, but in his behavior, emotions and mannerisms on stage.
McCrary and his Allstars play a mix of funk, soul and R&B every Wednesday night at Bull McCabe’s. They also play every Sunday at Wally’s in Boston. “I definitely get dressed for shows with a certain genre and repertoire in mind,” the lead singer says. “Sometimes it’s very ‘60s hippie- funk oriented stuff. I draw on the fashion styles of people like Jimi Hendrix and Sylvester Stewart” (of ‘70s funk band, Sly and the Family Stone). Eighties and ‘90s musicians like Prince and Michael Jackson have also influenced both his style and music.
Much more than just threads, Neph describes fashion as an opportunity to visually express himself. “It’s an extension of who I am,” he says. When I interview him a few weeks after our ATM machine run-in, he looks like he could have stepped off the set of “Soul Train.” He shows up wearing boot-cut, red velvet pants with a chain and a black, form-fitting 70s-esque vintage cowboy shirt with hand-stitched white flowers across the front. Large, colorful, stone rings decorate eight out of ten of his fingers. His jet-black hair is perfectly gelled. His style definitely stands out amid the laid back, folk-driven, hipster vibe of many of the local music venues this side of the Charles.
“I find that the styles of the late ‘60s and ‘70s for men were a lot more expressive and creative,” he says. “One of the only major differences is colors … I really like daring, colorful stuff.” When I ask him about his outfit, he explains: “Contemporary men’s fashion is not flattering (when it comes to form-fitting clothing). A lot of men’s styles now are all about the old hipster, skinny jeans, and I’m a boot-cut lover … I dare you to find some boot-cut red velvet pants in a contemporary men’s store.”
Bringing the past to the people, McCrary reminds us that fashion is a bit of its own offstage performance. For his onstage version of music and fashion, check out the Nephrok Allstars on Wednesday nights in the ‘Ville.
Where to Find Funk-Friendly Duds:
Want to incorporate some funk into your fashion? Below, Neph reveals some of his fave local shopping joints, along with some of our own local favorites:
(121 Charles St., Boston):
With a previous home in Davis Square, and now in Boston, Artifaktori is an upscale vintage hot spot offering top-notch second-hand goods.
(238 Elm St.):
Find the occasional vintage gem in the midst of more contemporary styles.
Eastern Trading Company
(49 River St, Cambridge):
Located on River St. in Central Square, Eastern Trading Co. is popular for costumes and Halloween gear. Off-season, the store carries unique, vintage duds.
The Goodwill Store
(230 Elm St.):
Somerville staple for vintage bargain hunters.
Poor Little Rich Girl
(121 Hampshire St. Cambridge):
The goods at Poor Little Rich Girl reflect the Inman Square store’s name; although the clothing is used, the items are as good as new.
(1937 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge):
Vintage duds can be difficult to find in your size. Neph swears Jack at Jack’s Tailoring in Porter Square can “transform a piece of clothing” to make any vintage piece “fit like a glove.”