Boyz II Men – Setting the Record Straight


Boyz II Men is a Grammy Award-winning group founded in 1986 that was originally known as Unique Attraction. Nathan Morris and Marc Nelson of the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts were friends who organized several R&B singing groups that did not last long. Time came when the two were able to recruit tenors Wanya Morris and Shawn Stockman and bass Michael McCary. This paved the way for a boy band that would later set unsurpassed records in the music industry.

Later, the group’s name was changed to Boyz II Men which was taken from one of New Edition’s songs at that time. They became popular when they performed an ‘a capella’ rendition of New Edition’s “Can You Stand the Rain” at a concert by Bell Biv DeVoe.

Michael Bivins, New Edition/BDD member, was impressed by their performance and started laying out the plans to contract them to Motown Records. The original five members were reduced to four when Marc Nelson left the group due to personality conflicts. This was even before the group cut their first recording, so Boyz II Men actually officially started as a quartet group.

In 1991, Boyz II Men released their first album with Motown titled “Cooleyhighharmony”, with Michael Bivins as executive producer. This work featured classic-soul styled vocals dubbed by the group and Bivins as “hip hop doo wop”. Their first single “Motownphilly” produced by Dallas Austin featured a rap cameo by Michael Bivins. Its music video presented the group as hip hop style. Following up was a cover of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” by G.C. Cameron from the 1975 film Cooley High.

What’s unique about Boyz II Men is that they feature all four members as leads instead of the usual R&B group composed of two lead singers and the rest as background. This arrangement became their trademark with Wanya Morris and Shawn Stockman handling the tenor voice, Nathan Morris for baritone and Michael McCary on bass.

It was during the Cooleyhighharmony album release when the members were each given their nicknames, a marketing strategy by Bivins. Wanya was nicknamed “Squirt”, Shawn was “Slim” and Michael was “Bass”. Of the four members, Nathan was given a “special” nickname, “Alex Vanderpool”, taken after a soap opera character who had a nerdy style. The group always presented its members on an equal footing although later, Nathan Morris acted as de facto manager handling its operations and business interests.

The 1992 Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals was given to Cooleyhighharmony. It sold over nine million copies. Their two singles, “Motownphilly” and “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”, were very successful, reaching number 1 in the R&B charts, and the top 5 in the US pop charts.

Boyz II Men’s record-breaking success came with the single “End of the Road”. It remained at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for thirteen weeks, breaking the record set by Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel”/”Hound Dog” double of 11 weeks in 1956.

The group’s second album, simply titled “II”, was released in 1994. The singles from this album that turned into major hits include Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis’ “On Bended Knee”, and Babyface’s “I’ll Make Love to You” and “Water Runs Dry”. Eventually, “Water Runs Dry” became no. 2 while “I’ll Make Love to You” and “On Bended Knee” reached the top of the U.S. Top 20.

Other notable achievements of the “II” album included “On Bended Knee” which replaced “I’ll Make Love to You” at no. 1. This made the group the third act to replace themselves at no. 1, after Elvis Presley and The Beatles. The same album became one of the bestselling albums ever released by an R&B group act, selling over 12 million copies in the US alone. The 1995 Grammy Awards for Best R&B Album for “II” and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for “I’ll Make Love to You” were both won by Boyz II Men

The boy band eventually achieved worldwide popularity, and became recognized as a combination of Motown’s 1960 successful groups – The Temptations, The Four Tops, and Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, and their own inspiration, New Edition. Hence, they have established a clean-cut image, smooth harmonies, and synchronized dance and performance movements. Another strong point of the group is their superb vocal qualities. They are all excellent singers, qualities not always necessary for chart success.

Bands that came after them drew inspiration from Boyz II Men, and many of their qualities were admired by others, particularly their work attitude and singing style. Among those that were influenced in this way are Shai, Soul For Real, Blackstreet, All-4-One, Dru Hill, Jagged Edge and Az Yet. Despite competition, the band retained its wholesome image and was able to gather more following than others with a more sexually charged style.

Due to a conflict with Motown regarding the “Remix collection”, a compilation of the group’s songs from Cooleyhighharmony and II, they decided to start up their own Recording company, Stone Creek, to be distributed by Epic Records. However, the “Evolution” album released in 1997 sold only 3 million copies as against Cooleyhighharmony’s 9 million and II’s 12 million. Only the single “Four Seasons of Loneliness” made it to no.1.

Motown eventually merged with Universal Music Group’s Universal Records when Polygram was bought by UMG in 1999, and the group had the chance to perform “America the Beautiful” at Wrestlemania XV. They tried to prove the critics wrong, particularly those claiming that they relied on Babyfaces’ hit-making-skills for their success. They produced and wrote the 2000 album “Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya”, although this was not the success that they believed it would be.

The following few years were not totally successful, and some group members suffered health problems. Wanya Morris developed polyps on his vocal cords and Michael Mc Cary was diagnosed with scoliosis, a condition that was to end his career. The band left Universal Records in 2001 to sign up with Arista the following yea, and a high-budget music video made for the “Full Circle” album did not help sales, the release selling only half a million in the USA and just one million worldwide.

Michael McCary retired in 2003 due to scoliosis and the three remaining members created the MSM Music Group label after Arista terminated their contract. The Boyz II Men released “Throwback, Vol. 1” that only reached no. 59 on the Billboard 200.

When they resigned with Universal Records in 2007, they released the LP “Motown: A Journey through Hitsville USA.” It covered songs by The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, and also some of their own.

Sporadic performances in recent years have included some special albums, TV guest appearances and special features. They appeared as contestants on the game show “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” on February 21, 2008, and earned nominations for the album “Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA” for Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group for the vocals in “Ribbon in the Sky”.

They are due to release their 20th Anniversary Album in 2011, as announced by Shawn during a concert in Virginia Beach on September 6, 2009. Boyz II Men were an original and unique band in their prime, but bands don’t last in modern times as they once did due to rapidly changing music tastes and styles.

 

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