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Boyz II Men is an American R&B vocal group best known for emotional ballads and a cappella harmonies. They are the most successful R&B group of all time, having sold more than 60 million albums worldwide.[1] In the 1990s, Boyz II Men found fame on Motown Records as a quartet, but original member Michael McCary left the group in 2003 due to health issues. Currently the group is a trio signed to Decca Records, with members Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris, and Shawn Stockman. The group won four Grammy Awards in the 1990s, and the trio was nominated for two Grammys in 2009.[2]

Boyz II Men formed at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts in 1988 as a quintet; however, original member Marc Nelson left the group before its first studio recording to pursue a solo career. In the 1990s, Boyz II Men gained international celebrity behind unprecedented success on the pop charts. The group’s first single to reach number 1, 1992’s “End of the Road“, a phenomenal hit, reached the top of charts across the globe.[3] “End of the Road” would set a new record for longevity, staying at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 13 weeks, breaking a decades-old record held by Elvis Presley.

Boyz II Men would exceed even that record later in the decade with hits “I’ll Make Love to You” and “One Sweet Day” (with Mariah Carey), which each exceeded records for the longest period of time a single remained at number 1. As of 2011, “One Sweet Day” still holds the all-time record with 16 weeks at the top of the Hot 100. Although “On Bended Knee” did not exceed any records, it was still a very popular song that reached number 1 and made Boyz II Men the third artist (after The Beatles and Elvis[4]) to replace themselves at the number one rating of the Billboard Hot 100. Because of this, Boyz II Men are among the only artists that have stayed at the number one spot cumulatively 50 times, just fourth behind Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and Mariah Carey. They also hold the numbers one, three and four spots for 3 of the longest running singles in music history with “One Sweet Day,” “I’ll Make Love to You” and “End of the Road.”[5] These achievements were enough to earn Boyz II Men recognition as Billboard Magazine‘s most successful musical group of the 1990s.[6]

On January 5, 2012, Boyz II Men were awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[7]

  History

  Beginnings

The group, known originally as Unique Attraction, was founded during 1988 at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There, friends Nathan Morris and Marc Nelson organized several R&B singing groups, most of which ended quickly. Eventually, they found a winning formula by recruiting tenors Wanya Morris and Shawn Stockman and bass Michael McCary. The group would rehearse in the high school’s bathrooms, due to the excellent acoustics. They found inspiration in New Edition‘s harmonies and routines, and eventually renamed the group “Boyz II Men”, after one of New Edition’s songs. In 1989, the group managed to go backstage after a concert performed by Bell Biv DeVoe, a New Edition spin-off group. In a famous episode that would be retold in Boyz II Men’s first hit, while backstage, they met New Edition/Bell Biv DeVoe member and aspiring record producer Michael Bivins. On the spot, Boyz II Men performed an a cappella rendition of New Edition’s “Can You Stand the Rain“. Bivins was impressed by the group, and began plans to contract them to Motown Records through a production deal with his Biv Ten Records company. The group signed shortly thereafter. Some time would pass, however, before Bivins was able to secure Boyz II Men recording time for their first album. A year before releasing their debut album, in 1990, they made an appearance on a solo album by Robbie Mychals. They are listed in the credits as singing background vocals on the song “One Mile from Paradise” as “Boy’s to Men”.[citation needed] The delay before recording their own material and reported personality conflicts led founding member Marc Nelson to leave the group, making Boyz II Men into the quartet that would find international fame: Michael McCary, Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris, and Shawn Stockman.

  Cooleyhighharmony

Boyz II Men’s first album, Cooleyhighharmony, was released on Motown in 1991 and was produced by Michael Bivins. Cooleyhighharmony‘s drum-heavy new jack swing sound and multi-layered sampled backdrops were similar to that of Bell Biv DeVoe’s own work, but featured classic-soul styled vocals in place of BBD’s rapping and brassier singing. This style was dubbed “hip hop doo wop” by the group and Bivins, who presented Boyz II Men and adolescent R&B group Another Bad Creation to the public as BBD’s protégés.

From the beginning, Boyz II Men featured all four members as leads, avoiding the usual R&B group arrangement of one or two lead singers and a team of background singers. The multiple-lead arrangement became a Boyz II Men trademark, and it became typical to hear Wanya Morris’ vibrato-heavy tenor, Shawn Stockman’s tenor voice, Nathan Morris’ baritone, and Michael McCary’s bass (often used in spoken-word sections of many Boyz II Men hits) trading bars in each song.

The album’s liner notes identified unique nicknames for each member of the group. These nicknames were devised in collaboration with Bivins in an attempt at marketing. Wanya was “Squirt”, Shawn was “Slim”, Michael was simply “Bass”, and Nathan assumed the name “Alex Vanderpool”, after a soap opera character who brandished a nerdy style.[8]

Boyz II Men’s first single, the Dallas Austin-produced “Motownphilly” featured a rap cameo by Michael Bivins that gives the story of how he met Boyz II Men. The single’s release was accompanied with a music video that presented the group in hip hop style. (The video also included cameos from fellow Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts alumni Black Thought and Questlove of The Roots.) Cooleyhighharmony’s second single was an a capella cover of a classic Motown tune, G.C. Cameron‘s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” from the 1975 film Cooley High, while “Uhh Ahh” served as the third single.

Cooleyhighharmony achieved major success, eventually selling over nine million copies and winning the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals at the 1992 Grammy Awards. Boyz II Men were also nominated for Best New Artist, alongside with British singer-songwriter Seal, fellow R&B group Color Me Badd, as well as dance group C+C Music Factory, but the Grammy was awarded to singer-songwriter Marc Cohn. “Motownphilly” and “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” were number 1 R&B hits and top five U.S. pop hits.

In 1992, Boyz II Men joined MC Hammer‘s high-profile 2 Legit 2 Quit tour as an opening act. While traveling the country, their tour manager Khalil Roundtree was murdered in Chicago, and the group’s future performances of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” were dedicated to him. As a result of this unfortunate experience, the song would prove to help advance their success.[9]

  “End of the Road”

While touring during 1992, Boyz II Men returned briefly to the studio to record the single “End of the Road“, co-written and produced by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, for the soundtrack to Eddie Murphy‘s film Boomerang. It has been said[by whom?] that the song was recorded in only four hours.

A revamped Cooleyhighharmony would be reissued during 1993, with “End of the Road” added as a special bonus track, but “End of the Road” initially appeared only on the Boomerang soundtrack. Later the track would land on a collection of singles produced by Michael Bivins called “East Coast Family, Vol. 1”.[10] Shortly after the release of this compilation, Boyz II Men and Michael Bivins parted ways professionally. Boyz II Men would continue to work with Babyface and other high-profile record producers over the next several years.

  II

After releasing a Christmas compilation, Christmas Interpretations in 1993, Boyz II Men returned to the studio for their highly anticipated sophomore effort. In 1994, II was released. II sold more than 12 million copies in the United States alone, becoming one of the best-selling albums ever released by an R&B group act, and one of the biggest albums of the decade.

Most of the tracks on II were written and produced by Tim & Bob Tim Kelley and Bob Robinson (5) Babyface (2) and the successful team of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (2). Several of II‘s tracks became major singles, among them Jam & Lewis’s “On Bended Knee”, and Babyface’s “I’ll Make Love to You” and “Water Runs Dry“.

“I’ll Make Love to You” broke “End of the Road’s” 13-week record at number 1, by spending 14 weeks at the top of the chart (a feat equaled earlier that year by Whitney Houston‘s cover of “I Will Always Love You“). “On Bended Knee” replaced “I’ll Make Love to You” at number 1, making Boyz II Men only the third act ever to replace itself at number 1 on the Hot 100, after Elvis Presley and The Beatles.[4]

At the 37th Grammy Awards on March 1, 1995, the group won two Grammy Awards: 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”.

  Evolution and label conflicts

Motown issued The Remix Collection, a compilation of remixes of various Boyz II Men songs from Cooleyhighharmony and II. The group itself had opposed the release of the collection, because they felt the compilation did not represent Boyz II Men’s best work. After the label released the album without their permission, there was a dispute between the company and the group. Boyz II Men initiated their own recording company Stonecreek (which released material by artists such as Uncle Sam), and they arranged for Stonecreek’s distribution by Epic Records, not Motown.

Boyz II Men’s third studio album, Evolution, was released during 1997 to mixed reviews and sold three million copies, far below the stratospheric success of II‘s (12 million copies) and Cooleyhighharmony (9 million). Only one of Evolution‘s singles, the Jam/Lewis-penned “Four Seasons of Loneliness“, reached number 1 on the Hot 100 chart. The second single, the Babyface-helmed “A Song for Mama” (the theme song to the Babyface-produced film Soul Food) was a Top 10 success, but the follow-up “Can’t Let Her Go” underperformed.

The global tour began in 1997 to promote Evolution was very successful in terms of ticket sales, but behind the scenes, Boyz II Men was wracked by conflicts with their record label and internal conflicts among the members of the group. Making matters worse, health problems began to take their toll on the group as well. While on tour to support the Evolution album, Wanya Morris developed a polyp on his vocal cords, and the group was forced to postpone part of the tour until he recovered. McCary’s scoliosis meant that he was unable to participate in most of the group’s dance routines.

Boyz II Men were nominated for 2 Grammys in 1998: Best R&B Album for Evolution and Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for “A Song for Mama”.

  Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya

In 1999, Motown’s parent company, Polygram, was bought by Universal Music Group. Amidst the major corporate restructure, Motown was merged with UMG’s Universal Records, where Boyz II Men found themselves reassigned.

Their only studio LP album for Universal, 2000’s Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya, was chiefly written and produced by the group itself, in an attempt to update their sound and ward off critics who questioned the group’s reliance on Babyface’s hit-making songcraft. While the critics were more receptive to Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya than they had been to its predecessor, the LP sold only 500,000 copies in the US, 1 million copies worldwide, and although its two singles, “Pass You By” and “Thank You in Advance” received media attention, neither became hits.

Boyz II Men departed from Universal in 2001, ending their relationship with the company that brought them to international stardom in 1991. The label released a very successful greatest hits compilation, Legacy: The Greatest Hits Collection, to close out their contract.

  Full Circle and “The Color of Love”

Signing a new deal with Arista Records in 2002, Boyz II Men began recording the Full Circle album, and recruited Babyface for a new single, “The Color of Love”. In an attempt to recapture the massive success the group had enjoyed a decade earlier, the album received a significant promotional budget. Arista commissioned a high-budget music video, shot in four different locales by four different directors: supervising director Little X filmed scenes featuring Michael McCary in India, Hype Williams filmed Shawn Stockman in Tokyo, Benny Boom filmed Nathan Morris in Ghana, and Chris Robinson filmed Wanya Morris in Puerto Rico and finally all were filmed in New York. The resulting music video had a debut on BET, but failed to have a great effect, and Full Circle, like Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya before it, sold slightly more than 500,000 copies in the US and 1 million copies worldwide.

Full Circle would become Boyz II Men’s final album as a quartet, and their last effort to receive extensive promotion from a major record company. On January 30, 2003, Michael McCary retired from performing due to his ongoing battle with scoliosis. Arista terminated Boyz II Men’s contract on April 30, and the remaining three members took a temporary hiatus from the music industry.

 

  Remake era

  Throwback, Vol. 1 and The Remedy

Boyz II Men at the Genting Highlands, Malaysia in 2007.

After a year out of the spotlight, Boyz II Men created the independent label MSM Music Group (distributed through Koch Records), and released the Throwback, Vol. 1 LP in 2004. The album is a collection of covers of classic R&B and soul songs such as The Dazz Band‘s “Let It Whip“, Michael Jackson‘s “Human Nature“, and, as the single, Bobby Caldwell‘s “What You Won’t Do for Love”. For this record, Nathan took on the bass lines as well as the baritone vocals that he sang when Boyz II men was a quartet. Throwback, Vol. 1 reached number 59 on the Billboard 200. The group launched an independent tour of North America and Asia in support of the Throwback series. The album sold over 200,000 copies with little to no promotion aside from the group’s independent tour.

In 2006, Boyz II Men’s seventh studio album, The Remedy, was released exclusively in Japan, where they found a thriving fan base. In other regions, The Remedy was made available online through the group’s website on February 14, 2007.

  Hitsville USA

In mid-2007, the group resigned with Universal Records and released the LP Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA through the Decca Records label. The LP is a cover album featuring songs from the Motown Records catalog, co-produced by Randy Jackson of American Idol fame. The Motown album includes covers of songs by The Temptations (“Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)“), Marvin Gaye (“Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing“, “Mercy Mercy Me“), Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (“The Tracks of My Tears“), and even Boyz II Men themselves (an a cappella version of “End of the Road”).

Boyz II Men Live at Vega in 2008.

Commercially, Motown found some success. It peaked at number 6 on the US R&B chart, and was certified Gold in the UK. The album was also a critical success. For the 51st Annual Grammy Awards in 2009, Boyz II Men received two nominations for the album Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA (Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals for “Ribbon In The Sky”).

In 2008, Boyz II Men’s three members appeared on Celebrity ‘Don’t Forget the Lyrics‘ and created a sensation with their performance. They earned $500,000 for their two nominated charities; the appearance also generated interest in their next release.

  Love

In 2009, Boyz II Men announced plans for a new cover album, that covers “artists I don’t think people would expect us to cover!” according to Shawn Stockman. Entitled Love, the album was released on November 23, 2009. The album contains remakes of love songs from outside the R&B genre.

 Love Cruise

Boyz II Men headlined a “Love Cruise” in honor of their 20th anniversary and in observance of Valentine’s Day. The cruise took place February 11–14, 2011, and traveled from Miami, Florida, to Nassau, Bahamas. Cruise passengers received a Boyz II Men welcome cocktail party, a concert performance by Boyz II Men, an additional fan appreciation concert by Boyz II Men, a photo session with Boyz II Men (in small groups), a formal prom night, a poker tournament, a deck party with Boyz II Men and a guest DJ, a singles mixer, a gift bag, and onboard drawings for other Boyz II Men events. Couples were able to renew their wedding vows in a special ceremony with Boyz II Men.[11]

  Twenty

On September 6, 2009, at a concert in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Shawn announced a planned Boyz II Men 20th anniversary album, scheduled for release in 2011 that would “include all 4 members,” sparking a tremendous applause at the news of Michael McCary’s return to the group after a six year absence.[12] But soon after, McCary declined and did not join the project. The project, which is called Twenty, named after 20 years in the business, is a double CD album with 13 new material songs and 8 rerecorded Boyz II Men classics. It was released on October 25, 2011.[13]

Twenty is the group’s fourth release through MSM Music Group. It was released in Japan 13 days before its official US release date with the help of Avex Group, the biggest Japanese independent record label.

  Style and influence

Boyz II Men receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in January 2012

Boyz II Men are among the biggest names in a capella and R&B. They were among the groups responsible for changing hip hop into a mainstream popular music genre in the 1990s. Boyz II Men remain the world’s most popular R&B male vocal group in terms of record sales. Boyz II Men are often positively compared with the legendary acts of Motown’s heyday, making them something of a contemporary version of The Temptations. Many of the elements that made The Temptations and other classic Motown artists such as The Four Tops and Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, and Boyz II Men following in Europe and East Asia.

In 2005 they made a CD with Anderson Cameau called “Apocalypse” for a project for Haiti. In the 1990s, several of Boyz II Men’s R&B contemporaries began showing obvious inspiration from Boyz II Men’s work and singing style, among them, Shai, Soul for Real, BLACKstreet, All-4-One, and later Dru Hill, Jagged Edge, and (featuring Boyz II Men co-founder Marc Nelson) Az Yet. Boyz II Men’s closest competitor, Uptown Records act Jodeci, with their more sexually charged style, presented a style quite different from Boyz II Men’s overt wholesomeness and family-friendly image. Jodeci’s style had its own followers, but their influence on the music industry as a whole was not as widespread as that of Boyz II Men.

Also notable is that several record producers, Lou Pearlman in particular, developed a large number of popular acts in the same style as Boyz II Men. Because of this, Boyz II Men is often considered to have reignited the “boy band” craze started by New Edition in the US. The “boy band” trend reached a new climax by the end of the 1990s, with groups such as The Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, going on to widespread international success, and others, such as Motown act 98 Degrees, finding more moderate mainstream success. They have also sung with Justin Bieber in his movie “Never Say Never”, made a music video with him, and sung on the track “Fa La La” on his Christmas album, “Under The Mistletoe”.

Posted February 19, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Uncategorized

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