Boyz II Men

Boyz II Men

    As we sit here now, it is sometimes difficult to remember just how big the vocal group Boyz II Men was. Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman and Michael McCary undoubtedly constituted the biggest soul group of the 90s, and blew open the doors for a generation of doo-wop influenced Soul groups, few of which remotely approached the group harmonies or strong material that Boyz II Men boasted in their prime.

    Formed in Philadelphia at that city's High School for the Performing Arts, the Boyz were discovered by New Edition member Michael Bivins when they broke into an impromptu routine for him at a Bell Biv DeVoe concert (the encounter was later recalled in the spoken word interlude of the group's first hit, "Motownphilly"). Bivins, who had previously started his own production company, signed the group and landed them a contract at Motown. Their first album, 1991's Cooleyhighharmony, was a smash, led by the great dance cut, "Motownphilly." The follow-up single, an a cappella remake of G.C. Cameron's "Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday," became the year's hottest love song and the beginning of a supergroup.

    "Hard to Say Goodbye" was the perfect vehicle for the young group. With exquisitely tight harmonies, Boyz II Men brought an acoustic, old school spirit to a Soul music world that was enamored with electronic funk, and their smooth, romantic approach was embraced by millions. But unlike the big Soul groups of the 60s and 70s that were formed around dynamic lead singers, Boyz II Men did not center around a single voice, but were at their best when all four members sang in unison.

    In 1992 the group cut a song for Babyface's soundtrack to the Eddie Murphy movie Boomerang. It turned out to be the longest running #1 single of all time, "The End of the Road" -- an average song with a huge hook that the group brought to life. They continued to record sporadic singles over the next two years before teaming with top producers Babyface/L.A. Reid and Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis for II, the top album of 1994. It was the greatest album they would ever record and featured four hits, "I'll Make Love To You," "On Bended Knee," "Water Runs Dry" and "Thank You." Unfortunately, while the group was singing occasional gratuitous lines like "throw your clothes on the floor, and I'll take my clothes off too," the Motown PR machine was disingenuously selling the group hard as the wholesome "boys next door," ultimately causing identity problems for them with both urban and adult contemporary audiences.

    The group followed II with another smash; this time the duet with Mariah Carey, "One Sweet Day." With the Boyz now the biggest vocal group in the world, expectations ran high for their next album, 1997's Evolution. It included the hit "A Song For Mama," but was commercially and critically a step down. For their next album, 1999's Nathan Michael Shawn Wayna, group members took a more active writing and production role, but the disc failed to land a top 40 hit and the act left Motown, feeling that they were not being adequately promoted.

    Old friend L.A. Reid was at the helm of Arista, and signed the group for 2002's Full Circle. It came and left the charts quickly, and their tenure on Arista was done after one disc. In 2004, group member Mike McCary retired from the group due to a chronic back ailment, leaving Boyz II Men as a trio as they prepared to start their own record company. They launched MSM Records with their album Throwback, an album of covers of soul music classics. It was a modest success. They followed it a couple years later with another remakes album, Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville, was was received much more positively and sold well.

    In 2011, the Boyz celebrated their 20th anniversary by readying the album Twenty, a compilation featuring 10 remakes of past hits and 10 new songs, some with guest vocalists. The first single was "More Than You'll Ever Know" featuring Charlie Wilson.

    It is uncertain whether, a decade from now, young Soul groups will cite Boyz II Men with the kind reverence that groups such as the Chi-Lites and The Temptations receives from the subsequent generation of Soul singers, but for a period these four talented young men from Philadelphia helped introduce millions to the mellifluous sounds of sweet soul music, and for that they should get their props.

    By Chris Rizik