From having no water or heat in their childhood homes to having the longest-running #1 single in music history, Boyz II Men brought New Jack Swing to the classic Philly sound. Through the highs of success and the lows of losing a close friend, the...... Read Full Episode Summary »
From having no water or heat in their childhood homes to having the longest-running #1 single in music history, Boyz II Men brought New Jack Swing to the classic Philly sound. Through the highs of success and the lows of losing a close friend, the group worked hard to keep their egos and integrity in check. But troubles with their label and a rapidly changing musical climate would leave Boyz II Men faced with their greatest challenge--climbing back to the top. Although they didn't meet until high school, the trials and tribulations of the Boyz were almost identical from the very beginning. Each was born into poverty in the projects of Philadelphia--Nathan Morris (6/18/71) on Philly's South side; Michael McCary (12/16/71) and Wanya Morris (7/29/73) in North Philly; and Shawn Stockman (9/26/72) in Southwest Philly. Each had an abusive or absent father which forced them to rely on their mothers for financial and emotional support. Nate's parents got divorced when he was ten and his family often went without food, heat and water. Mike's father was an ex-convict whose methods of making money weren't always legal. Shawn grew up in a fatherless family of seven brothers and two sisters. Wanya's mother and father were never married; they split up when he was only three. His mother's boyfriend often beat him for no apparent reason. To escape the dangers of their crime-ridden neighborhoods, the boys turned to music and faith, often finding safety in the church choir. The smooth tunes of Motown artists like Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Temptations provided further inspiration. Yet their passion for music and clean-cut image did little to boost their popularity with other kids. By the time they were ready to enter high school, each of the boys came to a life-changing conclusion--the only way they would succeed was if they found a supportive environment where they could hone their talents. Their salvation came in the form of Philadelphia's High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. For Wanya, going to the school was like stepping into <i>Fame</i>, one of his favorite television shows. By 1985, all four boys were enrolled there, although they had yet to meet. Nate and his best friend Marc Nelson had come to the school with dreams of forming a doo-wop group like the ones they remembered from the streetcorners of their childhood. Calling themselves Unique Attraction, Nate and Marc enlisted the help of a revolving student line-up. When Wanya joined as a freshman, he became the first permanent member alongside the two founders. Shawn was quickly added after he was heard performing a solo in the school choir. By now Unique Attraction was becoming a school staple. Anxious to be the fifth official member, Mike began following the group around school, attempting to impress them with his deep bass vocals. After an impromptu performance in the boy's restroom, the others caved in and welcomed Mike into the fold (although Marc continued to view Mike as more pest than partner). Combining their classical training with the a cappella "Philly sound," Unique Attraction quickly took their graceful harmonizing style from the school to the streets, performing everywhere from local hangout The Gallery to subway platforms. Still, the streets of Philadelphia were a long way from the stages on which their heroes New Edition and Take 6 performed. The group would have to take drastic measures to ensure musical stardom. When Bell Biv Devoe held a concert at the Philadelphia Civic Center in 1989, the boys did not wait for opportunity to knock. Sneaking backstage, Unique Attraction located BBD member Michael Bivins and performed an a cappella version of New Edition's "Can You Stand the Rain" before a crowd that included Will Smith and Paula Abdul. Bivins was so impressed by the group's raw talent that he contacted them a few weeks later and quickly signed on as their manager. But two important changes had to take place before the boys could evolve from high school talent shows to R&B superstars. The first was a much-needed name change. Sources vary on who was responsible for the switch in moniker, but the group eventually settled on Boyz II Men (taken from the similarly-titled New Edition song). The second major change was the departure of Marc Nelson. Nelson had never quite gelled with the other members of Unique Attraction, and it soon became apparent that his growing animosity was in danger of destroying the group. With visions of solo success dancing in his head, Marc left Boyz II Men behind (he later formed the vocal group Az Yet which was widely considered a second-rate Boyz II Men). For the next year, Bivins worked with his new proteges, developing a retro sound that would change the face of early '90s R&B. He also created the "Alex Vanderpool" style of preppy sweaters and ties based on a character from the soap opera <i>All My Children</i>. But unlike popular boy bands of today, the Boyz proved to Bivins that they were more than mere voices by co-writing seven of the ten tracks on the album. On April 30, 1991, <i>Cooleyhighharmony</i> was released on Motown Records. It entered the Billboard 200 at #58, eventually advancing all the way to #3 (it went to #1 on the R&B chart). The first single, "Motownphilly," was an instant hit and a perfect introduction to the Boyz sound. The second single, a cover of "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" from the 1975 film <i>Cooley High</i>, gave audiences a taste of Boyz II Men's softer side. It shot to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This paved the way for their first record-breaking single, "End of the Road," from the <i>Boomerang</i> soundtrack. "Road" was another nearly a cappella love song in the "Yesterday" mold, and audiences ate it up. "Road" spent an incredible 13 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the first single to do so since Elvis Presley released "Don't Be Cruel/Hound Dog" in 1956. They did not hold the record for long; three months later, Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" stole it away by topping the charts for 14 weeks. But the Boyz had little to worry about. <i>Cooleyhighharmony</i> was earning them multiple awards, including a NAACP Image award, an American Music Award, two Soul Train awards, and a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group. In the meantime, the Boyz joined MC Hammer on his 1992 Too Legit 2 Quit tour. It was a trip that would forever change the lives of the four young crooners. While performing in Chicago, road manager Khalil Roundtree and his assistant Qadree El-Amin were shot by robbers outside the Guest Quarters Suite Hotel. Qadree recovered from his wounds, but Khalil was killed in the attack. Nate, Shawn, Mike, and Wanya were devastated by the news. Khalil had been like a father to the group. They dropped out of the tour for two weeks to come to terms with Khalil's death. At his funeral, the group sang a tearful version of "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday." After releasing a successful Christmas album in 1993, Boyz II Men returned to the studio to record their follow-up effort. This time they moved their production to California, as their popularity made it increasingly difficult to work in Philadelphia. Shaken by the extreme highs and lows of 1992, Boyz II Men avoided the sophomore slump with an album that reflected their new-found maturity. <i>II</i> hit the charts on September 17, 1994, debuting at #1 on the Billboard Top 200. The first single from the album, "I'll Make Love to You," tied Whitney Houston's record but was eventually dethroned by Brandy's single "I Wanna Be Down." Always humble, Wanya gave Brandy a call to congratulate her. The two would eventually begin dating, sparking rumors of marriage (they later broke up but remain friends). Other chart-topping songs from <i>II</i> followed, including "On Bended Knee," "Thank You" and "Water Runs Dry." <i>II</i> was hailed by critics as one of the best albums of 1993 and earned Boyz II Men two more Grammys (plus one to Babyface for writing "I'll Make Love To You"). In 1995, Boyz II Men finally reclaimed their record with the single "One Sweet Day," a duet with Mariah Carey. The song stayed at #1 for an incredible 16 weeks. In late 1995, the relationship between Motown Records and Boyz II Men began to crumble. Motown had gone behind their backs and released <i>The Remix Collection</i> in an effort to capitalize on <i>II</i>'s phenomenal success. Boyz II Men felt betrayed by their parent company and in 1996 they established their own label, Stone Creek Recordings, a division of Sony. Although Stone Creek eventually shut down, it widened the gap between Boyz II Men and Motown. After a minor controversy at the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics (their rendition of the National Anthem was called "too soulful" by the Olympic committee), Boyz II Men began work on their third album of original material, <i>Evolution</i>. <i>Evolution</i> debuted at #1 on October 11, 1997, but quickly slipped from the charts. Critical reaction was mixed, and Motown did little to promote the album. Frustrated with Motown's lack of support, Boyz II Men left the label in 1999 and signed with Universal to release their next album, <i>Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya</i>. The title signified a new beginning for Boyz II Men, one where they would take complete control of their career. <i>Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya</i> was released on September 30, 2000 and debuted at #4. But three weeks later, it had completely vanished from the charts. 2001's <i>Legacy: The Greatest Hits Collection</i> spent only one week on the charts (#89). The era of the Motownphilly sound appeared to be over. In 2002 the Boyz went back to work with old friend Babyface, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in an effort to regain their past glory. Having left Univeral for Arista, Boyz II Men are optimistic about their future. "We are at a point right now where we know we can only go up," Nate told <i>Billboard</i>. Shawn agreed. "The slate is clean, and it feels great."