Boyz II Men: A Philadelphia Story
When Boyz II Men dropped Motownphilly in the spring of '91, it not only signified the end of the New Jack Swing era, it also heralded the arrival of the last and greatest (commercially) male R&B vocal group to ever close out a junior-high dance. Though statistics from the pre-Internet era are hazy, it is believed that between the years 1991-'95, "End of the Road,""It's so Hard to Say Goodbye" and "I'll Make Love to You" got more 13-year-olds tongue than at any time in previous recorded history. (To say nothing of "Uhh Ahh," which would've been banned in several Midwestern states had it been released in 1954.)
Stack those haircuts high: Boyz before they became men. (Click to enlarge)
Silk: Masters of the oral-sex ode (Click to enlarge)
Jodeci: R. Kelly should be paying them royalties. (Click to enlarge)
In the decade-plus since Boyz II Men ceased to be a commercial and creative force, many would-be heirs have attempted to throw a cappellas at the throne, but none have topped the Philadelphian quartet's ability to create anthems for bar mitzvahs, weddings, proms and graduations. The only thing these guys didn't do was cater. Though they're currently a trio without the retired Michael McCary (a.k.a. the guy with the really deep voice who did the spoken-word interludes in the middle of every song), Boyz II Men re-signed with Universal last year and have been on the comeback trail ever since. In honor of their February 1 date at Crash Mansion, now's as good a time as any to take a look at the world of the male R&B vocal group, post-"Cooleyhighharmony."
September 1991Color Me Badd release their triple-platinum debut, C.M.B., proving that a lack of talent doesn't impede pop success provided one wears bright clothing, looks like a Benetton ad and sings songs about "sexing u up." Though C.M.B. snags several trophies at the '92 Grammys, the band's fame is short-lived and by the following summer, not a soul still adores mi amor.
January 1992Led by future "pied piper" of R&B, R. Kelly, New Jack Swing holdovers Public Announcement debut with their platinum-selling Born Into the 90's. Though at the time the album's title is thought to be a reference to the young men in the group, a later analysis reveals it to be a subtle commentary on the girls that Kelly aspired to date.
August 1992Boyz II Men release "End of the Road," a single tailor-made for the Boomerang soundtrack. It goes on to become the most popular song ever released on Motown, spending a record 13 weeks at the top of the charts, longer than anyone remembers the film Boomerang.
November 1992Keith Sweat proteges Silk release their double-platinum debut, Lose Control. Hit single, "Freak Me," briefly becomes the most famous ode to oral sex until Akinyele releases "Put It in Your Mouth."
December 1992Howard grads Shai release the smash, "If I Ever Fall in Love." The a cappella tune jacks Boyz II Men's style and, as retribution, the gods of R&B banish Shai to a future of anonymity. By 2007, they will be self-releasing an album titled Love Cycle: Back From the Mystery System. Lesson learned: Boyz II Men ain't nothing to fuck with.
March 1993One-hit wonders H-Town release "Knockin' da Boots." Though their debut LP, Fever for da Flavor, goes platinum, H-Town struggle to come up with content for their second album, boasting a song called "Sex Bowl," which may or may not be about prostitutes who enjoy bowling.
December 1993Jodeci, the only male vocal group in a league with Boyz II Men, release their appropriately named Diary of a Mad Band. While Diary's sales don't match those of its predecessor, Forever My Lady, it signifies a shift in R&B toward the more hardcore gangsta sound. The video for "Feenin'" actually features Snoop Dogg swilling a 40, smoking a blunt and telling Jodeci to "treat 'em like they want to be treated."
April 1994Antelope Valley-based R&B group All-4-One release their eponymous debut record, containing the Grammy Award-winning smash "I Swear." Directly ripping off Boyz's vocal style, All-4-One fall victim to the dreaded curse and are now rumored to be pumping gasoline somewhere in Victorville.
August 1994Boyz II Men drop their most successful record, II. Featuring singles "I'll Make Love to You" and "On Bended Knee," it sells 12 million copies and inspires an equal number of shotgun weddings.
March 1995Heavy D-discovery Soul for Real make a brief splash with "Candy Rain." Though their fame is short-lived, it inspires a generation of porn stars and strippers to rename themselves "Candy Rain."
July 1995Jodeci release their third and final album, The Show, the After Party, the Hotel. It gives R. Kelly the idea for the rest of his career.
November 1995Boyz II Men collaborate with Mariah Carey on "One Sweet Day." The single spends a record 16 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the most popular song to ever be written about one of the lead singers of C&C Music Factory.
September 1996Teddy Riley's neo-New Jack Swing outfit, BLACKstreet, release their quadruple-platinum second album, Another Level. The album features the fantastic "No Diggity," a song that tragically causes tens of thousands of middle-aged white people to think that using "iggity" as a suffix makes them hip.
April 1997Chris Rock releases the parody song "Champagne," declaring, "R&B sucks! Just a bunch of people singin' over rap beats. Get an old rap record? Sing over it!" His trenchant critique also points out that "now everybody talks about their label... Smokey Robinson wasn't singin' about Motown! The Isley Brothers wasn't goin', 'Teaneck in the motherfuckin' house!' The Jacksons wasn't singin' about Epic... because nobody gave a fuck!"
June 1997On Wu-Tang Forever, RZA indicts, "a lot of n--z trying to take hip-hop and make that shit R&B, rap and bullshit." He also impugns "Cat in the Hat-ass rappers." Dr. Seuss refuses to touch the issue (though his being dead may have something to do with this).
Summer 1997After studying Boyz II Men's success, Lou Pearlman unleashes the Backstreet Boys on America, igniting the boy-band boom and opening the floodgates for 'N Sync, 98 Degrees, O-Town et al. A decade later, the nation's wounds have yet to fully heal.
September 1997Boyz II Men release Evolution, which, despite its triple-platinum sales, manages to be regarded as a creative and commercial flop. This disappointment, coupled with the boy bands' runaway success, marks a shift in the winds, with record executives taking note and continuing to market toward increasingly younger audiences.
October 1998Hip-hop-inflected vocal group Dru Hill see their biggest triumph with the double-selling Enter the Dru. Though the album is quite good, all goodwill the group builds is squandered when Sisqo eventually decides to go solo.
January 2000Fueled by the success of "He Can't Love U," Jagged Edge, an Atlanta-based quartet formed by Jermaine Dupri, release their breakthrough, J.E. Heartbreak. Several years later, half the group will get lost on the way to a concert and unwittingly form Ruff Endz.
December 2002B2K, a teenage quartet from Los Angeles, release their second and final studio record, Pandemonium. The album goes platinum and they break up shortly thereafter, though not before leaving the world with You Got Served, the Citizen Kane of high school dance-off films.
2003-presentThough male R&B continues to factor heavily in the commercial landscape, its most popular acts are all solo artists, from Usher to Justin Timberlake to Marques Houston (formerly of Immature) and Omarion (formerly of B2K). With sales ever dwindling, singers are hesitant to form groups and thereby split the cash, the attention and the groupies.
Boyz II Men performs at Crash Mansion on Fri., Feb. 1.
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