Boyz II Men - Biography

By Joanna Ricco


Unsurpassed as the top grossing and charting R&B group to ever hit the airwaves and a fine example of sweater vest chic, Boyz II Men rose to superstardom throughout the 1990s and have been instrumental in setting the precedent for countless popular R&B acts ever since.


Originally formed by Nathan Morris and Marc Nelson in 1986 at the Philadelphia School for Creative and Performing Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the duo soon brought in tenors Wanya Morris and Shawn Stockman, as well as bass Michael McCary. The group was initially named Unique Attraction, but soon changed their name to Boyz II Men in homage to a New Edition song. The quintet lineup became a quartet when Nelson left the group prior to the first recording session.


Their name is just the tip of the connection Boyz II Men has with New Edition. In 1989, the group achieved backstage access after a Bel Biv DeVoe show and wowed Michael Bivins (a former member of New Edition) with an a cappella version of New Edition’s “Can You Stand the Rain.” Bivins was thoroughly impressed and went to work immediately to get them signed to Motown Records through his own Biv Ten Records.


Boyz II Men’s debut album, Cooleyhighharmony (1991 Motown), was released two years later on Motown and was produced by Bivins. The album introduced a new style of R&B to the urban radio circuit and is arguably the blueprint upon which many R&B acts and boy bands were built in subsequent years. The group has been most notably successful in their harmonizing ability, without any one member taking a leading role. Even more characteristic to the Boyz II Men sound is Morris’s melismatic vocals, wherein one syllable is given a great range of notes. Mariah Carey, a contemporary of the group, is also a master of this particular vocalization technique. Cooleyhighharmony featured the breakout single “Motownphilly,” which was produced by Dallas Austin and reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100. The track is often credited with having introduced new jack swing, a style of R&B that is mixed with Hip-Hop and doo wop influences, to America’s urban youth. “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” also worked to make the album a success as it climbed the charts. Cooleyhighharmony was a success right out of the gate, selling over nine million copies and receiving the 1992 Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. A reissue of Cooleyhighharmony was eventually produced in 1993 after Boyz II Men found success with the one-off single “End of the Road,” which was recorded for inclusion on the Eddie Murphy vehicle Boomerang. The reissued album includes this track as a bonus.


Boyz II Men’s second album, the aptly named II (Motown), was released in 1994. Babyface played a major role in the development of this album while Bivins stepped to the side to work on other projects. II turned out to be the album that would forever etch Boyz II Men upon the history books of R&B. Selling over 12 million copies in the United States alone and including two number one hit singles, II was seemingly unstoppable. The album included “On Bended Knee” and “I'll Make Love to You,” which both hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100. “I'll Make Love to You” actually surpassed the group’s previous chart record for “End of the Road,” which stayed at number one for 13 weeks. “I'll Make Love to You” hung on for 14 weeks. “On Bended Knee” soon went on to take the number one spot, putting the Boyz in the same arena as Elvis Presley and The Beatles as the only other artists to have ever replaced themselves in the number one spot on the Billboard charts. The work from II was awarded two Grammy Awards in 1995 for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for “I'll Make Love to You” and Best R&B Album.


Evolution (Motown), their third album, was released in 1997 and did little to live up to the expectations set forth by II. Selling a mere three million copies – only a quarter of the sales of their previous effort – the album still managed to be a success, if simply a more minor one than the group had been used to. “Four Seasons of Loneliness” charted at number one and “A Song for Mama” hit the Top 10. The album garnered two Grammy nominations in 1998, but no wins.


Following a corporate restructuring of Motown’s parent company Polygram in 1999, Boyz II Men were reassigned to Universal. Under this new label, they wrote and produced Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya (2000 – Universal) almost entirely by themselves, in an attempt to drive focus away from criticism that they had relied too heavily on Babyface in the past. The album sold only one million copies worldwide and, to add salt to that wound, McCary’s scoliosis, which had afforded him his signature cane, worsened leaving him unable to perform the choreography that was so instrumental to the Boyz II Men experience. The group decided to leave Universal records after the dismal reception of the album.


Singed to Arista in 2002, they recorded Full Circle (Arista), which sold the same number of units as Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya, despite Babyface’s work on the single “The Color of Love.” By 2003, Arista had dropped Boyz II Men and McCary decided to leave the group due to his failing health. Midway through 2007, Boyz II Men signed again with Universal and released Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA on Decca Records. The album has been supported by numerous public and television appearances, but has yet to reach the audience that II dared to achieve.


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