Boyz II Men - The Boyz Are Back In Town
Monday, 2 June 2008
Philadelphia's Boyz II Men were at the forefront of RNB's big crossover in the early '90s. They bridged traditional RNB and the emerging hip hop, paving the way for neo-soul. The quartet - Shawn Stockman, Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris and Michael McCary - dominated the charts with record-breaking hits like End Of The Road. BIIM even pulled off a power duet with Mariah Carey - One Sweet Day.
Together with their 'bad boy' rivals Jodeci, BIIM influenced a myriad of male harmony groups: 112, Jagged Edge and Dru Hill. They also developed a template for wholesome boy bands such as Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync and our own Human Nature.
Following a stint with the independent label Koch, BIIM recently signed to the UMG-affiliated Decca. They mounted a comeback with 2007's covers album, Motown - Hitsville USA, a tribute to the label that launched them. On which they revived evergreens like Smokey Robinson & The Miracles' The Tracks Of My Tears.
The amiable Stockman confesses that BIIM didn't devise the Motown concept themselves, but rather exec David Simone. However, the group embraced the idea of bringing back the soul, as Shawn expresses it. "We thought that it would be a great time for an album like that because the industry is somewhat stagnant in its creativity. We feel like even youngsters who are listening to music really don't have a sense of history and where a lot of the songs and inspirations came from for a lot of artists like ourselves to do what we do. This is kind of a history lesson for the younger cats as well as something that people our age - and older - can appreciate and listen to.”
Choosing the songs was untroublesome - Shawn reckons it took an hour, max. BIIM were particularly eager to lay down Stevie Wonder's Ribbon In The Sky a cappella as it's long been in their repertoire. (Trainspotters note: The Dap-Kings' horn section features on the set.)
BIIM are now at work on an original album.
Surprisingly, BIIM are closely connected to the same Philadelphian underground that produced The Roots and Jill Scott. “It's funny 'cause The Roots just came out with an album [Rising Down] that is really good. It might not get the commercial success of maybe somebody who is doing something else that might be considered popular, but they've always come out with great music. They're cut from the same cloth as us. We all went to high-school together, so we know those guys pretty well. We all believe in the same things as far as being very ol' skool in our approach - not just putting out a record, but supporting it and going out on tour.”
At the start of the 2000s, BIIM lost one of their founders, Michael, who suffers from scoliosis. They stay in touch. “Mike is in Los Angeles,” Shawn says. “He's trying his hand at acting and other things, but we're still cool. There's no animosity or anything like that at all.”
BIIM last toured Australia with, ironically, Jodeci exiles K-Ci & JoJo. To the astonishment of media types, the shows sold out. After all, they weren't in the spotlight at the time. Shawn is anticipating their return. “We love Australia! They've been loyal to us since the beginning. It's been a great experience for us since we've been going out there and performing shows - and it just gets better. You would think that, after 17 years, we wouldn't be able to still do what we do at the capacity that we do it [but] we still tend to do it - and it's great.”
WHO: Boyz II Men
WHAT: Playing the Enmore Theatre / Penrith Panthers /
Motown - Hitsville USA through Universal
WHEN: Saturday 7 June / Tuesday 10 June