At a time when the charts are overrun with prefabricated teen acts, it’s important to remember when skills mattered as much as sensation. When harmonies ruled over hormones. When before boy bands, there was Boyz II Men. Nathan Morris, Michael McCary, Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris: four young men who can sing. Sing with an ease and elegance that comes from feeling it. Sing with passion and integrity both in concert and on CD because that’s what real singers do. Four voices. One group. Doing what they have always known how to do. Sing.
Since 1992, Boyz II Men have sold over 34 million records worldwide, earned numerous awards including four Grammys, shattered sales records and reigned as one of the most beloved vocal acts of our time. On their fifth CD and their first on Universal Records, Boyz II Men are prepared to take that legacy one step further. Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya contains new songs written and produced by the group themselves (with additional help from She’kspere, Shep Crawford and Mervyn Warren), that already feel like timeless classics. Songs that Boyz II Men were born to sing.
Boyz II Men’s new CD is Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya. The title is not some misguided attack of ego, but rather a reaffirmation of purpose. “Everything on this record is us,” explains Nathan. “It’s our personalities and hopefully because there’s so much of us on this CD, people will be able to feel it and know us.” “We know it’s been three years since we had an album out and we thought by calling the new CD Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya, people would get to know the individual members of the group,” says Wanya.
The goals behind the CD? Simple enough. “We make music and there’s soul that just influences all the music we do,” offers Wanya. “On this album, we wanted to make music that appeals to our fans and reaches a new generations of fans,” Michael adds. “We just wanted to get back to the basics. Get back to the fundamentals,” says Shawn.
Those fundamentals are loud and clear on the first single, “Pass You By.” Written by Shawn and produced by the group (the album was executive produced by them as well), “Pass You By” is a classic Boyz II Men ballad, filled with luscious harmonies and a message that speaks directly to the heart and soul. “We knew going into this record that we wanted to make that extra effort to make songs that stand out,” explains Shawn. “We are very proud of the song because it’s truly from us and it speaks to so many people.”
Taking so much creative control was crucial and exciting to Boyz II Men. Although they had always had major input on their previous albums, they admit that powerhouse songwriters and producers shaped much of their sound. Learning from the best in the biz and adding their own aesthetic made recording this CD a challenge well worth taking. And one that paid off.
Evidence of that is heard on one of the group’s favorite songs “Dreams.” Written and produced by Boyz II Men, “Dreams” is mature and knowing, built on a soaring and instantly memorable melody. Like many of the songs on the album “Dreams” was a true collaborative process between the guys. Although ballads make up the majority of the CD, these guys also demonstrate that they know how to get down. Just check out “Beautiful Women,” “Good Guy” and “Bounce, Shake, Move, Swing.” We hit the clubs like anyone else,” Shawn elaborates, “and we wanted a little of that flavor on the record. These will be fun songs to perform live.”
Being able to take it to the stage, as well as rock it in the studio has always been a hallmark of Boyz II Men’s success. Serious about their craft and constantly honing their trademark harmonies BIIM’s dedication to the art and discipline of singing is in marked contrast to some of the more bombastic but digitally enhanced acts. Notes Nathan, “We work at it and we started out to be singers- not stars. Hopefully that intention is still there and can be felt by the fans.”
In the past three years, BIIM oversaw the construction of and continue to help run StoneCreek Studios, a state of the art facility in Gladwyne, PA and the studio where most of their current CD was recorded. Wanya started a label and has signed two artists. Shawn has formed a movie production company. His short film for Showtime “17 Again” that he produced and co-scored, earned critical acclaim at this year’s Aculpulco Film Festival. Michael took some much needed vacation time and logged in hours at StoneCreek, while Nathan remained busy keeping the group’s business affairs in order. Yet even with their own interests, it’s clear what the main focus is. “Boyz II Men is all we know,” Shawn laughs, “because we’ve been doing it for such a long time. It’s our main passion and it’s what we do better than anything.”
Formed while they were students at Philadelphia’s School for the Performing Arts, Boyz II Men got their big break when they made their way backstage at a New Edition show. The teenagers sang a capella for New Edition’s Michael Bivins who had a hand in helping them secure a contract with Motown. The group’s 1992 debut Cooleyhighharmony spawned the mega-hit “MotownPhilly” sold over 12 million copies and stayed on Billboard’s pop charts for over one year. The title track earned BIIM a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by Duo or Group with Vocals. The single, “End Of The Road,” which appeared on 1992’s Boomerang soundtrack became one the biggest-selling singles of all time, surpassing Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” for length of stay in the #1 spot.
In 1993, the talented foursome showcased their patented harmonies on the platinum-selling Christmas Interpretations. The next year, Boyz II Men released II and continued their winning streak. II debuted at #1, yielded several smash hits including “I’ll Make Love To You” and “On Bended Knee” and nabbed Grammys for Best R&B Performance by Duo or Group with Vocals and Best R&B Song. To date, II has sold over 16 million copies worldwide.
In between album releases the group kept up a rigorous and sold-out tour schedule as well as becoming fixtures on award shows and industry tributes. In 1996, the group’s duet with Mariah Carey “One Sweet Day” shattered more chart records and remained on Billboard’s top slot for a phenomenal 16 weeks, becoming one of the biggest-selling singles ever. The following year, Boyz II Men released Evolution, which debuted at #1 and contained the platinum singles “4 Seasons Of Loneliness” and “A Song For Mama” which also appeared on the Soul Food soundtrack.
Now with experience and the respect of fans and the industry firmly under their belts, Boyz II Men are readying what may be the most important collection of their career. Ask the members of Boyz II Men to place themselves in the current musical hierarchy and the answer comes without hesitation. Speaking for his friends and partners, Nathan offers, “we’re a singing group.”
In an age of phenomenon and hype, the time has come for something with a bit more soul and purpose. Four young men. Four spectacular voices. One sumptuous collection of songs. Boyz II Men. A singing group. Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya.