The music world is a far different place than it was in 1991 when Boyz II Men began crooning over pop-inspired R&B ballads. Albums are being changed and updated by the hour by an egocentric maniac who happens to infuse R&B with hip-hop with house music over a weird blend of obscure samples. Adele is perhaps the closest thing the mainstream has to a classic pop act, unless you count Sam Smith. Yes, music is in a very weird place.
Boyz II Men may only be known for extremely popular singles, but they got a run of albums that would impress The Roots. The group has been quiet in the last year, while Wanya Morris impresses by stretching out his dance style to a customized and outrageous version of the flamenco.
So how does a Motown-esque R&B group from the 90’s settle into contemporary music? The Levity Ball sat down with Shawn, and got to ask some probing questions. Is R&B in a good place? Should artists rerecord material years after it initially came out? Finally, what do they think of the concept of a legacy? Boyz II Men are well-versed in the current state of popular music.
One thing many people may not know is that Boyz II Men has been active recording new material steadily since you all began. The group just has a huge catalog. If there was one record you all found was under-appreciated by fans, which one would it be and why?
“Wow, that is a tough question! Our fans are so incredible it is hard to pick a song… They have been so supportive of everything we’ve done.”
The group put a record in 2011 called “Twenty,” and it featured a few songs rerecorded from your catalog. Is this something artists should do more often?
“Any music we release is for the fans and it was something they had been asking for. It was a lot of fun bringing back the classics so I definitely recommend that other artists rerecord some of their biggest hits.”
There are a lot of motivations for an artist rerecording a song. Was your choice to rerecord songs more because you all thought they could be technically improved or was it more about bringing them to a new audience and revisiting them? Was it more for “fun” or was there another motivation behind it?
“The motivation really came from the fans! It was something they had been asking for so we wanted to deliver.”
Aside from the big hooks and your fantastic individual voices, one thing I always thought you were under-appreciated for was your complex harmonies. Where did you all get your start with singing?
“We all started our career at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing. It was in high school that Nate started Boyz II Men and invited Wanya and myself to be a part of it.”
The group has a long history dating back to your debut in 1991. You even come from Motown, which is just a legendary label. As a veteran artist, it can be hard to keep things current. Is it better to evolve your sound and incorporate modern influences, or stick to a more traditional side that many new R&B artists aren’t really dealing with?
“Our core philosophy is as artists, we are committed to making timeless music, we are willing to work hard, and everything we do is for the fans. That’s how we’ve always approached our careers and I think that the fans and industry have really responded to that.”
Now, whatever you may feel for Kanye West as a person, he has certainly done a few interesting things in music. Do you have any thoughts on his changing and updating of his latest album, The Life of Pablo? Do you think an album is a statement, and that once it is complete, it is set off to the fans and the world?
“He seems to be enjoying what he is creating and that is what matters.”
So is the album dead? Does it even make sense to stick to the modern idea of a front-to-back album anymore?
“This is definitely a concern we have. With current mainstream music there is such an emphasis on a one hit single with a good beat-rather than a complete, cohesive album with quality lyrics and melodies. I don’t think the album is completely dead, but it is definitely being phased out.”
Your latest record, Collide, had a small army of producers behind it. How do you think that helped the sound for the album, and is it generally better to get a lot of producers behind an R&B album?
“Collide was a really fun album to create. It was truly a collision of different sounds, styles and genres. I think we all just wanted to make a great album and try a new sound. We all agreed unanimously on the songs we sang on the album which is what made it great!”
I heard an interesting idea that an artist should just stop if they no longer feel motivated to make music. They can hurt their legacy by continuing. Is an artist better just stopping if they feel like it is forced? Have you ever been unmotivated to write, and came up with something incredible through that creative process?
“No matter what you do, passion is so important. I think if you no longer have any desire for what you do there is no point in doing it since you won’t give it your all. For me, Nate and Wanya we do everything for the fans and they keep us motivated to continue doing what we do.”
Legacy can be important for an artist. Are you all concerned about your legacy as artists?
“I hope that we leave a lasting legacy for years to come. Our residency at The Mirage in Las Vegas has been extended through 2018 and there have been so many iconic legends that we’ve followed. They are such an inspiration so I hope we follow in their paths.”