After essentially starting over, Boyz II Men let passion and industry savvy guide the group back to a fulfilling career

Boyz II Men has adapted well to the changing state of music and likes where it is now.

click to enlarge Boyz II Men - Photo: Rony Shram
Photo: Rony Shram
Boyz II Men

Boyz II Men may no longer dominate radio, sell albums by the millions or command attention as one of music’s most popular acts, but band member Nathan Morris has no complaints about the group’s current circumstances.

“We call this our second career, which a lot of people don’t really get a chance to have,” he says. “We’re just excited to still be able to do what we love to do after 25 years.”

Boyz II Men’s second career began in 2004 after the vocal group had lost one of its members and took a yearlong hiatus. In returning to music, Morris, Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris found that the music industry was getting turned upside down by the prevalence of downloading. They also realized that Boyz II Men’s career was pretty close to being back at the starting line, despite all the group had accomplished.

“It definitely wasn’t easy, not by any means,” Morris says, looking back on the task of having to rebuild the group’s career. “You sell 60 million records around the world and then you take a long break and you come back and the industry has changed. (People have) moved on to other newer artists. And the fact that you’ve been off the scene for a while, you have to kind of start over again. It was a little rough. So we pretty much had to put our 1996-97 egos aside and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’ve got to do in order to turn this thing around.’ ”

The four original members of Boyz II Men had become accustomed to life at the top during their first decade together. Formed in 1988 while Nathan and Wanya Morris, Stockman and bass vocalist Michael McCary were students at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, the vocal group got signed to Motown Records and, with their 1991 debut album, Cooleyhighharmony, blasted onto the worldwide scene.

Mixing Hip Hop and New Jack Swing with classic sounding Doo Wop- and R&B-influenced vocals, the album caught on big time. The singles “Motownphilly” and “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” topped charts and Cooleyhighharmony sold more than nine million copies. That momentum ramped up even further when “End of the Road,” a song recorded for the Eddie Murphy movie Boomerang, was released in 1992. The track topped Billboard magazine’s all-genre Hot 100 singles chart and held that slot for a record-setting 13 straight weeks.

When the group’s sophomore album II arrived in 1994, it was an immediate smash and eventually sold 12 million copies. The single “I’ll Make Love to You” went straight to No. 1 on the singles chart, where it stayed for 14 straight weeks, tying the new record set by Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” after the run of “It’s So Hard.” The Boyz would help break the record again when their collaboration with Mariah Carey, “One Sweet Day,” held the No. 1 spot for 16 weeks in 1995-96. It’s still the record-holder. 

Boyz II Men enjoyed one more triple-platinum album, 1997’s Evolution, before things started to drop off. Sales declined and, in early 2003, McCary left the group citing health problems (he recently revealed he’d been battling multiple sclerosis). Boyz II Men decided to take a break. 

The comeback was gradual and it went essentially from the ground up. The group was reinventing itself as a trio, going back to clubs and working its way back up the ladder. Gradually, the size of the crowds and the venues the group played got larger. 

A significant step in the trio’s rebound was its trifecta of cover albums — 2004’s Throwback Vol. 1, which featured R&B classics; 2007’s Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA, which included Motown hits; and 2009’s Love, which included covers of romantic songs from outside of the R&B genre.

“Those records were actually key in our survival because we were able to cover those (songs) and we were able to add those records to our repertoire,” Morris says. “We had a bunch of corporate gigs where those (cover) songs really are needed. So the fact that we had three albums’ worth of remake songs, it allowed us to get back into the corporate game, which really turned some things around.”

Another coup was landing a residency in Las Vegas in 2013, which gave Boyz II Men a string of shows to anchor each touring year and gave tourists from around the world a chance to see the group perform, generating new or renewed fans. 

After 2011’s Twenty failed to connect commercially, Boyz II Men was inspired to make one of its boldest albums, 2014’s Collide. The trio worked with a variety of current songwriters/producers and recorded a dozen outside songs that range from ballads and R&B jams to EDM-tinted tunes and even some rockers. 

Morris says Boyz II Men made Collide simply because they liked the songs and the singers felt like they could step beyond their signature sound.

“We were doing the remake albums and people were like, ‘Oh, we’re tired of hearing Boyz II Men do remake albums. You keep redoing other peoples’ songs,’ ” he says.  “So we went in and did Twenty, which is what we call a classic R&B album. But then the fan base decided, ‘Oh, we don’t like that either.’ So it’s like we had come to the point where we had to go back to what got us started in music anyway. And that was doing music because we loved it.”

Boyz II Men has lately been focused on its live show and touring, with its current dates with New Kids On The Block keeping them performing in arenas across the country into July. The group has made a few changes to keep its shows fresh and bring some of the showmanship they’ve developed in Las Vegas to the road.

“Obviously, we have to incorporate the classic songs, the songs people pay to hear,” Morris says. “Then we throw a little bit of new stuff in as well. And we also throw in some covers here and there. And (in 2015), we decided to learn how to play a couple of instruments, so we have a little live section that we do now with our band where we play some songs on keyboards, guitars and stuff like that.”

BOYZ II MEN performs at U.S. Bank Arena Tuesday with New Kids on the Block and Paula Abdul. Tickets/more info:

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