Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Boyz II Men in 1994
Boyz II Men Celebrate 25 Years Of Their Masterstroke Second Album, 'II'
To commemorate 25 years of 'II,' The Recording Academy spoke with Boyz II Men's Wanya Morris and Nathan Morris about what all went into making their second album such an immediate and long-lasting success
As soon as an artist experiences success with their debut album, the shadow of the dreaded "sophomore slump" starts swirling on the horizon. In the 1990s, however, there were quite a few second album smashes that showed just how defiantly that curse can crumble under rarified musical talent, mastercraft songwriting and record-breaking runs at the top of the charts. Throughout the pre-millennium decade, Nirvana and A Tribe Called Quest delivered undeniable game changers with Nevermind and Low End Theory, TLC and Oasis more than doubled the achievements of their multi-platinum debuts with CrazySexyCool and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, and Boyz II Men achieved inescapable pop culture ubiquity with their 12x platinum-selling, multiple record-breaking, triple GRAMMY Award-winning album, II, which celebrates its 25th anniversary milestone this month.
Spearheaded by the strength of a pair of Billboard number one singles ("I'll Make Love To You" and "On Bended Knee") and a Billboard number two chaser ("Water Runs Dry"), II debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart, maintained a solid five-week run at the top spot and ended up staying on the charts for just shy of two full years. A couple months before the release of II, the Philly foursome offered up the Babyface-penned "I'll Make Love to You" as the album's lead single and the steamy ballad had radio and MTV on absolute lockdown during the late summer of 1994. "I'll Make Love to You" ended up eventually tying the record for the most weeks at number one by matching Whitney Houston's 14-week stretch of "I Will Always Love You" from The Bodyguard.
The group’s unparalleled vocal harmonies and the impossible-not-to-sing-along-with chorus of "I'll Make Love To You" might’ve been enough to surpass Houston's record if only they hadn’t been knocked out of the top spot by… the album's second single, "On Bended Knee." By December, the summer sizzler handed the crown over to the winter weeper as Boyz II Men became only the third musical act of all-time to replace themselves at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 (only Elvis Presley and The Beatles had achieved it before them). To look back on these astounding achievements and to commemorate 25 years of II, The Recording Academy spoke with Boyz II Men's Wanya Morris and Nathan Morris about what all went into making their second album such an immediate and long-lasting success.
Wanya Morris: After the success of our first album, it felt like a lot of people were starting to realize that Boyz II Men was a force to be reckoned with. Our voices and our harmonies were evolving and becoming more mature. That allowed us to try new things and people were really receptive to our creativity. It seemed like we couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized. I remember walking down the street near Yodoyabashi Station in Osaka and people would run up to us and yell out our names. It felt so huge because in our minds, we were just four dudes from Philly.
Nathan Morris: For me, it was all a whirlwind because singing wasn’t really my first choice for a career. I grew up wanting to play professional football, but my mom pushed me into going to a performing arts school. That’s actually the whole reason why there’s even a Boyz II Men at all. I got bored at school, so I just started a singing group in my spare time. Everything that was happening for us as Boyz II Men wasn’t really anything that I had ever dreamed of or expected. So, I was just taking everything in as it came, enjoying it, and trying to soak it all up.
Following the massive success of their debut album, Cooleyhighharmony, and its pair of Top 5 singles ("Motownphilly" and their cover of G. C. Cameron's "It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday"), Boyz II Men's doo-wop-meets-New Jack Swing-meets-hip-hop musical hybrid and their relentless work ethic were all on full display during a frenzied pop culture blitz that included opening for M.C. Hammer's 2 Legit 2 Quit tour, filming an episode of MTV Unplugged with Joe Public and Shanice, earning a Top 5 standalone single with their cover of "In the Still of the Night (I Remember)," appearing in the holiday episode "Twas the Night Before Christening" on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and recording the double-platinum holiday album Christmas Interpretations (featuring the seasonal radio hit "Let It Snow" with Brian McKnight). During this crucial between-albums timeframe, they also scored their first number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with "End Of The Road" from the Boomerang soundtrack. At the time, "End of the Road" broke the record for longevity at the top of the charts with its impressive 13-week run. It would be the first of three times that Boyz II Men were a part of achieving this notable accolade.
Nathan Morris: Going into the second album, our confidence level was pretty high. Motown didn't really know what to do with us when they signed us, so we got to write almost the whole first album by ourselves. Since that album went nine times platinum, that gave us a lot of confidence as writers and producers going into the second album.
Wanya Morris: Honestly, it was a pretty hectic time. Things had gotten so big with the first album and then "End Of The Road" came out and blew up. We were really feeling the pressure, but the process had to start somewhere. So, we just did what we always do, which is get in the studio and start writing songs and recording demos.
Nathan Morris: Dallas Austin had produced most of our first album, but he wasn’t available for the second album. So, he recommended we try working with Tim & Bob, who were kind of his B-team. We got in the studio with them and started working on a bunch of the songs that we felt good about. We clicked really well, so Tim & Bob ended up producing most of the songs on the second album.
Wanya Morris: I first met Tim & Bob when I worked on a song called "One More Try" for Another Bad Creation's second album. I traveled to Atlanta to work with them and we ended up hanging out and kicking it almost that whole summer, just writing songs and recording demos. I brought those songs back to the guys and our A&R team and it was decided that we should all fly out to Atlanta to work with them. That’s where the bulk of the songs on the second album came from.
Alongside working with Tim & Bob for most of the recording of what would become II, Boyz II Men's chart-topping success also earned them the opportunity to craft a couple of songs with some of the most celebrated producers in the business—Midas-touch hitmaker Babyface ("I'll Make Love To You" and "Water Runs Dry") and the legendary dream team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis ("On Bended Knee" and "All Around The World").
Nathan Morris: Getting to work with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis? Man, we were just such big fans of theirs ever since we were kids. We were praying we could get them on the album, so we were really excited to get to work with them.
Wanya Morris: Jam and Lewis are artist-producers, so their first move was trying to gauge our musical capabilities. For "On Bended Knee," we were with them a whole day, but we hadn’t heard anything because they wouldn’t let us inside of the studio while they were recording the instrumental tracks! After they finished the music, we knocked the vocals out so quick that they decided to try for a second song with us. That’s how we ended up writing "All Around The World" with them. They could feel our synergy and trusted us enough to just let us do what we do.
Nathan Morris: After "End Of The Road," we were really excited to work with Babyface again. It just made so much sense to do a couple more songs with him for the second album. We really loved "I'll Make Love to You" for the album, but we also wanted to try different things for our singles. In the grand scheme of artistry, that’s your thinking. But in the grand scheme of record sales, when you go multi-platinum with something, you’re expected to make another one. So, we had a bit of a dilemma when it came time to pick the lead single for II.
Wanya Morris: We actually fought really hard against having "I'll Make Love to You" be the lead single. We had just come off of "End Of The Road" and we didn’t want to come back with a song that had the same sound. Our label was adamant about it though. They did all this market research and we were just researching our hearts, so we were told to deal with it. Clearly, they were right on that one!
After the release of II, Boyz II Men became certified global superstars. The album achieved multi-platinum sales in Canada and Australia, and it hit the top of the album charts in France and New Zealand. In fact, international demand was so high for the blockbuster album that the gifted vocalists upped their game by rerecording the album’s three big hits and their acapella cover of The Beatles' "Yesterday" in Spanish for a special version of the album called II: Yo Te Voy a Amar. As had become their signature move, the guys had no problem rising to the challenge and possibly even outdoing themselves in the process.
Nathan Morris: Recording those tracks in Spanish wasn’t really that difficult since we had already learned a bit of it in school. We had a producer, K. C. Porter, that translated everything for us and helped us with proper annunciation. One thing that we did notice is that singing in Spanish is a lot easier than singing in English. The English language is a bit choppy and Spanish is smoother and more legato in nature. I think some of our songs sound even better in Spanish than they do in English.
Wanya Morris: When it came time to do the second album songs in Spanish, it wasn’t really that hard because the songs already existed. We just had to emulate the vocal intensity of the rewritten lyrics. We only performed live in Spanish one time and it wasn’t even one of those songs. We actually did "End Of The Road" live for Telemundo. After that, we didn’t do it again!
At a time when memorable music videos were just as important as radio hits, Boyz II Men were MTV mainstays by consistently delivering cinematic gold. Having such good chemistry with director Lionel C. Martin on their first music videos for "Motownphilly," "It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday," "Uhh Ahh," "End Of The Road" and "Let It Snow," they continued the creative partnership through the music videos for II’s "I’ll Make Love To You," "Thank You" and "On Bended Knee," the latter of which saw the bandmembers getting to act alongside their hand-pick childhood crushes.
Wanya Morris: We each got to request our own partners for the "On Bended Knee" music video and I chose Lark Voorhies from Saved By The Bell. We were guys, so we were all trying to holler at them all day. I’m not going to lie, it was really cool and really fun getting to shoot that video.
Nathan Morris: We all got to pick a couple names of who we wanted them to reach out to and luckily I got my first pick. I choose Kim Fields because I was a big fan of Facts Of Life. At the time, I was in a relationship and we ended up having a big fight about me being in the video. It was great though. We shot it in New Orleans and I think it was a three-day shoot. Between that one and "Water Runs Dry," those are my two favorites music videos that we’ve ever done.
As the trajectory of the band's career continued to skyrocket on the back of II, the following year found the vocal giants collaborating on a trio of top-tier releases: Michael Jackson’s HIStory, LL Cool J’s Mr. Smith, and Mariah Carey’s Daydream. Their duet with Carey, the massively popular "One Sweet Day," hit number one on December 2, 1995 and firmly reigned there until March 23, 1996. Its astounding 16-week stay not only marked the third time that Boyz II Men had tied or broken the record for longest-running number one single, but it was also strong enough to remain as a record all the way up until earlier this year when Lil Nas X’s surprise smash "Old Town Road" landed at number one for a combined 19 weeks (the first week as a solo artist and then 18 weeks with the Billy Ray Cyrus version).
Nathan Morris: The Lil Nas X thing is surprising because we’re in this fast food entertainment society where you need something new every four seconds. You wouldn’t think that something would stick around that long, but the good songs do. There have been some other really great songs in the last few years that I thought should’ve broken the record, but "Old Town Road" was the one to do it.
Wanya Morris: I think it helps that there’s not so much of a "big stage" competition nowadays. Everyone is more of an individual. Plus, there are more things out today that help your music get heard. We didn't have Instagram. The internet was just a baby back then. If we wanted to reach a million people, we had to go on the road and touch a million people. Nowadays, people can just click a button and reach all of their social media followers at once, who in turn can reach all of their followers, and you can quickly get in a zone that’ll start promoting you to people who don’t know who you are.
The part about the Lil Nas X thing that makes sense to me is that it’s a black man singing country music, it sparked some controversy because they didn’t want to let him in, then the LGBTQ community embraced it towards the end and it really became a phenomenon. It’s a good song but it became a huge record because it was relatable. Everybody could sing it, everybody could dance to it, and it became one of those things that allowed people to hear and experience something new.
Nathan Morris: It’s a weird time. Music is changing so fast. You don’t have those multi-year cycles of popularity. Audience tastes seem to change every month. For us, it’s really nice to have three of the top five records for longevity at number one, but we understand that records are made to be broken. We broke the records of Elvis and The Beatles, so we totally get it.
Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More
The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'
In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.
"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.
Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.
"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."
Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American.
"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."
Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images
Dreamville Festival 2020 Is Officially Canceled Due To COVID-19
The second annual music festival from J. Cole's Dreamville Records squad and friends was first postponed from April until August, and will now have to wait until 2021
Dreamville Festival has announced they are canceling their 2020 event due to public safety concerns caused by coronavirus. The second annual edition of the one-day music fest, hosted by J. Cole and his talent-filled Dreamville Records, was originally slated to take place on April 6 at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh, N.C., but was rescheduled to Aug. 29 after the pandemic struck the U.S.
Like countless other events that were set to take place this year, it will now have to wait until 2021. Dreamville says all 2020 ticket holders will be receive refunds soon.
"After much deliberation and careful monitoring of the current situation, we have decided to cancel Dreamville Festival 2020. Although we originally hoped it would be possible to bring you the festival this August, the ongoing uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 pandemic has made this timeline no longer possible. This decision has been extremely difficult to make, but the safety of our fans, artists, and staff is always our top priority, and nothing will ever take precedence over your well-being," the organizers wrote in a statement shared across their social channels and on the fest's website.
The message also shared details on refunds, noting that all tickets purchased online will automatically be refunded to the original payment method, beginning this week. Fans who bought physical tickets from official points of purchase can request a refund here.
"Thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate this. Please stay safe, healthy, and sane so we can reunite with you in 2021," the statement added.
According to Pitchfork, the debut Dreamville fest also faced unforeseen setbacks; it was originally set for Sept. 15, 2018 at Dorothea Dix Park but was pushed to April 6, 2019, due to Hurricane Florence. The 2019 event featured performances from Dreamville head Cole and labelmates J.I.D, BAS and Ari Lennox, as well as SZA, Big Sean, 21 Savage, 6LACK, Rapsody, Nelly and other heavy-hitters in hip-hop and R&B.
No artists have been revealed yet for the second edition of the fest.
The Dreamville squad earned their first two collective GRAMMY nominations at the most recent 62nd GRAMMY Awards; for Best Rap Album for the collaborative Revenge Of The Dreamers III and Best Rap Performance for one of its singles, "Down Bad." Cole earned a total of five nods, including for his work on that project, and took him his first GRAMMY win for his feature on 21 Savage's "A Lot."
Photo: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images
R&B Duo THEY. Talk Los Angeles, Touring, 'Nü Religion: Hyena'
Drew Love and Dante Jones reflect on their rise, why new jack swing is still it, and taking risks on their debut album. Plus they share the craziest things that happened to them on tour
Drew Love and Dante Jones of L.A.-based R&B/beats-influenced duo THEY. have been working for it since the moment the pair linked up in Los Angeles in 2015.
Originally from Denver (Jones) and San Antonio (Love), the guys knew they had a mountain to climb in order to make the right moves and cut through the noise in Los Angeles. And similar to other success stories in music, a lot of the first steps are all about meeting the right people.
"It is a community, it is about who you know," Jones points out. "[GRAMMY-nominated producer and fellow musician] Zhu was one of the first people that I met — he was fresh out of college, and I'd just moved out — and we really just connected on a friend level."
Through that close friendship, built up through days hanging out at each other's apartments and working on beats and music, THEY. found themselves with a friend with an ear for talent who was making big moves of his own locally.
"Me and Drew had been working on our project, I think we were maybe like eight songs in, and one day I'm like, 'You know what, I'm just gonna pull up and see what he thinks of it,'" Jones explains of how they first linked up with Mind Of A Genius Records, where Zhu had just been signed. "[Zhu] was busy that day, but we played it for the label head, David Dann, and within about a week he was hitting us up, and saying he wanted to help us out."
Once officially signed to Mind Of A Genius, also home to GRAMMY nominee Gallant, the duo initially put out their three-song Nü Religion EP, which generated buzz through the vocal support of Timbaland on Twitter and Instagram.
After wrapping a brief tour opening for Bryson Tiller, THEY. jumped right back into the studio, where they spent the next two years putting together their debut studio LP, Nü Religion: Hyena, which grabbed mad headlines for its purposeful blending of disparate genres and styles.
"I think it's just a culmination of everything we were feeling at the time," says Love. "It became something really really tight. We don't really go in with any preconceived notions of what we should be making, or, 'We need a song that sounds like this.'"
"We knew that the album was a risk," Jones adds. "We were incorporating a lot of elements that really hadn't been mixed too well before. I think the main thing that was encouraging was how many people really embraced the music. We had a lot of people that really identified with the type of music that we were making. It was just that little bit of validation."
Speaking on their latest output, their funkified vibe track "Not Enough," a collaboration with Norwegian rapper/producer/songwriter Lido, THEY. reveal some details about how their shared music influences pushed the song in the direction it took.
"I've always been just a huge stan for new jack swing — like Guy, Bobby Brown, New Edition, stuff like that. When we first came out, we listed New Edition as one of our main influences. Most people didn't get it," Jones explains. "But me and [Lido] were telling each other, 'Yeah, I've just been trying to find a way to bring new jack swing back, but I just haven't been able to figure it out.' I was like, 'Well, why don't we try this … ?' And when we actually put our heads together and tried to attack it, it just came together quick."
With their debut LP released this past February, Love and Jones were finally able to break out for a bit and dig into their first headlining world tour.
"Just to be able to go on stage and let out all that energy, and receive that energy back, that's just all a musician could really ask for," says Love. Jones echoes the sentiment, "It gave us the opportunity to be able to create the experience in a live setting. Recording is great, but we were really itching to make it a whole experience and really engage the fans in the world we're trying to create."
So what's up next for THEY.?
"I'm still songwriting behind the scenes, and Dante is still producing. We are working on our next project, so to speak. We just got back off of the tour, and we get to relax and see what our minds have in the tank, see what the next installment brings," says Love. "I'm just excited for music in general."
Keith Wilder, Heatwave Lead Singer, Dies
The GRAMMY-nominated "Boogie Nights" and "Always And Forever" singer dies at age 65
Keith Wilder, the lead singer of GRAMMY-nominated '70s R&B/funk hitmakers Heatwave, died Oct. 29 at the age of 65. Wilder's death was confirmed by the group's manager, Les Spaine, via Rolling Stone. No specific cause of death has been confirmed, although fellow Heatwave band member Billy Jones told Dayton.com that Wilder died in his sleep.
Wilder, who was born in Dayton, Ohio, formed Heatwave in 1975 in Germany with his brother, Johnnie Wilder Jr., who was serving in the Army. The duo subsequently enlisted songwriter/keyboardist Rod Temperton, drummer Ernest "Bilbo" Berger, bassist Mario Mantese, and guitarists Eric Johns and Roy Carter.
In 1976 the group released their debut album, the platinum-plus Too Hot To Handle, which peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard 200. The album spawned the hits "Boogie Nights" (No. 2) and "Always And Forever," both of which attained platinum status. Heatwave's sophomore LP, Central Heating, hit No. 10 on the strength of the Top 20 hit "The Groove Line." The group's third album, 1980's Hot Property, was certified gold.
Moving into a new decade, Heatwave released 1980's Candles and 1982's Current. By then, the group had lost Mantese, Wilder Jr. and Temperton, who at that point was emerging as a go-to songwriter for the likes of Michael Jackson, George Benson and Michael McDonald, among others.
Keith Wilder revamped Heatwave for 1988's The Fire, and kept the band alive as a touring entity into the '90s. While Wilder continued to tour in recent years, he was forced to retire from the road after suffering a stroke in 2015.
Wilder scored two nominations with Heatwave at the 20th GRAMMY Awards: Best Arrangement For Voices for "All You Do Is Dial" and Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus for "Boogie Nights"
"Johnnie was a MONSTER singer whose harmony game is unmatched," said Questlove in an Instagram post. "No REAL singer worth their grain of salt NEVER denied his mastery."