Boyz II Men may no longer dominate radio, sell albums by the millions or command attention as one of R&B’s most popular groups. 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 observed in a late-February phone interview. “We’re just excited to still be able to so what we love to do after 25 years.”
The group will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 13, at Bell Auditorium. Tickets are $35-$75 (a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Georgia chapter) from georgialinatix.com, (877) 428-4849 and James Brown Arena box office.
This second career began in 2004, after the vocal group had lost one of its members, bass vocalist Michael McCrary, and had taken a year-long hiatus.
In returning to music, Nathan Morris, Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris found that the music industry was getting turned upside down by downloading of songs and that Boyz II Men’s career was pretty close to being back at ground zero.
“It definitely wasn’t easy, not by any means,” Morris said, 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. They’ve moved on to other newer artists. And the fact that you’ve been off the scene for awhile, 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,’” he said.
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 Morris, Wanya Morris, Stockman and McCrary were students at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, the vocal group got signed by 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 influenced vocals, the album caught on big time. The singles Motownphilly and It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday topped the R&B chart and were top five pop hits, while the Cooleyhighharmony album 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 and topped Billboard magazine’s all-genre Hot 100 singles chart, holding that slot for a record-setting 13 straight weeks.
When the group’s sophomore album, II, arrived in 1994, it was an immediate smash. The single I’ll Make Love to You went straight to No. 1, and bested End of the Road by holding the top slot for 14 straight weeks. In all, II sold 12 million copies and won the 1995 Grammy Award for Best R&B Album.
Boyz II Men enjoyed one more triple-platinum album, 1997’s Evolution, before things dropped off considerably, as both 2000’s Nathan Michael Shawn Wayna and 2002’s Full Circle failed to reach platinum in sales.
Then came the departure of McCrary, who was said to be battling scoliosis, and the hiatus that extended until 2004.
The comeback was gradual and it went essentially from the ground up as Boyz II Men reinvented themselves as a trio.
Slowly, but surely, the size of the crowds and the venues the group played got larger, as Boyz II Men got back into recording and touring. A significant step came with the recording of three albums of cover songs. Throwback Vol. 1, released in 2004, featured Boyz II Men’s versions of R&B classics and sold 200,000 copies with little promotion.
Then after signing to Universal Records, the trio released Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA in 2007. The album reached No. 6 on the R&B chart in the states.
Then in 2009, Boyz II Men released Love, an album of covers of romantic songs from outside the R&B genre.
“Those records were actually key in our survival, because again, we were able to cover those (songs) and we were able to add those records to our repertoire,” Morris said. “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. This has not only given Boyz II Men a string of shows to anchor each touring year, but it has given tourists from around the world a chance to see the group perform, generating a new fan base along the way. Today, Boyz II Men are back playing theaters, casinos and even the occasional amphitheater.
The group has continued to record, as well. In 2011, Boyz II Men released the album Twenty, which included a dozen new songs and re-recorded versions of several of the group’s ’90s hits. The album, though, failed to connect commercially, and that helped spur Boyz II Men to make one of its boldest albums, Collide, which was released in 2014.
For that latest album, the trio worked with a variety of current songwriter/producers and recorded a dozen outside songs that range from ballads to R&B tunes and even some rockers – a collision of styles, as the album title suggests.
Morris said Boyz II Men made Collide simply because they liked the songs and their recent albums made them feel they could step beyond their signature sound.
Morris suspects that going forward, Boyz II Men will write and record new songs when they’re inspired to add certain types of music to their live show.
“Obviously, we have to incorporate the classic songs, the songs people pay to hear,” Morris said of the show. “Then we throw a little bit of new stuff in as well. And we also throw in some covers here and there. … And last year, 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.”