COVER STORY | Thirty years ago, Boyz II Men made their landmark debut with Cooleyhighharmony. The album churned out 6 singles that ran the gamut of dance, New Jack Swing and pure soul. Divided into two halves, Adagio and Allegro, the Philadelphia foursome embarked on a 10-track journey that would pave the way for the decade’s sweetest slow jams, inspire a legion of male R&B groups and position the young dreamers to become the most successful R&B male group of all time.
Nathan Morris, Michael McCary, Shawn Stockman, and Wanya Morris had only formed their quartet one year prior to their chance-of-a-lifetime impromptu audition with Michael Bivins in 1989. Finding themselves backstage at a New Edition concert, they seized the opportunity to share their classically trained voices and reach for their dreams. The meeting would be the impetus for Bivins, 1/5th of the influential 80’s black boy band, to launch his second chapter as a manager and as a legend-maker. Inspired by the name of New Edition’s coming of age single, Boyz II Men was born. Bivins landed the Boyz a deal with Motown Records in 1990. The Temptations of a new generation, the group brought doo-wop harmonies, lockstep choreography and the uniform style of their predecessors to fresh audiences that preferred their soul served with the edge of Hip-Hop and New Jack Swing.
To craft the sound of their hip-hop doo-wop fusion LP, Boyz II Men was placed in the care of Dallas Austin with contribution by duo Troy Taylor and Charles Farrar of The Characters. The first course was “Motownphilly” a youthful new jack intro that chronicled the quartets’s origin from Philadelphia’s High School For Creative Arts to recording deal, while showcasing their flexibility between sounds of past, present and future. The song was co-signed by Michael Bivins who makes a rap cameo to add his seal of approval on the rising stars and welcome them into the East Coast Family. The heart of the group resided in their in-house musicianship. Complementing their respective vocal ranges, each member was a lead vocalist, contributing writer and/or co-producer on the album, attaching them to the music for a deeper and more passionate delivery.
The group’s second single, “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye”, was all about the vocals. A solid up-tempo groove, “Sympin” remind us of the New Jack Swing beginnings where we met our new favorite foursome. Written and arranged by Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris and Michael Bivins, “Uhh Ahh” is an arresting composition that finds melody in moans of pleasure. The distinctive bass of Michael McCary seduces the ear and shows that these boys are indeed, entering manhood with all its desires.
Already a multi-platinum selling victory, the group raised the stakes after appearing on the motion picture soundtrack for romantic comedy Boomerang in 1992. “The End of the Road”, penned by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, skyrocketed and landed the group their first number one single on the Billboard Hot 100, spending 13 consecutive weeks atop the chart. Cooleyhighharmony was reissued in 1993 to include the international hit.
The originators of unabashed begging and crying in torrential rainstorms, the urban gentleman of Boyz II Men set a standard for what love should sound like, defining the decade of rhythm and blues from a male perspective. We hadn’t even scratched the surface of what the group would accomplish thereafter but we salute the album that started it all. Happy 30 years, Cooleyhighharmony.