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Boyz II Men Admit ‘Twenty’ LP Is a ‘Feat,’ Speak on Drake, Beyonce

Sean Gardner, Getty Images

Boyz II Men are a hard trio to lock down. With consistent gigs onstage commanding audiences around the globe, Nathan Morris, Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris have to rearrange their schedules when the press comes calling. But that’s nothing they’re inconvenienced by, as the crooners have been working the music industry circuit for 20 years. Like any lauded group, they’ve experienced their fair share of trials and tribulations — the fourth BIIM member Michael McCary abandoning his position in the group among them. However turbulent their ride has been over the years, the remaining three have carried on with the name, upheld their legacy and continue to create R&B music that sits good in the soul.

In 1991, their debut album, ‘Cooleyhighharmony,’ hit the masses with jams like ‘Motownphilly’ and ‘It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.’ Twenty years later, Boyz II Men have crafted an aptly titled LP, ‘Twenty,’ which includes those two gems as well as seven other throwbacks and a brand new selection of songs, like the Babyface-produced track ‘One More Dance.’ They may have been out of the spotlight for some time but they’ve never been sitting idle. Read on as Nate gives the scoop on their storied past, how the trifecta bridges the gap between old fans and new and the story behind the R&B singers and rappers who wrote them off as finished. The end of the road isn’t the least bit close.

Did you have any struggles along the way while recording the album?

Obviously we do have difficulty narrowing down the songs that we actually record and picking which ones go on the record. I mean there are some that didn’t make the record and then there are some on the record that were at risk of not making it and were added last minute due to whatever circumstances. We had a little bit of time to record it — it took about six weeks to get everything together.

Describe your experience working on one of the songs you recorded with Babyface or Teddy Riley?

I mean the Babyface record, ‘One More Dance,’ that’s classic ‘Face. He had started on the hook, we had heard it the day before we got there and [we recorded it]. The next day we came back and he had the whole song done. And again, it was one of those songs when you hear it, you automatically know that that is the record. We had the same kinda feeling when we heard ‘End of the Road’ and ‘Songs for Mama.’ He tends to come up with those songs that connect the dots that you don’t really have to ask where it’s gonna go, you already know before you do it.

Have you started touring to promote songs off this new album yet?

Well, we actually — a lot of people of people don’t know — we haven’t been putting records out recently, but we do about 100 to 110 shows per year as far as concert tours. A lot of international touring as well. We’re not the type of group that needs a record out to tour because we’ve been doing it so long. Our fanbase is pretty strong that we’re able to tour without a record. We are in the process of setting something up with this ['Twenty'] album.

When you do go and perform, what one song, out of the classics that you have, do you feel always hits home with people whenever you sing it?

I mean it depends. Some nights it’s ‘End of the Road.’ Some nights it’s ‘Songs for Mama.’ Some nights it’s ‘I’ll Make Love to You,’ ‘Water Runs Dry.’ It really all depends what region of the world we’re in. You know ’cause music is so opinionated that people are drawn to it in different ways and different regions like different songs for different reasons.

I know this is an anniversary album. So why do you feel it was important to come out with a reissue of not only older tracks but newer tracks as well?

It’s been over nine years since we actually put out original material and our fans that we’ve been on tour seeing for the last five, six years have been asking us for original material. We wanted to make sure we came up with the right concept because there obviously is a generation difference between when we came out and where people are today. The reason why we put both records together was because we wanted to refresh the memory of the younger generation, who may have heard Boyz II Men songs and may not know who the group is, and we wanted to tie them in to the new record so they understood who the artist was and what the artist was about.

Do you see that your fans range widely in age these days?

Yeah, I mean for us it’s pretty broad. We’ve realized over the years that our music breaks barriers when it comes to age and gender. We grew up on Motown sounds, which obviously a lot of those artists weren’t around when we were born but our parents passed that music down to us because it was good music. So when we were 11, 12 years old, those Motown acts were 40, 45 years old. We’re kinda in the same state where a lot of kids will come to [our] concert that are 10 or 11 and they’ve heard ‘End of the Road’ or ‘I’ll Make Love to You’ and then you still have these 65-year-olds that know it. It’s been able to span, which is one of the reasons why we wanted to put both CDs in this way to pull all age ranges together.

There are so many artists out now, especially with the power of social networking making stars out of previously unknown entertainers. Are there artists out now that the three of you are fans of?

We listen to a lot of different artists. Some of the artists that are out today actually started with us. You know, Beyonce when she was in Destiny’s Child, they actually opened up for us on our first tour. You know were definitely a big fan of what she does, as well as people like Drake and Ne-Yo and Usher and Chris Brown, and people like that. They are some of the few that still hold the torch for what we call true R&B music. And then the others are kinda spread out all over the place.

Would you consider doing a new song with a rapper?

Yeah, we’d love to. Unfortunately we’ve been in situations where, obviously we haven’t had a record out, I guess you say, an original record, out in more than nine years. And we’re in an industry today where, you know, people feel like they want to be associated with who’s hot, and if you’re not on the charts then it doesn’t matter what you did 20 years ago. If you’re not hot today then they don’t want to associate with you. I don’t want to name any names but we definitely reached out to people to be a part of our album and a lot of people turned it down. I guess because either they thought it was over for us or they just didn’t feel like it was something they wanted to do. We reach out because we are creative guys and we like working with other creative artists. But we also realize that nine times out of 10 when we do duets, we’re never able to get that artist back to perform live. So it kinda helps us in a way that we don’t do a lot [of features], because we never really get those artists back [to perform live] anyway.

With ‘Twenty,’ what are you most proud of accomplishing as a group while making your return?

We were just excited to be in the studio again doing brand new material. It’s been awhile. We did a couple remake albums that were OK and did pretty well, but we were always wanting to do new material, we just didn’t have the right timing. And we just felt this 20th anniversary was the right time. We’re excited about it. Being in this [industry] for 20 years is a feat in itself and by the grace of God, we’ve been getting a lot of great feedback from the record as its been released. We’re just excited to see where it goes.

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