Boyz II Men joins Tell Me More guest host Tony Cox for a performance chat at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Boyz II Men joins Tell Me More guest host Tony Cox for a performance chat at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C. Amy Ta/NPR
Boyz II Men members Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman and former member Michael McCary began cementing themselves in R&B history in 1991. Their single "Motownphilly" became a hit and was followed by a series of other chart-topping songs. The group has earned four Grammy awards, performed around the world and sold tens of millions of albums.
Nathan Morris (left), Wanya Morris (center) and Shawn Stockman (right) are Boyz II Men.
Nathan Morris (left), Wanya Morris (center) and Shawn Stockman (right) are Boyz II Men. Amy Ta/NPR
Their latest album, Twenty, features 10 new songs and 10 past hits. It marks their two decades of entertaining a generation of loyal fans.
They join Tell Me More guest host Tony Cox to reflect on their careers and sing a few songs.
"We came up at a time where there was an R&B group pretty much on every street corner, and every record company had one," says Nathan Morris, "but now, it's dwindled down to solo artists, or the duets, or even bigger bands — where you have bands like The Roots that got seven or eight people — but the actual R&B group is a dinosaur."
Wanya Morris says the genre grew beyond what people were typically tuning into. "The R&B circuit still was there," he says. "It just had very little validity in a time when people were saying, 'I'm into having sex; I'm not into making love,' where Boyz II Men, R&B singers — that's all we sing about. ... And we have to take a backseat until it's time for people to want to make love again."
Their hit "I'll Make Love to You" was on the 1994 album II. They say the best thing they did for that album was record it away from their Philadelphia home, in a place without distractions: a studio called Granny's House in Nevada.
Losing A Member
"We kind of had our own personal meetings as a group to make sure that we all stayed focused on what the idea was. ... Unfortunately, throughout the project, we saw Mike [McCary] was slipping," says Nathan Morris. "He wasn't really focusing on the things that needed to be done. He'd show up late; he missed a couple of events. ... We were kind of put in the spot where we either had to shut it down or go, so we just went out there and tried to do it ourselves as a threesome. ... Mentally, we said to ourselves, 'Let's just prepare, just in case he does not come back.' "
McCary went on to pursue an individual career.
Growing From Boys To Men
Guest host Tony Cox points out that the group began singing as boys (in high school), but after 20 years, they have become men — so how about a name change, possibly "Men to Better Men"? With a laugh, Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris and Stockman unanimously reject the idea.
"The name 'Boyz II Men' simply means growth," Wanya Morris says. "We're always going to be striving to reach the perfection of being a man. ... And hopefully, with the blessing of God, we can reach that one day. But now, at this point, we got a lot of wisdom and everything to gain in order to even consider ourselves to be full-faceted men without those boyish qualities that keep us who we are."
He adds that maybe the boy quality he cannot relinquish is spending long hours watching cartoons: "I sit in a room all day, from probably the time I get there until the time I go to the show, to watch Cartoon Network in my undies, in my tank top. It's beautiful."
Nathan Morris says, "One of the reasons why the name is so strong for us is that our music tends to bridge generation gaps. ... We sill have 9-year-olds coming to concerts, singing 'End of the Road,' and they were never even here."