Boyz II Men and ‘Motownphilly’ back again
In the digital age, where most listeners purchase single songs online for $1.29, does it really make sense to re-record your hits and package them with new songs? If you’re Boyz II Men, it’s not just about trying to entice people to buy your entire album at the local retail outlet, says singer Nathan Morris.
“When you’re signed to a major record label, they sign you for a certain time and after it’s passed, you’re allowed to re-record songs,” he explains. “One of the reasons we thought it would be cool is that now we can re-record our songs and we can physically own the masters ourselves and we can license them to whoever we want to license them to versus Universal having all the power and control over our songs.”
Both the new songs and the newer versions of the hits on the group’s recently released “Twenty” are in keeping with the spirit of the originals that made them one of the most successful R&B groups ever. And yes, their new album is called “Twenty” because they’ve been together for two decades. Morris says this milestone anniversary was very much present in their minds when they went into the studio.
“It was cool, the fact that we were able to perform at all of these songs with the original producers is a good thing,” he says. “It wasn’t tedious at all. We perform these songs a lot on stage, and the fact that we did those songs 20 years ago, performing them now is different because now we have a whole different outlook on the songs.”
Is it true you really recorded the original version of “End of the Road” in four hours?
Yeah, we did that song pretty quick. We were on tour at the time, and we just ran into the studio and knocked it out and flew back out and had a show that night.
Did it take longer to re-record it?
No, it was actually pretty quick, probably the same amount of time.
Beyoncé samples your song “Uhhh Ahhh” in her new song, “Countdown.” You must have been pretty psyched about that.
Oh, without a doubt, Beyoncé is incredible. I was amazed at how she used it, personally.
In “Motownphilly,” there’s the line that everybody pretty much sings when you mention Boyz II Men to them, “ABC, BBD, the East Coast family.” ABC is the now-defunct kid group Another Bad Creation. Tell me what that’s like to namecheck a group who hasn’t existed for years.
It’s a staple in the song now and half the people don’t know who any of them are anyway.
Do you talk with any of the members of ABC now?
We ran into a few of them years ago down in Atlanta. That’s where they hang out. We worked with some of the guys years ago, but not recently, we haven’t worked with them.
Are they working?
They aren’t a group anymore, and have moved onto whatever they’re gonna do in their lives pretty much. They were so much younger.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a line in “Not Like You,” one of the new songs on “Twenty,” that alludes to Facebook photographs. I thought that was interesting to hear something so modern on an album that also includes ABC.
You try to write lyrics that express the space and time that you’re in. Sometimes you hear somebody, and they’ll be singing about putting the cassette in. There’s no more cassettes, but that was the time frame, this is the Facebook time frame, and years from now it’ll probably be different.
Did you ever hear the Ween song, “Freedom of 76”? It’s an homage to Philly and Gene Ween sings a line in there, “Boyz II Men still keepin’ up the beat…”
Oh really? I must have missed that.
Let’s talk about other Philly acts. You and the Roots and ?uestlove go way back.
Yeah, we actually shared the same homeroom in high school. We come from the same everything, he graduated with me.
He’s even in the “Motownphilly” video, right?
Yeah he’s in there playing drums.
I almost didn’t recognize him because he doesn’t have the trademark afro.
Yeah, he has the dreads. That was the early years.
Back to “End of the Road” for a moment, this is the third time you’ve recorded it, right? What changes from version to version?
The last time we did it we did it with Brian McKnight, and that was a whole different thing because we’ve obviously never done it with anyone else, and that one was done basically acappella, and we’ve never done it real acappella. That kinda had its own identity, but this one was more so, giving it our feeling of “End of the Road,” 20 years later.
Not to overstate the obvious, but it’s interesting because it’s not the end of the road at all. What do you think of acappella, that trend emerging with all these college kids?
I think it’s great. I wish that more was behind it. Obviously that TV show “Glee” helped it a lot. It sounds great and it’s wonderful, but I don’t know how many record companies believe in it, or that you can sell records with it.
Only a few of the songs that you guys recorded were straight up acappella.
Yeah, only a few. We used to sing acapella years ago because we didn’t have music. Almost everything you hear on the first album we did as acapella before we went into the studio to make the record
Was there ever a thought that you guys would do those songs acappella when you started?
No, because the record label wouldn’t have gone for that.