II by Boyz II Men seems like an album that should’ve flown completely under my radar, especially considering I was around five when it came out. And yet I can think of three different childhood memories that were directly related to this album. The first involves a sketch from ‘90s Nickelodeon series All That, in which a young Kenan Thompson argues with another Boyz II Men fan that II was the band’s debut (which of course it wasn’t). The other memory also came from ‘90s sketch comedy, as I remember a certain SNL TV Funhouse sketch in which the X-Presidents all performed their own rendition of “I’ll Make Love To You”.
Then my most personal connection to this album was that my mom owned it on cassette tape. Now, I don’t think my mom was actually into Boyz II Men, but I think she saw it at a garage sale and since we had just bought a new van that had a tape deck in the stereo, I think she figured “Ah, why not?”. Which is really strange to think that there was a not-so-distant time where being able to listen to an album in your own car was still such a novelty that people would be willing to listen to something that they were kind of indifferent towards. Or maybe my mom just thought this’d be the kind of thing my sister and I would enjoy. Either way, I don’t have any recollection of actually listening to it, so how about we make up for lost time?
Artist: Boyz II Men
Release Date: August 30, 1994
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 12 Million
Why Was This Popular?
Because America Loves Music That They Can Steal From Black People At A Later Date
It’s no secret that since the advent of popular music, white people have been taking music popularized by black musicians, and then watering it down for mass consumption. Still, it’s a little disheartening to see that it’s still been happening so recently. Because when you look at the multi-platinum formula established by Boyz II Men, I can’t help but think that the teeny-bopping boy bands of a few years later took that formula and ran with it to the bank. Now, obviously there had been white groups like New Kids On The Block and Color Me Badd that had come along even before Boyz II Men. But I think Boyz II Men effectively showed how in a post-hip-hop world, a group of young men could come up with a sound that was simultaneously soulful and light as a feather.
Granted, it’s not like Boyz II Men were some obscure group that ‘NSYNC stole from. This after all was a pretty huge album, and caught Boyz II Men in a such a potent burst of mass popularity that they became the first artists since The Beatles to have one of their number 1 singles replace another of their own songs on the top of the charts, with “I’ll Make Love To You” and “On Bended Knee” respectively. So as you can see, even though people tend to regard the ‘90s as a decade in which hip-hop ruled the music landscape, as Boyz II Men (and all the other successful artists that came under the wing of mega-producer Babyface) proved – R&B was as big as ever.
Also, another thing that II had going for it that none of it’s whiter imitators had, is that it was unmistakable baby-makin’ music. Much like the 70s had Al Green and Barry White, and the 80s had Prince and Rick James, the ‘90s had Boyz II Men for those funky young couples that were just tryin’ to get down. Granted, Boyz II Men were a little bit cuddlier and pop-oriented than the artists I just mentioned, but thanks to the sensual sounds of the album’s two big singles (the aforementioned “I’ll Make Love To You” and “On Bended Knee”), I’m gonna assume II got quite a bit of play in mid-90s bedrooms.
Did It Deserve To Be Popular?
As I continue to make my way through this series, it appears I’ll be getting into a lot of the pop music of the late 90s, and I’m guessing I’ll be having a similar reaction to those albums as I did with this one. And it’s not a particularly strong reaction, since I think this brand of pop music was made specifically so it wouldn’t offend people. So accordingly, my reaction is that this is kinda fun and somewhat soulful, but not nearly daring or edgy enough to actually get me excited about it.
Still, I think Boyz II Men’s sound was fairly distinctive, and very much of it’s time, as they come off as a more hip-hopped up version of The Temptations. But instead of an R&B band backing them up, more often than not the songs are built around fairly sparse beats with the soaring harmonies of Boyz II Men glopped on top. It’s fair to say that some of the production sounds a bit dated (just listen to that dumb-sounding horn-synth intro on “I’ll Make Love To You”), yet I’d still say the “all harmonies all the time” approach of the Boyz is still pretty appealing, and the songs are catchy enough I suppose.
Would I Pay Money For This?
Perhaps if I found myself at one of those 90s throwback parties, where everyone’s colorfully dressed like The Fresh Prince or the girls of TLC. And at said party I managed to hook up with some fine young lady and we managed to make it back to my place, and to keep the ‘90s nostalgia thing going I’d put II on the stereo before we’d–
Yeah, none of that would happen for a number of reasons, so I’m just gonna say I probably wouldn’t pay money for this.
Oh, and I just remembered one more childhood memory I have of this album! When I was in elementary school music class, our music teacher played us the closing track on II — Boyz II Men’s harmony-crazed cover of “Yesterday”. I think she played this in the hopes of getting us to be more receptive to The Beatles’ version, which she then played right after. And as far as I can remember, this was the first time I’d ever listened to an entire Beatles song. So yeah, I guess I hadn’t realized until now what a weirdly profound presence this album had in my childhood.
Next Time On The People’s Albums: In regards to finishing the People’s Albums, we’re still not half way there. But we’ll be livin’ on a prayer when I see if Slippery When Wet gives Bon Jovi a bad name.