II was released on August 30, 1994 by Motown Records. After selling over 9 million copies of their debut album, Cooleyhighharmony, Boyz II Men recorded the epic record, “End of the Road,” for the Boomerang movie soundtrack, which propelled their careers to the next level by setting records on the Pop and R&B charts.
They returned to the studio in 1993 to record a Christmas album, Christmas Interpretations with fellow R&B stalwart, Brian Mcknight to build on the success of their debut and appearance on the movie soundtrack.
All of these elements provided the group with a blueprint to achieve greater success. A year later, Boyz II Men would find themselves on the cusp of musical greatness once their second studio album would be released to the masses of music aficionados.
This album would see Boyz II Men taking it up a notch in terms of their overall musical production and vocal abilities. The 14 song offering contained the trademark melisma-style singing of Wanya Morris, the tenor harmonies of Shawn Stockman and Nathan Morris and the smooth, deep bass notes of Michael McCary. The album introduced a young, up and coming production duo named Tim & Bob, welcomed back the production talents of Dallas Austin and showcased the legendary production of Babyface and duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The inclusion of these greats musicians and vocalists became the springboard for the best selling album by an R&B group in the history of recorded music.
Boyz II Men formed as a group in 1988 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania while attending the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. They were originally a quartet and their group name was Unique Attraction. Co-founders Nathan Morris and Marc Nelson recruited Nathan’s brother, Wanya as well as Shawn Stockman and Micheal McCary to become part of the group. It wouldn’t be until a year later where they would begin their journey down the road of unparalleled success.
As the story goes, the group was able to get backstage at a Bell Biv DeVoe concert in 1989. They performed an a capella version of New Edition‘s hit record, “Can You Stand The Rain” for Michael Bivins. A year later, the group would be signed to a production deal by Bivins to his Biv Ten Records company, a subsidiary of Motown Records. Due to mounting frustrations, Marc Nelson left the group to pursue a solo career leaving the group as a quartet. Four years later, the quartet would establish themselves as the best R&B group on the planet.
Between the months of December 1993-May 1994 II was recorded at DARP Studios and Doppler Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, Babyface’s home studio in Los Angeles, California, and studios in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Reno, Nevada.
SoulCulture recently sat down with Bob Robinson, one half of the legendary production duo, Tim & Bob and co-writer for five of the songs on the album to gain a deeper perspective on how the iconic record came to fruition.
Robinson remembers how he and Tim Kelley first became acquainted with Boyz II Men.
“At the time, we had recently signed with Dallas Austin as producers,” says Robinson. “It’s how our careers as record producers started. One of the first projects Dallas had us to work on was with Another Bad Creation and while we worked with them we met Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men. We collaborated on a couple of songs for them and the chemistry was already there so it naturally flowed into us getting into the studio to work with Boyz II Men on their second album. That’s pretty much how it started.
“We weren’t going for this particular direction it literally was Tim and I flying up to Philly to get into the studio and we immediately started recording the song ’50 Candles.’ We started the song with Shawn Stockman because everyone else hadn’t gotten to the studio yet. We began messing around with ideas and then it would go from song to song and city to city. From Philly we went to Reno, Nevada to record then Florida to Atlanta to L.A to do more recording to get different vibes. For us, it was amazing because it was so early in our career to work with a group on that level. At that time, they were undoubtedly the biggest band in the world. It was just incredible.”
Robinson describes the direction they wanted to take the album in.
“We wanted to pick up where the last album left off,” says Robinson. “From a creative standpoint it wasn’t that hard because we were huge fans of Dallas. When we started on this project, Dallas was busy with other projects. We were picking up where Dallas left off with the “Motownphilly” record. We put our twist on the songs and we would sit down to discuss different concepts for songs. This is how the “50 Candles” song came about because Shawn thought it would be dope to do a ballad about the scene of the room when you’re with your girl and there’s 50 candles burning. We could talk about the candles burning and everything leading up to the moment. There was another record we did called “Vibin’” which talks about when you’re sitting around with your friends listening to music.
“We’ve always been huge Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis fans. We wanted to take our Midwest approach to music. In the same vein of those who came before us like Dallas Austin, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, LA & Babyface and Teddy Riley. All of those guys influenced us and we still look at them in awe. We wanted to take all of those influences and insert them with the music we grew up on, which was Top 40 music. We didn’t have R&B radio where we grew up in a small town called Peoria, Illinois. It was so valuable and still is valuable to us growing up with that type of music instilled in us. Pop radio is all we heard growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. All of these things come into play naturally to us to this day in terms of song structure, melody and those pop elements. We tried to take all of those things in with us when we were in the studio recording with them. It was such a fun project to be a part of because everyone was open to different things. I think that’s why it came out the way it did and it had the success it did.”
Robinson recalls how “I’ll Make Love To You” became the lead single for the album.
“When they recorded ‘I’ll Make Love To You’ by Babyface, everybody wanted something different to be the first single,” says Robinson. “All of us thought other songs would be stronger for the first single. Jheryl Busby said, ‘This isn’t up for discussion and I’m making the call right now.’ I’ll never forget it. It was the group, Dallas, the A&R guy Al Sparks and us all in a room in Atlanta. We all got into this heated argument over what the first single should be. Ironically, everyone was saying that “I’ll Make Love To You” wasn’t the strongest pick for the first single.
“Jheryl was like, ‘You know what, this is going to be the first single. Now roll up your sleeves and get to work.’ I remember it was so bad that we literally held hands and had prayer because by then everyone was exhausted and frustrated from the recording process. At the end of the day, we all wanted to win and needless to say Jheryl made the right decision. It set up the record perfectly. It took Boyz II Men to another level, it took our careers to another level and everyone else involved with the project as well. It was a very humbling experience for all of us.”
“I’ll Make Love To You” went on to land at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts for an astounding 14 straight weeks in 1994 setting the then record for a song holding the number one position. It also remained #1 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart and peaked at #5 on the UK Singles Chart.
Boyz II Men’s second single from the album was the classic “On Bended Knee” and Robinson tells the story of how the song ended up on the album due to the dominance of Tim & Bob’s production over the record.
“Looking from an executive standpoint they had said to say to themselves here are two new producers dominating the whole album,” says Robinson. “Can we trust this second album with two new producers doing 65% of the album for one of the biggest groups in the world? So Jheryl Busby, the president of the label, at the time, struggled with the decision. Boyz II Men wanted to keep nine of our songs that we did together. They sent the songs to Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Jheryl Busby asked them what they thought of the songs they were doing with Tim & Bob and they told them it sounded great and they didn’t need them. Jheryl told them that they needed their veteran sound so they went into the studio to record one of my favorite songs ever, ‘On Bended Knee’ with Jam & Lewis.”
“On Bended Knee” peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts, #2 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart, #20 on the UK Singles Chart and #1 on the UK R&B Chart and it generated more success for the group.
The next single to follow ‘On Bended Knee’ was the infectious up tempo track ‘Thank You.’ Robinson spoke on how the original version of the song didn’t end up on the final version of the album.
“We were there when Dallas recorded ‘Thank You’ at his studio with the guys,” says Robinson. “I remember coming in periodically and saying ‘Wow!’ I also remember when Dallas first did “Thank You” it sounded much different than the current album version. He had done this beat and it was unbelievable. It was the beat and them singing a capella, but they came back and did the drum sounds themselves with their voices, which sounded cool. But when Dallas did the song it was great. The vocals on there were crazy. It sounded like a Take 6 group thing, but on a hot, hot Dallas Austin track. I do remember Dallas being bummed when they didn’t keep the original version. It is a part of this business though.”
“Thank You” peaked at #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts, #17 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart, #26 on the UK Singles Chart.
The final single to be released from the album would be “Water Runs Dry.” It peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts, #4 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Chart and #24 on the UK Singles Chart.
Robinson recollects a phone call his writing partner received from Nathan Morris after the song’s recording.
“So Babyface did the song “Water Runs Dry” and I remember the night they recorded the song with him,” says Robinson. “They flew out to LA to record it. After they recorded it, Nate called Tim at like 6 in the morning and he was playing this song through the phone and he was half asleep. All he could remember is that it sounded like a Beatles record and it was incredible. Once I heard it I said, ‘Oh My God.'”
Robinson went on to provide insight on the tracks he and Tim Kelley produced for the rest of the album.
“We recorded “You Know” in Atlanta and it started the same way as the song “Vibin,’” says Robinson. “We had this up tempo track going and it came out of nowhere. I think Wanya and Nate started humming the melody to the hook and the song developed from there. We were paying homage to Dallas with this song. Dallas was the man during that two year period because he did the Boyz II Men, ABC and TLC albums and they were all hot at the same time. We thought this track would be Dallas’s interpretation of an up tempo song on them because Dallas didn’t work a lot on this album. He told us we had to vibe with them and it’s the reason why he signed us. So we went in there and Nate and Wanya started humming the hook and it the song evolved from there. It was a really fun record.”
Boyz II Men – “You Know”:
“On “Vibin’,” it was a mixture of everyone while we were in the studio,” says Robinson. “Tim and I were messing with a track and this song came from us collectively vibin’ in the studio in Atlanta. The night we did this song we told Tony Rich to come by and meet the guys because we wanted to get him on this record. He came by and we introduced him to the guys and they hit it off. This is how the song “Sit Away” got on the album. He played the record for them and they loved it and they recorded it a couple weeks later at LaCoco studios in Atlanta.
“We were literally at the studio vibin’. They wanted a track that was mid-tempo and had a more mellow feel to it. We were still trying to hone in on that trademark Tim & Bob sound, which is very melodic, nice hard drums. We were trying to come up with a sound along those lines. To get their type of vocal arrangements on an up tempo/mid-tempo track was a dream come true for us.”
Boyz II Men – “Vibin'”:
“There was this song called the “Khalil Interlude” because their manager was killed between their first and second album,” says Robinson. “We did this interlude and I remember we were just waiting to start the session one day and I was sitting at the piano. I was playing this song that they had sung background vocals to on a rap album. We were in Larabee Studios in L.A. waiting for the room to get set up. I was sitting down messing with the piano and Tim was in the other room with the engineer. I remember telling the guys how much I loved their vocals on that rap song they sung backgrounds on.
“I think Nate said they should do the song as an interlude for Khalil. They started singing that “Khalil
Interlude” and it happened on the spot. The next thing we turned on the mics in the live room and we were all standing around the piano and they recorded the song as it was. It was a really touching moment.”
“On “50 Candles,” Shawn initially sat down with us and Tim and I were messing with this track,” says Robinson. “Shawn immediately started humming some melodies and we were blown away. He’s still one of my favorite singers ever. Shawn was the catalyst on this song. Shawn came over and said he had idea for the concept and the hook. He started singing it to us and we began building up the track more. I don’t even know if Wanya and Nate came to the studio that night. Shawn went in the booth and we began recording the studio. The three of us got the arrangement together and we recorded a demo for it and it was all Shawn’s vocals.
“Over the next couple of days, the guys heard it and they loved it. We started this song in Philly, but we finished it in Reno, Nevada. It was amazing because at the time we finished that record we were in the mountains at this big house that had an amazing studio in it. While we were recording the vocals we were looking out at the snow caps and it’s one of most amazing sessions that we’ve ever had. It was unbelievable because we all stayed at this big house and there was this chef that stayed there. We were cutting the vocals and all of us had on our pajamas. It was the coolest thing to do that type of song, to be in that setting and to be that relaxed. It was like a big slumber party and we were making these amazing songs.
Boyz II Men – “50 Candles”:
“It was incredible to be up there recording these songs during the middle of winter. This was before ProTools and everything was done on tape machines. I remember when we were doing this song in Reno and a huge technical mistake happened, but it ended up creating this effect in the song toward end that made the song sound cooler.”
“On “Trying Times” we were sitting with Wanya at a piano in Atlanta and that’s how we came up with the initial concept of working things out in a relationship when trouble comes,” says Robinson. “I was on the piano playing the chord progression and Wanya said, ‘Keep on playing that.’ And while we were working on this song, Tim was in another room working on the track for “Vibin’.” I remember Tim coming out and saying we should try something different. We were in Doppler Studios in Atlanta and playing the piano in the hallway. It started from there. We wrote the song there and we went in the next room to record it. Wanya ended up doing the demo for this song.
Robinson mentions the process they went through in constructing each song.
Boyz II Men – “Trying Times”:
“Tim would be in one room doing something and then me and one of the guys would be sitting at the piano trying to coming up with the next song and vice-versa,” says Robinson. “I would also be in the booth laying something down on the track with my guitar and Tim would be at the drum machine doing the beat for “You Know” or one of the other up tempo songs.
“This has happened a lot. As far as Tim and I, sometimes it starts at the drum machine and we build from there. Sometimes it would start from the guitar and we both play a number of instruments. It just depends and we could get an idea from the piano as well. All of the songs from this album started from the piano or drum machine and one of the guys would be present humming something and we would start from there.”
The remaining songs on the album were “All Around the World” produced by the titanic duo Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, “Jezzebel” produced by another young, up and coming producing team, The Characters, Troy Taylor and Charles Farrar, a remake of the 1965 classic Beatles record “Yesterday” and “Falling” produced by a young Brian McKnight.
Boyz II Men recorded close to 20 songs with Tim & Bob for the album. Among those songs, the ones that stand out for Robinson were “Chair” “Never Gonna Give You Up” “Now That We’re Done” “Can I Touch You” and “Trying To Let You Go.” Two of those songs,“Now That We’re Done” and “Can I Touch You” ended up on 112‘s debut album.
II peaked at #1 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart in the late summer of 1994 and it found its way back to the top of the charts four different times between mid 1994 and early 1995. The album went on to sell more than 15 million units worldwide. The album landed at #13 on the Billboard End of Decade Album Chart in 1999 showing how potent quality R&B music can be when it’s done in stellar fashion.
To this day, it’s regarded as the one of the most enduring albums from the 1990s and remains the highest selling album of their career. Their contributions to this album landed them in eponymous company. It broke records at every turn and proved that their music could be felt by audiences of different colors and musical tastes. A Spanish language version of the album was released to capitalize on the impact it made internationally.
The album more than lived up to expectations from industry executives and Boyz II Men fans. It earned the group a plethora of Grammy, American Music Award and Soul Train Music Award wins. II set the standard for other mainstream R&B groups to aspire to for the remainder of the decade and beyond. It should go down in history as one of the best albums in any genre to ever be recorded by a group.
Robinson expresses how grateful he was to be a part of the album.
“The coolest thing about that project for us was having the chance to see one-on-one how incredibly talented they all were,” says Robinson. “I’m just glad we were able to experience it and see it firsthand. All of them are amazing in the studio. One of them could sing a song and it could sound like the whole group was there. They can do all the harmonies and all of the arrangements. They have to be one of the best groups to ever walk into a studio.”