C.M.B. was released on July 23, 1991 by Giant Records. With their debut album, Color Me Badd landed on the musical radar in the midst of New Jack Swing’s dominance on urban and popular culture. During this juncture, there were an abundance of New Jack Swing artists leaving an indelible imprint on the hearts and minds of youths and adults alike.
For Color Me Badd, the door of opportunity presented itself in the form of the New Jack City movie soundtrack. Color Me Badd seized the opportunity and they were rewarded for their efforts. Due to the overwhelmingly successful record, “I Wanna Sex You Up,” Giant Records signed the group to a record deal and gave them only a month to record their debut album.
Color Me Badd became the first R&B act signed by Cassandra Mills, who was President of the record company’s urban division. The group delivered on their promise with their debut offering and they reached an extraordinary level of success worldwide.
Aesthetically, the group’s makeup made them stand out from their contemporaries, but soon their talent would land them distinguished company. Their mixture of R&B, Pop and New Jack Swing pushed the envelope and this explosive combination would yield fruitful earnings. Each of the 12 songs on the album highlighted the four part harmonies of lead singer Bryan Abrams, Mark Calderon, Sam Watters and Kevin “KT” Thornton. It would also showcase the production talents of up and coming producers Elliot “Dr. Freeze” Straite, Hamza Lee, Royal and Tarik Bayyan, Nick Mundy and the legendary Howard “Howie Tee” Thompson.
The concept for the group was formulated by Bryan Abrams and Mark Calderon when they were in their hometown, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma attending Northwest Classen High School. They were originally a trio, but upon hearing the group perform at a talent show, Sam Watters asked to become part of the group. Their group name was Take One, but to avoid confusion with the incomparable gospel group, Take 6, they changed their name to Color Me Badd.
The name Color Me Badd represented overcoming racial and musical labels. The group began to perform in front of hotels for popular groups who would come to their hometown. They eventually gained the attention of Jon Bon Jovi who allowed the group to open for his group’s concert in front of 15,000 people in 1988.
Shortly thereafter, the group would catch the attention of Robert “Kool” Bell from the group Kool & The Gang. Bell placed the young group under the supervision of his management team, Myles Sanders and Linda Phillip. It would be here where they would change the name of their group. After receiving a co-sign from Teddy Riley and the success of their single, “I Wanna Sex You Up,” Giant Records signed the quartet to its label to become their first R&B collective. Within the same year, the group would release their debut album and their lives would change forever.
Between the months of September 1989-May 1991, C.M.B. was recorded at various studios in New York, New York, Los Angeles, California and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
SoulCulture recently sat down with group member Sam Watters to discuss how the album was cultivated to become a triumph for the group.
Watters recalls how the group was discovered and the struggles they endured.
“We used to sing acapella for groups that used to come into town on their tours and that wasn’t easy,” says Watters. “We used to get Bryan’s mom to go with us and she would drive behind these tour buses and as soon as the buses stopped at the hotel we would hop out of the car and start singing for these groups. We did this for Huey Lewis & The News, Sheila E., The O’Jays, Tony Toni Tone! and so many acts. We were trying hard to get our big break. During that time, it was hard because there were limited opportunities in Oklahoma City. There were some crooked managers there that would book us in local clubs, but we had higher aspirations.
“The one group we broke through with was Kool & The Gang. They ended up introducing us to their tour manager, which was their cousin who was named Bill Bayyan. Two years later, Bill along with his partner Myles moved us up to New York. We lived in this one bedroom apartment with Myles and his girlfriend.
“We were really struggling at that time. We would always say we were the boy band with the rock group story. We moved in with our manager and we were all sleeping on the floor every night. We didn’t have a lot to eat and we would exercise daily. Our lead singer, Bryan was 350 pounds when we were in high school and when we came out as a group he was 190 pounds. We didn’t realize he would be the best looking guy out of our group [laughing]. We were learning how to dance every night at the dance studio and I think it was good for us because it distracted us from forgetting how much we didn’t eat during the day. We were really hungry to be successful.
“We found out later that one of the managers who we were living with had a severe drug problem. He would just disappear and we felt like we were out there alone. He was the manager we were really dependent on because our other manager was Kool & The Gang’s tour manager and he was on tour with the group. We put our worry, frustration and dedication into our records. We knew this would be our way out. If we didn’t make it, we would have to go back to Oklahoma and that’s something we didn’t want to do.”
Watters remembers how difficult it was finding the group’s overall sound until a chance meeting with Teddy Riley.
“The songs we were doing with Royal Bayyan weren’t turning out all that great,” says Watters. “We didn’t like them at all and we were very frustrated. At one point, we went back to Oklahoma City and started working with the guy we used to do talent shows with named Hamza Lee. His tracks were a lot better than the guys we were working with in New York. We wrote a lot of songs with Hamza and then we went back to New York. By that time, Royal had set up a meeting with Teddy Riley.
“Once we were in the meeting, Royal started playing tracks that we had worked on with him for Teddy. He told us he thought we could be stars, but he didn’t like the songs. So we had brought our cassette tape demo of the songs we worked on with Hamza Lee to the meeting and that didn’t go over so well, but we ended up playing this song “I Adore Mi Amor” and Teddy said to us, “Now that’s a hit record.” He asked Royal, “Did you write that Royal?” and Royal responded, ‘Nope that wasn’t me, the guys wrote that.’ Teddy told him, ‘You need to let these guys write their own stuff.’
“We ended up not signing with Teddy, but he opened the door for us to write our own material for the first album. Teddy Riley had a direct influence on our first album because all three of the songs that were hits off of the album were songs we co-wrote.”
Watters speaks on the creativity that existed between each of the group members in the making of the album.
“It was definitely the whole group being in charge of the harmonies for the album,” says Watters. “A lot of times it would be Bryan and I arguing [laughing]. When I first got into the group, Bryan was doing most of the musical arrangements.
“He was such a brilliant singer back then and he was a naturally musical guy. As we started going, my musicality just started to kick in and I really started to get into it. We started learning all of these old doo wop songs and I began learning the harmonies from Bryan. I think we worked very well together. The other two guys were also very instrumental in putting together our songs.
“We argued with each other, but we were also patient with one another and I think that’s what brought us our success. For our first album, we didn’t work with any legendary R&B producers like Babyface or Jam and Lewis. We were working with producers who were just starting out in the game and I think that was another thing that benefited us as well.”
Watters tells the story of how the song “I Wanna Sex You Up” came together for the New Jack City movie soundtrack.
“Things really started to click for us as a group once we began working on “I Wanna Sex You Up,” says Watters. “The record company wanted to put us on the New Jack City movie soundtrack. They sent two guys to work with us in our hometown even though we were living in New York City at that time. One of the guys they wanted us to meet with was Stanley Brown. He had this song called “Dreamin’” that eventually got cut by Christopher Williams. This was a song that Cassandra Mills wanted us to record. She was instrumental in signing us to Giant Records and leading our careers.
“Stanley Brown came in and played us the song. Bryan and KT liked the song, but Mark and I didn’t like it so much. There was this other guy who was sitting on the sofa listening to everything we were saying and he wasn’t saying a word. I remember Mark asking him who he was and he responded, “I’m Dr. Freeze.” And we went crazy because we were a fan of his previous work with Boyz II Men, BBD and many others. Then he played us his track for the song “I Wanna Sex You Up.” “I Wanna Sex You Up” was actually the title of the track before we wrote the song. It was like a gift to us. I started flipping out when I heard it because it was perfect for what we were trying to do. The crazy thing about it is that two of the guys in the group hated the song.
“No one loved the song after we recorded it and it was strictly for one of the scenes in the movie. There were no plans for it to become a single. I think the record company was a little bit upset with us because we didn’t cut the song “Dreamin’.” They ended up giving the song to Christopher Williams and it was a #1 R&B and Pop hit for him. Radio stations began playing our song off of the album and to be honest I think the title of the song is what caught everyone’s attention at first. I remember the song went to #1 on KISS radio station in New York for 13 weeks. When that happens, obviously, everyone else starts to pay attention. The song really took off from there. Due to the success from the song, we found our sound and the direction we should take moving forward. We found out that track wasn’t originally done by Dr. Freeze and Spyderman, but the original track was done by a guy named Howie Tee.”
“I Wanna Sex You Up” went on to peak at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, #1 on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart and #1 on the UK Singles Chart. It helped to propel the sales of the New Jack City movie soundtrack and “C.M.B.” after their respective releases. This single rose to the top of the charts and set the tone for the album’s success.
The next song to be released from the album would be the infectious ballad, “I Adore Mi Amor.”
Watters recollects why it was chosen instead of “All For Love” for the second single and how the song became a hit.
“The first song we wrote together was “I Adore Mi Amor,” says Watters. “Right before we wrote “I Adore Mi Amor.” We attended the ASCAP R&B Awards with Ronald Bell from Kool & The Gang. We found ourselves standing next to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Terry Lewis noticed that one of the guys in our group was Mexican. He told us, “Your group is like the United Nations. You guys have every race of people in your group.” We all just started laughing. But he said that we should record a Spanish version of the song. We sort of laughed it off at first, but then it was a great idea. So we recorded an English and Spanish version of the song for the album.
“I remember how hard the record company was pushing to get that next single out after “I Wanna Sex You Up.” They wanted to release “I Adore Mi Amor” and I wanted us to release “All For Love.” They ended up releasing “I Adore Mi Amor” and I thought they were making a huge mistake. It turns out they were right. The song went straight to #1 on both the Pop and R&B charts.”
“I Adore Mi Amor” peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, #1 on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart and #44 on the UK Singles Chart.
The next song to be released from the album would be the pop heavy tune, “All For Love.”
Watters discusses how the song defeated the reign of a Pop icon on the charts.
“I don’t remember where all of the guys were at the time, but our manager Myles took me over to Howie Tee’s place in Brooklyn to record the song “All For Love,” says Watters. “Once I got to his place, he played the track for me and I immediately had an idea for the song. He let me take the cassette tape to the studio to let the guys listen to it and that night we wrote the song in the studio. He came to studio and we recorded the song right there. Hamza came into the studio to add a few more musical parts in the song to make it complete. The track was pure Howie Tee especially when you listen to how the drums bounce on that track.
“This song knocked Michael Jackson’s song “Black or White” out of the #1 spot. I think this song may have hurt us in the long run though because it was purely Pop and R&B didn’t even want to touch the song.”
“All For Love” went on to peak at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, #3 on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart and #5 on the UK Singles Chart.
The final two singles to be released from the album were “Thinkin’ Back” and “Slow Motion.” Watters harkens back to how both of the songs were constructed.
“Thinkin’ Back” was written by Troy Taylor from Philadelphia,” says Watters. “This was one of the earlier songs that were written and recorded. It was at a time where the record company was flirting with the idea of making Bryan a solo artist. This was the one time when they put Bryan out there as a solo artist and that didn’t sit well with the rest of us. To Bryan’s credit, he didn’t want to do anything without us. But this particular song he and Troy recorded it together. The track was pretty cool and Bryan killed it vocally, but we brought in Hamza and he changed up some of the chords and we re-wrote the lyrics a little bit. It became much better and to Troy’s credit he went ahead and signed off on it.”
“Slow Motion” is a song we wrote with Howie Tee. We had this special chemistry with Howie Tee. We used to just love the tracks he would give to us. They were raw and Hip Hop and it was exactly what we wanted. They all had good melodies and it made them easy to write to as a group. Howie Tee was super important to our success as a group.”
“Thinkin’ Back” soared to #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and #1 on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart. “Slow Motion” went on to peak at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and #10 on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart.
Watters gives an inside glimpse of how the rest of the songs on the album were produced.
“Heartbreaker” was primarily written by Bryan, Royal and Tarik,” says Watters. “Tarik came up with the rap that Bryan was doing on the song and it’s just a terrible rap to be honest [laughing]. Howie Tee produced that track also. The rest of us wrote parts on the song as well, but it was mostly Bryan, Royal and Tarik.”
“Groove My Mind” was written by Royal. I love the harmonies on that song and it sounded really good. Royal was a really brilliant guy, but this is one of the songs where I think he didn’t match the sound we were trying to go for in regards to the rest of the album.”
“Roll The Dice” was a song produced and written by Nick Mundy. This was the first time we went to Los Angeles to record. They put us up in one of the most expensive hotels and we had a fully stocked bar and refrigerator. When you go from being totally broke for a couple of years to having that, it was great. It was a really good experience working with Nick Mundy. From what I remember, he was a hell of a singer and it was challenge for us as a group to sing the parts in the song as good as Nick did on the original demo version.”
C.M.B. peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart in midsummer of 1991 and it remained on the charts for an unprecedented seventy seven consecutive weeks. Having gone on to sell more than 6 million albums worldwide, Color Me Badd became one of the highest selling New Jack Swing artists during the zenith of the genre’s popularity. To this day, C.M.B. is regarded as the one of the greatest albums from the early 1990s and continues to be the highest selling album of the group’s career.
Earning a plethora of Grammy, Billboard, American Music Award and Soul Train Music Award nominations and wins, Color Me Badd garnered a cult following with this album and their place in music history can’t be denied. C.M.B. holds its own among other classic albums from any genre, thus proving it will continue to be a favorite among music aficionados.
Watters expresses his feelings on the album twenty years later.
“The album came together super fast and that time is still just a blur to me,” says Watters. “It almost never happens where a brand new group gets the opportunity to write songs on their debut album. We weren’t on anyone’s radar until “I Wanna Sex You Up” came out. I don’t want to take credit from the other writers on the album because they were integral to our success as a group.
“When I listen to the album now, it definitely sounds rough around the edges and amateur. There are a lot of holes in the lyrics. For example, in “I Wanna Sex You Up” one of the lyrics is: “Let’s do it until we both wake up.” What a horrible line that was. What does that even mean? There is also a lot of passion in the record and a sense of urgency. I think all of these factors combined to help create the magic for the album and it’s something I’m still very proud of.”