Stockman of Boyz II Men Pt II: Chasing Hits
This is Part 2 of 360°Sound’s exclusive two-part interview with Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman. In the first part, Stockman talked about his new debut solo album, Foreword. In this part, Stockman reflects on BIIM’s biggest album, II, on its 26th anniversary. He talks about the music industry and how much it has changed since BIIM burst onto the scene in 1991 with their debut hit single “Motownphilly.”
360°: The II album is not only BIIM’s most successful album but one of the most successful albums of all time, going 12X platinum. What are your memories of that time?
It really was an awesome time. Everything still was very much brand new. There were still so many things we’ve yet to experience. Going into that record we were excited as all hell. We’d just came off of “End of the Road.” There was still a great energy out there for us, and we were ready to put out something else for people to listen to.
That whole experience, recording in Atlanta most of the time, we had an in-house studio that we stayed in in Nevada called Grandma’s House, I believe. We recorded a few songs there. The whole process of it was very in-house. There weren’t too many elements to it. We didn’t allow it. It was us and a couple of producers, and we sculpted this record together. That’s why II is one of my favorite albums, just because of the experience behind it.
Which of the many BIIM hits are the most fun for you to sing and are there some you get tired of?
I know this might sound a little cliché, but I love them all. I do get tired of singing them all. Just because you just get tired. You may not want to go on stage. You’d rather take a nap, play Call of Duty, or whatever. I will say that once we’re on stage that exhaustion goes away. The people give you that boost; it’s the fans.
When you hear people from the NBA, although they’re playing really hard, they miss that energy, they miss the fans, the roar of the crowd, that type of thing. It just gives that jump shot a whole new level of flare when you know you got people watching. It could be two minutes before the show and we’re complaining that we don’t wanna go out. But when you go out there and you hear the crowd, it all changes.
Nathan Morris told ABC News last year that he was more interested in recording covers and collaborations than another BIIM record. He was quoted as saying “this is not a climate for the type of music that we do.” Do you feel like due to shifting tastes, there’s not a market for more traditional vocal R&B?
It’s more daunting. It’s not as welcome as it used to be, and that’s what makes it a little less desirable to do. When it falls on deaf ears, and you know that people aren’t supporting it like they used to, and we come from that era where R&B is always heavily endorsed. And music ages quicker too. It kills me hearing some radio stations say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna throw this back.’ And the throwback was two years ago [laughs]. That just shows, unfortunately, how badly music ages now.
There’s a lot of songs that we’ll listen to 10 years down the road and say, ‘Oh my God, what were we thinking?’ Or, ‘Man, that didn’t age well.’ There are more one-hit wonders than there have ever been in the music industry. One-hit wonders used to be kind of an exclusive thing in the sense where, out of every decade, you might have 10 one-hit wonders. Now, it’s like 10 every year. That is how the scope of the music industry has changed. Yes, there’s semantics behind that because of how we now consume our music. It’s quicker. It’s faster. It’s almost like that tray in those Japanese restaurants where you see the sushi going down the conveyor belt, and you get to choose whatever you want. That’s the music business now. It’s all of this stuff that you decide to choose to eat and once you’re done you’re done.
In one respect, it’s good, especially if you hit a lick and you blow up and you got this one hit record that’s hot for the summer. But then it’s bad because it was just hot for that summer [laughs]. Those millions upon millions of streams that you might have gotten depleted almost instantly, so you gotta sell that Bentley, you gotta sell those jewels, and you gotta downgrade that house to an apartment. It’s less grooming and more consuming. It’s not about longevity anymore because the system that the music industry is running through doesn’t make its money off of longevity. It makes its money on the exact opposite.
When BIIM came up in the early ‘90s, a fusion of hip-hop and R&B known as new jack swing was huge. You still hear hip-hop mixed in with R&B. Over the last five years, trap has been big with R&B and pop. Do you have any interest in incorporating trap or other modern hip-hop sounds into your group?
We’re musicians, and I feel like we can do anything if done correctly and if done with the right timing and intention. If our intention in the studio is to go, ‘Hey man, we’re going to do this because we want to capture a sound. We want to sound hip and we want to sound like what’s poppin’ right now.’ It’s gonna come off that way. It’s gonna be corny, and it’s not gonna be good. But if we just so happen to be in the studio, catch a vibe for a record that we just organically love, and it just so happens to have a trap sound, OK, we’re gonna do it. Again, music is about intention. We can go in claiming we’re gonna walk in there and make a hit record all we want and it not happen. Or we can go into a studio and say, ‘Hey man, let’s just record.’ And come out with one of the baddest records we ever made, because the intention was right.
I don’t think anybody walks into a studio and says, ‘Hey, I’m about to make a hit record.’ If you do, it’s a level of ego that will eventually drain out. And it will drain the particular creator. Because if anybody walks in with that attitude, not understanding how rapidly life in the music industry changes, they’re gonna end up killing themselves in a cocaine-induced accident because they’re gonna be ripping their hair out, ‘Why doesn’t my sound work?’ Well, because you claimed that you were gonna walk in with some sort of hit record, and you got disappointed because people are telling you your shit don’t hit no more.
No one knows what a hit record is. I don’t care how successful somebody is as a producer. You might understand what sounds good. You might understand that this record feels good and it sounds great. There’s a lot of songs that I thought would have been hit records that weren’t, and there were a lot of songs that I didn’t think was a hit record at all and it was. You’re better off just making music instead of chasing hits, because it’ll drive a person crazy.