Boyz II Men: A Coming of Age Story

The five teenagers’ lives changed in 1987 following their performance at the Valentine’s Day show at their High School. Shawn, one of the group members, had been an unknown nerd up till the night of their performance. He said he got to school the next day, and many people who had never noticed him greeted him, “Hi Shawn!”

Boyz II Men in several photoshoots / Boyz II Men posing next to their star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

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Their discovery and journey to success was like a speed of light in a manually run and slow-paced world of entertainment. This was decades before social media. This is the story of Boyz II Men, the group that quickly shattered existing records—longest-running pop singles in history, and their group-shattering challenges as well.

Nathan Morris Wanted to Play Football as a Child

Believe it or not, Nathan was bullied for being the smallest classmate in elementary school. He later became a troublemaker. He started singing and playing trumpet in church as a child. He was noticed during a vocal class in fourth grade when he pointed out an error made by his teacher and corrected it by singing the song in the right key.

Nathan Morris wearing Gucci sunglasses.

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Morris’s favorite musician was Sam Cooke. He listened to him throughout his childhood. According to him, Sam’s music had a great influence on him. While he was advised to go to the High School for Creative and Performing Arts, he wasn’t excited about it. He wanted to play football.

Meet Wanya Morris

Growing up, Wanya didn’t have it easy. He was born in Philadelphia’s Northside and grew up in the projects. As a result of the hardships, he turned to drawing and singing, using these arts as a coping mechanism.

Wanya Morris holding his microphone out to the crowd.

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Wanya Morris is the group’s second tenor. He joined the group when he was at the High School for Creative and Performing Arts in Philadelphia. Wanya remains one of the three standing members of the Boyz II Men group to date.

A Group Formed out of Boredom

Nathan’s grades weren’t good enough to secure a High School for Creative and Performing Arts slot. But his mum and teacher found a way to get him an audition. Nathan got into the school and continued being a troublemaker. In no time, he became bored.

Boyz II Men huddled together and smiling at the camera.

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During a history class, Nathan started singing, and the teacher told him to be quiet. He paid no attention to the teacher and instead raised his voice as he sang. Marc Nelson, his classmate, who would also be a member of Boyz II Men, joined him in singing. They were both kicked out and hit it off from there.

The Days of Humble Beginnings

The group was initially formed in 1985, and it was called Unique Attraction. Nathan Morris, Marc Nelson, alongside George Baldi, Jon Shoats, and Marguerite Walker, were the group’s founding members. They were students of the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

Members of Boyz II Men sitting on the stairs at ABC’s studios.

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Wanya Morris joined the group in 1987. In 1988, upon graduation, George, Jon, and Walker left the group. Their absence was felt, but the group had to continue. Talented Shawn Stockman and Michael McCary later joined the group to create the most remarkable R&B group in history.

Shawn Stockman Pre-Boyz II Men

Stockman started with the Philadelphia Boys Choir & Chorale, getting to an early singing start when he was only eight. This was no doubt a major stage in his formative years, as he would admit.

Shawn Stockman at a radio station in Atlanta Georgia.

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A native of Southwest Philadelphia, Shawn went to school at the Philadelphia High School for Creative & Performing Arts. This was precisely providence leading as he met other members of the future Boyz II Men in the same school. The band recruited him after hearing him perform a solo in the school’s choir.

Michael McCary’s Remarkable Join Up Story

Nate, Marc, Wanya, and Shawn had already formed something of a group at this time and were simply rehearsing harmonies in a school bathroom one day. Then Michael McCary joined them in the harmonies, perfectly indicating that he was the completing piece to this previously thought to be a complete puzzle.

Michael McCary poses for a photo on a couch in Los Angeles, California.

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He went on to become the group’s new bass singer. Given that the entire squad was complete and permanent now, the group rehearsed in school corners, local hangouts, and of course, school bathrooms because of the excellent acoustics.

The Inception of ‘Unique Attraction’ in Philadelphia

Nathan Morris and Marc Nelson had been singing together at Philadelphia’s High School of the Creative and Performing Arts for some years. But they had trouble in creating a lasting group as members left the school upon graduation. When Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman, and Michael McCary joined the two boys, the group the needed balance.

Boyz II Men perform on stage.

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In 1987, the quintet performed under Unique Attraction at their school’s Valentine’s show. This was well-received and launched them into the world of performing collections of New Edition songs.

The Fast-Paced Big Break

In 1989, the group wanted to perform at a Bell Biv DeVoe concert. As they didn’t have the requirements, they snuck in backstage, interlocked harmonies, and performed an acapella version of “Can You Stand the Rain.” Michael Bivins, a member of the Bell Biv DeVoe, was impressed by their performance and offered them a deal on the spot.

Boyz II Men and Michael Bivins attend the 34th Annual Grammy Awards.

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Their talent was so apparent that during their self-orchestrated backstage audition, other performers like Will Smith and Paula Abdul stopped to give a listen. This, among other factors, was probably the push for the management deal that Bivins signed the Boyz to.

Making It Backstage to the Bell Div Devoe Concert

This one has confounded fans for a long time. How do you make it into a heavily secured 1989 concert holding at the Philadelphia Convention Center? It turns out that there’s a pretty simple explanation; a friend who knew a friend.

Boyz II Men attend the Ninth Annual MTV Video Music Awards.

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Nathan Morris says that he had a friend who was familiar with local DJs who had tickets. However, they didn’t come with backstage access. You would recall that impressing Michael Bivins and Bell Div Divoe happened backstage.

Putting a Step Forward for Glory

According to Nathan Morris, “Once we got into the venue, we were hanging around the backstage door, singing, and were able to get someone to give us a couple of passes. But at the time, we had five guys.” Here comes some ingenuity…

Boyz II Men at a studio in Munich, Germany.

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“We had to get two guys back there, and one would come out with the two passes. Then we were able to (admit) one guy, then one guy, then one guy — that’s how we did it.” It turns out that some great talent and a stroke of luck were the main ingredients here.

From ‘Unique Attraction’ to ‘Boyz II Men’

In addition to multiple music awards, the group nearly won the top spot for the ‘most corny band name.’ Up until the song ‘Boys to Men’ by New Edition played on the radio, they still answered to ‘Unique Attraction.’

Shawn Stockman and Nathan Morris at Liacouras Center in Philadelphia.

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In an interview with People, Shawn Stockman says that “Nate (Morris) and I were on the phone about changing our name because we thought the one we had sucked.” Then the song came on, and he recalls that he went, “Yo, that should be our name. I’m telling you, it sounds like a concept.”

Founding Member, Marc Nelson’s Exit

Marc, the American singer, and songwriter was the founding member of Unique Attraction. His mother, Phyllis Nelson, was also an American singer, best known for songs like “Move Closer” and “I Like You.” Marc led the Boyz II Men group in 1989 to sign the group to a major label and begin recording. There was a delay in getting the group on board with the deal.

Boyz II Men perform on stage in Las Vegas .

Source: YouTube

Some sources state that Nelson became impatient and left the group he started. He began recording a solo project and later on, he joined another group called “Az Yet.” In a recent interview, Marc said some circumstances made it difficult to continue with the group.

Life After the Grand Exit

In 1996, Nelson’s new group found success as their debut album, Az Yet, went platinum. A single on the album, “Last Night,” went number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Another single they released, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” became number 8 on the Chart.

Chocolate Mood’s album cover.

Source: YouTube

Nelson later left the group to pursue his career in songwriting. In 1999, he released “Chocolate Mood,” which featured “15 Minutes”, his biggest solo hit. This hit number 4 on the R&B charts and number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100. He worked with Beyoncé on the duet “After All is Said and Done” and the soundtrack to a motion picture, “The Best Man.”

History with the Motown Records

In 1991, the quartet recorded their debut album, “Cooleyhighharmony,” for the renowned Motown Records. The multi-platinum Long Play featured hits like the “New Jack Swing” and “End of the Road.” Motownphilly became the group’s first hit on the top five Pop Chart and number one in the R&B category.

Cooleyhighharmony’s album cover.

Source: Twitter

The quartet recorded an acapella ballad, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” a cover of a song from the film Cooley High. This song, like Motownphilly, was listed in the pop Top Five and topped the R&B chart. This Boyz II Men album won a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group.

Delving Into the Numbers

A mix of classic-sounding doo-woop influenced vocals, the new jack swing, and hip-hop was a recipe for instant success. The album raged like wildfire. “Cooleyhighharmony” went on to sell over 9 million copies, marking a significant success for the group.

Boyz II Men shooting a music video in London.

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The numbers kept ramping up so high that it was no surprise to hear a second album was in the works. Cruising on the present momentum seemed only the right move to make after all. The “Boomerang” track no doubt helped to keep the flame burning.

Crashing Waves of Success

By 1994, Boyz II Men released their sophomore album, “II,” which was a smashing success. In no time, the single “I’ll Make Love to You” jumped to number 1 on the chart, displacing “End of the Road” that had been there for 14 straight weeks.

Boyz II Men attends MTV's Fourth Annual Rock N' Jock B-Ball Jam.

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It was in turn displaced by another track from “II,” “On Bended Knee,” which rose to take the number 1 spot. This album sold more than 12 million copies and won the 1995 Grammy award for Best R&B Album.

Crushing it in the 90s

Boyz II Men led the R&B charts in the 90s. Alongside great artists like Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Jodeci, and SWV, Boyz II Men brought R&B to the world in style. In 1991, Boyz II Men released their debut album, “Cooleyhighharmony,” which featured Motownphilly” and the legendary “End of the Road.”

A still from the band’s music video for I’ll Make Love to You.

Source: YouTube

“I’ll Make Love to You” was released in 1994. The hit had all the elements to capture female fans all over the world. The lyrics specifically targeted a woman’s desires, and the music video lived up to expectations. Duane Martin was featured in the music video, which was a brilliant strategy to pass the message.

The “I’ll Make Love to You” Hit

The group thought “I’ll Make Love to You” sounded like “End of the Road,” so they were skeptical about including it on II’s official tracklist. They eventually did, and the single topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks straight. This made history as the first act to have consecutive double-digit runs on the chart while simultaneously breaking their previous record, “End of the Road.”

Photo of the group shooting a music video.

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End of the Road had topped the Hot 100 for 13 weeks straight. In 1992, “I’ll Make Love to You” was also recognized for tying for the most weeks at No. 1 with Whitney Houston’s single “I Will Always Love You.” The single earned the group a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

Saying Goodbye Even When It’s So Hard

“It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” was simply a cover of the original track from the film Cooley High. The track went gold and even topped the R&B chart, hitting the pop Top Five as well. However, tragedy lurked.

Road manager Khalil Rountree backstage at the Regal Theater in Chicago, Illinois.

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In 1992, Boyz II Men joined MC Hammer’s Too Legit to Quit Tour. However, tragedy struck when Khalil Roundtree, the tour manager, was shot and killed in Chicago. As a commemoration, the group rededicated “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” in his memory. The group saw him as a father figure; hence it was a loss that hit home.

From Soundtrack to Massive Hit

Despite the tragedy, Boyz II Men didn’t have a damper cast on their career. Instead, over the next couple of years, everything they touched turned to gold, and sometimes, platinum. In between concert gigs, a brief studio stop birthed the ballad “End of the Road.”

Eddie Murphy and Robin Givens in a scene from the film Boomerang.

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It was the soundtrack for Eddie Murphy’s film, Boomerang. Beyond being just a blockbuster, it became one of the biggest song hits in history. This further helped to set their status in stone as one of the biggest acts of the time.

Shattering Records Still

“End of the Road” took the top spot on the pop charts for an incredible 13 weeks. This run broke Elvis Presley’s record, one he held since 1956 with his double-sided single “Don’t Be Cruel”/ “Hound Dog.” This paved the way for a slew of awards.

Boyz II Men at the 35th Annual Grammy Awards.

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While working on their 1993 album, the group teased with a couple of placeholders, such as a cover of “In the Still of the Nite,” originally sung by the Five Satins and used in the TV movie “The Jacksons: An American Dream,” the holiday album “Christmas Interpretations” too.

The Grand Blockbuster “One Sweet Day”

“One Sweet Day,” released on November 14, 1995, was the group’s biggest hit. It was made alongside superstar Maria Carey as the second single from her fifth studio album, Daydream. It was a touching tune about separation and reunion, with Carey and Boyz II Men singing about specific people.

Mariah Carey with Boyz II Men backstage at the 2001 Radio Music Awards.

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The song was inspired by people who have AIDS, which was on the rampage at the time. It went on to receive critical acclaim, with many calling it a standout track on Daydream. The track spent 16 weeks at number one on Billboard Hot 100 chart, taking the spot for the longest-running number-one song in the chart’s history at the time. It went on to hold this record for 23 years.

Clashing with Motown Records

In 1995, the group signed a distribution deal with Sony in retaliation when Motown released a cash-in product called The Remix Collection. The group had raised objections against the move before it was made. This clash affected their next album, Evolution, in 1997.

Boyz II Men at the first Annual Blockbuster Entertainment Awards in 1995.

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While the single “A Song for Mama” earned Boyz II Men their seventh platinum, Motown didn’t do well with the promotion of the record. This made “Evolution” fall short of “II,” the album sold only two million copies.

A Downhill Journey Begins

Riding on the waves of unprecedented success and massive sales of music copies, the group was as happy as can be. Then came the downturn in events. The 1997 album “Evolution” was their last work to go triple platinum.

Boyz II Men raise their glasses in celebration.

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The 1997 alum, “Evolution,” went triple platinum and was their last album to achieve this feat. From here, the momentum dwindled, and they made a valiant effort to bring the buzz back.

Hitting a Snag on the Journey to Global Recognition

In 1997, Boyz II Men released their third studio album, Evolution. It was received with mixed reviews and sold only a total of three million copies, way in the shadow of II’s, which sold about 12 million copies. Only one of the singles on the album, “Four Seasons of Loneliness,” got to number one.

Boyz II Men attend a press conference.

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The second single off of the album, “A Song for Mama,” got into the top 10 list; however, the track following “Can’t Let Her Go” grossly underperformed. To promote Evolution and improve album sales, the group began a global tour in 1997. Ticket sales were on the upswing, but there were lots of internal problems.

Taking a Break from Global Tours

Health issues stole into the group like a thief. A benign polyp was discovered on Wanya Morris’s vocal cords. This forced the group to postpone all tours to a later date. In addition, McCary’s multiple sclerosis was preventing him from partaking in the group’s dance routines.

Wanya Morris wearing a pink hat.

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Amidst these health challenges that the group faced, they were also brawling with their record label. Furthermore, there was some internal conflict within the group as well. All of this cast a shadow on what should have been a glorious end to the 20th century for the crooners.

A Hiatus, then a 180-degree Change

Following the exit of bass vocalist Michael McCrary, the group went on a year-long break. They returned to find that the turf wasn’t as they left it. At this time, members of the group left were Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris, and Shawn Stockman.

Michael McCary and Shawn Stockman at the Boyz II Men Hollywood Walk Of Fame ceremony.

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The music industry had entered the wave of songs being downloaded, so the group was pretty much back to ground zero. According to Morris, “it wasn’t easy, not by any means. You sell 60 million records worldwide, and then you take a long break, and you come back, and the industry has changed. They’ve moved on to other newer artists. And the fact that you’ve been off the scene for a while, you have to kind of start over again. It was a little rough.”

Starting from Scratch Again

The group had to learn anew, start afresh, find a way to get through the stormy waters that faced them. They had to learn new things and change their strategies. Also, records weren’t sold like before, which affected them greatly. They referred to this stage as a second career.

Boyz II Men attend People Magazine's 25th Anniversary Celebration.

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For the first time in a while, they didn’t know how to navigate the industry they used to lead. The group’s strategy tilted towards embracing more live performances. This was the only way they could keep their money. The three-membered group had to relearn methods and strategies to stay relevant.

Game-Changing 21st Century

In 2000, the group released “Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya,” which went gold. The group subsequently signed with Arista Records. “Full Circle” was released in 2002, after which Michael McCary left the group in 2003. “Throwback” was released in 2004, which was dedicated to covers of their favorite songs. Then, “The Remedy” hit the spotlight in 2006.

Boyz II Men posing for a photo at their album release party in New York City.

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In 2007, “The tribute album Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA” was released, which featured production from American Idol judge Randy Jackson alongside an acappella version of the legendary “End of the Road.” In 2009, “Love,” their third all-covers album, was released.

What Happened to the Fourth Member of Boyz II Men?

Upon achieving incredible feats together, bass singer Michael McCary left the group in 2003. According to the group members, McCary was not as committed to work. On days he showed up, he was late. The group had two options; end their journey or continue without him.

Michael McCary at the Boyz II Men Hollywood Walk Of Fame ceremony.

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The group continued without him to achieve more remarkable feats. He later disclosed in an interview that he had multiple sclerosis. The group didn’t replace Michael, and to this day, the truth behind the breakup is unknown. Michael continued on another path.

Understanding the Flow and Staying Original

With full support from many independent and major labels, the group kept touring frequently and recorded songs. Boyz II Men celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2011 by releasing “Twenty,” which is composed of new songs and re-recordings.

Boys II Men perform at Flamingo Hotel and Casino on January 5, 2011 in Las Vegas.

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“Collide” was released in 2014. This time, the album was made up of various sets of originals written by collaborators. In 2017, “Under the Streetlight” was released, which featured Brian McKnight and Take 6 (a veteran vocal group.)

The 20th Anniversary In Its Entirety

To celebrate their 20th anniversary in grand style, Boyz II Men headlined a cruise tagged “Love Cruise” to highlight Valentine’s Day too. The cruise traveled from Miami, Florida, to Nassau, Bahamas, from February 11-14, 2011. As expected, passengers enjoyed a concert performance by Boyz II Men as well as a cocktail party.

Boyz II Men perform at the 2011 Essence Music Festival.

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There was also a fan appreciation concert, a deck party with Boyz II Men, a photo session in small groups, a formal prom night, and other exciting events. The highlight of the cruise for married couples would be for those who renewed their wedding vows in a special ceremony with the group in attendance.

A Hope for Reconciliation?

Boyz II Men initially announced that there would be a reunion with original member Michael McCary for the Twenty album at a concert in Virginia Beach on September 6, 2009. The album was being made to commemorate their 20th anniversary together.

Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman, and Nathan Morris attend the 51st Annual Grammy Awards Gift Lounge.

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More than anything, we all love a story that comes together in the end. However, it was not to be in this case. Soon after the announcement, McCary opted out of the deal and wasn’t a part of the anniversary album.

Wanya Morris and his Dance with the Stars

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a great deal of fun while showing the world your talent. Wanya Morris understood just this when he announced on March 8, 2016, that he was one of the celebrities competing on season 2 of Dancing with the Stars.

Wanya Morris dancing with Lindsay Arnold.

Source: Twitter

Together with his partner, Lindsay Arnold, they danced and charmed their way into the show’s semifinals. However, they were eliminated at this stage, finishing fourth place instead. However, their mark was felt because they practically had the highest accumulative average at the point where they were eliminated.

What Does Wanya Morris Do These Days?

Wanya has also been featured on a number of TV Series which include; Blackish, Schooled, The Jellies, Hollywood Darlings, and How I Met Your Mother, among others. He still goes on tours with Shawn Stockman and Nathan Morris. Nathan and Wanya are in no way related despite having the same last name.

Wanya Morris rehearses for a show in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Wanya is still very much involved with the group but has since settled into the bliss of marital life. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Traci Nash, and the six kids they have been blessed with.

Nate Morris in Semi-Retirement

While speaking on their legacy, Nate Morris says that he believes that “people don’t have the patience for longevity anymore” in relation to the music industry. According to him, “People sit for a minute and a half, and they got to find something else to do because they are bored.”

Nathan Morris performs onstage during the Soul Train Music Awards.

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Morris now works flipping houses. He says that he’s always been into home construction and interior designing. On when next to expect an album, Morris says that one might pop out to commemorate their 30th or 40th anniversary.

Shawn Stockman Minus Boyz II Men

While Stockman went on more adventures, collaborating with others, the group remained his primary creative outlet. By February 1996, he’d already made his solo debut, “Visions of the Sunset.” He released it as a single, and then it was used in “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” The ballad went on to reach number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Shawn Stockman smiling on the red carpet in 2019.

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In 2018, Stockman released his first solo album, “Shawn,” previewed with the single “Feelin Lil Som’n,” written by Tim Kelley. Alongside his music career, he is a full-fledged member of the group Black Men United and served as a judge on The Sing-Off. He is presently married to Sharonda Jones and have three kids together.

Impacting the World; One Track at a Time

Boyz II Men is no doubt one of the biggest headlines in R&B and in acapella. They were at the forefront of the movement restoring R&B to the mainstream scene that it occupied in the 1970s. Their primary tool in this journey is what is known as their “crossover appeal.”

Boyz II Men posing for a photoshoot in LA in 1997.

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In all truth, mixing beats with R&B wasn’t a new one. However, the group’s incredible success drawing the attention of mainstream listeners in “putting harmony over hip-hop tracks” helped to bring about the near-absolute dominance of the R&B genre on pop charts of the 2000s and 2010s.

Why Boyz II Men are the Most Successful R&B Group of all Time

Over a 30-year career, the group has won 4 Grammy Awards, nine American Music Awards, nine Soul Train Awards, 3 Billboard Awards, and a 2011 MOBO Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music.

Boyz II Men posing on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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The first episode of the Netflix TV series, This is Pop, tagged “The Boyz II Men Effect,” featured the group because of their impact in the 1990s. In addition, on January 5, 2012, the group was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.