(R)edefine (&) (B)ecome
From the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 to the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, the 1990’s were a time of despair and confusion. As American’s experienced these events, they were in desperate need for something to release this anger. Fortunately during this time, R&B prevailed, which indefinitely changed how the world perceived this genre of music. Vibe, a music and lifestyle magazine, named 1993 as R&B’s best year yet. Contemporary R&B is composed of elements such as rhythm and blues, soul, funk, dance, hip hop, and pop. Artists ranging from Mary J. Blige to Notorious B.I.G are still remembered today as some of the greatest musicians in history; however, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Aaliyah, and Boyz II Men were at the forefront of the music industry showcasing their talents through their shared love for R&B.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony blew America away with their first single becoming the most requested song on the radio in the US and landing them a spot on Billboards ‘Hot 100’ list immediately after its release. Before their prosperous fame, the group emerged in the early ’90s, in Cleveland, Ohio, when initial members Krayzie Bone (Anthony Henderson), Wish Bone (Charles Scruggs), Flesh-N-Bone (Stanley Vernell Howse), Layzie Bone (Steven Howse), and Bizzy Bone (Bryon Anthony McCane) created “The Band-Aid Boys” with ambitions to jump-start their musical careers. Soon after, the group changed their name to B.O.N.E. Enterpri$e and released their first album, Faces of Death. With less attention than they had hoped for, the group emptied their wallets for one-way bus tickets to The Entertainment Capital of the World, Los Angeles, California. After spending an agonizing four months on the streets of L.A., homeless and hungry, they eventually came face-to-face with their favorite rapper and inspiration, N.W.A’s Eazy-E. Right away, the “Godfather of Gangsta Rap” signed the group to his label, Ruthless Records, and changed their name to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
The group’s debut album under their new label, Creepin on ah Come Up, was released in 1994 and focused mainly on criminal violence. “Thuggish Ruggish Bone,” the group’s first single, was deemed the anthem of the summer and immediately rose the group to fame. About a year later, after the tragic death of Eazy-E, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony released their second album under Ruthless Records, entitled E. 1999 Eternal, in dedication to their mentor, producer, and friend. Unlike their previous releases, this album incorporated dark beats with spiritual harmonizing, and has gone 6x Platinum. The group specifically wrote the song, “Tha Crossroads” in honor of Eazy-E, which topped the charts on both ‘Hot Rap Tracks’ and ‘Hot 100’. This song also gave the group their first Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 1997, giving the group just the satisfaction they needed. After their apex in the music industry and many complications with the group, the remaining members released The Art of War, BTNHResurrection, and Thug World Order, over a span of five years. Although all of their records still did relatively competent, the group realized their decline and decided to take a break until 2006, when three out of the five members recorded Thug Stories under Koch Records. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony ultimately made a comeback in 2007 with the release of their first major album in years, Strength & Loyalty. This album, recorded under Interscope Records, featured artists such as Mariah Carey, Akon, and Bow Wow, and climbed its way up to the number one spot on iTunes. This was the groups last major launching which left them forever being remembered as R&B legends.
Aaliyah, A.K.A the “Princess of R&B”, instantly stole Americas hearts at the young age of fifteen and has forever since been remembered as an R&B icon. Aaliyah Dana Haughton, born in 1979, began her career in 1991 with the help of her mentor, the well-known artist and producer, R. Kelly. The 12-year-old, soon-to-be pop star signed with JIVE Records and Blackground Records, and immediately began recording her debut album Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number. The cutting-edge record ultimately sold over 300 million copies in the United States, and reached double Platinum by the RIAA. The album’s debut single, “Back & Forth,” swept away the competition by taking the number one spot on Billboards Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for three weeks. R. Kelly took on more than just mentoring the newly-found celebrity; he became the lead songwriter and producer for the hit album, leading it to success. The record attained high approval from critics including Slant Magazine whom expressed, “The album deftly blended Kelly’s new jack swing with Aaliyah’s sultry voice, helping to define the laid back vibe of mid-‘90s R&B”. The singer was living the good life until a leaked certificate sparked rumors of an illegal marriage between Aaliyah and Kelly, and the 17-year-old star made the decision to leave JIVE Records and sign with Atlantic Records to further her music career.
Working alongside record producers Timbaland and Missy Elliot, Aaliyah launched her second studio album, One in a Million, in 1996. The record was highly favorable, including Rolling Stone who named it the 90th best album of the 1990s. The album produced six singles, with “The One I Gave My Heart To” reaching the highest on the charts, peaking at number nine. After attending performing arts school and jumpstarting her acting career, Aaliyah performed for multiple soundtracks, ultimately earning a Grammy Award nomination for the 1998 hit, “Are You That Somebody?” Alongside her leading role in the 1999 film Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah contributed four songs to the film’s soundtrack and received numerous awards including the Best Female Video at the 2000 MTV VMA’s. Five years after her first album, Aaliyah released her self-titled album, Aaliyah, which debuted at number two on the Billboard ‘200’. With her acting career taking over, Aaliyah and her team admit they did not put in the same amount of effort for this album; however, it still hit number 19 on the charts. Three short months after her final album release, Aaliyah was killed at age 22 in a tragic plane crash after filming a music video in the Bahamas. The music video of the posthumous single, “Rock the Boat”, became the most viewed episode of BET’s Access Granted. Although Aaliyah’s life and career were ended far too early, she accomplished more than many will in a lifetime, and her legacy will live on forever.
The four-time Grammy Award Winning quartet changed the game of R&B with their a cappella harmonies, soulful lyrics, and rhythmic melodies. The original group, Unique Attraction, was started by high-school friends, Nathan Morris and Marc Nelson, in 1985 and expanded two years later when Wayna Morris joined the undeveloped vocal group. Shortly after hearing classmates Shawn Stockman and Michael McCary perform, the group recruited the two boys, resulting in a permanent lineup. Unique Attraction would practice their vocals in the high school bathrooms and on the street corners of their hometown in Philadelphia, with no expectation of starting a career. Their biggest inspiration was New Edition, eventually renaming themselves Boyz II Men after one of the groups songs, “Boys to Men”. Their careers began when the five boys snuck backstage at a New Edition concert and met with member Michael Bivins, whom was thoroughly impressed with their talent and offered to work with them. Due to personality conflicts, member Marc Nelson left the group, leaving them with the now-famous quartet.
Boy II Men released their first album, Cooleyhighharmony in 1991, under the production of their idol, Michael Bivins. The unfamiliar elements of their music, described as “classic-soul styled vocals” were dubbed as “hop hop doo-wop”. This innovative group also used all four members as leads singers, something that had not been done before, which distinguished them in the competitive music industry of the ’90s. Their first album achieved great success, eventually winning the 1992 Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and giving them the opening act on MC Hammer’s tour. The group reached ultimate fame after they recorded their biggest hit, “End of the Road” for the soundtrack of Eddie Murphy’s film Boomerang, which landed them the number one spot on Billboards ‘Hot 100’ for 13 consecutive weeks. The group took their talents to new levels in the release of their second album, //. This record, released in 1994, sold more than 12 million copies in the United States alone, and is ranked number 61 on ‘Billboard’s 200 Greatest Albums of All Time’ to this day.
From internal conflicts to health concerns, the group was struggling to maintain their fame and ultimately removed itself from their record label, Universal, in 2001. After they signed a deal with Arista Records in 2002, Boyz II Men released their final album as a quartet, Full Circle. The sales of this record were not nearly as high as expected, therefore, their record label dropped them, leaving them at a temporary dead-end. After Michael McCary retired his voice due to health concerns, the trio revitalized their careers, and created their own independent label, making a comeback to the industry. Boyz II Men has had immense success in their newest releases and continue to perform all around the world for their dedicated fans.
Aside all else, the one thing that Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Aaliyah, and Boyz II Men all have in common is the impact they made on music. There is no doubt that The Beatles, Michael Jackson, and Madonna should be deemed as some of the greatest musicians in the world; however, the artists that deserve to be remembered are those that provided hope, solidarity, and even distraction during some of the toughest trials of America’s history. The incredible accomplishments of ’90s R&B have been and will continue to be the backbone of music for many generations to come.