Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men Shares His Cherished Sound of Philadelphia [Interview]
Source: Micah's Voice
The Grammy Award winning crooner, Shawn Stockman, of Boyz II Men, sits down with @Okayplayer to talk his beloved Philadelphia sound.
Philadelphia has long been a hotbed for black music. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the mother of rock ’n roll lived and died there. For three decades beginning in 1950, artists used Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater to sharpen their skills, based on the ratio of applause and boos. In the late ‘90s, Black Lily was the breeding ground for artists like Floetry, Jazmine Sullivan and pioneered the modern soul movement.
Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff created their own genre called “The Philadelphia Sound” that has since gone on to nab its own section in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This year, the city honored some of it golden children. Jill Scott and Patti LaBelle were inducted into the Philadelphia Music Hall of Fame, while Boyz II Men were awarded a street in their name just a few feet from the high school where they met.
We had the opportunity to chat with Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman about his own memories of the Sound of Philadelphia and play a pretty fun rapid fire game with our hometown’s best artists.
Okayplayer: Boyz II Men is back with a new album, “Under The Streetlight” and it is all doo-wop standards. The world has been waiting for this since the small snippet ya’ll gave us on MotownPhilly back in 1991. Can you talk about how this project came about?
Shawn Stockman: It’s a part of our history. We used to sing doo-wop records around the city when we were younger. We’d take bits and pieces from doo-wop groups and add our own harmonies with a modern twist. We’re paying homage to the music that raised us.
OKP: This album made so many people’s dreams come true with the Take 6 iconoclast moment.
SS: We’re huge fans of Take 6! They are one of the reasons why we sing the way we do. We tried to emulate what we heard from them growing up in high school. In the industry, your idols become your friends. When we came up with the idea, we had to have them on. It was only right.
OKP: You’ve worked with Brian McKnight before on the Christmas classic, “Let It Snow”, so it was exciting to hear your voices together again. Amber Riley’s feature was quite the pleasant surprise. How did that killer collab come about?
SS: Amber is a beast! I wasn’t a huge Glee fan, but at the same time, you know good singers when you hear them. Amber was amazing and her contribution was sick! She can sing her ass off. It was one of those collabs that came out the blue, but we were so happy with the outcome.
OKP: Next year will mark your fifth year in Vegas, but it will be 27 years since your debut album, Cooleyhighharmony! Talking about coming full circle, you now have Boyz II Men Boulevard in South Philly. How did that experience feel?
SS: It felt great! We’ve been blessed to travel the world, but it is nothing like getting love where you came from. We loved that the city of Philadelphia appreciated us enough to rename a street that is coincidentally right by our performing arts high school.
OKP: I know artists get tired of the same Q&A interview format, so let’s play a game instead. I’ll name a Philly artist and you respond with a favorite song, special moment, or a favorite vocal performance.
SS: I’m in!
SS: Oh wow! First Born Second, his first album I used to play so much, not even knowing he was from Philly! Seeing him perform a few times, he’s sick and always one of my favorite artists. I’m so jealous of his falsetto! Part of the experience of watching an artist perform is not just watching them sing, but for me, watching the artist zone out. I love being a witness to an artist’s rainman. They go into their own little planet and you get a glimpse of who they really are when they’re in their creative zone onstage. It’s a very personal space and Bilal does that exceptionally well.
SS:Rachelle Ferrell has done a few things with George Duke that I love! She’s so crazy with that flip of her voice and her word pronunciation. Incredible vocalist!
SS: BEANS! I hate to see brothers from our soil go through the things he’s gone through. Beans was that guy. He put Philly on the map, from a hip-hop perspective. Not to mention, he had an entire movement with State Property. It was such a proud moment to be from Philadelphia because we rarely got those looks. It’s always been about New York or the South. It was nice that for that moment in time, guys like Beans, Free, Oschino, Sparks were able to get that national attention and they rocked it! Beans did tracks with Jay and held his own. He would spit stuff that made you kinda skip Jay’s verse. You can’t deny the fact that Beans was dope!
The most soulful white boys ever! They never apologized for loving Black music and it permeated. I don’t think they can even write a proper pop record. Even their pop records had a level of soul to it that very few understood. They were great songwriters. Period. Daryl just had that grit that even when he sang “Your Kiss Is On My List”, it still had some grime to it that only a soulful cat could pull out.
OKP: Have you ever watched “Live From Daryl’s House?”
SS: Yeah! They had the O’Jays on once. It’s such a cool show!
One of the greatest altos in the history of music. The paradox with artists is what makes them so great is the thing that does them in. I think part of what Phyllis was, musically, was at the same time what caused her to take her own life. She lived her music. When you listen to a Phyllis Hyman record, there’s always a layer of sadness and you felt it because it came from a real place. She was suffering. She’s like a Billie Holiday or Nina Simone.
Phyllis was one of those artists that generated emotion no matter what she sang and it wasn’t contrived. I saw a performance of her in Japan and she was just crying. She couldn’t even finish the song because she caught a memory and left the building. But that’s the beauty of being a singer. Even if no one knows what you’re going through, you can let it all out onstage. It’s the most honest place on earth.
Those the homies! I’ve known them for so long. Kudos to them for being able to be a couple for all of these years. That in itself is a feat. They are the definition of #BlackLove. They have been putting out a lot of things that represent the town. They’ve never steered away from who they were and that’s the beauty of it. You know that they’re couple and still go onstage and rock out.
That’s the godfather right there. He’s the gold standard. Frankie Beverly is the guy everybody wants to be. I still want to perform at the level he does at his age and does everybody else. He created R&B music. You talked about Rachelle doing one song for 45 minutes, but have you ever experienced “Joy & Pain" live? “Joy & Pain” is the length of a movie and nobody cares.
Everybody is rockin’ and full of malt liquor and chicken, but it’s all good. You can’t have a Black Philly BBQ without a MAZE record. That’s standard. It comes with the chicken wings. Frankie’s been doing it for a thousand years and it’s still good. That’s the shit.
That’s what [live] music is about and what it should always be about. Go, have fun, and zone out for as long as you can because as soon as you leave the venue, it’s that bullshit.
Boyz II Men’s Las Vegas residency at The Mirage is running now through April 2018. Tickets can be purchased here. Under the Streetlight is available in stores and all digital platforms.
Stephanye Watts is New York City's biggest fan in the form of the coolest black girl alive behind the world's only R&B trivia night. Her work has appeared at Saint Heron and MySpace. Follow her rambling on music and black culture on Twitter @so14below.