The struggle was real for Brett Young in his attempt to narrow down his dream setlist for the latest CMT Crossroads with Boyz II Men’s Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris and Shawn Stockman. Young loves every song they’ve ever recorded, and his first concert experience ever was a Montel Jordan show with Boyz II Men at Irvine, Calif.’s Irvine Meadows in 1995.
“I’ve been so informed as an artist by their music,” Young told CMT’s Cody Alan backstage with the group at their CMT Crossroads concert. “When I went back to learn the songs we were going to do … I just put their albums on, and I thought, ‘There’s like 700 singles here.’ They have never put out a bad record.”
Boyz II Men have been together since high school, and after 27 years of making hit music, they have become the best-selling R&B act of all time. When artists have been together for that long, they form an unshakable bond that’s evident in the music they make. But Young’s smoky vocals fit right in with their tight harmonies as if he’d been a member since Boyz II Men’s inception. CMT Crossroads is the group’s first country collaboration.
“Brett fell right in and wasn’t afraid to do things that were at first might have been uncomfortable vocal wise,” Stockman said.
Both acts agreed that country and R&B music share similar connections in their respective times in music. In the ‘90s, no genres were more popular than country music and R&B. Boyz II Men dominated the charts with a series of hits including “I’ll Make Love to You” and the Mariah Carey collaboration, “One Sweet Day.” And R&B continues to revitalize nearly every genre of modern music; especially today’s country music. Young’s heartfelt ballads could easily share the same playlist including Boyz II Men’s biggest hits, and Thomas Rhett’s flashiest songs could do the same with Bruno Mars’ music.
“We always talk about how country music and R&B are parallel [genres],” Nathan Morris said. “It’s one of those things where you can tell a great story, and if you’ve got a great voice behind it, you win.”
CMT Crossroads will feature new live arrangements of Boyz II Men songs, “End of the Road,” “Motownphilly” and “Water Runs Dry” among others, as well as Young’s “Mercy” and “In Case You Didn’t Know.” The hour-long concert special premieres Wednesday (March 27) at 10 p.m. ET.
Here’s more from CMT.com’s backstage interview with Boyz II Men and Young:
CMT.com: Brett, how much has Boyz II Men influenced your sound?
Young: Their music was so present and prevalent in my life when I started writing songs — the soul and the unique way that you all sing together. Every once in a while, when you guys sing your solos, I can tell who’s who, but when you’re singing together, it’s like who’s doing what right now? It’s incredible … It pushed me as a singer before I even knew it was doing that.
As the best-selling R&B group of all time and after being together for nearly 30 years, how do you account for Boyz II Men’s longevity?
Wanya Morris: I think in music, definitely there were times where we thought we weren’t going to do this much longer. But we thought about the music and the people who took our music into their lives, it actually felt like it would be doing a disservice to stop. And at the same time, we love each other, and we’re brothers. Just like brothers, we go through things, and we argue. But the respect level of what we mean to each other and how we feel about each other is always there. There’s a need for each other in each others’ lives to do what we do.
With Babyface having written some of your biggest hits, what do you look for when recording new material?
Nathan Morris: Melody is always first and lyric is second. Then after that, it’s up to us to where we want to take the song. Melody and lyric are important. They’re the key to making the song what it is … There have been quite a few R&B records that have been covered by country artists and vice versa.
Wanya Morris: A lot of songs we sing have country intonations and basically has a vibe that if they’re sung by a country artist, it would be country. Who’s to say “Water Runs Dry” couldn’t be a country record? When Brett sings it, it sure sounds country to me.
Young: When you get a good melody, a hit is a hit, is a hit.
I can’t think of any genres that were hotter in the ‘90s than country and R&B. And R&B continues to revitalize different genres of music today. What does it mean to you for Boyz II Men to be part of that conversation, and what makes it timeless?
Wanya Morris: We’re just happy that we’re still around and guys like Brett still get inspired by it. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. We want to leave music that people can use long after we’re gone. That’s what good country and good R&B is supposed to do. It’s supposed to inspire the next generation of stars. Just having this mashup is a testament to what good music does. And [Brett’s] a guy that has made a lot of great music for a lot of people. As far as I’m concerned, we’re on the same train riding the same ride.
Brett, “Water Runs Dry” is a regular cover in your set. What is it about that song that feels good to you?
Young: Aside from the obvious being it’s one of my favorite records they’ve ever put out, you’re trying to make your show fresh every time you go out on a new tour, and you don’t want to play the same covers. I knew I wanted to play one of their songs, and it had all the elements of a hit country record already. All the people in my band are such huge fans and great singers as well so I was going to give them an opportunity to sing with me. We’ve been doing that for a couple months now. It’s crazy I get to sing it with [Boyz II Men] tonight.