The Untold Truth Of Boyz II Men

Boyz II Men became one of the biggest-selling acts of the '90s with their tight harmonies and smash hit R&B singles like "Motownphilly" and "I'll Make Love To You."

But what people might not know is that the band practiced those vocal runs in the bathrooms (according to The Washington Post, the acoustics were better for rehearsals) at Philadelphia High School for the Creative & Performing Arts, where they first met. As they told Larry King, the boys were all voice majors and sang in the choir at the arts high school. Nathan Morris picked his bandmates himself after hearing their vocal abilities, forming a group that was originally called Unique Attraction, per People.

In 2015, he returned to their old school alongside Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris (minus original fourth member Michael McCary)  for a special performance, per AP News. The band members were reunited with their favorite teacher and reminisced about how lucky they were to go to a school that fostered their creativity. "There was so many talented people in there," Nathan recalled. "We always say that any other four guys could have been Boyz II Men. We just happened to be the ones that got out."

New Edition

Boyz II Men's biggest inspiration soon became their ticket to stardom. The Boston band New Edition was the most successful R&B group at the time, and the four high school students loved their music so much that they named themselves after the New Edition song "Boys to Men." As Nathan Morris told Larry King, they didn't intend to keep the name, in case the group got pigeonholed as a New Edition cover band, but it "wound up sticking."

They got the opportunity to meet one of their heroes when the members of Boyz II Men snuck backstage at a concert and tracked down New Edition singer Michael Bivins so that they could perform acapella for him. According to Philly Mag, Bivins was so impressed that he gave Nathan his number, although he might have regretted that decision when the young man called him non-stop. "I hounded him," Morris admitted, recalling how he had to talk Bivins into becoming their manager.

"It's not something that he really thought about doing," he continued. "I believed that he could do it. I mean, I followed his career, and I saw the role that he played in his group."

Tour manager murdered

The early career of Boyz II Men was overshadowed by tragedy when their road manager, Khalil Rountree, was shot and killed in 1992 during an attempted robbery.

As the Chicago Tribune reported, the manager had been staying at the Guest Quarters Suite Hotel with the rest of the band's entourage. When three men began knocking on hotel doors, Rountree headed out to escort them away from the floor along with road manager Qadree El-Amin, who ended up being shot in the knee during their struggle in the elevator. A spokesperson for Motown Records called the incident "inexplicable," given the "peaceful" nature of the band and their tour manager. "Some rap, R&B and rock groups have seedy characters that hang around with them on the road, but Boyz II Men were not that kind of a group at all, and that's why it really stuns us," he added.

"When he was killed in Chicago, it turned us upside down for a while," Nathan Morris later told the Des Moines Register, revealing how much the band had relied on Rountree for support and guidance. "He was pretty much a father figure. He was more than just a road manager." They went on to honor their friend by dedicating an interlude on their 1994 album "II" to him, per Fox Sports, which was called "Khalil."

Chart success

Although Boyz II Men started getting attention with their first couple of singles, it was "End of the Road" that brought the band their first No. 1 on the Billboard charts. And the track was an unexpected hit, as Philly Mag explained: it had originally been written as a soundtrack song for the Eddie Murphy rom-com "Boomerang," rather than a standout single. Once the label included "End of the Road" on their debut album, it became a certified platinum record with millions of sales.

"We were like, 'Oh snap, we didn't expect this.' We knew there was something special about it. We didn't know it was gonna do that well," Shawn Stockman told People, reflecting on the song's success. "'End of the Road' changed our lives. It took us to another plane internationally." Working with the legendary Motown label led them to smash records with their follow-up hits too, per Philly Mag, when their single "On Bended Knee" replaced their previous hit "I'll Make Love to You" at No. 1. They were only the third artists to ever score back-to-back hits at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, following Elvis and The Beatles.

Boyz II Men's signature style

When you think of Boyz II Men, you probably picture them in their signature outfits. The band always matched their preppy clothes on stage, coming across like a united front. But what their fans didn't know was that the band members didn't always like their look.

Michael Bivins was the one who decided on the group's matching preppy outfits. "We weren't really into it at first," Shawn Stockman later revealed in Spin magazine, via GQ. "But once we started wearing the stuff and learning how to put it together, it started to feel good." Wanya Morris also told the Chicago Tribune that they had started out dressing like every other R&B artist. "We didn't stand out. Our old manager, Michael Bivins, felt (that) in order to stand out, we need to be different ... He took us shopping and we purchased our wardrobe for the next year," he recalled.

Their clothing was deliberately chosen to be "different from other Black guys," as Morris shared. "It was very collegiate — very preppy ... If we walked down the street and somebody was walking by us, they wouldn't grasp their purse." And the look soon began a trend. "He was a visionary. Everybody started wearing it after they saw us," he added.

The Fresh Prince

Boyz II Men had become bona fide icons of '90s pop culture by the time they were asked to appear on an old friend's TV show.

The group got to guest star alongside their friend Will Smith in a Christmas special of "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" in 1993, which revolved around Smith's character promising his family that he could get Boyz II Men to perform. "We're Philly boys and we have a history growing up in the same neighborhoods and being in the business. It was like hanging with homies," Shawn Stockman told People years later. "We were extremely proud of Will and seeing his success grow," he added, observing that it was "nice to see other brothers blowing up in a really good way."

Fellow band member Nathan Morris revealed in the New York Post that Boyz II Men "used to go to house parties on weekends, where him and Jazzy Jeff would be playing." Smith was reportedly even planning to become their manager, before Michael Bivins came into the picture. "By the time we were getting success, Will was already doing 'Fresh Prince' so he was on another level," Morris recalled. "Will pretty much called us personally to ask if we would do the show."

One Sweet Day and Mariah Carey

Two of the most influential R&B musical acts of all time joined forces in 1995 when Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey created "One Sweet Day," one of the longest-running No. 1 singles of all time.

The song was originally conceived as a tribute to people suffering from AIDS, since Carey's longtime collaborator — David Cole — had died in 1995 and her sister had also become very ill, per Billboard. The group obviously were still dealing with their own tragedy, the death of their tour manager Kahlil Rountree, and Nathan Morris had begun to write his own memorial song that sounded eerily similar to Carey's new track.

"She played us the melody and the hook, and it was amazing," he revealed in "Chicken Soup for the Soul," via SoulTrack, writing about how Tommy Mottola had invited them to create a duet with Carey. "It was almost the same song I was writing. I told her that I was working on a song with a similar melody and, while the lyrics were, of course, different, the premise was the same. They complemented each other. I sang to her the melody and lyrics of what I had written, and we merged the two."

Its consecutive reign at the No. 1 spot for 16 weeks was only beaten in 2019 by Lil Nas X and "Old Town Road," per USA Today.

Brandy and Adina Howard

Wanya Morris found himself at the center of a high-profile love triangle in the '90s when he was simultaneously involved with Brandy and "Freak Like Me" singer Adina Howard.

After Brandy worked with Morris on a remix to her song "Brokenhearted," the R&B star began touring with the band and soon fell for the Boyz II Men singer. Although they started dating after she confessed her love, the relationship didn't last. "He fell in love with someone else. The worst feeling is to be in love all by yourself. That feels f***ed up, honestly," Brandy admitted on an episode of VH1's "Behind the Music," via Showbiz CheatSheet. "It does and that's the only way I can really put it. It felt like somebody had completely taken my heart out of my body and just crushed it." 

"Two young ladies allowed their egos to get in the way and were kind of going through it about a guy," Howard confessed in an episode of "Unsung." The love triangle ended up harming her promising career after Wendy Williams caught her criticizing the head of the label, who managed both Howard and Brandy. Howard's second album was delayed, and her relationship with Morris also faltered.

Health problems

Although Boyz II Men continued to release hit albums, their success was threatened by underlying health issues. One tour had to be called off and rescheduled after Wanya Morris developed a polyp on his vocal cords, as Jet reported at the time. His right vocal cord was compromised, ruining the group's delicate blend of harmonies.

And in a more serious revelation, Michael McCary was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which he kept a secret until 2016. "I was in Boyz II Men when I first saw some of the ailments start to happen," McCary explained to TV life coach Iyanla Vanzant, adding that it was just the odd "little back spasms" at first. "And then they would get stronger and stronger, so each time it would get more harsh."

At the age of 22, he started getting more serious symptoms. Doctors warned him that a nerve in his side could "sever" if he made one wrong step, so at all times, he faced the possibility of being paralyzed. He never opened up about his illness to the other band members, despite having the "fear of God" in him.

Why Michael McCary left Boyz II Men

Boyz II Men didn't often find themselves at the center of drama, as Nathan Morris told Philly Mag. "None of us are perfect, by any means, but we were just taught to just be different," he explained. "We always wanted to impress our parents."

But Michael McCary's secret medical condition took its toll on his relationship with the group, and he ended up leaving the band in 2003. His fellow band members spoke about the split to HuffPost in 2014, arguing that "he kind of gave up when things didn't go well." When Larry King asked them why McCary had left, the band suggested that he just "didn't want to be involved or do it anymore." They also insisted that they had reached out to him for potential reunion events but admitted that the friendship wasn't as "strong" and claimed that their sound wasn't that different without him.

Although they didn't know about his medical diagnosis, their statements hurt the bass vocalist, as Oprah reported. "If I had to sum up what I got from my brothers in Boyz II Men, I would have to say betrayal, a broken bond," McCary stated in 2016, following his MS revelation. "I mean, at this point, we don't even talk."

Boy band copycats

When white boy bands like NSYNC and Backstreet Boys started to emerge, Boyz II Men saw their success rivaled by musical acts that didn't have to fight to "crossover" from R&B into the mainstream. And sometimes the similarities were inescapable. "There's a reason Backstreet Boys' 'I'll Never Break Your Heart' sounds exactly like Boyz II Men's 'End of the Road,'" boy band historian Maria Sherman told New England Public Media. "It's pretty egregious."

In the docuseries "This Is Pop," via Philly Mag, Shawn Stockman explained that Boyz II Men "had to work twice as hard to get to what their birthright was," describing how those white boy bands had an easier journey to the top. "I mean, it's typical in urban music, unfortunately," added Nathan Morris. NSYNC and Backstreet Boys might have cited Boyz II Men as an inspiration, but they didn't consider themselves a boy band. "We created our own entity and our own image. We wanted to be together," Morris explained, suggesting that they had managed to stay together over the years because they weren't manufactured by a label.

"Wherever we went, we always wanted to make sure people knew where we were from," Morris continued, emphasizing the importance of their roots. "We wanted them to know what Philly was about and what it meant to us. It was like a badge of honor to us that we had to carry everywhere."

Net worth of Boyz II Men

All those smash hit singles have added up over the years: according to Celebrity Net Worth, members of Boyz II Men are collectively worth $200 million. Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman, and Nathan Morris are each worth over $60 million, while their departed bass singer Michael McCary is still worth $20 million, despite not appearing in any Boyz II Men performances for years.

As they told Forbes, the current three members of the band have managed to stay together for over three decades because they decided early on to share their wealth equally. "If one guy writes it, we all get paid; if one guy sings it, we all get paid; because it's our group and we have allowed everyone to be a part of it," Nathan explained, recalling how he realized that his publishing check would be bigger after their first album and deciding that he didn't want more money than his bandmates for writing their songs. "I just didn't want anybody in the group to feel like their job was more important than anybody else's."

"Wealth is not a status to me. It's a mentality," Stockman added. "And when you have the type of money that these athletes and these entertainers have, and you're not taught how to value and appreciate it — not from a consumption standpoint, but from the perspective of knowing exactly what it means to have this type of wealth, outside of the wealth itself — then you'll just waste it away."

Vegas residency

Boyz II Men joined the ranks of great artists like Celine Dion and Lady Gaga when they decided to launch a residency at the Mirage in Las Vegas, per Philly Mag. "These things take a lot of work to arrange," Nathan Morris admitted, reflecting on his efforts to keep entertaining the fans in recent years. "And we continue to keep doing that. They don't always win, but some of them do."

But certain members of the group were against going the Vegas residency route, as Wanya Morris revealed in the Netflix series "This is Pop," via Showbiz Cheat Sheet. The singer was put off by the stereotypes surrounding gigs in Sin City. "The option for Vegas came on the table and I opposed it — totally opposed it, because I was just like, 'People go to Vegas to die,'" Wanya said. Nathan, on the other hand, insisted that performing was a key aspect of maintaining their legacy.

"Over time, as we started to build our audience, Wan was able to see the vision that we were setting up for the second phase of our career," he argued. "We're still keeping the name of the group alive in the world."