October 16, 2015

Remixed For Your Pleasure: Boyz II Men - "Vibin'"

I realize this isn't what you two were expecting to see on the blog today, but hear me out.  Back in 1994, R&B then-quartet Boyz II Men were, simply, the shit, providing the soundtrack for wedding receptions, school dances, and long car rides where you realize that the girl sitting in the passenger seat may have, in fact, been the one for you all along.  These guys easily transitioned from a co-sign from Michael Bivins (the "Biv" in Bell Biv DeVoe) into one of the highest-selling R&B acts in history.  They dominated radio airwaves with their brand of new jack swing-y feel-good jams, and yet when they switched up to straight-up love songs for their second album, II, it didn't feel forced.  Every video premiere on MTV seemed like an event.  If you're a reader of a certain age, you're familiar with imagery from at least one of their clips: for me, it's always the white sand in the "Water Runs Dry" video that comes up whenever someone mentions the group or their appreciation of 1990s R&B.  Even now, whenever "Motownphilly" plays on one of those old-school-flavored radio stations that seem to be in vogue right now, you can't help but sing along.  Boyz II Men were definitely a far cry from whatever the fuck passes for R&B these days, but then again, the 1990s were a different time.  And for those of you who aren't aware: the 1990s were a decade of time from before you were born, probably.

Because it seemed like everything the quartet touched was a hit, it surprised me to learn that the subject of today's post, "Vibin'", was actually the fifth single released from II.  It surprised me because (a) I have literally never heard it played on the radio ever, and (b) it's pretty boring.  "We're just vibing / And dancing the night away"?  Sure, whatever.  Inoffensive, most definitely, but when compared to "Water Runs Dry" or their Boomerang soundtrack hit "End Of The Road" or even "On Bended Knee" or "I'll Make Love To You", it just doesn't connect on any level whatsoever.  It's bland as shit, not unlike visiting a taqueria in Wisconsin.  Why a video was shot for "Vibin'" when the money could have gone to feeding the homeless population in the United States is a mystery to me.

Boyz II Men apparently felt the same way.

What you see above is officially titled "Vibin' (The New Flava)", which remixes the original "Vibin'" by ditching the beat and the majority of the vocals, preserving only some of the hook, which is really the thinnest of threads for keeping Boyz II Men attached to what is ostensibly their song.  Instead, producers Tim & Bob, who also handled the original take, demolish the mold and, instead, turn this shit into an opportunity for the first four rap artists to show up to the studio to get a bit of shine.  At the time of this remix's recording, the biggest star on here was undoubtedly Naughty By Nature's Treach, who kicks off the track with the twisty wordplay that nobody really ever notices since he happens to have written at least three of the most popular rap songs ever fucking made ("O.P.P.", "Hip Hop Hooray", and, technically, Kris Kross' "Jump").  It's a pretty effective way to bring in the audience: odds are that a lot of Boyz II Men fans may have felt at ease with Treach's speed-rap, grooving to the beat because the syllables were flying a bit too quickly to understand them, and besides, the Boyz have to be coming up soon, right?

Wrong.  After a short hook, the quartet cede the stage to Craig Mack (fuck, I've written about him a lot over the past week, haven't I?) and, in the hypeman role, Puff Daddy, who rides for his investment admirably (even appearing in the video: never let it be said that he wasn't at least trying to help Mack's career, at least before Biggie proved to be the superpower he is).  The mumble-mouthed Mack is a strange choice for a mainstream remix such as this, but he's a bit clearer than he was on "Flava In Ya Ear", confident to a fault and spitting actual decent bars ("Whoever said you couldn't be beat?  Well, have a seat / Grab a spoon, taste some defeat") over Tim & Bob's groove.  Craig Mack was on a roll in 1994, what can I say?

It's possible that the various members of Boyz II Men were fans of Leaders Of The New School, but it's far more likely that Busta Rhymes' scene-stealing cameo on Mack's "Flava In Ya Ear" remix earned him his spot on this MTV-friendly remake.  He keeps his cameo king sash on with an entertaining, combustible performance, even shouting out his Flipmode Squad before they were an actual squad.  Hey, Busta Rhymes was popular back then for a good fucking reason, folks: his animated delivery left everyone breathless and wanting for more.  But the real reason I ever gave a shit about "Vibin' (The New Flava)" is because of the final participant: Method fucking Man.

The Wu-Tang Clan were still in the midst of their hostile takeover of hip hop when Meth was given a chance to record with Boyz II Men, and although he's never been the type to sell out for selling out's sake, even Meth realized how important it was to keep the Clan's name out there.  This remix's video might very well be the first time I ever saw Method Man appear on MTV during the daytime, although that would soon change when he won a Grammy with a Mary J. Blige-featured remix of his own: obviously that song was in the can, if not yet released to the general public, when this track was recorded, since Meth fucking mentions Mary at one point.  Still, he owns the remix, turning in a matter-of-fact verse that has enough shit-talking and early-Tical charm, not unlike what he's prone to doing now when he appears on other rappers' songs.

"Vibin (The New Flava)" wasn't a huge-selling track, either, but I remember the radio station around my way playing the shit out of this remix, and it was nice of Boyz II Men to give some of their spotlight to rap artists who deserved some shine, and also Craig Mack.  And yet they weren't yet finished with spreading their wealth.

What appears above is another "Vibin'" remix, this one credited to producer Kenny Smoove and featuring, once again, a bunch of rappers in place of Boyz II Men, although at least this time around they manage to carve out some space for more than just half of a chorus.  Instead of the quartet above, Kenny Smoove chose to go with more of a themed remix, inviting the motherfucking Def Squad (Erick Sermon, Redman, and Keith Murray) to play.  This particular remix also features a duo spelled out on the vinyl release as 2 Ta Da Head, but I know jack and shit about those guys, other than the fact that they appear on this song on its final verse.  They have nothing to do with Sermon and company as far as I can tell, and they never popped up again.  This remix wasn't quite as popular as "The New Flava" and did not receive the video treatment, but I remember this one getting some burn around my way, as well.

The instrumental on this version is minimalist when compared to "The New Flava", but it provides more than enough breathing room for these guys to go off.  Sermon's opening verse is performed with the confidence (a quality he's never lacked, to be fair) he exhibited on Too $hort's "Buy You Some", although his bars are much cleaner, since he knew that he would be pandering to Boyz II Men's largely female audience.  The Green Eyed Bandit does a good job, spitting boasts and threats as he does, and he even manages to toss in a memorable moment at the very beginning: when he starts singing, "It's Kenny and Erick Sermon", my recollection of this track came flooding back to me, and I hadn't listened to or sought out this remix in at least a decade if not more.  

An in-his-prime Keith "Keith Murray" Murray talks his shit comfortably, even when using a corny Batman-related punchline.  He doesn't stick around long enough to make much of a mark, but considering this remix came out in the same year as his debut solo single "The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World" (a song I still don't like, but that's a discussion for another day), it was still a remarkably good look for a rookie.

Reggie Noble, obviously, steals the show with his Dare Iz A Darkside-esque delivery: at the time of this song's release, his wordplay was of a darker tint than it is now, with slightly less of a sense of humor about the whole thing.  He still spit fucking flames, though, and was magnetic even back then.  I don't think Boyz II Men realized what they had, since it does seem like a missed opportunity that they didn't pair Redman up with Method Man: maybe we could have gotten that Blackout! album a few years earlier.  But whatever.  The best I can say about 2 Ta Da Head (which I'm certain isn't the duo's name) is that they didn't sound bad at all, even though they resort to using the names of various Boyz II Men songs in the verse like a couple of low-rent GZAs.  The performance isn't poor enough to ignore, though: you'll most likely find it pleasant.

(Boyz II Men also released two additional, non-rap-related remixes to "Vibin'": my assumption is that they really just didn't like that song at all.  Because the other two mixes have no guest rappers and/or no tie to Craig Mack, I'm choosing not to discuss them in this article.  Not that I think you all give a shit, mind you.)

So there you have it: two instances when Boyz II Men tried to use their pop music omnipresence for good, by boosting rappers who most certainly benefited from their brief turn in the spotlight.  

GO WITH THE O.G.OR THE REMIX?  Either one of the remixes is preferable to the bland, joyless album version of "Vibin'", but I liked the beat on "The New Flava" more.  "The New Flava" also does a better job of pointing out the varying flows coming out of the East Coast in 1994, while Kenny Smoove's mix has the Def Squad, a team that, while sounding pretty fucking good, all focused on the same directive (back then, anyway).



  1. I won't beat around the bush talking about the rather dull original, but thanks for making me discover the Def Squad remix. It's always nice to hear the trio working together, and Redman really shreds it to pieces with a spot-on verse.
    I still prefer the New Flava version though, I find the beat and production more gripping. Also, Craig Mack does his job nicely (he did really know how to be at the right place at the right time back then. Wouldn't have minded swapping him for Reggie though), and Treach is as incendiary and good as usual. A very underrated MC, in my opinion. But yeah, Busta and especially Method Man steal the show. I've always found Mr Rhymes' solo career to be a little lacklustre, with some great tunes but no really great albums (I mean, the first two are quite good, but inconsistent and nowhere near what could be expected from him after hearing his otherworldly cameos on Scenario, Flavs in ya Ear, Victory, etc. By the way, any plans of reviewing the two Leaders of the New School LPs? I actually like them a lot).

  2. I don't know if I'm feeling this new series man, but hey, 'my blog' that's coo. I would love to see another producers guild though

  3. Goddamnit, now I have to track down the Def Squad version which, 5 minutes ago, I had never heard of.

  4. Wow, how have I never heard this?! I have been a huge Boyz II Men fan for years but had no idea there was a Def Jam remix to "vibin'". Now I have to go and let the world know on KushaTV.

  5. Proud to say I've burned both remixes in my rotting brain long before you brought them up here, although you should be commended for doing so nonetheless.

    Are you sure 2 To Da Head were a duo? Because I only hear ONE dude. He might've recorded several tracks of himself, as most rappers are prone to do, but it's still one guy. Furthermore, he sounds an awful lot like K-Solo, but definitely not GZA.

    1. I meant GZA in terms of the multiple references, not the flow. And everything I could find online says they're a duo, even though I also just hear one guy. If anyone can prove otherwise, I'm happy to update the post.