Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we reflect on notable albums and the reissues they may someday see. One of the biggest R&B hits of 1990 is still an earworm today – but is there more lurking underneath the surface? The debut of Bell Biv DeVoe is reassessed.
Girl. I. Must. Warn youuuu…that if you listen to “Poison” by Bell Biv DeVoe one too many times, those herky-jerky New Jack beats will affix themselves to your brain. And they won’t let go. Since its release more than two decades ago, BBD’s first album remains a pioneering LP in the New Jack Swing genre, itself one of the most insanely addictive musical genres of the 1990s. It spawned three Top 40 singles and moved some 4 million units in the U.S., and provided one of the better “second acts” in late ’80s/early ’90s R&B.
While you may not want to trust a big butt and a smile, we hope you find today’s Reissue Theory look at Bell Biv DeVoe a fun read, after the jump.
Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe were already known to fans of R&B and dance music at the time, as three-fifths of the Boston-based ensemble New Edition. Along with singers Ralph Tresvant and Bobby Brown, the quintet was first discovered by music impresario Maurice Starr, who proceeded to railroad the group despite respectable sales of debut album Candy Girl, released on Streetwise Records in 1983. (When the group left Starr’s employ, he took their group dynamic and applied it to a quintet of white Boston teens, under the name New Kids on the Block.)
The quick-working ensemble pressed on, securing a deal with MCA and releasing hit singles like “Cool It Now,” “Mr. Telephone Man” and a cover of “Earth Angel” for The Karate Kid Part II. Bobby Brown ultimately left the group for a successful solo career, and the group hired up-and-comer Johnny Gill (later a moderately successful solo artist for Motown). By the end of the ’80s, though the group was still riding high – 1988’s Heart Break had a Top 10 hit with “If It Isn’t Love” – the band ultimately took a hiatus for much of the 1990s.
The trio about to be known as Bell Biv DeVoe came together under the suggestion of Heart Break producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. (The story goes that when someone at MCA wrote all their last names down, Bivins himself suggested halving his surname.) But Jam and Lewis didn’t handle production on Poison; much of the album was self-produced along with keyboardist Carl Bourelly. That said, the biggest singles were from unexpected sources. Elliot Straite, better known as Dr. Freeze, produced the percussive “Poison.” (The producer would go on to write for Color Me Badd, Another Bad Creation and penned “Break of Dawn” for Michael Jackson’s Invincible in 2001.) Third single “B.B.D. (I Thought It Was Me)?”, however, was produced by The Bomb Squad, the collective behind the in-your-face, sample-heavy production technique of rap group Public Enemy. Bomb Squad members Hank and Keith Shocklee and Eric “Vietnam” Sadler also received co-writing credits on several album tracks.
Our good friend Mike Heyliger astutely pointed out, in a piece on Poison written last year, that part of the record’s success hinged on the fact that it was, by and large, the anti-New Edition record. The lyrics and sound of the album still pack a pretty strong punch in an era when it seems like nothing can shock America without looking calculated. Sure, some of us may associate those beats with the fancy footwork of Donald Faison in Scrubs, but that subtext of dangerously wild women – especially as AIDS was starting to become a mainstream concern – isn’t the kind of thing you expect to think about from a hit pop song.
As was so often the case in the early ’90s, Poison was initially followed-up with a stopgap release, the remix album WBBD-Bootcity!, in 1991. This set actually did provide the band with another Top 20 hit, a remix of “Word to the Mutha!” featuring Tresvant, Brown and Gill – effectively, one of the first major reunions of New Edition. But much of 1991 was Bivins’ year to shine, as he was busy helping out a Philadelphia quartet that had managed to get backstage during a B.B.D. concert in search of a big break. That group was Boyz II Men, and 1991’s Cooleyhighharmony, with co-production by Bivins, was a smash hit. Bell Biv DeVoe reconvened for 1993’s ridiculously-titled Hootie Mack before reuniting with the other three members of New Edition for a successful 1998 album. The B.B.D. flame still burns when New Edition is at rest; a hardcore rap-themed album, BBD, was released in 2001
with production from Dr. Dre and Timbaland.
Our Reissue Theory track list is pretty straightforward, combining both Poison and WBBD-Bootcity! into a two-disc set with some of the many commercially-released vinyl remixes fitting where available. Given Hip-o Select’s commitment to high-selling R&B – Cooleyhighharmony got a great deluxe edition as part of Motown’s 50th anniversary in 2009 – it’s not inconceivable to imagine an expanded Poison in the future.
Bell Biv DeVoe, Poison (Hip-o Select/Geffen)
Disc 1: Original LP and bonus remixes
- B.B.D. (I Thought It Was Me)?
- Let Me Know Something?!
- Do Me!
- Word to the Mutha!
- Ain’t Nut’in Changed
- When Will I See You Smile Again? (feat. Alton “Wokie” Stewart)
- I Do Need You (feat. Alton “Wokie” Stewart)
- Poison (Mental Mix)
- B.B.D. (I Thought It Was Me)? (Extended Version)
- Do Me! (East Coast Mental Mix)
- When Will I See You Smile Again? (Remixed Club Version)
Disc 2: WBBD-Bootcity! and bonus material
- Intro/D.J. Opening
- Word to the Mutha! (featuring New Edition)
- Ain’t Nut’in’ Changed!
- B.B.D. (I Thought It Was Me)? (DJ Mo Grind Time)
- Do Me! (Smoothe)
- I Do Need You
- Interview/Uhh Ahh
- Let Me Know Something?!
- She’s Dope! (EPOD Mix)
- Do Me! (Mental)
- When Will I See You Smile Again? (DJ Close)
- Poison (London Style) (The S&P Jervier Full Rub Mix)
- B.B.D. (I Thought It Was Me)? (Frankie Foncett Mix)
- Do Me! (The S&P Jervier Full Rub Mix)
- Word to the Mutha! (Club Mentality)
Disc 1, Track 10 was a CD bonus track and released as 12″ A-side – MCA 24003, 1990
Disc 1, Track 11 released as 12″ A-side – MCA 53899, 1990
Disc 1, Track 12 released as 12″ B-side – MCA 24037, 1990
Disc 1, Track 13 released as 12″ A-side – MCA 53999, 1990
Disc 2, Tracks 1-12 released as MCA Records LP 10345, 1991
Disc 2, Tracks 12-14 released as U.K. 12″ single – MCA MCSX 1511, 1990
Disc 2, Track 15 released as 12″ A-side – MCA L33-1610, 1991