Last weekend I was hanging out with a friend when we randomly we began talking about the song “Playground” by the early 90s rap/R&B band Another Bad Creation (I believe the conversation started when the word “playground” was said in passing, and of course this led to one of us blurting out the chorus “At the playground, ya know?”). While my friend simply knew the child group’s one hit, I began listing off the songs that began resurfacing in my memory: “Iesha”, “Jealous Girl”, and “My World”.
There are so many things wrong with this video…
He looked at me like I was insane for knowing the band’s music so well, so I tried explaining my 8th grade love of ABC. I reasoned that Boys II Men were a gateway drug that led me to their less talented label-mates Bel Biv Devoe and, of course, ABC. But as I made this excuse, my mind led me into the recesses of memory that I’ve tried to ignore since those early prepubescent days. Another Bad Creation were only the tip of the iceberg of embarrassment when it comes to child R&B boy bands.
I liked The Boys.
No! Not in a gay or pedophilic way (you sick-o); I liked the The Boys – a child quartet based out of California that were the protégés of R&B singer Babyface. If confused, you’re probably not alone in your lack of Boys knowledge, yet the band, thanks to the songwriting assistance of Babyface, scored a #1 R&B hit with the song “Dial My Heart”. Despite their popularity in more urban environs, The Boys went completely unnoticed in my small Iowa hometown where all of my friends were listening to Poison, House of Pain, and Guns N’ Roses.
I love the creepy old security guard who watches little boys dance:
As for middle school music taste, I hated the hair metal of the time and my rap exploration stopped at MC Hammer, so my natural choice was the R&B stylings of artists like Bobby Brown and Shai. But The Boys? I’m not sure where or how my discovery of The Boys happened, but even at the young age of 13, it was a musical admiration that I wasn’t proud of. On bus trips when my friends would share their Motely Crue and Vanilla Ice tapes, I’d slink low in my seat and sneak my “Message from the Boys” tape into my Walkman. I knew this was the type of musical fare for young black girls, yet I found something commendable in their music; what it was, I can’t quite pinpoint.
They’re not even good dancers:
I would like to blame it on a 13-year-old’s childish innocence and the discovery that goes on during puberty; but I can’t. A year later, a year wiser, I ended up buying The Boys self-titled sequel. My love was not limited to one foolish year; I couldn’t get enough of these kids and their off-pitch vocals. To make matters worse, I enjoyed the second album even more than their first. My journey into the abyss of dissonance only deepened.
My favorite song on their second album had to be “I Had A Dream”. I found this comment on discrimination to be riveting, carrying a message like no other song had done before (in my young eyes, it put Marvin Gaye to shame). Re-listening to it this weekend (I decided to torture my friend with my walk down memory lane), I discovered what I once found to be a poignant song was actually a borderline insult to Martin Luther King Jr. The mix of the “My Prerogative” rip-off background music and MLK’s voice being scratched incessantly, results in what resembles a parody song.
I also like that this video I found was using this song to promote Obama in 08’:
The band went on to release another album, “The Saga Continues…”, but I can proudly say that I finally freed myself from their clutches thanks to the help of Jimi Hendrix and the growing grunge scene (I’ve since found out that The Boys and their families moved to Africa and formed the band Suns of Light which is still together today). All of my R&B tapes found a new home in the back of my closet as I realized that my prejudice against guitar driven music was misguided (my hatred for hair metal blinded me far too long).
But the question still remains: why did I like The Boys in the first place? I’d like to believe it was a result of me being a member a middle school male quartet that performed at county fairs and talent competitions. Then again, I never shared the music of The Boys to the other members of the group nor did we sing any of their horrific songs.
Pondering this question with my friend the other night, he suggested that maybe I wanted to be a black kid. This hypothesis is based on a recent omission that I may have enjoyed the “Rumpshaker” video a bit too much as a teenager. I also had a cult following of the NBA (and still do), but, again, I disagree with this theory. I never bought hip-hop clothes and never cut silly designs in my hair.
Over the past few days I’ve thought more about the origins of my allegiance to The Boys, and I think I’ve sort of figured it out. Musically, I’ll never understand what I found enjoyment in, but I do think my love of the obscure grew out of my secret delight in their music. My unshared adoration was mine and mine alone (at least in my Midwestern stomping grounds). I didn’t hear it on the radio, and my friends weren’t all clamoring to hear the latest from The Boys. I felt ownership with them (not in the slavery sense you weirdo); they were my band, and I kind of liked that feeling of discovering something others around me ignored. This pattern would continue as I headed into high school and found a solace in real bands like Fugazi, Jawbox, and Shudder To Think. And really, you can’t deny that The Boys were one Ian MacKaye away from being a damn good group.