For Bell Biv DeVoe, who will ring in the new with Keith Sweat and Johnny Gill at the Baltimore Arena Monday, 1990 was a very good year. Not only did the group's debut album, "Poison," pass the 2 million mark in sales, but the trio was also named "Top New Pop Artists" by Billboard magazine.
That should hardly come as a surprise to radio listeners. After all, Bell Biv DeVoe's singles -- "Poison," the steamy "Do Me" and the current "B.B.D. (I Thought It Was Me)" -- have been all but inescapable on the airwaves this year. Even MTV seemed utterly addicted to the group's blend of rap rhythms, R&B harmonies and pop melody.
Even so, at least three people still admit to being amazed at the album's success -- namely, Ricky Bell, Michael "Biv" Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe.
"I didn't expect it to do as well as it's doing," says Ricky Bell, speaking over the phone from a tour stop in Syracuse, N.Y. "We knew that, you know, our peers would like it, because this is the kind of music that was happening in the streets. But as far as crossing over and all of that, I didn't think it was going to do that well."
Having grown up as members of New Edition, none of the three was exactly a stranger to the crossover phenomenon. But New Edition's sound played heavily off R&B conventions, making it easier for pop fans to digest. Says Bell, "The kind of style we were groomed into from our early days had this Temptations, Jacksons, Blue Magic kind of feel. That was what caught us, that whole kind of flavor."
"Poison," on the other hand, takes its cues from the more modern sounds of hip-hop and house. "We just figured we'd go in the studio and do what we've been wanting to do all along, the kind of music that we've been listening to," he says. "When we'd go hang out at the clubs or whatever, that's what was happening. We were just into that."
At the same time, however, the three wanted to add their own twist, to give the music a personal flavor. "We wanted that hip-hop flavor, but we wanted to kind of smooth it out," explains Bell. "We figured we'd put some harmonies, some melodies over and that would kind of smooth the whole thing out.
"Our music is mentally hip-hop, smoothed out on the R&B tip, with a pop feel appeal to it. We want to be the first to express this kind of music. We knew what we wanted to do."
They also knew who they wanted to do it with: Hank Shocklee, Eric "Vietnam" Sadler and Keith Shocklee, the producers behind Public Enemy's densely rhythmic sound. Bell agrees that the Shocklee/Sadler/Shocklee team was an outrageous choice, but says that was part of their appeal.
"We listened to Public Enemy's stuff and we were just amazed," he says. "We just thought, 'Damn! Imagine us doing something like that.' Because we always think 'Why not?' We always ask that question. A lot of artists don't. So we'll just do anything, just go with our feelings. And that's usually what works best for us."
Bell Biv DeVoe When: Monday, Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Baltimore Arena
Call: 481-6000 for tickets, 347-2010 for information.