Color Me Badd
Color Me Badd
Emerging in 1991 with the album C.M.B., Color Me Badd helped to define the smooth R&B trend called “New Jack swing.” Whether the band’s actual influence upon later acts such as Boyz II Men was as decisive as Color Me Badd themselves would claim is debatable, but they were among the first in the 1990s to popularize a blend of rap, classic R&B, and harmonized ballads in one package. However, after their sudden appearance into the limelight, Color Me Badd slid back towards obscurity with a pair of follow albums that failed to recapture the chemistry of their debut.
Although born in different cities, all of Color Me Badd’s members—Bryan Abrams, Mark Calderon, Sam Watters, and Kevin “KT” Thornton—grew up together in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Like many young singers, the foursome began vocal training within the setting of a church choir, and were able to create a local reputation before entering high school. After taking on the name Color Me Badd in 1987, they plied their trade in the halls of their school singing the doo-wop style of harmonizing made popular in the 1950s. After performing at several
Members include Bryan Abrams, (born November 16, 1969, in Oklahoma City, OK), vocals; Mark Calderon, (born September 27, 1970, in Los Angeles, CA), vocals; Kevin “KT” Thornton, (born June 17, 1969, in MD), vocals; Sam Watters (born July 23, 1970, in TX), vocals.
Group formed in 1987 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; signed with Giant Records, 1990; “I Wanna Sex You Up” appeared on New Jack City soundtrack, 1991; released debut album C.M.B., 1991; performed with Boyz II Men and Jodeci at Soul Train Music Awards, 1992; released second album Time and Chance, 1993; released Now and Forever, 1996.
Awards: Best R&B/soul song (“I Wanna Sex You Up”), American Music Award, 1991; Best R&B/soul song and Best R&B/soul song performed by a group, band, or duo, Soul Train Music Awards 1991.
Addresses: Record company —Revolution, 729 Seventh Avenue, 12th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
talent shows, it was not long before the quartet had gained enough credibility to audition for high-profile musicians, such as rocker Jon Bon Jovi, whose tours brought them through Oklahoma City.
When Robert Bell of the group Kool and the Gang saw the group perform, he was impressed enough to pull the necessary strings to land Color Me Badd their own manager. However, after relocating to New York City in hopes of making their break, the act found themselves back in a sea of show business contenders. “It was a struggle,” Watters later told Bill Francis of Billboard. “For a year and a half, we slept on the floor of the one-bedroom apartment we were sharing with one of our managers.” After that period of dogged perseverance, Color Me Badd was signed to Giant Records in August of 1990.
Having been struck by the sensual feel of Color Me Badd’s demo tapes, Giant executive Cassandra Mills took decided to unveil her new signing act in an upcoming film soundtrack, New Jack City, a gritty 1991 crime film in need of a soulful, erotic number. After Mills delegated the writing duties to producer Dr. Freeze, who had given the group Bell Biv DeVoe their hit “Do Me,” Color Me Badd delivered the song “I Wanna Sex You Up.” Flavoring the cut with their own barbershop quartet nuances, Color Me Badd’s result became the biggest hit of the New Jack City soundtrack and caused Giant to slate the group’s debut album for as early a release as possible. The single release of “I Wanna Sex You Up” cut to the head of sales charts, and Color Me Badd was suddenly in demand.
As the New Jack City album offered no photos of Color Me Badd, many listeners were surprised to find that four-piece was comprised of various ethnic backgrounds. “A lot of people were surprised that we’re not an all-black group,” Abrams told Francis. “So when people listened to our song, they liked it for what it sounded like, not what we looked like.” The band’s blurring of color lines in the face of an often segregated market was refreshing, and in fact is at the heart of Color Me Badd’s moniker. “The name Color Me Badd is a state of mind,” said Thornton. “Color me ‘bad’ or don’t color me anything at all. The type of music that we have doesn’t have a color. It comes from within.”
By summer of 1991, the group released C.M.B., proving they were more than one-hit wonders. Expanding upon their self-named style of “hip-hop-doo-wop,” Color Me Badd crooned a collection of ballads and funk-laced pop tunes such as “I Adore Mi Amor” and “All For Love,” both of which were Number One singles. However, while C.M.B. was embraced by record buyers, critics found the record formulaic, if amiable enough. “[T]he group itself is fairly evidently fabricated to marketing specifications,” wrote Mim Udovitch in Village Voice. “They don’t play any instruments, they don’t write most of their material, and though they sing and rap nicely, if unremarkably, for all I know it’s not even their vocals. None of which detracts from the album’s slight but satisfying charm in the least.”
After “I Wanna Sex You Up” racked up statues at various music awards, Color Me Badd set themselves to work on their follow up album. Perhaps in response to charges of being studio pawns, the quartet helped pen the cuts for their next release, albeit under the guidance of a bevy of experienced producers that included DJ Pooh, David Foster, and the team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The resulting songs, which appeared on the 1993 album, Time and Chance, bore a passing resemblance to the R&B groups of the 1960s that had influenced Color Me Badd, such as the Temptations and the Four Tops. “Once [our producers] heard tracks like ‘Trust Me’ and ‘God Is Love,’ Abrams told Billboard ’s David Nathan, “they got the direction we were going in. It’s more of a an adult sound, because we’re growing, and it reflects our love for older music.” Unfortunately, few of Time and Chance’s 14 tracks were as catchy as the group’s earlier singles, and the album withdrew from the public eye after a brief chart sojourn.
The group counted their losses and took some time off before returning to the studio, writing songs for other pop singers, including Paula Abdul. When Color Me Badd returned it was with an even larger arsenal of producers than on Time and Chance, most notably Grammy-winner Babyface and Narada Michael Walden, who was an uplifting force for Color Me Badd’s members. “Working with Narada was an incredible experience,” Watters remarked on the band’s internet homepage. “He would light candles in the studio, set up props, do anything to make us really feel what the song was saying. It was very inspirational.” In addition, the band prefaced their new album with a fairly successful live tour of Asia, where their popularity had not waned as radically as it had in North America. Nevertheless, the resulting Now and Forever, released in 1996, was Color Me Badd’s biggest disappointment to date.
Almost completely ignored by critics, Now and Forever bore signs of being a calculated effort to recapture the formula that had made C.M.B. so popular. The first single, “Sexual Capacity,” was another steamy soundtrack tune, featured in the film Striptease, but whereas the similarly themed “I Wanna Sex You Up” had became a summer anthem, “Sexual Capacity” was cast into the deepest reaches of the charts. In spite of such abysmal reception, Color Me Badd band remained undaunted in interviews at the time, and even claimed responsibility for the influx of male vocal groups that had recorded in the wake of C.M.B.. “We know a lot of groups have come along since we started recording in 1991,” Watters claimed in a 1996 online interview, “and we know we were the first to hit it big. It makes us feel good when some of these newer groups let us know we inspire them.”
C.M.B., Giant, 1991.
(Contributor) New Jack City (soundtrack), 1991.
Time and Chance, Giant, 1993.
Now and Forever, Giant/Revolution, 1996.
Billboard, May 11, 1991; May 25, 1991; March 21, 1992; December 4, 1993; April 6, 1996; August 10, 1996.
Village Voice, September 3, 1991.
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