The end of the road is nowhere in sight for Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men. In fact, he has merged into a new lane, solo.
For nearly the last three decades, the supreme vocalist has been an active member of the legendary R&B group that has given the world countless classics. With over 64 million albums sold worldwide, Boyz II Men is the best-selling R&B group of all-time.
Even with all his success and legacy in Boyz II Men, Stockman isn’t ready to slow down. The 47-year-old singer is shifting focus to his solo career.
His debut album Foreword is available now via SRG ILS/UMG. The 11-track set includes his top five Adult R&B single “Feelin Lil Som’n,” as well as his most recent single “All I Do.”
“‘All I Do’ is about a relationship that’s seen its share of problems, yet instead of it withering away it gets even better with age,” Stockman explained in an Instagram post. “I think we focus too much on being in a ‘relationship’ and not enough on being a friend to the one you love. This song is about a friendship between two people devoted to staying with each other forever.”
For production and writing, Stockman opted to work with heavyweights like Tim Kelley, Raphael Saadiq, Antonio Dixon and Erik “Blu2th” Griggs.
In our conversation with Stockman, he talks more about the creative process behind Foreword, he explains the divine timing of the project, gets candid about his thoughts on how today’s music industry operates and more.
Foreword has been in the making for some time. In fact, it includes all the songs from your Shawn EP that was released in 2018. Why did you decide to keep those songs on the album?
It’s all about continuity and I wanted people to hear what they heard first. I’m taking this whole experience and this whole journey in baby steps, not wanting to give too much too fast. I want people to be familiar with my music and how I sound. Hopefully, they’ll get that same appreciation when they hear the rest of the record by listening to what they already fell in love with. That was the whole point. I could’ve done a whole new five or six records but again, I want people to get to know me as an artist first and a lot of that comes with consistency and continuity.
What’s the significance of the album’s title?
It’s basically fitting that same mold in the sense of foreword is normally an introduction to something someone wrote in a book and as the saying goes, “All of our lives are books being written.” This is my intro to the world as the person you know as one of the guys from another group venturing out on another journey; that’s why I called it Foreword. It’s my courting stage to the public, letting people know who I am. This is how I view things. This is how I view life. This is how I write. It’s also a double entendre of moving forward and progressively in life and in music.
Coming from the best-selling R&B group of all-time with a catalog that spans more than two decades, was there a difference in the way you creatively approached this album as a solo act versus when recording with the group?
Yeah, just the experience of being in the studio by myself was a different approach. Normally, I have the workload to share with two other guys. If I’m stumped on a verse or a chorus or something like that then I can kind of pass it to the other two and I know that I’ll be okay. From this experience, everything was all on me, which is great because I understood the nature of the beast of doing things on your own.
Given all the success Boyz II Men has had and all the hits and history they’ve made, was there ever a moment where you felt that pressure while working on your debut album?
No, I think that’s why this album is cool at this time in my life. I think if I did it at the tail end of my group’s success it would be a level of pressure. If I did it in between that time and now, there would be a level of pressure. Since I’m in a comfortable space — my guys are in a comfortable space — I am able to explore freely because no one expected this anyway. There’s no preset notions or foregone conclusions as to what this project is because no one knows what the hell it is [laughs] so it allows me to be myself. The only pressure that comes with it, I guess you can say, is not having that comfort again of two other guys to fall back on once I perform live. Mistakes will be made, flubs will happen, but then again that’s part of growing. The project itself was no pressure at all. I was able to do exactly what I wanted to do. That was the beauty of all of this. It’s what I wanted it to be.
We’ve seen some artists postpone album release dates during this unprecedented time, while some have gone forward with releasing their music. What do you hope people take away from listening to Foreword, especially during a time like this?
To some degree, it’s unfortunate as this occurrence with the virus, it also to my advantage personally it allows the world to slow down and to be able to look around and potentially see things that they might have not seen because everybody was moving and moving so fast.
I can confidently say this album put in an environment like being at home — whether you are working from home or just not doing at all — is great mood music. It allows everybody to put something in the background while you’re cooking breakfast for the kids or for yourself or doing whatever and it not intrude with your day. It’s music that people will enjoy in these types of environments. To be honest, there was an advantage of the status of this world right now. Even if they weren’t expecting to buy my music, they’re bored and trying to discover new music and they may stumble across mine and hopefully be impressed by it. It’s a good thing, in that sense. I am still able to talk to folks like you who are able to get the word out in hopes that people will go and love it and tell their friends about it, too.
R&B artists have been put in such a bubble that the music isn’t growing, the artists aren’t growing and the content isn’t maturing.
Earlier this year, you made a post on Instagram about being in the business for 29 years and witnessing a lot of things going on in R&B music that just isn’t right. What exactly were you referring to?
I guess I’m speaking on behalf of R&B artists around the world. I’m not saying that they agree but I’m just taking the liberty of doing it. From looking around and seeing the moves that a lot of R&B artists are making, I feel like a lot of those artists have been pushed into a corner. In the attempt to stay relevant, they are doing things that may not necessarily be of their character. But in order to pay bills and put food on the table and still be able to do what they love in some capacity, they’re singing songs that you can kind of tell is an attempt to be something that they might not really be. I’m not talking about the ones that sing certain records about who they are, I’m speaking of the ones that are doing things uncharacteristically.
Even the new artists, it’s like I just feel like — and it’s not their fault at all — but R&B artists have been put in such a bubble that the music isn’t growing, the artists aren’t growing and the content isn’t maturing. It’s the same content over and over again. Yes, we all speak about love but there are different aspects of it and I feel like it’s because the industry has put such a chokehold on how things are done and how certain things should sound in order for it to get airplay on certain radio stations. It sucks.
Have you ever noticed that with popular urban radio stations, the only way you’ll hear an artist like Usher is if he’s doing a feature with someone who is considered current? Why is it? Why can’t Usher do a record on his own and it be received? Why can’t somebody like him, who has been known to create hit records, just be able to get airplay on the strength of him being who he is? Why does he have to get a co-sign? He’s one of the biggest artists the industry has ever seen and he has to get a co-sign. That’s weird to me.
To be able to hear Keyshia Cole with Kehlani. Why can’t Keyshia Cole put out her own record and those same stations support her? I want to be specific with what I’m talking about. I just find those moves weird because it’s like Usher still sings good. What’s wrong with his voice? Is it because he’s over 40? Who put this stigma on R&B music? I come from an era — when we were 19, 21 years old — we were young kids but on those same radio stations, you heard Luther Vandross who was years older than us.; you heard Patti LaBelle because there wasn’t segregation at all. It was good R&B music.
Now, it’s become about image and age to where it makes artists feel — from my era and maybe a little younger — they have to do these things in order to be heard and that’s not cool. I hear these songs on the radio and I’m like, “The song is dope but it would be nice for that same radio station to support the Ushers, the Keyshia Coles, the Faith Evans, the Tanks and people like that who have been in it for over 10 years and still get that same love.”
You take from the era but you’re not supporting the people that created the era.
It’s almost like it doesn’t matter how many records an artist has sold in the past. If you aren’t hot now, then everything you’ve done in the past gets overlooked, even though today’s singers are heavily inspired 90s R&B music — inspired by groups like Boyz II Men. Yet, it feels like the respect isn’t there, which is very frustrating. Thoughts?
It’s weird to me. Roddy Ricch has a hot record out right now [“Ballin”] that uses a 702 sample [“Get It Together”] and part of the reason why the record is hot is Mustard used a ‘90s record. So, it’s almost like people know that the ‘90s exist, people appreciate it and love it, yet they don’t support the ‘90s artists, which is weird to me. You take from the era but you’re not supporting the people that created the era. That’s what I meant as far as that is concerned. I’m looking at what the industry is doing right now and it’s really bizarre (laughs).
Lastly, since we’ve been on quarantine, we’ve seen producers and songwriters engage in battles on Instagram Live — it was all started by Timbaland and Swizz Beatz. What are your thoughts on these battles?
I’ve been enjoying them. I watched the Ne-Yo and Johnta [Austin] one, which was really good. I watched T-Pain and Lil Jon, which was great. I watched Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, which was awesome. Again, desperate times call for creative measures and these things are bringing out the true artists, in whatever environment or circumstances, still move people and that’s a true testament to the real talent that’s out there. I’m loving it. I’m loving the energy.
Stream Shawn Stockman’s debut album Foreword below.