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New Kids On The Block at Talking Stick Arena
May 22 @ 7:30 pm - 11:30 pm
After his success with New Edition, producer Maurice Starrdecided to replicate the singing group by substituting suburban white kids for the young black teenagers. The result was New Kids on the Block, a pioneering boy band that eclipsed the popularity of Starr‘s previous group while laying the groundwork for the teen pop boom of the late ’90s. During the New Kids‘ heyday, the group reportedly earned over one million dollars per week, and their string of hit singles — the bulk of which reinterpreted R&B-styled street music for a young female audience — made them one of the era’s most successful acts. Following a botched attempt to rough up their clean-cut image with 1994’s Face the Music, however, the boys disbanded, only to reconvene 14 years later for a comeback album and supporting tour.
In 1985, Maurice Starr launched a citywide talent search in Boston, where he hoped to assemble an adolescent vocal group. Donnie Wahlberg, Jordan Knight, Jon Knight, Danny Wood, and Joe McIntyre were soon recruited to join, with Starr presiding over the young teenagers as manager, choreographer, songwriter, and producer. A contract with Columbia Records followed, and New Kids on the Block made an awkward, enthusiastic debut with their self-titled album in 1986. At the time, the group’s oldest members were barely 16 years old, while McIntyre was only 12.
For their next album, 1988’s Hangin’ Tough, New Kids on the Block bolstered their neo-bubblegum beginnings with slick, radio-ready pop songs. From the saccharine ballad “I’ll Be Loving You Forever” to the title track’s stab at funk, the album spun off a seemingly endless streak of hits in 1988 and 1989. Five songs entered the Top Ten, and even the group’s Christmas album (released during the height of New Kidsmania in late 1989) went double platinum, effectively riding the coattails of Hangin’ Tough up the Billboard charts. In another savvy marketing move, Columbia Records released a single from the group’s previous album, which became a Top Ten hit in 1989 despite being three years old. It helped jump-start sales for the middling debut record, and both Hangin’ Tough and New Kids on the Block climbed to multi-platinum status before the decade’s end.
New Kids mania continued in 1990 with Step by Step, whose title track became the group’s biggest single to date. The album sold three million copies in America — a far cry from Hangin’ Tough‘s eight million copies, perhaps, but a remarkable feat nevertheless — and also fared well internationally, moving an additional 16 million units in other parts of the world. The boys supported their release with a Coke-sponsored tour, including 100 dates in the U.S. and additional performances overseas. Meanwhile, they also unveiled an extensive line of licensed merchandise — including dolls, lunch boxes, attire, and bed sheets — that earned the group an additional $400 million in 1991. Coupled with the sheer size of their official fan club, the modest popularity of 1991’s No More Games: The Remix Album, and the amount of calls placed to “the Official NKOTB Hotline” at 1-900-909-5KID, the group’s merchandising efforts made them the highest-paid entertainers of the year, beating out the likes of Michael Jackson and Madonna.
Even so, Step by Step proved to be the group’s last album to enjoy such global success. The New Kidswere the subject of an endless number of jokes, including allegations that they hadn’t sung a note during the Hangin’ Tough recording sessions. Furthermore, their teenaged audience was growing up, as signified by the failure of Step by Step‘s final single, “Let’s Try It Again,” to break the Top 40. In 1994, they rechristened themselves NKOTB (a move that was intended to distance the then-twenty-something singers from their kid-oriented past) and returned with Face the Music, which showed a remarkable degree of musical maturity. The group had grown into a credible urban R&B outfit, eschewing the help of Maurice Starr and writing many of the songs themselves. Face the Music failed to replicate any shred of their previous success, however, and New Kids on the Block acrimoniously parted ways in June 1994.
Various members of the New Kids launched solo careers later in the decade, with Knight scoring a gold-selling record in 1999 and Donnie Wahlberg landing several movie roles. Attempts to reunite the group in the early 2000s proved fruitless; however, the bandmembers surprisingly reconvened in early 2008, announcing their decision to tour in support of a new album. The Block arrived later that year, debuting at number two on the Billboard charts and selling 100,000 copies in its first week.
By the late ’80s, hip-hop was on its way to becoming a male-dominated art form, which is what made the emergence of Salt-n-Pepa so significant. As the first all-female rap crew (even their DJs were women) of importance, the group broke down a number of doors for women in hip-hop. They were also one of the first rap artists to cross over into the pop mainstream, laying the groundwork for the music’s widespread acceptance in the early ’90s. Salt-n-Pepa were more pop-oriented than many of their contemporaries, since their songs were primarily party and love anthems, driven by big beats and interlaced with vaguely pro-feminist lyrics that seemed more powerful when delivered by the charismatic and sexy trio. While songs like “Push It” and “Shake Your Thang” made the group appear to be a one-hit pop group during the late ’80s, Salt-n-Pepa defied expectations and became one of the few hip-hop artists to develop a long-term career. Along with LL Cool J, the trio had major hits in both the ’80s and ’90s, and, if anything, they hit the height of their popularity in 1994, when “Shoop” and “Whatta Man” drove their third album, Very Necessary, into the Top Ten.
Cheryl “Salt” James and Sandy “Pepa” Denton were working at a Sears store in Queens, New York, when their co-worker, and Salt‘s boyfriend, Hurby “Luv Bug” Azor asked the duo to rap on a song he was producing for his audio production class at New York City’s Center for Media Arts. The trio wrote an answer to Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick‘s “The Show,” entitling it “The Show Stopper.” The song was released as a single under the name Super Nature in the summer of 1985, and it became an underground hit, peaking at number 46 on the national R&B charts. Based on its success, the duo, who were now named Salt-n-Pepa after a line in “The Show Stopper,” signed with the national indie label Next Plateau. Azor, who had become their manager, produced their 1986 debut Hot, Cool & Vicious, which also featured DJ Pamela Green. He also took songwriting credit for the album, despite the duo’s claims that they wrote many of its lyrics.
Three singles from Hot, Cool & Vicious — “My Mike Sounds Nice,” “Tramp,” “Chick on the Side” — became moderate hits in 1987 before Cameron Paul, a DJ at a San Francisco radio station, remixed “Push It,” the B-side of “Tramp,” and it became a local hit. “Push It” was soon released nationally and it became a massive hit, climbing to number 19 on the pop charts; the single became one of the first rap records to be nominated for a Grammy. Salt-n-Pepa jettisoned Greene and added rapper and DJ Spinderella (born Deidre “Dee Dee” Roper) before recording their second album, A Salt With a Deadly Pepa. Though the album featured the Top Ten R&B hit “Shake Your Thang,” which was recorded with the go-go band E.U., it received mixed reviews and was only a minor hit.
The remix album A Blitz of Salt-n-Pepa Hits was released in 1989 as the group prepared their third album, Blacks’ Magic. Upon its spring release, Blacks’ Magic was greeted with strong reviews and sales. The album was embraced strongly by the hip-hop community, whose more strident members accused the band of trying too hard to crossover to the pop market. “Expression” spent eight weeks at the top of the rap charts and went gold before it was even cracked the pop charts, where it would later peak at 26. Another single from the album, “Let’s Talk About Sex,” became their biggest pop hit to date, climbing to number 13. They later re-recorded the song as a safe-sex rap, “Let’s Talk About AIDS.”
Before they recorded their fourth album, Salt-n-Pepa separated from Azor, who had already stopped seeing Salt several years ago. Signing with London/Polygram, the group released Very Necessary in 1993. The album was catchy and sexy without being a sellout, and the group’s new, sophisticated sound quickly became a monster hit. “Shoop” reached number four on the pop charts, which led the album to the same position as well. “Whatta Man,” a duet with the vocal group En Vogue, reached number three on both the pop and R&B charts in 1994. A final single from the album, “None of Your Business,” was a lesser hit, but it won the Grammy for Best Rap Performance in 1995. Since the release of Very Necessary, Salt-n-Pepa have been quiet, spending some time on beginning acting careers. Both had already appeared in the 1993 comedy Who’s the Man?
Naughty by Nature pulled off the neat trick of landing big, instantly catchy anthems on the pop charts while maintaining their street-level credibility among the hardcore rap faithful; one of the first groups to successfully perform such a balancing act. The group was formed in East Orange, NJ, in 1986, while all three members — MCs Treach (born Anthony Criss) and Vinnie (born Vincent Brown), and DJ Kay Gee (born Keir Gist) — were attending the same high school. Initially called New Style, they began performing at talent shows and were discovered by Queen Latifah a few years later; she signed the group to her management company and helped them land a deal with Tommy Boy Records. Naughty by Nature‘s self-titled debut was released in 1991 and produced an inescapable Top Ten hit in “O.P.P.” (which supposedly stood for “other people’s property,” though a close listen to the lyrics revealed that the second P represented male or female genitals). “O.P.P.” made Naughty by Nature crossover stars, yet their ghetto sensibility and gritty street funk (not to mention Treach‘s nimble rhyming technique) made them popular in the hip-hop underground as well. Treach began a secondary acting career in 1992, appearing in Juice; he would go on to supporting roles in The Meteor Man, Who’s the Man?, and Jason’s Lyric, among others.
Naughty by Nature repeated their success with the 1993 follow-up album, 19 Naughty III, which produced another ubiquitous crossover smash in the “hey! ho!” chant of “Hip Hop Hooray”; the album hit the Top Five and, like its predecessor, went platinum. 1995’s Poverty’s Paradise was the group’s final album for Tommy Boy; though it didn’t spawn any major hits, it went on to win a Grammy for Best Rap Album. A recording hiatus of several years followed; during that time, Treach pursued his acting career, most notably landing a recurring role on the HBO prison drama Oz; and Kay Geegreatly expanded his outside production work, helming records for Zhané, Aaliyah, Krayzie Bone, and Next, among others. Even outside of music, the group made headlines; in 1997, both Treach and Vinnie were arrested in Harlem for illegal weapons possession, and, in 1999, Treach married Pepa, of Salt-N-Pepa (a union that would dissolve two years later). Also in 1999, Naughty by Nature finally returned with a new album on Arista, titled 19 Naughty Nine: Nature’s Fury. “Jamboree,” featuring Zhané, was a sizable hit, but though the group looked to be back on track, Kay Gee departed to concentrate full-time on his production career. Treach and Vinnie struck a deal with TVT, and the first Naughty by Nature album as a duo, IIcons, was released in early 2002. Momentum slowed for the group by the latter half of the 2000’s, but in 2011, rumors circulated that Naughty by Nature were working on a comeback album, titled Anthem Inc.