BIVISMS: After 30 years in the industry, Michael Bivins of New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe continues to inspire and influence with his own “brand” of self (2011)

In 2011, I was Editor-In-Chief of an online music magazine, On The Rise.  In addition to my editorial duties, I also wrote two columns.  One of those columns was a “Where Are They Now” type of feature where I found and located some of my favorite artists from my youth to learn about their work today. My first piece was the result of an interview with Michael Bivins of New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe fame.  In honor of the excellently produced, scripted and acted BET miniseries, The New Edition Story, which is airing this week, I present the article I wrote back then.  I also wrote about Ralph Tresvant and will post that piece, if I can locate it, as well.  This article is printed in its original form, including all photographs.

BIVISMS

196b2eb9Michael Bivins in New York City, courtesy of sportyrich.com

Over the last 20 years, Michael Bivins has discovered and crafted the images of some of the most infamous groups in R&B.  As a member of both New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe, the former head of his own distributed label, Creative Consultant for Season 4 of Diddy’s “Making the Band,” and as former host of TNT Overtime’s “Running The Point With Michael Bivins,” he stays active behind the scenes, seeking opportunities where he can grow his empire and expand his strength and an entrepreneur.  Today he is the Founder and CEO of Sporty Rich Enterprises, a multifaceted “lifestyle” company that focuses on music, fashion, community, and entertainment.  He has been recognized as a “Man of Influence”, inspiring so many artists in the industry and one writer in particular…1423611528-h

“The girl led me to the music…”

       Most women can remember their first celebrity “crush.”  I do, for sure.  But how many of us think about just how that person has influenced our lives in the now, or about the impact they’ve had over the years as we grow into the women we will ultimately become?  Or better yet, how they inspire our attraction to the type of men we will allow into our dating pool and how they will dress?  They say that the image of a man is often enhanced by the woman he chooses to stand beside him.  This is very true.  But, a man’s words are equally powerful in the lives of women and he can influence how she sees herself, or how she wants others to see her.  

       And most times, he can just not know it.  

       As I began exploring ideas for whom I would like the first person featured in this new column for On The Rise Magazine, I really began to look at those who inspired me and helped create a mosaic of personality that lives in this one body.  

       The more I thought about it, the personality was part of a larger image and when I look in the mirror—the one made of glass in my bedroom and the mirror of my mind, I see my shoes.  

       My Shoes.

       You can tell a lot about someone just by the shoes they wear.  But we often never know why people choose the shoes that they do. I love my shoes. More specifically, I love my stilettos. Why? Because of something I heard that celebrity crush from my teens say once back in 1991 in an interview with Donnie Simpson on Video Soul, a “Bivism,” if you will, and one of many that have inspired me over the years.   These words, from various interviews and appearances, have helped create an image that is as much a part of who I am as the birthmark over my left eye.  And with that in mind, there was no doubt that I would begin this column by interviewing Michael Bivins of New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe fame.

       Our interview was more like a conversation between old friends, and it became evident that from the onset, his early years—even before his New Edition days—Biv was and would always be an image maker.  He understands that your image is your brand and, in entertainment, your brand is your business.  

       It is this knowledge and the work that he has put into it for so long that has given him a rare type of longevity in the business.

mikebiv1Michael Bivins in New York City, courtesy of sportyrich.com

“I just want them to know when they say ‘cool’ they could put my name on the list.”

       What I have always admired about Biv is his sense of cool.  He had “cool” long before Obama came to sport it in politics, and it was all in him: how he’d stand, pose in pictures, and especially in his impeccable fashion sense.  Biv attributes his cool to someone he admired growing up in Roxbury, MA. “When I was younger, Bobby’s [Brown] older sister’s boyfriend, Charlie…was immaculate to be living in the projects.  He gave us vision…he had a vision of how you should carry yourself.”  

       Still quite young, Biv had the drive to ensure he was equally immaculate, despite being the same kind of kid from the projects.  

        Before he joined New Edition, Biv played basketball and noticed that all the older ball players always had fresh haircuts, especially right before the games.  Not having the money to get a haircut, every week for himself, he went to the barber shop owner and asked how he could help out around the shop to be to able to afford one.  The owner hired Biv to sweep up hair in his shop every day during the week after school and in exchange, on Saturday mornings before his games, Biv got a fresh “Caesar” cut.

       When New Edition formed, Biv was always eager to express himself through fashion and would help coordinate the group’s outfits for videos and live performances.  He helped to craft their image as the “Jackson 5 of the ‘hood.”  But Biv had his sights on becoming the ‘hood version of another music legend.

bebivdevoe

“Quincy Jones in the ‘Hood”

       Even from the early days of New Edition, Biv was as much behind the scenes working to help brand the group as he was performing as one of its founding members.  Inspired by the group’s manager during the early days, Brooke Payne, having at one time called him “Quincy Jones in the hood,” this was the type of businessman Biv patterned himself after.  This was the kind of executive he aspired to be: one who had the most sought after groups and artists in the industry.

       And that is who he would become.

       Riding high on the success of the 1988 New Edition release, “N.E. Heartbreak,” members Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill took a hiatus from the group to pursue solo careers.  “The three were left alone on their own,” and at the suggestion of legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who produced “N.E. Heartbreak,” Biv and fellow New Edition members Ronnie Devoe and Ricky Bell formed Bell Biv Devoe.  Originally, the group called themselves “Bell Bivins Devoe.  It was Biv’s idea to shorten his own name to make it more trendy.  

       Again, Biv found himself in the business of imaging for the group.

       In 1990, their debut album, Poison, named after a song (my theme song) produced by up and coming producers at the time, Spyderman and Dr. Freeze, was a fusion of R&B, Hip-Hop and Pop.  It was a brand they called, “hip-hop, smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop feel, appeal to it.”  The title track became a number one single on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop chart.  The title track and it’s follow up, Do Me! , both reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.  The album went on to sell over 3 million copies and spawn a remix album that was also a success.

       What was so appealing to audiences at the time was not only the music, but also BBD’s style.  It was a style that was a bit more “hardcore” than what New Edition had been sporting, far more representative of the streets where Biv and the rest of the guys grew up.  It was “boots, sneakers, pants inside out with the cuff, leather case for the beepers, baseball cap with the tag, an extra-large shirt to compliment the sag.”  

       It was a new decade.  Biv didn’t just help to pioneer the brand for the group, he also helped to pioneer the “look” for the early ‘90’s, a trend which he continued for the next six years, beginning “one day back in Philly [when] four guys wanted to sing,” and Biv landed his first major discovery.  

bivs-visionMichael Bivins courtesy of sportyrich.com

“I had a vision…”

       When it comes to finding talent, Biv says “it’s not always about finding the best singers, dancers, or rappers.”  Sometimes, it may be “that group that didn’t win the talent show.”  He looks specifically for “what’s missing” in music and in the industry, goes searching for it, and develops it into the level of showmen New Edition had been molded into in their early years.  He goes to talent shows and sits quietly observing, often seeing the potential those around him don’t.  However, sometimes, the talent finds him, as was the case with Boyz II Men.

       As the group’s Manager and Creative Director, Biv branded Boys II Men as purveyors of the “Alexvanderpoolera.”  It was one of the first offerings of “geek-chic,” actually, inspired by a soap opera character named Alex Vanderpool. This era was as much about the fashion as it was about the music; maybe even more so when you consider not every teenage boy can sing like “Nate, Mike, Shawn and Wan,” but they sure rocked the hell out of some denim shorts, colorful button down shirts, printed ties and Converse (I must admit, I kind of did like the Converse).  But Biv also knew this brand wasn’t going to appeal to everyone, so he also made sure to brand them as “cool cats,” too, like himself with the full-length Shearling leather coats and boots.

       Boyz II Men’s debut album, Cooliehighharmony, was Executive Produced by Biv.  The album spawned three #1 R&B singles, one of which went platinum (1 million units sold) and another which went gold (500,000 units sold); it was ranked #45 in Billboard’s Top 200 of the decade, 1990-1999; was a Diamond-Certified record before the RIAA even began certifying sales in excess of 10 million as such, leaving it to remain just a “10 times platinum” record.  These are accomplishments many in the industry now take for granted. 

       Contrary to rumor and speculation over the years, it was his success with Boyz II Men that forced Biv to have to take on more responsibilities as the head of Biv 10 Records, his new label that was to be distributed by Motown Records.  Both parties agreed that the group would be better off with a manager who could give their full attention to maintaining the group’s success.  The split was amicable, no drama, no fuss, and probably was the decision that yielded the result they had all hoped for: Boyz II Men became the biggest selling male-vocal group of the 1990’s.

       In talking with him, it becomes apparent that while he and the rest of New Edition have inspired so many artists and entrepreneurs, Biv is still extremely humbled when the conversation explores his individual influence on others, like a young intern who would later become known as Diddy.  

       Boyz II Men being the biggest group of their time, and seeing the success Biv and Motown were having with the group, other labels began to promote and market groups of this caliber and hiring “Bivites,” to develop their image.  However, at that time no other group could be more similarly aligned with Boyz II Men on style than Jodeci.  

       When Uptown Record’s co-founder Andre Harrell handed Jodeci off to a young intern named Sean “Puffy” Combs (whose voice can at times sound strangely enough like Biv’s) to help craft an image for the group, it is not surprising he looked to the biggest group and created an alter image, but in the same fashion of “cool.”  Diddy demonstrated the same ambition, to want to have his group’s success parallel or supersede the success of Biv’s group, that Biv had in wanting to be like New Edition’s manager.  

       It really isn’t surprising how that came to be, either. There were less than six degrees of separation between Biv and Diddy at that time.  Diddy made an appearance in label mate Stacey Lattisaw’s video “What You Need.”  Biv and the rest of New Edition, in 2004, would release an album, One Love, on Diddy’s Bad Boy label.  Diddy even hired Biv to serve as Creative Consultant for his Making The Band Series, to help craft the image of an all male-vocal group that was to become Day 26.

biv-doing-what-i-do-1Michael Bivins courtesy of sportyrich.com

“I don’t judge….I just keep doing what I do…”

       Having been in the business of music for nearly three decades, he’s often asked what he thinks about the current state of music and how the industry is handling artists.  Biv admittedly does not judge other artists, he listens to what’s out there, but focuses on the music that he’s working on currently with groups he’s developing, including an all male-group from Boston called the Beano Boyz.  He not only helps to craft their image, but also teaches them how to be entertainers, versus just a singing group.  

       This is something he does find lacking in the industry, the grooming of legends.  In fact, he said exactly what was in my head as we broached the subject, “everyone is trying to focus on make stars, not a legend.”  He acknowledges the usefulness of technology in helping to advance how many options people have in choosing how they will consume the product, but believes taking the time to make a quality product is what leads to the kind of success he’s seen in life stating, “It’s too easy to be in the game now. [We’ve] lost that big wall you used to have to work hard to climb over.”  

bivs-million-dollar-attitudr-3Michael Bivins courtesy of sportyrich.com

“Everyone is not going to be rich, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sport a million dollar attitude.”

       With his new company Sporty Rich Enterprises, Biv is revitalizing a part of the business that has long been put to rest, the role of Artist and Repertoire Director as Entrepreneur.  It was a tactic that worked for Berry Gordy in establishing Motown and its 41 imprints, and has undoubtedly worked for Biv in the past.  

       It is also what Biv sees is “missing” in the business right now.  

       He believes that money doesn’t necessarily have to dictate who you are or who you will become, that you can be poor and raised in the projects, as was he, and still carry yourself as if you had the wealth of a Bill Gates.  From his perspective, this does not mean getting involved in illegal activity, but tapping into your entrepreneurial spirit, being creative, and learning the art of negotiation.  It’s about finding your talents and strengths and branding them, becoming that thing, that person, that spirit that other people are missing, will want, and ultimately find that they need. That is what Biv’s influence has been about all these years.

biv-still-hereMichael Bivins courtesy of sportyrich.com

“I think lasting this long is my biggest moment…”

       If what Biv has accomplished for himself isn’t demonstrative enough of his long-term influence, perhaps this may be.  Remember how I began this article talking about the words of a man and their impact on a woman?  Consider all the Bivisms I’ve shared with you throughout this writing.  Now consider this:

     Take a young woman out of one of the poorest cities in New England not much different than Biv’s Roxbury, let’s call it “Elm City.”  

       Imagine “she’s the pretty in pink that makes you think,” an attractive woman, whose favorite color is pink, with a level of intelligence that far exceeds her physical beauty and simultaneously enhances it.  

        Throw in a bit of silly (okay, a whole lot of that because laughter is life), a little “gangsta,” that really just makes her more a product of where she’s from than anything else, just enough to give her the persistence and strength of mind to approach life with type of fearlessness one only finds in a hustler, and finally give her a “mental” that is more metaphysical than most and allows her to “feel” people.  

       Put a pair of stilettos on her (the higher the better) and name her, “Iesha,” spell it with an “A” and drop the “E.”  

       I suppose you would say I just described myself, from my name right down to my shoes.  However, what I just described is the very essence of me, which in turn was not crafted by me, just adapted by me.  I am another (bad) Michael Bivins creation, my very own brand, starting— as I did this article— with the shoes.  I have done what others have done throughout the years, lifted a few things from his vision, in this case of women, as expressed in many of those Bivisms on record and added my own flair. And there have been so many of his words throughout the years that have helped shape me into the woman I have become and will continue to be.

       However, of all the Bivisms I could quote and have quoted, the words I think will have the most influence on me moving forward in life and in continuing to create my own brand now on the business side were not what he recorded, but rather, those he spoke directly to me: “You have a good spirit and a good energy about you” and “You’re a great writer.”

       And those words, just like “the pumps,” my shoes, I will never, ever forget.

You can find out more about what Biv’s up to and view the latest webisode in his series at www.sportyrich.com.

Follow Biv on Twitter @MikeBiv.

To view Mike’s 2009 solo single “Fresh” featuring The Clipse and Lil’ Kim, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaJ473GBLiw.

Advertisements

Why 2016 Is The Year I Don’t Want To Remember, But Will Never Forget

img_20161231_205911

In less than three hours, 2016 will be but a harsh memory and 2017 will begin.  What can I say about the year I don’t care to remember but will never forget?  In a nutshell, 2016 has been the year nothing made sense.  Prince is dead and Donald Trump, imp that he is, was elected to serve as the 45th President of the United States. And I don’t understand any of it. Not at all.

It is like I entered into some unparalleled universe on April 21 where the lines of reality, fantasy, and horror were corroded and much of my time since has been spent trying to find my way out of it; or last least find peace and some semblance of sensibility where there appears to be none.  And common sense, such that it is, seems to be on a permanent vacation.

It has left my heart not wanting to leave this year behind even though my head knows better. It was a terrible year, one I wish I could forget. But because of these nonsensical circumstances, I doubt I ever will be able to erase it from my mind.

Everything that happened this year was colored by the loss of my idol, my most favorite musical talent of all time, and a teacher of sorts.  If I had to say one person who taught me as much, if not more than my parents, one person I could look to and say, “he helped raise me,” that person would be Prince.  And he never knew it.  Through his music I learned things about love, sex and that being different isn’t so much the detriment we tend to believe, but a unique gift bestowed on only a select few.  Being different, quirky, is something to be celebrated, out in the open with no regrets.  I also learned from him that it can, at times, be a lonely existence when you are different by societal standards.  He gave us his music and that was often, for me, the gift I needed to make it through many lonely days as a child and teenager.

His influence on my life, through his music, has had a greater impact than can ever be expressed in words and I am hurt beyond belief that he no longer walks this earth and by how he left it behind.  There is a hole here that no other artist or person can fill. I am 42, and I will live the rest of my life in a world he is not a part of.  At midnight, we will enter into the first year of my lifetime where he does not exist, but as a memory, and I am devastated.  The election in November was just insult to injury and solidified my stance that 2016 was the worst year ever.  On some level I am glad it is almost gone. On another, I wish I could go back to March, equipped with all the knowledge April 21st on has provided.

I hope that 2017 will prove to be a lot kinder, more loving and spare us our legends. I hope… but if I learned anything from 2016, there are no promises, no guarantees. And life, as we have learned all too painfully, can be fleeting.

Prince, you were greatly loved and are greatly missed.

***Upon finishing this article, I learned 1977 was a more deadly year for celebrities. I don’t know why The Telegraph, CNN, and others thought this would be some sort of consolation, especially for those of us who can’t remember 1977, but they did. And it was insensitive, to say the least.