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.

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“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.

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Shared on WordPress: “David Gest’s Final Radio Interview About His Delight At Reuniting The Jackson’s — ALL THINGS MICHAEL”

via All Things Michael

‘ One of David Gest’s final radio interviews reveals the late star discussing his good friend Michael Jackson and reuniting The Jackson 5 back in 2001. Music producer Gest died at the age of 62 on Tuesday , with the cause of death being treated as unexplained. The US star grew up with Jackson and […]

via David Gest’s Final Radio Interview About His Delight At Reuniting The Jackson’s — ALL THINGS MICHAEL

Friday “Flashblack”: The Wiz

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The Wiz Live on NBC last night was such soul stirring black excellence, I thought that instead of writing a new blog piece on it today, I would rewind to a blog piece I wrote back in 2012 about the 1978 film, which is my all-time favorite.  In fact, the piece was part of my blog post called “Soul Stirring,” a series of late night musings about random subjects that came to mind.  That particular night, I had been up watching The Wiz on Bounce TV, I believe, at 3 or 4 in the morning and I saw it for the first time through my sleepy adult eyes.  I never understood people, mostly men, who said they didn’t like it. It wasn’t until I realized that they had been looking at the film through the eyes of maturity and not childhood did I finally understand because I made this mistake once when I couldn’t sleep and it was weird.  Though, I didn’t dislike the film, it was just a different viewing experience.

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As I told someone yesterday, The 1978 film with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson was intended to be blaxploitation for kids, pure and simple and it has to be viewed that way to be thoroughly enjoyed or you take the magic out of it, and there is so much magic in that film.  The more I watch it, in the 38 years since I first saw it at age 4, I find things I never notice, hear little quips I never knew were spoken and it becomes even more enjoyable.  And after last night’s version, which I already pre-ordered, I now have three versions of this wonderful piece of black art to love: the original 1975 stage play, the 1978 film, and the 2015 live TV version, just like with Hairspray.  The Wiz is so much a part of my life that there are no words to describe its meaning, so I will just leave it here with my 2012 blog post, Diana Ross in THE WIZ and Motown/Universal Pictures’s Very Real Marketing Problem:  Going Back 35 Years To Move A Generation Forward Now.

Aw Hell, Phaedra Parks Made Tootie Cry!

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Over the last few seasons, various additions to the cast have left Real Housewives of Atlanta something I have not cared to watch.  And frankly, the fact that there are fewer wives and mothers on the show makes it not exactly live up to the title  That aside, I was particularly moved by a preview of tonight’s episode that featured a moment of realization between Phaedra Parks and new housewife, Kim Fields.

I grew up watching Kim who made appearances on Good Times in the 1970’s, in commercials saying “right on, Christie!,” while championing Barbie’s black friend, on Facts of Life in the 1980’s, and again on the 1990’s sitcom Living Single with Queen Latifah.  I even enjoyed her directing work on the Tyler Perry sitcoms.

Kim is now crying to Phaedra saying how she lost herself and it is eerily reminiscent of when Mrs. Gordon told Wilona the same on an episode of Good Times before she abandoned Penny (played by Janet Jackson).  Not because Kim is a bad or abusive mother, she’s actually the opposite, you hear as much in the exchange she has with Phaedra.  I say it because Kim’s mother, Chip, played Mrs. Gordon she looks just like her.  You are reminded that she comes from a show business family (her younger sister Alexis had a recurring role on Moesha in the 1990’s).

Phaedra gives her some sound advice about finding things that she likes to do, but ignores one main factor that is difficult for people like Fields, this is probably the first time in her life she is not working and doesn’t know how to do that. Phaedra is forgetting that working, for her was a choice.  Kim became a model, then actress before she even knew what that meant and has been doing it longer than some of us have been alive. It is an adjustment that those of us who are not famous, or who like Phaedra, were gifted fame in adulthood cannot possibly understand.
I hope THIS Kim is a good fit for the show. I still won’t be watching.

RHOA airs on Bravo at 8pm EST (I, think)

Fox Announces Grease Live Trailer. I, Mean, Really…They Did.

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The Wiz Live! premieres this week and though NBC’s other live broadcasts have been problematic, the buzz is all about this production.  In the past, the live productions haven’t translated well to TV screens.  However, that may a problem of the past that will not be revisited with The Wiz.  By all indications it seems producers have takens the elements of the live stage play and blended those with the cinematography of the film version starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.  Since the latter is a constant fixture on black television, it is easier to gauge certain visuals on smaller screens and weed out less desirable images.  Coupled with an uncompromising cast of stars, reminiscent of the 1978 film’s star power, The Wiz Live! will almost undoubtedly translate far better than some anticipate.

However, it is not entirely free from the shade of competition. There is always one, my friends.  There is always one. Fox, has decided to enter the picture this week only to remind us that except on Wednesdays, when Empire is still on, they somehow still exist. How do they counter the blackest of all live 1970’s musicals to be recreated on television, by announcing the whitest of all 1970’s live musicals to be recreated on television the same week the former premieres. Why? Just remember that Fox still owns FOX News.  Fox has released their “first look” at Grease Live! Coming in January, Grease stars Dancing With The Stars alum, Julianne Hough as Sandy and Aaron Tveit as Danny. Hough’s acting is, “meh,” and her signing is below subpar.  I had to Google Tveit only to find he’s been in in nothing significant enough to make Fox use him as a lure from the attention being rightfully earned by The Wiz.  To add further insult to injury, the supporting cast includes Vanessa Hudgens, Carlos PenaVega, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Keke Palmer (for shame).

No. This isn’t for shiggles. Fox was dead serious!

NBC is serving up major celebrity realness with Queen Latifah, Common, Mary J. Blige, Ne-Yo and the original Dorothy, Stephanie Mills among other big stars in their live version while Fox gives the equivalent of weak tea.

Meanwhile, the folks over at Gossip & Gab are pretty excited about this little high school musical (pun intended!) and you can read their musings here.  I no longer can with this story, it’s too much even for me.  It’s an abomination, and frankly a bit disrespectful. But, hey, time will tell. Grease Live! airs January 31 on Fox.  The Wiz Live! airs this week, December 3rd on NBC.

Top 5 Reasons to Watch the 2015 Soul Train Awards Tonight

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Tonight, BET will air the 2015 Soul Train Awards. Over the years, the show has waxed and waned in terms of its ability to appeal to mass markets, but for many who grew up watching the original Soul Train on Saturday mornings, it is one of the more exciting and more endearing awards shows that celebrates black music and gives just due to artists who often go unrecognized and unrewarded.

This year’s show proves to be an exciting one full of #BlackGirlMagic.  Like shows in the past, it was pre-taped earlier this month and scheduled to air over the holiday weekend.  Here are 5 reasons why the 2015 show is not one to miss:

  1. Let’s be honest, BET hasn’t had much soul in its programming for over a decade and a half.  This will likely be the blackest thing you see on BET since Bob Johnson sold it and they took BET News off the air.
  1. There will be an amazing tribute to Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds where Fantasia SLAYS her rendition of “Superwoman.” Not only does she slay, but she’s got Babyface singing backup. (Guuuurl, tell me how did do you do that!? That’s magic!) Grab a sneak peak here.
  1. The show is being hosted by Erykah Badu who will go a whole 2-3 hours with not even one clothing change! Not a one. Badu also got to serve as the show’s associate producer and write some of her own material for the program.  She discussed this gig with Jimmy Fallon in an interview on his show.
  1. Jill Scott is this year’s recipient of the Lady of Soul award, and rightfully earned.  Scott is being recognized for her long-standing influence in the industry and on soul music.  She celebrates 15 years in the business this year. Jilly from Philly will perform a medley of her hits during the tribute.
  1. Following in the tradition of the BET Awards ever-popular The Cypher series, the Soul Train Awards will offer Soul Cypher, which will mesh current soul artists with those who’ve inspired them.  Erykah Badu will serve as DJ.  If for no other reason, this will be a reason to tune in.  Lalah Hathaway and Eddie Levert will not disappoint.

Soul Train, what was once called “the hippest trip in America,” by its founder, the late Don Cornelius brought soul into the homes of Americans regardless of race from 1973-2006.  Able to claim itself the “longest-running, first-run, nationally syndicated program in American television history,” Soul Train spent an unprecedented 35 years on the air. The awards have been aired every year since 1987, with the exception of 2008.  The program will be simulcast on BET and Centric and will begin at 8pm EST.  Don’t worry if you miss the first run; this is BET, after all. It will re-run until the 2016 pre-show.

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