93 ’til Infinity: BBD’s ‘Hootie Mack’ and my confusion about my favorite offshoot from New Edition

OPINION: The debate over whether Bell Biv DeVoe’s sophomore album was good or not was one of the first times I ever lost a musical argument. 

Ronnie DeVoe, Ricky Bell and Michael Bivins of musical group Bell Biv DeVoe performs onstage during the 2018 Black Music Honors at Tennessee Performing Arts Center on August 16, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

To know me is to know that I’m a Bobby Brown stan. While I argued that Jodeci’s “Diary of a Mad Band” is the best R&B album of the ’90s, I would actually die on the hill that Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” is up there as a contender for best R&B album ever, of all time. And I mean it. I realize how lofty that sounds but it’s true. I feel that in my shando, which is really close to my sha-na-na. It’s all religion, really. 

But my Bobby Brown standom was a little bit later than you might think. You see, when New Edition split (or more accurately when they all dipped after the “Heartbreak” album to pursue solo endeavors), I leaned super duper heavy into the Bell Biv DeVoe (BBD) camp. Of course, I loved Ralph and Johnny, and we all know that by the early ’90s, Bobby was STILL eating off of “Don’t Be Cruel,” but when BBD dropped the “Poison” album in 1990, I was convinced they were the ones. For starters, they were head and shoulders the coolest ones in the group — especially Michael Bivins. But the whole group just seemed like the ones I wanted to emulate. When “Poison” came out, I turned 11 so there was only so much emulation I could do, but of the older kids, ALL looked like they stepped off a BBD video shoot. In the “I Thought It Was Me” video, Biv had every kid I know rocking the overalls with one strap down. True story: I got sent to the principal’s office in middle school for this look; they felt like I should be wearing both straps up, and somehow, I got in trouble even though ALL the kids were doing it. 

Anyway, I was all in on BBD. I listened to the “Poison” album non-stop. And when the remix album dropped in 1991, “WBBD-Bootcity! The Remix Album,” I bought that, too. I played that tape out. So you can imagine my surprise and then ABSOLUTE disappointment when BBD’s sophomore album, “Hootie Mack,” dropped and it was terrible. 

Listen, there IS no worse situation to be in than loving a group, telling everybody else they should too, and then that group drops a dud of an album (it really is so bad) and then you do your best to explain why everybody else just doesn’t get how good it is. Do you know how I know this? Because I did that A LOT in 1993. 

Let’s start with the fact that I just KNEW the song from the time BBD was on “The Fresh of Bel-Air” was going to be on this album. The song, “Gangsta,” was in the 1991 episode where Carlton rented out the mansion for their music video. That song, which I really liked, was absolutely not on the album. Why? I don’t know. I don’t even know who to ask about it but I definitely need answers. 

So we’re already missing what I thought was an amazing song, and there was only one song on the album that even sounded kind of good, the Babyface-penned, “Something In Your Eyes.” This was EXTRA problematic because while the members of BBD weren’t exactly the best singers on the planet, their ballads were jamming. Not this time. In fact, they mostly seemed like retreads of what they’d already done. You know what? Nobody seemed to be into this album. The beats were bad, the vocals were all struggly and there wasn’t a single song on it that would make the club go crazy. I knew this and I hadn’t been anywhere near a club by this point in life. 

Now let’s go to the hallway at school: The album comes out in June, so by the time school comes around in August, nobody cares about this album except me and folks tied to the BBD empire. It was so bad, and here I go, standing in the hallways — as a new kid, to boot — trying to explain to people how good BBD is and how this album just goes over folks’ heads. Thankfully, nobody held this against me, and my musical opinion and acumen maintained its respect. But let’s just say, “Hootie Mack” is the album that had me stepping off of the BBD is the GOAT-train, which I do think opened me back up to Bobby Brown, and I’ve been comfortable and happy with that ever since. 

And I still have no idea what a hootie mack is because that might require me to listen to the lyrics, and the song is so bad, I just can’t. BBD for life, though. 

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.