Song 216: Bell Biv DeVoe, “Poison” (1990)

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“Poison” was one of the first contemporary pop songs I was ever aware of. I was 10 when it came out, and though I didn’t understand what it was about, I knew it sounded like some other “New Jack Swing” groups at the time: Color Me Badd, Another Bad Creation, Tony! Toni! Toné!, Boyz II Men (not that I knew what New Jack Swing was, either).

Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis had a hand in assembling Bell Biv DeVoe (whose members emerged from Boston’s New Edition), which makes sense: You can hear the DNA that the trio shares with Prince and Janet Jackson, and you can tell that, like those artists, BBD was interested in using their forebears to build something new. Helping out with “Poison” was Hank Shocklee, whose production team The Bomb Squad had just finished Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet, a record that featured “911 Is a Joke,” “Brothers Gonna Work It Out,” and, of course, “Fight the Power.” Not a bad team to have on your side.

Though Bell Biv DeVoe is a very different group from Public Enemy, you can hear The Bomb Squad’s influence on this song, mainly in the blend of funk, jazz, and hip-hop that sounds chaotic but completely organic. As the quote on the cover of Poison explains, “Our music is mentally hip-hop, smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop feel appeal to it.” Yup.

I love this song’s production, especially that beat, with horn blasts and snare hits that immediately send me back to fourth grade. It’s no wonder that, when BBD performed this song with NKOTB (!) for the Boston Strong Concert, the crowd went apeshit.

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