We had a chance to talk to Bryan Abrams from the 90’s R&B group Color Me Badd. The group had massive success during the New Jack Swing era in the early 90’s with hits such as “I Wanna Sex You Up” and “I Adore (Mi Amor)”. We talked to Bryan about all the success the group had in the industry as well as some of the shortcomings that they experienced. We also talk about Bryan’s struggle with alcohol over the course of his career as well his road to recovery. He most recently released his debut solo single “Because Of You” so we talk about the creation of that single and what we can expect from Bryan in the near future.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take me back to those early days of Color Me Badd and getting signed. What was it like being in the music industry at that time?
Bryan Abrams: We recorded “I Wanna Sex You Up” and we put it on the soundtrack for “New Jack City”. That song wasn’t going to be a single and we were just happy to be on an album with some other artists that we had been listening to over the years like Queen Latifah and Guy. What was hard was that they weren’t going to release it as a single, but the radio stations picked it up and started playing it. The label came back and said “We have to release this as a single” but they were still worried about the marketing and how to do it, so that’s why there is no picture of us on the single because they didn’t know how people would see us. We put the single out and we had two weeks at that point to finish an album. When you talk about fast and being thrust into it, we went from struggling and not knowing if it was going to happen to the song being a hit single and then finishing the album in two weeks. We started the Club MTV Tour, so we’re on a major tour and we’re barely into being 20 years old. It was nuts!
YouKnowIGotSoul: The group ended up going multi-platinum with the debut album with a bunch of hit records on there. That must have been a crazy time for you.
Bryan Abrams: It was super exciting. One thing I didn’t mention yet was that about a year before we got signed, our management flew me out by myself because they wanted me to supposedly re-record some vocals and the group was a little nervous because they didn’t know I was flying by myself. What it was was that they had a meeting for me with Andre Harrell. At that time, he had Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Al B. Sure! and they were hitting at that time. He said he wanted to sign me, but not the group. He wanted to change my name to Bryan Parks and he wanted me to be the white Al B. Sure! I was torn because I wanted to bring my guys with me. I was a team player and I didn’t want to leave them. Those were my brothers and we grew up together. I cried about it at the airport and management wasn’t too happy, but they said “If you want to stay with the group, we’ll have to work on getting you guys a deal”. What I did worry was if I made the right decision and I knew in my heart that I did because those were my brothers. When “I Wanna Sex You Up” took off and there was no photo of us on the cover so nobody knew who we were, it was killing us. The single was popular and we worked so hard, but nobody believed us when we told them that it was us. When “I Adore (Mi Amor)” came out as a single and there was a photo, we started getting noticed. At that point I was still in shock, but I knew I made the right decision. We felt like we had something that was unique because of the different races and if there was racism in the 90’s, I must have lived in a bubble because there wasn’t any. Everyone got along exactly the same and I think that’s when R&B became the mainstream music. Everyone loved it and it was a great time. It was a dream come true and it was a blessing. I can’t tell you how happy we were. It was hard work and it was a lot different than what we expected.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I know a lot of R&B artists from the 90’s experienced bad contracts because they didn’t really know anything about the industry. Was that the case for your group?
Bryan Abrams: I’m still having to hire attorneys and go to court to do things to help find money that was misdirected or straighten out the percentages on our writers because we wrote a lot of our songs that we had as hits. It was really bad, but it wasn’t as bad as Marvin Gaye and James Brown and those guys. I heard it was really bad back then, so it was better but we still got screwed in a lot of ways. Not to complain about it, but I would say that if there was any advice that I could give, it’s to pay attention to your business. If you’re not interested or business savvy, find someone in your family or a friend that knows about business and let them handle it. If you don’t, the industry will take advantage of you every second that they can. It’s a really tough business.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take me back to the second Color Me Badd album “Time and Chance”. This was around the time when New Jack Swing started fading out a little bit and the genre shifted into Hip Hop Soul. What was that time like for the group figuring out how to adjust to new sounds?
Bryan Abrams: It was exciting to us because that was the way we wanted to go anyway, but we had people in the record labels that were bumping heads with themselves. We had the Pop department and the R&B department. We always felt like we were more R&B. We liked Pop melodies and hooks, but the heart of it was R&B. We were excited about it, but we were conflicted. We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t want to miss that boat and get that chance to do some of the new sound, but we didn’t want to tick radio stations off. Back then, there was a lot of tension between Pop and R&B radio. If you catered to one more than the other, the other might not pick up your record. We were just kids and we wanted to just make good music and get played. We wanted to do it all. We tried a little bit of that stuff. We worked with DJ Pooh and he’s an awesome producer. To be in the studio with him and do a video with Ice Cube, we were these corny country guys from Oklahoma City in LA recording with some pretty iconic type people. It was a fun time. Even though it was changing, it was fun to be a part of that and watch it happen.
YouKnowIGotSoul: The second album didn’t do as good as the debut. Was that frustrating for the group?
Bryan Abrams: Honestly, we didn’t know what to think. We were just happy that we were a part of the business. Of course we still wanted to throw out number ones, but we stayed really busy. While that album didn’t do so well over here, we toured some years overseas. We were seeing different countries and doing big shows. We were still enjoying ourselves and living that dream.
YouKnowIGotSoul: The third album “Now & Forever” came out and it was very R&B. You guys worked with Robin Thicke, Boyz II Men and Jon B.
Bryan Abrams: I think we worked with Tricky and Sep. That’s how we met Robin Thicke. That was one of my favorite records. That’s when we were really coming into our own and we were confident in our vocals. The record labels were starting to loosen up on us and they let us be more creative. The only heartbreaking thing during that album was the “Sexual Capacity” record. When we cut the record originally with Robin, the hook originally was a flip of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon”. The hook made that record and it was going to be the single. Frank Sinatra’s people didn’t like that song being flipped into “Sexual Capacity”. Robin had to rewrite the hook and we still loved the song, but it wasn’t the same song. That was the song of the album to me and it didn’t happen because of some politics. There were a lot of good songs on that album. “For All Eternity” was the one that Boyz II Men did for us. Jon B was a lot of fun to work with us too. That dude is like a prodigy. A brilliant songwriter and producer. We were like “Where are these white boys coming from”?. We were one of the first white R&B guys and we thought Jon was black before we met him. *Laughs* Robin walked into the studio and he was just a chubby kid with a white t-shirt on and we had no idea he could blow like that. When we met him, he was only 15 years old and he was writing hits with Tricky and Sep. I knew he was going to be big.
YouKnowIGotSoul: The last Color Me Badd album was “Awakening”. I felt that album shifted you guys more towards a Pop direction.
Bryan Abrams: I’ll tell you what happened and the most interesting thing about that album. I hope I don’t get a hit put out on me for this. Whenever we got signed, Tommy Mottola was heading up Sony at the time. He wanted to sign us and bought us out from our contract. We were ready to go because we didn’t feel like we were being supported from our previous label. We were touring during our third album and people were coming up to us saying “When is your album coming”?. The first thing that happened when we met Tommy Mottola, he invited us to a restaurant. We didn’t know he was having problems with Mariah Carey at that time and they were about to go through a divorce. The song “Remember When” was a song to Mariah. Every time Tommy would invite us somewhere, he would tell us to sing some of that song. He was trying to save that relationship with Mariah and that song was his anthem. He put out that record because he was blinded by love. That song wasn’t the song that should have been released first. I’m not knocking that record, but it was very Pop and it was not what we wanted to release as a first single.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about the transition from being on top of the world to having to figure it out after the last album.
Bryan Abrams: It was tough because we didn’t really feel like we understood what was going on. Music was changing a lot and labels were changing. We signed to Sony because of Ron Sweeney and artists were getting dropped the week he went on vacation. There was a rumor that when he came back, he wasn’t going to be staying with Sony. He was the main reason why we were there because he had our back. When we found out he was leaving, we knew it was going to be the end. It fell apart from there and I was falling apart too. I was drinking really heavily and getting depressed. I wasn’t happy with the music business and in my life.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Was that depression due to success and fame?
Bryan Abrams: It played part for sure. A lot of it was upbringing and childhood things going on. I didn’t have a father in my life. He was actually murdered when I was two, so I went through some things. I was also an overweight kid. What people don’t know is before we signed the record deal, I was close to 400 lbs. Even though I lost all that weight when we got that deal, I was scared to death when I was on the stage. I was loving being famous and having hit records, but I was so insecure about my appearance. Eventually I stumbled upon drinking before shows because I was scared to death. I was still that big kid inside. It was tough to be in a position like that and struggle with your own self confidence.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You seem to be in a much better place now and you’re putting out new music. Talk about your journey to getting to this point.
Bryan Abrams: I’m in my third year of sobriety. I decided what was best for me was to take a step back and focus on getting sober. I know it didn’t matter if I had a hit record, I had a family that was being neglected. I was on the road and singing all these songs from back in the day, but I was still writing music at home. I had new music and I was chained to the floor. I really wasn’t happy and maybe some of that was being ungrateful. I was blaming everyone about everything that had happened instead of taking accountability and owning it. I just decided it was time to get sober. As I got sober and I started thinking about what i was going to do, I started to get inspired to do some other things. That’s when some of this music started happening. The new song “Because Of You” is one I wrote for and about my wife. It was about her loving me when I didn’t love myself enough to even really want to continue on. When you have an addiction, you have to love yourself to make a decision to work on stopping. I started making some changes because of her instead of blaming everyone. I still want to do the music and record, but I want to inspire people out there. The music business is infested with a lot of drugs and alcohol, so it can be a really dark place if you let it go there. You’ll get eaten alive if you don’t stand up for yourself and what you believe in. I don’t need those things to enjoy myself and I don’t have any room to judge anyone else, but I just want to set an example for my kids and educate them in that area.