We recently caught up with Marc Nelson for an interview on Instagram Live. During our conversation, we touched on his origins with Boyz II Men, not joining the group and going solo instead, becoming a part of Az Yet, his hit song “15 Minutes”, his supergroup Blayse that didn’t work out, his most recently released single “Wishing You the Worst”, and what’s next.
Marc Nelson: I have to say the school shaped and molded my creative energy and spirit. I walked in real shy. It’s interesting because shyness, it’s a person on the inside waiting to scream and come out. Performing Arts High School pulled that out of me. I can literally say it was like the movie and tv show Fame. It really set the tone for me to do what I’ve done today. It was a great experience. Over the course of the years, the one thing I loved about the school was you had students from all over the city, whether it be the hood or rich middle class, everyone came to one central location. Different colors and cultures for one common reason which was to be creative.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take us back to the story of how you originally got your solo deal. You were originally part of Boyz II Men, but once you broke off, how did you get your deal?
Marc Nelson: The funny thing is I didn’t really break off from Boyz II Men. When the Boyz II Men deal went down without me, there was another deal on the table before that which I actually conjured up. This label that I signed to was interested to me as a solo artist, but I brought the Boyz II Men project to them and they turned it down. When the Boyz II Men situation took place it left me with no other option but to take that deal with Capitol Records.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take us back to what led up to the moment of you getting offered the deal. How did you get discovered?
Marc Nelson: Performing Arts at that time was a place for talent. I didn’t realize there were reps looking for talent. There were people there scouting talent. I was approached. I was looking to do one thing, but I had to do another.
YouKnowIGotSoul: So when did Michael Bivens come into the picture for discovering Boyz II Men?
Marc Nelson: I was very instrumental with Nate to get the group discovered. A lot of times, you’ll hear people say I left the group. Clearly that wasn’t the case. There was this concert that took place, I was instrumental in getting everyone backstage and meeting Michael Bivens like you see in the New Edition movie. One thing led to another, but the biggest problem I was facing was me and the guys were signed to local management. I was signed to that management at 18 years old, I was considered an adult. The others were considered minors, 17 and under. The manager wasn’t trying to let me go. That began the discrepancy of me not being able to join my guys with Boyz II Men. I like to give a disclaimer when I tell this story. I’m writing a book currently “As a Boy, Yet a Man”, coming out next Summer, where I’ll go into greater detail.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It’s great to see that through the years you’ve been able to remain a part of the Boyz II Men journey through performing with them at shows.
Marc Nelson: I’m not going to sit here and say it was peaches and cream and roses! My philosophy at the time with being as young as I was, was not to run away from tragedy and face the music. Many tears, a lot of hurt, it was very traumatizing, I’m not going to sugarcoat that at all. I always believed that God had a purpose for me like he had for everyone. What was I going to do, roll over and die, or making something happen? I can say I really am grateful to the lord that he’s allowed me to have a very beautiful and adventurous career, whether or not I did it with Boyz II Men. I always say that there success is my own, so it’s all love.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s talk about your debut solo album “I Want You”. What do you remember about creating it?
Marc Nelson: I love the song, but I love the song so much more today than when I did it when I was 19 years old. It was because the company I was signed to at Capitol Records basically felt like I could carry the mantle of reincarnating Marvin Gaye. But I was so young and didn’t even want to be a solo artist, I wanted to be in my group Boyz II Men. I really didn’t like the idea that I was going to be covering this record. I appreciate that a lot of people say I did a great job, even though it didn’t make a lot of noise. I didn’t even want to do the CD, so it was a true challenge for me. Just being completely somewhere else mentally as a young kid, all I could see what I didn’t get to be a part of. Now don’t get me wrong I’m grateful that my talent carried me throughout the years and I’m blessed I had an opportunity. But the road was not pretty, it was horrible. I always say to people, I feel like if I didn’t learn the hardcore lessons then, I wouldn’t have appreciated every moment after that when I was on stage, every moment I got to meet a new artist I was writing or producing for. So the beginning being hard for me, really made me appreciate the success when it finally came to me.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Following your debut album you did a lot of songwriting for other artists. How did you get to doing some of that?
Marc Nelson: This is a good one, I appreciate the question. The irony is that the song “I Want You” was written by Leon Ware, R.I.P. He was married to Carol Ware, she was the president of the division for my publishing company as a songwriter. When she realized that I had moved to Los Angeles from New York, she called me and asked me to come down to the office. I didn’t even know what publishing was, I was 20 years old, and she taught me. I went to her office and that began my awareness of what songwriting and publishing was. MCA provided a recording studio that you could just go in and schedule time in. I began to develop my writing skills there. There’s a woman who I have to give major praise, her name is Sherry Orson. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t even have been a writer. She really took me through the trenches of meeting publishers and songwriters and taught me the game. She then introduced me to Pebbles. She technically gave me my first shot as a songwriter and I wrote the title track of her last album “Straight from my Heart”. In that, I met LA Reid. Pebbles had a guy named Tony Rich, me and him connected, and wrote a song for Toni Braxton on the “Secrets” album. Then I met a guy named John Robinson, and we started to write songs. He got signed to Babyface camp. Babyface heard my voice and style of writing. Next thing you know, I’m on LaFace Records as the lead singer to Az Yet.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You also wrote a song for Jon B. around that time too. Did that come through the Babyface connection?
Marc Nelson: Absolutely. Tracey Edmonds, Babyface’s wife at the time, had a production and label called Yab Yum. Jon B. was the first artist signed to it. On his second album, I wrote and produced with John Robinson his first single called “Don’t Say”. It was just like I was signed to LaFace and on the Babyface side of the camp, I was always at Yab Yum, I’d run into Jon B. all of the time. One day I just told him to listen to a song I had for him. He said he had to have it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about the story of how you joined Az Yet and how that even came together.
Marc Nelson: I sound like I’m a world of crazy stories, but I love these stories because I hope it encourages people to understand God is amazing. I signed as a solo artist to Capitol Records, I go back to perform at the same venue I got Boyz II Men discovered with Michael Bivens. So I’m in Philly performing and I leave the venue after the show. There is this group of guys outside who are waiting for me. They said they loved what I’ve done, and asked me to come help them with their harmonies. This is in 1991, and I go help them with their harmonies at their home and leave. I moved to LA. In 1995, I connected with John Robinson and Babyface. Babyface told me he had just signed this group called “As Yet Untitled” and they say they know you, and I want you to be the lead singer of this group. I get there and it’s the same guys I helped four years earlier! I didn’t realize a seed was planted to be the lead singer of this group. That’s how stuff works, it’s crazy!
YouKnowIGotSoul: What do you remember about your time with Az Yet.
Marc Nelson: This was the moment of truth. I believe in spiritual healing, it is very real. I was devastated by not being in Boyz II Men. For the next four years, I’m crushed. But I kept moving on. The moment I get with Az Yet, I was given Babyface’s address. I couldn’t believe I was going to his house. As soon as I pull up to his mansion in Beverly Hills and drive through the driveway, and I could see the gates closing. That was sort of metaphoric for the old has stopped and the new has begun. Immediate healing started to take place. Didn’t even think Boyz II Men anymore. Babyface is right there while I’m driving up, I couldn’t believe it. Connecting with him and going into his house and sitting in the library with the group, we’re waiting for him to come sit with us, to basically go over what would be the first Az Yet album. Can you imagine, I’m sitting there and he’s sitting in front me playing songs, and he played off of his Dat Machine. Then next thing you know he pushes play and the song is “Last Night”. It was incredible. From that day, I have to always say thank you to him. From that day forward, he kept me by his side almost 24 hours a day, I stayed in the studio with him singing and recording and writing records with him. All of that was the healing of Marc Nelson. I didn’t feel any pain anymore. I didn’t feel unfulfilled or incomplete. I was getting sponsored by Nike and had 300 shoes in my closet to travel all over the world, with people screaming at me on stage. Even as those things were taking place, that Boyz II Men had received 4 years prior to me, when I received it finally, it didn’t mean anything to me. Nothing. That’s the part where I thank God because I could only imagine if I were to receive all of that fame and success with Boyz II Men in the beginning when I was 18, I don’t even think I’d be a good person. I wouldn’t change my journey for anything. Ultimately, I always wanted to work with Babyface and be on LaFace Records. Now I circle back and I’ve been on stage with Boyz II Men for the last 8 years. It’s been an amazing road.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s discuss your next solo album “Chocolate Mood” which had the huge single “15 Minutes”. Take us back to that.
Marc Nelson: I was just coming off of MTV Unplugged, which was starring Babyface. Benny Medina, icon manager, was managing Babyface at the time. He said he wanted to manage me. Right from DC we took a flight to New York and closed the deal immediately with Columbia Records. It allowed me to build my own recording facility and just be creative as ever. I built it in LA but flew to New York and brought all of my gear and got really creative. What I wanted to do is think outside of the box. What you saw Justin Timberlake and The Weeknd and all of them, that’s the kind of album I was creating. Yet, Tone and Poke from the Trackmasters had become Senior VP’s of Columbia Records. They came after I got signed. They listened to my album, they said it was Pop and it was cool, but they wanted to put a little edge on me. So they played “15 Minutes” for me, and I thought it was fire. All I tried to do was imagine how I was going to work that record out. I went and tweaked it a bit in terms of writing. I also wanted to get the imagery right and tight. Tyrese was my man as a youngin. He went and did his first album that I produced a record on. He went into the gym and came out all cut and swole! He introduced me to his trainer and I hired him to train me for like 7 months straight, and that’s where the whole concept of being all swole in the music video, I thought it would be appropriate with that image. It was really cool and fun.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Why did you think that album didn’t get the recognition it deserved?
Marc Nelson: Tone and Poke, they came from Hip Hop. In that, when I presented them a Pop record, I was thinking very global. They were thinking more like capturing the urban audience first. They didn’t know they could make a follow up single because I had all of these other styles of records. They came in at the tail end of me recording my album, so they through “15 Minutes” on top of it. In terms of a marketing strategy, the label didn’t know where to go with me. This is why they called me and said do this record with Beyonce for the “Best Man” soundtrack, “After All Is Said and Done”. Then I did another record “Love’s Not Love” for the “Big Mama’s House” soundtrack. Back then record labels had so much money they threw so much money at anything and everything and just to see if it stuck. That was around the end of artist development.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Where did your journey take you after the “Chocolate Mood” album?
Marc Nelson: At that time, so much personally was happening in my life. I lost my Mom, my relationship was going to the rocks. I kind of just got really tired of everything. I just wanted to do something completely left to not think music. I went to Le Courdon Bleu to become a chef. I took my hand in all kinds of little things. Then I started to do some acting. I wasn’t very good at the time, I developed over the years. I did some plays. The whole independent, internet, digital world was coming to life. I had just tested the waters and threw something out there and that’s how I created “Marc My Words”. It was a true learning curve because I didn’t understand anything about independence. I was so spoiled with being in the music industry.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about your supergroup Blayse and how that came together.
Marc Nelson: When the industry was poppin, J Records was one of the hottest labels. I was signed to Sony ATV publishing company. I was signed because me and Tony Grant came up with an idea to do a supergroup with Blackstreet, Az Yet and Silk, just the lead singers. So we took the letters from the group names to get our name. We did a deal, had a major budget, and we got into the studio to work with some great producers at that time. Trackmasters were involved and so was Stargate and Shep Crawford. This was that MySpace era. It was all about putting out the music and seeing the numbers go crazy before a label would be interested in you. A manager approached the group and he took us to J Records, and we were about the sign this dope deal, and then one of the members, I won’t even say who it is, just killed the whole thing for us. It was ridiculous. It’s just one of those things, groups, different personalities. He definitely messed that up for us, what are you gonna do! *Laughs*
YouKnowIGotSoul: You had a new single out “Wishing You the Worst” a few years ago but an album never followed. What are you working on now as far as new music?
Marc Nelson: May he rest in peace, there was a young man named K2. A monster songwriter and producer, after we recorded “Wishing You the Worst” he passed away. That devastated me. Presently, I am developing a film production company with my own YouTube Channel and using the platform to create the Marc Nelson show. It’s a variety show called “Man Code”, another one will be a serenade hour. While I’m on the YouTube channel live, ladies can call in and request for me to sing them a song on the spot live! I also did a deal with Rhythm 105.9 up in Sacramento for my radio show called Marc After Dark. From 9 until midnight you’ll hear this amazing 90’s slow jams show. You’ll hear some beautiful love records. While I’m piecing these things together, I got accepted to an extension program for a year with NYU for film. It’s amazing what I’m learning, all about camera, lighting, pre-production, post production, editing. I think it’s important that even though you can’t do everything by yourself, it’s very important to always do the very best you can to step away from being controlled by anyone when it comes to your creative energy. Make it a way of life to constantly learn, learn, learn your craft and your business at the exact same time. How can you convey your vision to someone if you can’t speak their language? So it’s important to educate yourself. So while I’m doing all of this, every month I’m going to release a single. I will release two albums a year. Literally every 6 months, I’ll have music being put out there and I’m shooting my own music videos with it and shoot major episodes with serious drama that is connected to each song as I release it every month.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How did you eventually find your way back to Boyz II Men and end up performing with them for the past 8 years?
Marc Nelson: About 2010, I was having a birthday. Nate called me, wishing me happy birthday. We were choppin it up. Through the conversation it was just like “Let’s get back together”. We were trying to figure out a way to make that happen. They were just rebuilding their platform as well. I think they were coming out with the “Twenty” album. I just began hanging out with them. Just to kind of get that vibe again. The Las Vegas was offering a residency of their own at the Mirage Hotel and Casino, and that’s where we thought it was a great way to get the world to seeing four guys again. We knew that Michael had not been with them for some time. We did a couple of spot dates, I was there for the premiere of the residency. In the studio and again getting that vibe back. Then we wound up doing a celebration for Billy Joel at Howard Stern’s show. We ended up doing that together and really sensed the magic. We sang this old record “Longest Time”, and Billy Joel was blown away. When I was talking about the healing that came with Babyface situation, there were a couple of emotional bumps that needed to be addressed as well. It was a very good thing to approach with us coming together. We hadn’t been together in who knows how long. It was only natural the past would resurface, and we addressed it all. Now we are cool as a fan.