POP MUSIC : From the Mouths of Babes : Another Bad Creation, cultivated 2 1/2 years ago, is now a major schoolyard hip-hop group with a Top 10 single and a hit album
“H mmmmm, cute kids.”
That was Kevin Wales’ first reaction 2 1/2 years ago when he saw a couple of preteen boys dancing for spare change in an Atlanta beauty salon.
Wales, then 20, worked in the maintenance department of Delta Air Lines but had long been fascinated with show business; he’d even done some singing in local clubs. Watching the boys, however, he thought about another path to the big time: management.
With visions of such earlier young sensations as the Jackson 5 and New Edition dancing in his head, Wales asked the boys--Dave Shelton, 5, and Chris Sellers, 10--about getting together some of their buddies and starting a group. He thought crowds would love to see these youngsters dance--and he figured he could teach them to sing. The lineup grew to include neighborhood friends G. A. Austin (whose brother Dallas has produced some tracks for the group) and Romell Chapman, both now 12, and the Pugh brothers--Red, 10, and Marc, 8.
Within six weeks, the kids, who eventually adopted the name Another Bad Creation, were winning talent contests throughout Georgia--and they’ve been winning ever since.
The six-member outfit was signed last fall by the Jackson 5’s old record label, Motown, and rushed into the studio to record a single, “Iesha.” The song broke into the national Top 10 early this year, generating enough radio airplay to push the group’s debut album to almost 1 million in sales.
The album--”Coolin’ at the Playground Ya’ Know!”--is the first example of schoolyard hip-hop, a catchy and original blend of street-wise instincts and proven pop textures.
The songs--written for the group by their record producer, Dallas Austin, among others--talk about the things you’d expect to be on the minds of youngsters: good and bad times at school, coping with parents and the ups and downs of puppy love.
But, Wales said, “The plan was to (make the kids) fit the ‘90s--hip with a street feel. The Jackson 5 and New Edition were more wholesome, which was appropriate for that time. But this is the ‘90s, and many groups with a tough image are making it big. We wanted a group that had a touch of danger to it--that looked and acted a little threatening. No kids’ group with that kind of image had ever made it big. We’re the first.”
What’s it like being a star before you’re even old enough to shave?
“I don’t look at myself as a star,” saiA. Austin. “None of the other guys do either. I don’t feel like a star. When people ask me for autographs, I think it’s funny.”
But not everything has been funny during the group’s rapid rise.
“Some of the friends we had didn’t turn out to be friends,” G. A. said matter of factly. “They got very jealous. Chris (Sellers) had a problem with people wanting to fight him. I was upset by losing friends and by finding out that these friends weren’t really friends. It made me feel bad.”
Another big change in their lives is having tutors rather than going to school.
“I really missed school at first,” the articulate young rapper said. “I missed some of the kids. But then I stopped missing my friends, because they weren’t acting like my friends anymore.”
One of the biggest hurdles Wales faced as a manager was getting the approval of parents for the boys to be in
the group. The parents were worried about the turmoil it might mean in the youngsters’ lives.
“They saw me talking about getting their kids into show business,” Wales recalled. “They didn’t trust me--which I expected. We lived in a rough neighborhood where guys my age were into drugs and crime and whatever. I could have been somebody with something evil in mind.”
With the parents’ approval finally in hand, Wales then set out to get a record deal. He was lucky there. It turned out that group member Dave Shelton was the nephew of Ralph Tresvant, the New Edition member who recently launched a solo career on MCA Records.
After hearing about the group’s progress in 1989, Tresvant invited ABC--as the group calls itself--to Los Angeles to meet him. Sensing something big, Wales quit his job at the airline and used all his savings to finance the group’s trip.
The group recorded a demo tape in Tresvant’s home studio early last year and was thrilled when Michael Bivins, a member of Bell Biv DeVoe and also part of New Edition, heard the tape one day and liked it so much that he introduced the boys to Motown Records President Jheryl Busby.
“I was very skeptical at first,” Busby recalled. “I didn’t quite see it happening. But Michael convinced me.”
When “Iesha” became an instant pop hit early this year after first scoring on the R&B; charts in the fall, Busby, who had helped guide the careers of New Edition, the Boys and other young vocal groups, rushed ABC into the studio to record an album with Bivins serving as executive producer. The “Iesha” video--which stressed the group’s dancing dazzle and cute/hip look--created an immediate buzz after being aired on cable TV’s Black Entertainment Network. That success helped persuade R&B; radio programmers, who are usually reluctant to play kid acts, that something was happening with the group. MTV soon fell in line, opening the door to the pop market.
“When the pop (radio) stations jumped on it,” Busby said, “ABC was on its way.”
One thing Another Bad Creation has going for it is that it has the kiddie-soul market largely to itself. The only real rival is the Boys, another Motown act, whose members are a little older and a bit less “street.” The Boys are primarily R&B; singers rather than rappers. ABC, modeled after Bell Biv DeVoe, is more of a hip-hop group that emphasizes rap.
“This is really like a kiddie version of a hard-core street group,” said Ray A. Myrie, assistant to the managing editor of the trade journal Black Radio Exclusive. “They look hip, they dress hip, they sing about what kids want to hear about. They’re really unique.”
Despite the favorable comparisons to the Jackson 5 and early New Edition, ABC has some detractors, particularly concerning its vocals. “Let’s say their singing needs development,” Myrie said.
Some of the group’s audience, particularly the young girls, couldn’t care less about singing skills. “For girls 7, 8 and 9, these kids are sex symbols,” manager Wales said. “Their fans mainly respond to the overall sound and the lyrics.”
It’s going to take time to know whether the youngsters can gain the creative skills to design their own music--as the Jackson 5 and New Edition eventually did.
At this point, most of the credit for the music on “Coolin’ ” goes to Dallas Austin, who produced and wrote most of the album. Austin is young himself--just 19--and takes a major step forward with the album. “I knew this was my big shot, and I didn’t want to blow it,” he said. His previous credits as a producer consist only of a few tracks on albums by the Boys, Troop and another Bivins protege, Boyz II Men.
“What’s really good about (the album) is the production,” said Black Radio Exclusive’s Myrie. “It’s great--really cutting-edge stuff. That’s what’s turning a lot of the fans on.”
Austin said the kids made the album--which was recorded last June and July in Philadelphia and Atlanta--easy for him. “They were real professional,” he said. “They did what was asked of them. There were very few hassles, considering they’re kids who had never done this before.”
But there was some problem with some of the parents, who kept hanging around the studio.
“The kids did better when parents weren’t there,” he said. “The parents made them nervous and anxious. Some parents were more difficult than others. I won’t name any names.”
Before recording, Austin invited the boys to his house, where he decided, in an impromptu audition, who would sing what. “Red and Chris turned out to be the leads, and Romell was the rapper,” Austin said. “In the studio we tried to keep things equal, so all the kids would feel like they were a part of things.”
Despite the album’s consistency and appeal, Austin said it was far from a carefully planned work. “It was all spur-of-the moment composing,” he said. “I’d record a musical track, and whoever was there sang on it. A lot of things were done on the first take.”
Austin acknowledged some problems with the vocals. “Sometimes the kids’ (voices) were too high or too low so we had to fix it technically to make it sound right,” he said. “But we didn’t so something like hire 14-year-olds to do the singing. These kids do their own singing and rapping.”
As they make final plans for a summer concert tour, the six kids in ABC are still trying to adjust to their new lifestyle.
For a while, G.A. Austin--who is emerging as the spokesman for the group--immersed himself in the joys of being suddenly rich. But he says he’s already through that phase.
“It’s great having money,” he said. “You can buy clothes and Walkmans and a lot of things you always wanted. But my brother (Dallas) taught me about putting money in the bank. You can only spend so much. I haven’t bought anything for my Nintendo machine since January.”
G. A. admitted that he might be a Don Juan--what with all those girls lusting after him--except for one thing: “No time. Who has time for girls? The crazy thing about this is that the girls want you, but there’s no time for them.”
Besides, the youngster said, his main interest now isn’t girls or money but establishing a long-term career.
“I think I want to be in show business for a long time,” he said. “It’s fun. I’d rather do this than work. I’m not sure I’d like real work.”
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