The easiest joke in the history of music reviews is to say that Another Bad Creation were aptly named. Is it REALLY true though? Although their sophomore album flopped and they quickly disbanded and vanished from the music scene, “Coolin’ at the Playground Ya Know!” had three chart topping singles in 1991 and went platinum within a year. It’s easy to dismiss them as a flash in the pan in retrospect, but at their inception ABC seemed poised to be the biggest “boy band” group in black music since The Jackson 5. After the crew of Atlanta youngsters were “discovered” (or perhaps “created”) by Bel Biv Devoe singer Michael Bivins, they quickly made their presence felt with an earworm debut single called “Iesha” complete with a cameo appearance by Mr. Biv himself.
Produced by Dallas Austin and written by both Austin and Bivins, the song was pure new jack swing in its best form, combining hip-hop attitude with dance-able melodies and an attempt by the group’s members to woo the girl in the title. Who were those kids who wanted “Iesha” so bad? Romelle “RoRo” Chapman, Chris Sellers, David Shelton, Demetrius “Red” Pugh, Marliss “Mark” Pugh, and “unofficial” member Adrian “G.A.” Witcher. Even though their career could have started and ended there, they came back HARDER on “Playground.” Okay “harder” is a relative term for a group of pre-teens that don’t swear, but you couldn’t help but notice their shift from crooning to straight up rapping on the follow up.
Now we’re not going to hand out any trophies for lyrics like “It’s the Mizzark/chillin in the pizzark/I gotta break, cause my mother said be home by dizzark,” but we can’t blame young Marliss since he didn’t write his own bars. Austin and Bivins are again credited as the songwriters with a co-credit going out to Kevin Wales, and the beats are once more courtesy of Dallas Austin. In fact Austin’s beats are the beating heart of ABC. No one understood the new jack swing hip-hop sound of the late 80’s and early 1990’s better than Teddy Riley and Dallas Austin, EXCEPT perhaps for Dr. Freeze and “Hitman” Howie Tee on their lone contribution “Spydermann.”
The song’s title clearly reflects an attempt to avoid a trademark lawsuit from Marvel, but it’s the singing of ABC that really makes you want to sling webs over their mouths to shut them up. Honestly it really is BAD. The polish is all on the production and not in their vocal technique, but the track is so “slamming” that you can just about overlook it. That’s impossible to do with a cover version of New Edition’s “Jealous Girl,” undoubtedly an homage to Mr. Bivins for his own boy band roots, but an incredibly poor choice given they don’t have New Edition levels of talent as crooners.
Dallas Austin tries his best to layer up the production and hide their shortcomings, but as the old saying goes, you can’t polish a… oh wait the MythBusters proved that one wrong. I guess you can shine up Another Bad Creation enough to make them passable, and most of the time “Coolin’ at the Playground Ya Know!” is exactly that. These aspiring members of the East Coast Family are little remembered today, but songs like “Little Soldiers” are easy enough to listen to. Combining James Brown and Funkadelic samples together with the masterful Dallas Austin behind the boards results in vintage new jack swing that aged surprisingly well over the decades.
In some ways Another Bad Creation were ahead of their time. At 38 minutes long they don’t overstay their welcome on this debut, and even though they are a “creation” more than an organic evolution, it definitely foreshadowed the rise of successful boy bands like the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync. Perhaps ABC deserves a little more credit than they get. They were soon eclipsed by other youth oriented hip-hop acts like Kris Kross and Mobb Deep who didn’t sing, but for a minute or two this album and this group were “cool” for the 90’s.