We couldn't get enough of them. Their songs were our soundtrack, and we laughed, danced, cried and loved along with them. They flashed across our radio and TV burning brightly ... but where have they been lately? As you'll find out in this regular feature, sometimes the stories behind your favorite songs are more interesting than the hits themselves.
Who: Jarell "J-Boog" Houston
Biggest hit: "Bump Bump Bump" (2003)
Claim to fame: B2K, the group that launched Omarion to solo fame, blew up from kiddie faves to arena headliners in three short years. Boog was the "gritty" one whose voice we only heard on a few hooks.
Why do I know that name?: Boog is the first cousin of actor/singer Marques Houston, with whom he co-starred in "You Got Served." Along with Raz-B and Lil Fizz, he was left behind when B2K broke up in 2004 as fellow bandmember Omarion struck out on his own to solo fame. "Right after the breakup, the three of us came together and tried to get the legal side of everything worked out," Boog recalled. The trio were in the unfortunate position of being label-less but still under contract, as their former bosses at Epic Records were let go during a merger with Columbia Records. With no contacts to turn to, Boog said he's spent the past three years in limbo fighting to get out of his contract so that he could launch a solo career.
Hangin' on the line: "It was impossible to put out any music because I was still signed to Sony through [former B2K manager] Chris Stokes," lamented Boog, who added that Stokes, who manages Omarion, was not keen to let him go. "It's easy for your artist to win when there's no competition. Omarion is his artist, and he released a record the year after we broke up, so if all of us was releasing a record, that would have been something for him to run against. He would have lost, I'll be honest with you." It took Boog until June 18 of this year to finally gain a release from his contract with Sony, and now he's hot to get his career back on track.
Busy, busy, busy: In addition to having two kids since leaving the group, the now-21-year-old singer has been recording at a furious pace at his home studio in Compton, California, tracking three mixtapes and two full-length hip-hop albums. Despite the long layoff, it will still be a while until you hear that music. "It's all rap this time — I'm not doing the stuff I did with B2K," Boog said. "I know how much work goes into making something successful, and I'm not going to do someone else's gimmick. I'm writing my own music this time about how I really feel." Boog is about to go into the studio to record his official solo debut, My First Words, for his Capitalist Entertainment label, which he expects to release next summer.
The four corners: But what about the other unreleased albums? "They're incredible, but those were recorded at a time when the public just won't yet understand it," explained Boog of the backward release schedule he's concocted. "This is a different guy that you never got to see, and [the two completed albums] will take us to where he was born and raised. My dad was on drugs most of my life. I grew up in Compton, in the ghetto. Nobody knows that, and people aren't ready for those words. My First Words will give you the four corners of the box before we open it." Sitting around for those three years watching his bank accounts shrink and not being able to do what he loves the most — sing and perform — were hard for Boog. But the dream of returning to his former glory was enough to keep him going. "We're playing for money — this is not the fantasy," he said, recalling B2K's 2003 headlining tour in sold-out arenas as the highlight of his time in the group. "This is my job. There are a million other talented dudes, but I'm preparing to feel like I'm going to take over the world."
The hardest part: Boog, who is still very tight with Lil Fizz, said his relationship with Omarion is cordial. When recalling his B2K days, he said one of the things that helped break up the group were the strict rules enforced by manager Stokes. "He had rules that were over-the-top, like I couldn't talk to my girlfriend, or I could only see her once a month," Boog said. "We were boys of 15 and 16, we were going to be rebellious. We were working really hard and not asking to go to strip clubs or anything. We just wanted some time to ourselves."
The moral: "Did I see the money? It's definitely one of those stories," said Boog, who described himself as not "sitting pretty" thanks to his B2K money. His advice to young singers is to "keep an ear open to the outside world," and, in a refreshingly old-school touch, he says listen to your parents when it comes to business. "If you're under 18, keep your parents in your life," he advised.
Who: Dreux "Lil Fizz" Frederic
Why do I know that name?: Like Boog, Fizz has kept a fairly low profile since B2K fizzled three years ago, waiting to get out of his Sony contract so he could resume performing. The godfather to Boog's kids, Fizz also kept busy making music during his negotiations, and he got a nice break one day when he was told that former Bad Boy rapper Mase and Fo' Reel Entertainment head Cudda Love were interested in meeting him. "I flew over to meet them, and we spent the whole night hanging out. The next day Cudda called and asked me to lay something down on a track," said Fizzo of the chance meeting three years ago. But because he was still under contract to Sony, Love couldn't touch Fizz, though they kept in touch.
One step forward, two back: With one hot Bryan Michael Cox-produced track under their belt ("Fluid" with Missez) and then an entire album, Fizz and Cudda approached Sony in 2007 to see if the label was interested. But Fizz said they weren't psyched about the project and agreed to release him from his contract in January.
Finally, a real Payday: Fizz fans can finally hear the results with the independently released Payday, which hit iTunes in mid-July and is slated to drop in stores next month. "This time I can express myself and not be somebody I'm not or combine my personality with other people," said Fizz, 21, whose first single, the grinding "Beds" (featuring Ray-J), sounds a bit like the salacious heirs to the B2K throne, Pretty Ricky.
The moral: In some ways, Fizz said, having such a gut-wrenching experience as a teenager was the best thing that could have happened. "Not many people get to experience the feeling of losing a friend and not trusting somebody and seeing the behind-the-scenes of the business and how dirty it can be."
Who: De'Mario "Raz-B" Thornton
Why do I know that name?: One of the founding members of B2K, Raz spent his time in the group soaking up as much as he could about the music biz, which has helped him in his time since their break up. "I've been training the past three years, physically, mentally and spiritually, getting my craft together," said Raz, who taught himself to play piano and guitar and has honed his dancing skills since the group broke up. Though he still speaks daily to cousin and former B2K manager Stokes, Raz has broken professional ties with him and launched his own label, Razbeatz Entertainment.
Boy to man: Raz has been recording his debut solo album, Boy II King, in Seattle and Detroit with gospel great Michael Winans Sr. and his son, Michael Winans Jr. (Diddy, Danity Kane), and he's hoping to drop the album this year to capitalize on the heat of his recent slinky soul single, "Fire." He described the sound of the new tunes as gospel-influenced R&B that isn't religious, but is positive and eschews foul and graphic language. Raz is also keeping himself in the public eye with a cameo — alongside Boog and Omarion — in the recently released video for Fizz's "Beds" single. "We were happy to see each other," he said of the unlikely reunion that took place in June. "O pulled out his camera and took some pictures. It was crazy."
Too many irons in the fire: Raz, 22, has kept busy in his downtime, diligently working on putting together an all-star "We Are the World"-style compilation album he calls Heal the World, and which he hopes will include contributions from such fellow young stars as Lindsay Lohan, Mario, Nicole Richie, Raven-Symoné and his former bandmates. He's also appeared on the Logo network show "Noah's Arc," signed on as the national spokesperson for the National Society of Young Musicians, launched his own foundation for young artists called the National Association of Unheard Artists and is slated to star in an upcoming film from the producers of "You Got Served" called "Rhythm."
Growing up fast: "I learned how to become an adult fast," he said of his wild ride in the music biz. "But I wouldn't take anything back. The experience has been great. I don't point the finger of blame at anyone. Now I'm in control of my own destiny and I'm going to put out music that's not misleading to my [fans.]. This new music is like 'Bump Bump Bump' but it's clearer and less lustful."
Ever wonder what happened to Sisqó? How about Snow? Ace of Base? Tell us which faded stars you'd like us to check up on, and you just might find them in a future edition of "Where Ya Been?" Send us your suggestions and we'll get digging ...