Mystery of missing '90s boy band Sudden Impact finally solved: '30 years later, we're still trying to figure out what happened'
Lyndsey Parker·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
Sat, January 15, 2022, 8:21 PM
In 1991, college student and future pop-culture critic/VJ Dave Holmes saw Boyz II Men’s “Motownphilly” video on MTV, and the moment — actually, an extremely specific moment, at the video’s 2:38 mark — ended up haunting him for the next three decades. It was a fleeting glimpse of Boyz II Men’s labelmates Sudden Impact, but as Holmes jokes to Yahoo Entertainment, “It was neither sudden nor an impact. Thirty years later, we’re still trying to figure out what happened.”
Holmes explains, “Sudden Impact were a boy band that was under the wing of Michael Bivins of New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe, who in the early ‘90s had a development deal. He discovered Boyz II Men. He discovered Another Bad Creation. And the third act in his three-artist production deal was a group called Sudden Impact. In the video for ‘Motownphilly,’ Boyz II Men’s debut, each (Bivins protégé) gets a little featured moment at the end; I call it ‘The Michael Bivins Extended Cinematic Universe.’ And there, against a black seamless background, underneath their name, which is in lights, I see it: ‘Sudden Impact.’ There’s these five guys, in five white button-down shirts and five neckties, and they look at the camera and they point right at the camera. It’s like, ‘Here we are! Here comes Sudden Impact!’
“And that was the only thing they ever did. And as a young pop consumer, I wanted to know what the deal was. We were at the height of New Kids on the Block’s fame. So, it's like, ‘Sudden Impact are gonna be huge!’ And then they didn't happen. It was like seeing a really good trailer for a huge movie, with a bunch of your favorite stars in it — and then the movie just never comes out.”
So, why did Sudden Impact’s cameo have, well, such a lasting impact on Holmes, when it was so brief? “I think probably because it was so brief. And because I have a mind that seeks those kinds of things out; I am obsessed with popular culture and music and all of that stuff,” Holmes chuckles. “I was just kind of frustrated. Those (college years) were formative times for me, and through the repetition of that video, I kept seeing them and kept wondering. And the fact that I do have a mind that holds on to such things really prevented me from having a normal life — but did lead me to the life that I have now, which I'm really proud of.”
It also led Holmes to create perhaps the most specific podcast ever, Waiting for Impact — a true crime-style, 10-part investigation to find out what happened to Sudden Impact after they appeared in one of the biggest MTV hits of the early ‘90s, yet never became MTV stars themselves. The fact-finding mission was not easy, because, as Holmes explains, “This moment happened right before the internet, so Sudden Impact came and went and did not leave a trace. Nowadays, there would be a fan site that would still be halfway active. But this was a cold case.”
Eventually, with the help of New Kids on the Block’s Joey McIntyre and actress/East Coast Family associate Yvette Nicole Brown, Holmes did track down the group’s founders, Aaron Kane and Todd White, and he admits he was “really on guard” and worried that they’d be completely weirded out by his Sudden Impact obsession, or that “they might want to put it all behind them and slam the digital door in my face.” But, he says cheerfully, “That has not proven to be the case.”
It turns out that Holmes wasn’t the only person who remembered Sudden Impact’s “Motownphilly” cameo. “I think we've been getting that our entire lives,” Kane tells Yahoo Entertainment with a wry chuckle.
“We kind of let all that die, because we didn't want to be known for being the ‘pointers’ or any of that. So, we never talked about it,” says White. “It’s not that we didn’t want to be associated with it. We just didn't want know what that would bring.”
While Kane and White were initially reluctant to speak with Holmes, once they realized he had no intention of poking fun at their “failure” or bashing Bivins, they finally opened up. “I didn't think (the podcast) was real, you know? It could have been a good podcast or it could have been a bad podcast, but Dave Holmes was like, ‘It won't hurt too much,’” White laughs.
The result, Waiting for Impact, is sort of like the pop podcast answer to the metal movie Anvil: The Story of Anvil. Sudden Impact’s own story of missed opportunities and brushes with greatness, told in dramatic detail in Holmes’s serial podcast, began with Kane and White first meeting at high school house party in Newport News, Va., after getting in a fight over a girl. They eventually founded an R&B/pop group called Too Special, and while on a trip to L.A. to see Marvin Gaye’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star unveiling, they randomly ambushed Bivins with a Too Special poster — and asked him to autograph it! Bizarrely, the bold move impressed Bivins enough that he immediately signed them to Capitol Records, based on their image alone — without checking out any of their music or even hearing them sing. “Sudden Impact was the look,” White shtugs, adding, “We weren't ready back then.”
The Too Special members were rechristened Sudden Impact, apparently simply because Bivins liked the Clint Eastwood film of the same name, and they were soon living the dream. They were just teenagers and may not have been quite ready to release music, but Capitol still put them up in a waterfront Virginia Beach house, sent them on all-expenses-paid trips to Disney World, and set them up in the studio to commence work on their Capitol debut. But when Bivins’s Biv 10 imprint label severed ties with Capitol and moved to Motown, and he demanded that Sudden Impact leave Capitol and go with him, it was the beginning of the end.
“We did four songs for Capitol in Virginia Beach, so once (Bivins) ripped us off of Capitol, now Capitol owns those songs. We can't have anything to do with those songs. Now we're starting over again on Biv 10, and then we kept getting shelved on Biv 10,” says Kane, recalling that two other teen groups on Bivins’s label, Subway and 702, soon became bigger priorities. “We were supposed to be the next ones out. It was supposed to be Boyz II Men, Another Bad Creation, and then us. … I mean, if they’d wanted to release something at any time, somebody could have. For whatever reason, they didn't.”
Kane and White suspect that their unenthusiastic reaction when Bivins dropped the news of Biv 10 and Capitol’s split may have damaged their relationship with their mentor. “We didn't have a choice. It was like, ‘So, we're gonna pull you off Capitol and put you on Biv 10 and Motown.’ And we were like, ‘Does it really make sense to do that?’ And that was kind of like the breaking point right there,” muses White. “I mean, he ultimately did what he wanted to do, but you could tell there was a shift there.”
“He was like, ‘My feelings are kind of hurt.’ That's what he said. And then — boom. He hung up. We were like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ … He took it personal. So personal. I don't think we talked to him for six months,” says Kane.
All the name changes didn’t exact help, either, only creating in confusion in the marketplace. After Bivins renamed Too Special as Sudden Impact, he came up with another moniker, and a quite unfortunate one: Whytgize, pronounced “white guys.” The band wasn’t thrilled with their new name, but once again, they didn’t have much of a choice.
Whytgize in the East Coast Family's Whytgize in the East Coast Family's "1-4-All-4-1" video. (Photo: YouTube) “It's very simple. Us being the only white people that were associated with Biv 10 — everybody else was Black — we were the only white people that were in management with Michael Bivins. Everybody called us ‘white guys.’ It was like, ‘Hey, where the white guys at?’” Kane laughs. “So, we went on BET one day with Sherry Carter, who had a show on that was pretty large in the ‘90s. We went on there with Boyz II Men and ABC to premiere something, I forget what it was, but Michael Bivins had us tell the world on BET, ‘Sudden Impact has a name change…’ Listen, we didn't like it. We were like, ‘That's the stupidest name I've ever heard in my life.’ But Michael Bivins was calling the shots. We were little kids. We were like, ‘Biv knows what he's doing. All right, all right.’”
In 1992, Whytgize did sing on the song "1-4-All-4-1" by the East Coast Family, a collective of Bivins protégés, and that turned out to be their only released recording of any kind during that era. After losing all of their Capitol recordings, the artists formerly known as Sudden Impact worked with legendary producer Leon Sylvers III at New Jack Swing architect Teddy Riley’s Future Studio in Virginia Beach — “four amazing songs” that Kane says are still some of his favorites. Those too never officially came out, and eventually Whytgize were dropped by Biv 10. More name changes, with different lineups, ensued. Retooled as the Outsiders, they signed to Boyz II Men’s now-defunct Stonecreek label, and then as Outsidaz 4 Life to Blackground, the label home of Aaliyah and Timbaland . Kane went solo and in 2006 scored a top 10 Billboard Hip-Hop/R&B Sales hit with “Gotta Love” on Invigorator Records, but then that label folded. And yet, they kept grinding.
“We definitely had the drive,” says Kane, “Like, how many groups go through as many record deals as we went through? Groups are lucky to get one record deal. And how many did we have? Five?”
“You have a better chance of being struck by lightning to get a record deal,” laughs White. “And just the list of people that we've worked with, a lot of people don't get that chance. We got to travel. We got to see things that we would've never seen. We got to go places we would've never been able to go. We got to see Boyz II Men record their first video. We recorded a duet with Aaliyah. You can't be bitter about any of it. … It was just always circumstances outside of our control. I would do it all over again tomorrow.”
And that was why Holmes ultimately felt the Sudden Impact story was worth telling. “It got me thinking about what elements of the story are really interesting to me — which are success and failure and big dreams that get dashed and all that kind of thing,” says Holmes, who lost MTV’s “Wanna Be a VJ” contest in 1998 to haystack-haired rocker Jesse Camp, but through his “total relentlessness” managed to land a job at MTV anyway and work there for four years. “It is that lack of bitterness that really gave this (podcast) its theme and its heart. It is that resilience and that enterprise and spirit. Once I started talking to these guys and they were so open and friendly and so without bitterness, it was like, ‘OK, I think I understand now what this show is about.’ I was really hoping they wouldn't be angry about it. And I'm glad that they're not.”
“I think that if you would've talked to me when I was in my twenties, I would be really bitter,” admits White, who now has a day job in marketing while Kane works in construction. “But we're older now. We've grown up. We've got families. We've got the important stuff in our life now. Music now is a hobby. I enjoy just writing songs and nobody hears them, but it’s for my fulfillment.”
And that brings us to 2022, with Waiting for Impact inspiring Kane, White, and the group's other members to finally release their music — as Sudden Impact, definitely not as Whytgize. “Dave, we want to actually thank you so much for having this interest in our group, because we got back together now. We all talk on the regular in a group chat together, all day long. We're texting each other stuff,” announces Kane.
“We were just in the studio recording a couple old songs,” White reveals. “I was talking to my wife last night, and she said, ‘The podcast has touched a lot of people.’ So, I feel like we owe those people a record or an EP or some songs, so they can make the final decision for themselves. The whole thing is, they haven't heard music yet.”
And so, a 30-year mystery is finally solved. “I do have closure. I know what happened, and I also have the answer to the bigger question, which is, ‘Why can't I stop thinking about it?’ I do finally have both of those,” Holmes says. “I just want to thank these guys for being as open and friendly and fun to talk to as they were. I always suspected that there was a story. There definitely is. This end result is beyond what I could have imagined. And like everyone else, I just can't wait to hear the music.”