“Poison” by Bell Biv DeVoe

Pop music is such that the songs contained therein tend to be based on pretty simple concepts. That is to say that most pop songs are based on ideas we’re already familiar with. So basically, what these professionals are tasked with doing is presenting these ideas in a more creative and entertaining manner. And so it is with “Poison”, which, most simply put, was originally intended to serve as a warning against gold-diggers.

The most famous line of this piece is found in the pre-chorus. Here, the homeys advise us to “never trust a big b-tt and smile”. That’s another way of saying, in street lingo, that no matter how physically appealing a woman may be, it behooves you, the romantically-interested male, to get to know her before actually trusting her. 

And the stated reason is that no matter how “fly” or attractive a lady may be on the outside, internally she can be “poison”, i.e. a “dangerous” female.

Ronnie, Ricky and Mike don’t actually expound on how the subject(s) of this piece is so. The one implication, as presented by Ronnie in his verse, is that she may be overly-promiscuous or a ‘ho’ as they say in the ‘hood. And by the way a ‘ho’ is used to describe a lady who, behind her lover’s back, sleeps with other dudes. 

Autobiographical Lyrics

Going back to the first paragraph of this post, based on the explanations of this piece provided by its actual writer, Dr. Freeze, he was inspired by his own personal experiences with “girls with nice shapes that take advantage and take a lot of people’s money’. 

Now when the more innocent amongst us read a statement like that, we may think of, say an exploitative woman having her lover/victim so p—ywhipped that she milks him dry. But going back to the ‘hood life, sometimes falling in love with a lady like that can and often does result in more, let’s say palpable forms of exploitation. And that would likely by why this track takes on such a serious-advisory tone, despite its somewhat comical, if you will, presentation.

Lyrics to "Poison" by Bell Biv DeVoe

Bell Biv DeVoe can be classified as an unofficial subunit of New Edition, the most-popular African-American boy band of the 1980s. Around the mid part of that decade a member of the quintet, Bobby Brown, went solo, leaving New Edition in sort of a state of flux. This contributed to lead singer Ralph Tresvant dropping his own debut solo album in 1990. 

Bell Biv DeVoe

Meanwhile, the three other original members of the group – Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe – well for starters, neither of them are particularly lead singer material. So they actually formed a trio called Bell Biv DeVoe or BBD for short. 

And somewhat surprisingly their debut album, Poison, proved to be one of the most slappin’ LPs of 1990, even outperforming Tresvant’s aforementioned album. And this is despite Ralph arguably being more popular than Bell, Bivins and DeVoe – i.e. his New Edition backup singers – combined at the time.

Facts about “Poison”

The song we’re working on today is the title track and lead single from the aforenoted album, which was put out by MCA Records, who also worked with New Edition.  

MCA officially released “Poison” on the 24th of February, 1990.

Poison (the song) was written and co-produced by one Dr. Freeze. It should be noted that Freeze was also responsible for composing another major R&B hit of that era, Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up” (1991). 

And on the production tip, Freeze worked co-worked with Ross Sloane and Howie Hirsch in putting this song together.

As the story goes, Dr. Freeze was sort of a headliner in his own right. He actually put this song together, as a demo, to be featured on one of his projects. However, the BBD crew got wind of the tune. Accordingly they loved it and the rest is R&B history.

Poison peaked at number three on the Hot 100 but did top the following Billboard listings:

  • Hot Black Singles (aka Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs)
  • Top 40/Dance  

It also made it onto the top 20 of the UK Singles Chart. Furthermore, it earned platinum certification stateside about three months after its release date. In other words, BBD was one of those musical acts that blew up from their very first single. But after Poison (the album) they never were able to replicate that level of success. This therefore makes “Poison” their signature song.

The director of this track’s music video, who was a major player in the game back in those days, is Lionel C. Martin.  


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