South Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

MotownPhilly by Boyz II Men

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Never skipped a beat, nah!
While coolin; on South Street
Jet black Benz, plenty of friends
And all the Philly steaks you can eat Read full Lyrics
Born and raised in the Philly area, a special place in my heart is reserved when someone from my neighborhood makes it into celebrity and stardom. It's even more special when they're elevated to the status of legend, which is an accurate statement given to the vocal R&B quartet Boyz II Men, who exploded onto the pop music scene in 1991 with their debut album Cooleyhighharmony and their brand new funky hip-hop doo-wop sound. Don't believe me? The stats speak for themselves.

"End of The Road" stayed #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 13 weeks, breaking Elvis Presley's decades-old record (additionally, "I'll Make Love to You" broke even that record)

"On Bended Knee" took over the #1 spot from "I'll Make Love to You," allowing the Boyz to become only the third group in history - besides the Beatles and Elvis - to replace themselves at the top of the charts

They are the fourth group in history to hold the #1 spot for at least 50 weeks (the others are Elvis, the Beatles, and Mariah Carey)

Four high school friends from West Philadelphia (also home to Will Smith, aka the Fresh Prince) began singing together in the late 1980s. Shawn Stockman, Wanya Morris, Nathan Morris, and Michael McCary remained humble in the face of their surprising fame and continued to have fun with their music. Their first hit single, "MotownPhilly," tells a light story about growing up in the City of Brotherly Love, but mentions one place in particular: South Street.

My parents, having grown up in Philly during the 1950s and 1960s, told me stories during my childhood about spending time on South Street, yet the iteration Boyz II Men encountered in the '80s and '90s, as well as the one I personally visited in the '90s and 2000s, was vastly different from the center of the counterculture movement decades earlier.

Jim's Steaks on South Street<br>Photo: <a href="" target="_blank">Paul Joseph</a>, via Flickr, CC 2.0Jim's Steaks on South Street
Photo: Paul Joseph, via Flickr, CC 2.0
South Street runs east to west and is the southernmost border of an area called Old City – the original city limits back in the 1700s, when Benjamin Franklin and the other founding fathers were writing silly little documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, as well as fighting off the British redcoats. Over the city's development, spanning centuries, the street is now the border between two areas known as South Philly and Center City, and has garnered a reputation for its bohemian and punk atmosphere.

The diverse urban landscape runs 33 blocks from the Delaware River to the east, all the way toward University of Pennsylvania, located on or about 34th Street. The original name for South Street, as coined by William Penn (founder of the city as well as the commonwealth of Pennsylvania), was Cedar Avenue, a name which can still be found if you head far enough west to get into the blocks between 45 and 63.

Until the '50s the area was predominately a garment district, featuring shops and tailors for men's suits and women's gowns. However, due to urban planning and a proposed cross-town expressway, the property values plummeted, an act which paved the way for artists and counterculture types to move in.

Incidentally, the traffic problems of modern-day Philly are the result of the expressway's lack of construction. In the decades that followed, bars, restaurants, and clubs sprang up all along the strip. This fostered a live-music community and it became popular to bar hop or crawl from pub to pub listening to the various local acts performing in the clubs. Another vocal group, The Orlons, even wrote a song about the atmosphere in 1963, "Where do all the hippies meet? South Street. South Street."

The nightlife - and illegal drug use - filtered into South Street in the 1980s and it became one of the city's major tourist stops. Unfortunately, the community feel established in the '60s faded away, with the local mom-and-pop storefronts giving way to major chains, like the Gap. Today, the strip has been downgraded to a mere 8 blocks and remains a hangout for teens and college-age kids. It was this version that Boyz II Men mention in their song, probably between bites of Jim's Steaks. Trust me, going to South Street is worth the visit if for no other reason than getting yourself a cheesesteak from Jim's.

Justin Novelli
August 21, 2015
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