Even as they drive slowly into the Shrine Auditorium parking lot for the Grammy rehearsals, the four members of the smash vocal group Boyz II Men seem to be moving at warp speed.
With huge bodyguards leading the way as they hop out of their two Mercedes-Benzes, they flash broad, inviting smiles reflecting the quiet confidence and boyish nature that have made the squeaky-clean Philadelphians the new kings of R&B.
Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris (no relation), Shawn Stockman and Michael McCrary are all in their early 20s, and they revel in the amenities that accompany their pop stardom.
As they approach the check-in table, a thin white guy with glasses and a soft-eyed black man walk by their side. John Dukakis and Qadree El-Amin look like accountants in their business suits and conservative ties. In a theater filled with celebrated stars and high-profile record executives, few people even notice them.
During the actual Grammy telecast the next day, however, Boyz II Men acknowledge their two managers on national television--while picking up one of their two awards.
Dukakis and El-Amin are perhaps the most unlikely pop partnership since the rap-rock pairing in the '80s of Russell Simmons, the savvy Queens entrepreneur who helped launch Def Jam Records, and longhaired Long Island native Rick Rubin, who pioneered early hip-hop from his dorm room.
This new pair, both in their mid-30s, come from vastly different backgrounds--one born and bred in cushy suburban Massachusetts, the scion of a well-known political family; the other from a single-parent household and the notoriously rough streets of Newark, N.J.
Dukakis is the son of 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis, and El-Amin was once a security assistant for Boyz II Men.
Together, they took over as the group's managers at a critical point last year, when the wrong move might have sent the Boyz's world into a disastrous tailspin.
"They bring a good balance of experience to Boyz II Men and have continued to successfully market them to all types of groups, regardless of race," says Kerry Gordy, former vice president of black artists and repertoire for Warner Bros. Records and son of Motown founder Berry Gordy.
Not bad for two guys with almost no management experience.
Dukakis and El-Amin stepped in two years after the group's mentor and day-to-day manager, Roderick (Khalil) Rountree, was killed resisting a robbery attempt in a Chicago hotel on Memorial Day of 1992.
El-Amin, a lifelong friend of Rountree who was shot in the leg during the incident, is a silky-smooth introvert who has always wanted to be around music, whether putting on shows or just listening to old soul groups. His ambitions were nurtured by his mother, who raised him and his sister.
"I used to give house parties," he says, laughing at his early obsession with music. "I would make up the invitations, telling where and when to come party. I would charge people 15 cents or a quarter. This was way back in elementary school."
Years later, after dropping out of the Livingston campus of Rutgers University in New Jersey, El-Amin got his start promoting local concerts for groups such as the Whispers and the Sugar Hill Gang in the late '70s and early '80s. Though he and Rountree once did a Temptations imitation in a high school talent show, El-Amin never dreamed of being onstage himself.
"I always wanted to be behind the scenes," he says. "I loved the entertainment business, and I always knew the different artists and everything."
He and Rountree eventually ended up working together with Boyz II Men in 1991 when Rountree, who was hired as security director that year, brought El-Amin into his crew.
Dukakis complements El-Amin's serenity with his balance of music business insight and political maneuvering. He left Brown University in 1977 to pursue an acting career, which included a small role in "Jaws 2."
After giving up acting, he worked on his father's presidential campaign and then became a business manager with all-star sports agent Bob Wolf, whose clients have included Larry Bird and Joe Montana. Dukakis went on to work at Prince's Paisley Park Records in Minneapolis in 1993.
It was the thrill of watching movies as a child that drew him into the entertainment world.
"I think I saw myself at 7 as a studio executive," says the wiry, unshaven Dukakis, the talker of the team.
"I've always loved music, especially the business side of it. It's smaller and I think more manageable than movies."
Although El-Amin was already working for Boyz when Dukakis left Paisley Park to serve as business manager for the group, the two men didn't actually meet until right before they took over as managers last year of the hottest R&B vocal group since the golden era of Motown.
Crafted in the image of the Temptations, the Drifters and the Platters, Boyz II Men, who will be in concert Aug. 20 at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, reinvented harmonizing over slow, "nod-your-head and sway-your-hips" beats.