Lyric Analysis: Bell Biv Devoe's 'Poison'

Bell Biv Devoe

Let me open by saying that the amazing visual elongation of key words in these lyrics were already in place on the site I borrowed them from.  I can’t take credit.  This is how powerful a song I’m about to analyze.  It’s so intense that it literally cannot be typed without proper emphasis noted.  Your eyes need to sing along.  

[Michael Bivins:] Yeah, Spiderman and Freeze in full effect

We are immediately thrust into what I assume is symbolism (or ‘symbology’ if you are Dan Brown).  I suppose the Biv of Bell Biv Devoe could actually be referring to Spiderman and Mr. Freeze but I tend to think it’s an analogy.  As in they’re climbing the walls with anticipation and the night is going to be so cool, y’all.  Full effect.  They’ll party like superheroes.  It could also refer to arch-enemies getting along for the sake of a common goal since Spiderman is a Marvel hero and Freeze is a DC villain.  

[Ronnie DeVoe:] Uh-huh
[Ricky Bell:] You ready, Ron?
[DeVoe:] I'm ready
[Bell:] You ready, Biv?
[Bivins:] I'm ready, Slick, are you?
[Bell:] Oh, yeah, break it down

This is a common introductory method used by boybands.  In which they really want you to remember each of their names so they shout out to each other in a song to further reinforce their identities.  New Kids on the Block did this in ‘Funky Funky Xmas’.  Basically please meet Ricky (Bell), Michael (Biv), and Ronnie (Devoe).  Now that we all know each other, let’s dance.

[Verse 1: Ricky Bell]
Girl, I, must
(Warrrrrn yoooooooooou)

That is a stunningly accurate visual representation of the actual lyric delivery.  You’re now immersed in the song on multiple levels.  Audibly, visually, emotionally.

I sense something strange in my mind
Situation is (seriooooooooous)
Let's cure it 'cause we're running out of time
It's oh, so (beautifuuuuuuuuul)
Relationships they seem from the start

Contradiction seems to be the primary method of communication.  There’s something strange, it’s serious, let’s get it cured because time is running out.  But it’s beautiful, just like the way relationships seem at the start.  So maybe let’s not cure it.  Maybe let’s revel in it a bit.

It's all so (deadllllllllly)

No, let’s definitely cure it.  It’s not a situation to be trifled with, apparently.  It’s potentially fatal.

When love is not together from the heart

Truly, if love is not together from the heart, wherefore dost it come?  Let’s get real: love is an electrical impulse generated in the brain just like anything else we feel.  We like to say it comes from the heart but that’s a poetic and romance-based interpretation.  In reality the heart is a muscle for pumping blood through the body and emotions like love originate in the brain.  So if love is not together from the heart, that’s actually accurate.  Though not poetic.

It's drivin' me out of my mind!
That's why it's HARD for me to find
Can't get it out of my head!

Exactly.  It will drive you out of your mind because that’s where love comes from.  Your head.

Miss her, kiss her, love her
(Wrong move you're dead!)

Well that escalated quickly!


I can only presume this is a much more dramatic version of a deadly toxin.  Like the difference between simply collapsing in a poison-induced heart attack and suddenly performing one of those long furniture-crashing, throat-clutching, eye-bulging, hand-clawing intense death scenes that scenery-chewing actors prefer.

Never trust a big butt and smile

Words to live by.  

[Kool G. Rap:] ("POISON! ")

[Verse 2:]
[If I were you I'd take pre-]
Before I start to meet fly girl, you know?
'Cause in some (portiooooooooooons)
You'll think she's the best thing in the world

In some portions certain toxins can produce a pleasurable effect.  Heroin, for example.  Or belladonna which in Renaissance times was used as a beauty product.  And don’t let the ‘old lace’ part of arsenic lull you into a false sense of security.

She's so - (flyyyyyyyyyyyy)
She'll drive you right out of your mind
And steal your heart when you're blind
Beware she's schemin', she'll make you think you're dreamin'
YOU'LL fall in love and you'll be screamin', demon, HOO...

First let’s address the ‘HOO’ which is a sort of cooed exclamation and not an extended version of a derogatory name for a woman of the night.  Second, do you remember the Fly Girls?  Kids, gather around, it’s time for some important history.  The Fly Girls were the dance troupe on the 90s sketch comedy show In Living Color (the show on which the Wayans and Jim Carrey got their starts).  Jennifer Lopez was a Fly Girl from 1991 to 1993.  When they say a girl is fly it means she’s fine.  Jennifer Lopez-level fine.  And a girl like that will drive you out of your mind and probably steal your heart and may even be a demon, according to Bell, Biv, and Devoe.  (No disrespect to Ben Affleck.)

[Rap Verse: Ronnie Devoe]
Poison, deadly, movin it slow

Slow-acting poisons include, but are not limited to, dimethylmercury, polonium, thallium, lethal webcaps... I’m going to stop before I turn into Poison Wiki.

Lookin for a mellow fellow like DeVoe
Gettin paid, laid, so better lay low
Schemin on house, money, and the whole show

They’re in Vegas or Atlantic City.  Possibly Reno.  In any case they’re betting on the house, hoping their card-counting scheme pays off, and they have tickets to the fight later.  If they win their bets they’ll have a lot more money for getting laid.

The low pro hoe she'll be cut like an aaa-FRO

To clarify: this is the sort of ‘hoe’ that refers to a whore.  

See what you're sayin', huh, she's a winner to you
But I know she's a loser (How do you know?)
Me and the crew used to do her!

Slut-shaming, everybody’s favorite past-time.  One beautiful day we will grow up and accept that consensual sexuality, regardless of gender, is nothing to be ashamed or critical of.  But it is not this day, sadly, so we are left with the boys bragging about sleeping with the ‘hoe’ and calling her a loser because of it.  *sigh*

[Kool G. Rap:] ("POISON! ")
[Mixing of Kool G. Rap's "POISON! "]

The takeaway is that the girl is definitely no good for them collectively or individually.  Since Kool G is neither Bell, Biv, or Devoe, this theme is so important that a guest rapper was brought in to further drive the point home.  

[Michael Bivins:]
I was at the bar, shake, breakin and takin 'em all
And that night, I played the wall
Checkin out the fellas, the highs and lows

Biv is a Pink Floyd fan.  He played ‘The Wall’ while observing how his friends in the bar were handling both their drinking and flirting.  The shaking may be from a dose of strychnine which is definitely a poison.  It induces muscular twitching which progresses to full on convulsions and finally death from paralysis of the respiratory muscles.

Keepin one eye open, still clockin' the hoes
There was one particular girl that stood out from the rest
Poison as can be, the high power chest

Here the usual deadly connotations associated with poison are inverted and poison is used as a complimentary term.  It is exchangeable with ‘fly’ in this usage.

Michael Bivins here and I'm runnin' the show

I was wondering who was in charge.  I’d like to talk to you about your usage of the word ‘hoe’...

Bell, Biv DeVoe [Ronnie laughs]
... now you know!
Yo, Slick, blow...
This is an example of how punctuation, usually employed to clarify sentence meanings, can sometimes muddy the intent.  This could either mean “Yo, hey Slick, do you have the blow?” or “Yo, that’s slick, let’s blow this popsicle stand”.  
[B.B.D.: adlibs]
Yo' fellas, that was another Dope one...

Dope, in this case, either refers to heroin - which is a poison, as discussed earlier - or to something being extremely cool.

You know what I'm sayin', Mike?
Yeah, B.B.D. in full effect

Things B.B.D. could mean besides Bell Biv Devoe: Bigger Better Deal, Big Black Dick, Bitches Be Damned, Big Buck Down.  So says Urban Dictionary, so say we all.

Yo', wassup to Ralph T and Johnny G
And I can't forget about my boy, B. Brown
And the whole NE crew

Ralph Tresvant, Johnny Gill, and Bobby Brown were all members of 80s R&B group New Edition alongside Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, and Ronnie Devoe.  New Edition essentially kickstarted the entire boyband craze, paving the way for New Kids on the Block, Boyz II Men, and later Backstreet Boys and ‘NSync.  Thus New Edition gave us boybands, Johnny Gill’s ‘Rub You the Right Way’, Bobby Brown’s ‘My Prerogative’, and this song right here.

[Bell harmonies]



- Corinne Simpson