Category Archives: Bobby Brown

Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel

Bobby Brown
Don’t Be Cruel
June 20, 1988
MCA RecordsUMG
080/100Bobby Brown - Don't Be Cruel

1. Cruel Prelude // 2. Don’t Be Cruel // 3. My Prerogative // 4. Roni // 5. Rock Wit’cha // 6. Every Little Step // 7. I’ll Be Good to You // 8. Take It Slow // 9. All Day All Night //10. I Really Love You Girl // 11. Cruel Reprise

Bobby Brown was once more than an ex-New Edition member and Whitney Houston’s ex-hubby (a faulty marriage well documented because Brown and Houston are ex-reality tv. stars as well as recording artists).
He was at one point R&B’s brightest young star as well as the archetypical boy band bad boy, that point was following the release of his sophomore album Don’t Be Cruel. When Robbie Williams gave Take That and Nigel Martin-Smith the finger to find bigger success solo than the group had ever had collectively he was basically following Bob’s career trajectory. When Donnie Wahlberg tried to set fire to a hotel with a Molotov cocktail… well I don’t think Bobby ever did something that fucked up, but the man has had plenty of lewd and laviscous content, driving under influence, police chase, resisting arrest and drug posession arrests on his name as well as the public image of a crackhead wifebeater. To each former teen heartthrob his own way of shedding the bubblegum pop image. Word to Justin Bieber.

Don’t Be Cruel was released at the height of the New Jack Swing era which supposedly blends old-fashioned R&B soul with old school hip-hop although acts like Guy, Al B. Sure! and Keith Sweat are simply soul singers with more electronic production than was usual in the ’80s backing them in my book with little to no hip-hop influences being noticeable, but that is just my opinion so you can ignore that if you want to.
Brown however did blur the line between soul and hip-hop rapping as much as he sings on the title track and doing an LL Cool J-esque rap on the ballad Roni and busting out a verse at the end of the video edit of Every Little Step adding hip-hop swagger to his rhythm and blues.

The producers involved L.A. Reid, Babyface and Teddy Riley had all had moderate success in the music business before Cruel (Teddy working on all those Uptown records and L.A. and Face as in-house producers for Dick Griffey’s SOLAR records.) but were to completely own mainstream contemporary R&B in the decade that was to follow this album’s release. It’s not difficult to see why, their work on this album is excellent. One could say that they kickstarted the ’90s with this and it wouldn’t be much of an overstatement.

If the first five songs following the intro aren’t the best five-song-run on an R&B album ever they’re up there with the best of them. From the title track’s slinky, sinister funk through My Prerogative‘s brassy middle-fingerfest. Roni‘s B-boy romanticism, Rock Wit’cha‘s more mature sexy business and Every Little Step‘s puppy love and pop ‘n’ lock groove. This is some terrific music making, with Bob’s charismatically gruff Rick James/James Brown-ish tenor locking tightly into the groove of the somersaulting drum machine clatter. He isn’t the best technical singer out there, having a rather limited vocal range, but he knows well how to stay in it while at the same time making full use of everything he’s got and is a born entertainer. What’s more is that his sense of rhythm is excellent and he appears to really enjoy singing these catchy songs with a natural charisma that allows him to come across as both badass and as a fun individual, a loveable rascal. It is one rather engaging, catchy affair. These songs were all in the top three of the US R&B charts, in the top ten of the US pop charts with three of them hitting #1 in the former and one, namely My Prerogative, hitting #1 on the latter and copping a Grammy. And well deserved.

If this album consisted of only these five songs Don’t Be Cruel would be a perfect ten. Following them however are four well meaning but forgettable cuts. I’ll Be Good to You is standard fare late-’80s Teddy Riley-funk. It’s not bad but it absolutely pales in comparison to his other contribution My Prerogative, the album’s biggest pop-hit and a Grammy winner. (A little bit of trivia: Boy George’s 1989 Teddy Riley-produced, hit-single Don’t Take My Mind On a Trip was originally slated to appear on Don’t Be Cruel. It’s easy to imagine Bobby perform it. I would love to hear Bob’s version if any of you readers has it on a hard drive somewhere.) And closing the album are three rather forgettable slow jams Bob himself co-produced with Cameo-frontman and King of Stage-producer Larry White that require more technical singing than Bob has to offer to bring them to life.

In short Don’t Be Cruel has a fan-fucking-tastic opening run but slightly falls apart at the end. But overall it still is a really good but somewhat forgotten album that packs more hits and more punch than you can shake a stick at and proving just why he was a thing once. It is the best New Edition album, solo or otherwise. For that it derserves to be aknowledged and revisited.

Best tracks
Don’t Be Cruel
My Prerogative
Roni
Rock Wit’cha
Every Little Step

Recommendations
Pick this up.

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Bobby Brown – King of Stage

Bobby Brown
King of Stage
December 11, 1986
MCA RecordsUMG
065/100
Bobby Brown - King of Stage
1. Girlfriend // 2. Girl Next Door // 3. Baby I Wanna Tell You Something // 4. You Ain’t Been Loved Right // 5. King of Stage // 6. Love Obsession // 7. Spending Time // 8. Seventeen // 9. Your Tender Romance

While New Edition was rebooting the Platters and Maurice Starr was rebooting New Edition, Bobby Brown, whose ties with all these people were severed, was busy recording his solo-debut album King of Stage. Most people who followed New Edition would probably have sworn that Ralph, being that he sang all the leads and was arguably the best singer out the group (until Johnny Gill became a member anyway), would be not only the first one to have a solo album but would also become the brightest star. Unfortunately for Tresvant Brown got to do both those things after his bandmates voted him out of the group in late 1985.

Bobby Brown’s solo career is most remembered – when it isn’t completely and unfortunately eclipsed by the memory of all that Bobby-Whitney stuff – for his sophomore album Don’t Be Cruel, which along with debut albums by Keith Sweat and Guy helped popularise new jack swing, an R&B-mutation that combined early hip-hop’s hard-hitting drums and minimal melody with classic soul’s smoothed-out sung vocals (although most New Jack Swing artists also rapped on their own records at the very least every once in a while).

King of Stage is a rap-soul hybrid as well, but a more primitive, less integrated one. And bar the title track nothing on here could remotely be considered hip-hop or strongly hip-hop influenced like his subsequent work. Basically this album’s instrumentals are typical ’80s funk-jams and slow dancers, with one imitation RUN-DMC beat thrown in for good measure, mostly provided by Cameo-frontman Larry Blackmon as well as Isaac Hayes/Isley Brothers/Aretha Franklin songwriter Michael Lovesmith and Boston club DJ John Luongo, over which Bobby mostly sings but busts out the occasional LL Cool J’s I Need Love-esque rap verse too. The resulting album is a lot more funky, ballsy and swaggering than anything NE came up with, as was to be expected since Brown was rather vocal about resenting his (by the time of this album’s release former) group’s bubblegum image and sound, which is one of the reasons he got excommunicated by his mates in the first place. Brown appears to delight in his chance to be a grown up-type of soul singer, which results in a more than halfway decent album that’s a lot more expressive and a lot less gimmicky than what NE ever did. The comparison with Under the Blue Moon is especially beneficial (although that’s as much Under the Blue Moon‘s fault as it is King of Stage‘s merit.)

The appeal of this album is for the most part personality-based. Bobby isn’t the best singer or the best rapper around, nor is a he handed the most memorable set of songs to perform. It’s all in the fairly decent yet somewhat unremarkable zone. But then there’s Bobby’s undeniable natural charm and a boyish buoyance that do work some magic. Bob is a born entertainer. Though a confident performer he also appears to well know the limits of his gruff tenor. The vocalists that appear to inspire him are Rick James and James Brown, and though he’s nowhere near as talented as these two greats he does seem to have learnt the right lessons from them. Like the hardest working man in showbiz he punctuates his songs with the more-than-occasional joyous grunt.

Girlfriend, his first solo-single hit number one on the U.S. R&B charts when it came out and it’s a nice little ’70s inspired love song, complete with saucy sax and it would’ve slipped seamlessly onto either New Edition or All For LoveGirl Next Door is a synthy funk number that shows the Cameo influence while still allowing Bob’s individuality to shine through, and the same can be said for the similarly minded Baby I Wanna Tell You Something. On the title track Bob rhymes about over a Jam Master Jay-aping beat that appears to incorporate a James Brown vocal sample (Since this was released before the sample wars nobody is credited so one can never be sure.) Bouncy up-tempo cuts like Love Obsession and Your Tender Romance summon the mental image of Axel Foley driving his convertible through LA, and whether that works as a good thing you can make out for yourself.

Obvious missteps are Seventeen, a misguided stab social commentary on a girl getting off track and pregnant and on sex and drugs. It doesn’t only sound ridiculous and hypocritical coming from Bob, knowing that soon enough he himself would be off track and on drugs, but it also isn’t a very good song that tries to accomplish drama through crappy ’80s synths (Yes I am aware King of Stage was recorded in the ’80s), and the fairly boring ballad Spending Time that has Bob trying to breathe life into it with all his might, but accomplishing little but showing the limits of his vocal range.  As a whole however King of Stage works more often than it doesn’t.

Kudos to the people at MCA for having the sense to keep this album brief at nine songs and including mostly good ones to boot. Bobby’s debut is a pretty decent attempt at establishing a career and a musical identity outside of NE with songs such as King of Stage and Your Tender Romance, while still catering to the audience of his former group with Girlfriend and Girl Next Door. It may not have been the massive breakthrough hit he wanted, but it was succesful enough for the record label to let him record another album. And record another album he did, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.

Best tracks
Girlfriend
Girl Next Door
King of Stage
Your Tender Romance

Recommendations
If you’re into ’80s R&B that may not be very substantial but does pack a punch, and you happen to come across this for a reasonable price a purchase may be in order.