Classics: Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel (MCA)
The bumpin’ ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ pretty much set the path of a promising career for Bobby Brown. As a matter of fact, the man had obviously everything to succeed. From his early days as a member of New Edition to his raise to fame at the end of the eighties. Eventually seen as an icon in the Swingbeat / New Jack Swing scene. With his marriage with the late Whitney Houston givin’ the image of a fairy tale.
Alas, a diagnosed action impulsiveness at a young age, followed by bipolarity in his early thirties would be for much on the countless disorders that paved his life. Both as an artist and a man, aken into addiction to drugs and alcohol. And therefore heavily contributing to his reputation as a bad boy.
His ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ album, released back in 1988 would see him at his absolute peak. Spawning classics such as the Teddy Riley produced ‘My Prerogative’ and the L.A. & Babyface produced title track (among their signature cuts) in addition to ‘Every Little Step’…
Now, lookin’ backwards, ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ pretty much looks like it was a premonitory theme. Thus sort of heralding what happened to be the dark side of Brown and the effects this had on his immediate surroundings…
“Uh don’t be cruel. ‘Cause I would never be that cruel to you, uh no, oh oh, no. Uh don’t be cruel. Uh girl, you need to change your attitude…”
“Don’t be cruel”. But you don’t rewrite history at the end, do you?
A native of Boston, MA, Bobby Brown knew he would become a performer. This by the age of three when he saw James Brown performing in his hometown. He would then join the church choir to develop his own skills.
By the age of nine, he started performing at local talent shows along with Ricky Bell and Michael Bivins soon after joined by Ralph Tresvant. This being how he and his partners came to the attention of Brooke Payne who gave them the name New Edition to signify they were a new edition of the Jackson 5. Therefore responding to Maurice Starr‘s search at the time. The latter signing them on his Streetwise Records label. With a fifth member by the likes of Ronnie DeVoe (Payne‘s nephew) joinin’ the band at the time.
Featuring gems like ‘Popcorn Love’ and its title track, their 1993 ‘Candy Girl’ album ideally put them on the map. After a dispute over money, New Edition left Starr‘s management and record label though. Soon after signing a new deal with MCA then releasing their self-titled second album. Meanwhile solidifying their position with the Top Five smash hit ‘Cool It Now’ then ‘Mr Telephone Man’ with Tresvant takin’ the lead vocals.
A third album – ‘All For Love’ – followed, featuring another hit by the likes of ‘Count Me Out’. But the story of the band would get through period of turbulence. With Bobby Brown voted out by the group’s management team after behavorial problems back in December 1985. Then the first rumors of Ralph Tresvant goin’ solo. This bringin’ his pals to recruit a new lead singer by the likes of Johnny Gill, although Tresvant managed to stay with them at the end. Their 1988 ‘Heartbreak’ album marking the start of their collaboration with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. This resulting in an impressive series of 5 hit singles. From ‘If It Isn’t Love’ to ‘Can You Stand The Rain’ and ‘N.E. Heartbreak’ among others.
Following Bobby Brown‘s example, the group went on a hiatus. Leavin’ the time to its members to release their own projects. And most likely Ralph Tresvant and Johhny Gill. Meanwhile Bell, Biv & DeVoe remained as a trio. And, after an eight years hiatus, New Edition resurfaced as a sextet (thus featuring Bobby Brown) with the 1996 ‘Home Again’ album. The latter becomin’ their most successful effort in the series. Spanning extra hits such as ‘Hit Me Off’ and ‘I’m Still In Love With You’ respectively produced by Silky and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis.
The live tour that followed happened to be disastrous though. With Ronnie DeVoe eventually trying to pull Brown off the stage after he unexpectedly extended his solo set. This resulting in a fight between the two and the sudden end of their concert in Las Cruces, NM. Brown and Bivins quickly left the tour, with New Edition performing as a fortet.
Another 8 years would go from then before the release of a new reunion album, although without Brown. An effort titled ‘One Love’ that saw the light on Sean Puffy Combs‘ Bad Boy Entertainment label. Another disaster as a matter of fact. Not only because of the poor results it generated at the end. But also because of a disagreement with Combs during its recording. Ricky Bell revealing in an interview that Combs had refused to pay New Edition‘s long time producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for a track that the group wanted on the album. With Combs reportedly telling the group they were over budget. This bringin’ New Edition to ask to be released from their Bad Boy contract.
This would be their last album to date. This despite rumors of recording new material. With the band keepin’ on touring, eventually welcoming Brown back. Then contributing to a new song with New Kids On The Block called ‘Full Service’ for their album, ‘The Block’, back in 2008.
Departing from New Edition in 1986, Brown remained on MCA and released his debut-album – ‘King Of Stage’ – that same year. Eventually hittin’ the #1 position in the R&B charts with ‘Girlfriend’, a ballad produced by Larry White.
Two years later came Brown‘s follow-up album by the likes of ‘Don’t Be Cruel’. The latter standing as his most successful effort, selling more than 12 million copies worldwide. With thanks to its title cut and ‘Every Little Step’ produced both by L.A. & Babyface‘ in addition to ‘My Prerogative’ by Teddy Riley.
‘On Our Own’, with L.A. & Babyface in charge of the production landed the year after as a part of the ‘Ghostbusters II’ OST. Thus maintaining Brown’ profile at the top. This in addition to the ‘Dance!…Ya Know It!’ remix album. But also a tour that saw Brown gaining notoriety for simulating sexual acts onstage. And, in the meantime, getting into trouble with local law enforcement.
1990 brought him his second #1 hit. Thus while adding a Rap verse on Glenn Medeiros‘ ‘She Ain’t Worth It’. But also collaborating with Babyface on a remix version of ‘Tender Love For Him’. Then came 1991 with Brown adding his contribution to Ralph Tresvant‘s ‘Stone Cold Gentleman’. Meanwhile 1992 saw him delivering his third album by the likes of ‘Bobby’. This delivering extra gems such as ‘Humpin’ Around’, ‘That’s The Way Love Is’ and ‘Get Away’. Not to mention the touching ‘Something In Common’ which he recorded with Whitney Houston as a celebration to their recent marriage.
Strangely enough, this period would mark the end of the positive cycle for Brown. With none of his forthcoming albums able to maintain his position. This to the exception of a bunch of collaborations here and then with Damian Marley, Ja Rule and Macy Gray. Meanwhile the man and his former partners of New Edition would go from a reunion to another along with time. With Brown back as a member of the band since 2014.
Brown also pretty much made noise with his chaotic marriage with Whitney Houston and the progressive self-destruction of the latter that sadly led to her tragic death on Feb. 11, 2012.
– I remember the first time I heard of Babyface. This was back in 1983 actually. At the time, a friend of mine who was livin’ in Jacksonville, FL, used to listen to a radio named 95X. Eventually sendin’ me recorded tapes of their shows. With this being how I would get to listen to boiling cuts such as Margie Joseph‘s ‘Big Strong Man’ produced by Narada Michael Walden. But also Melba Moore‘s ‘Love Me Right’ with production work courtesy of Paul Lawrence Jones. Not to mention the then unknown The Deele (featuring Babyface) with the vibrant although quite underrated ‘Just My Luck’.
I guess the next time I saw a mention of Babyface was back in 1987. This along with partner Antonio L.A. Reid as the producers of The Whispers‘ ‘Rock Steady’. Meanwhile, I would get to stumble upon the firing ‘Mary Mack’ during that same year…
A native of Indianapolis, IN, Kenneth Brian Edmonds attended the North Central High School. Eventually writing songs as obviously too shy to express his emotions differently. Not only a vocalist but also able to play guitar and keyboards, he came to play along with Bootsy Collins. With the latter givin’ him his ‘Babyface’ nickname because of his cute face while he was still a teen.
Babyface eventually hooked up with Daryl Simmons when performing under the Manchild banner. This before joining The Deele where he happened to meet Antonio L.A. Reid who whom he would form a production unit a few years later. Then a record label by the likes of LaFace Records. Meanwhile, one of his first major credits as a songwriter remains the memorable ‘Slow Jam’ for Midnight Star back in 1983.
All in all, Babyface started his solo career back in 1986. He has released a total of 10 studio albums to date. With his latest – ‘Return Of The Tender Lover’ – seeing the light on Def Jam Recordings back in 2015. This in addition to an ‘MTV Unplugged’ and two Christmas packages.
He has written and produced over 25 #1 R&B hits throughout his career and has won 11 Grammy Awards. With his name strongly associated to the establishment of the Swingbeat (also known as Street Beat). The latter opening the path for the New Jack Swing era. Thus responsible for an impressive series of masterpieces. From The Whispers (‘Rock Steady’) and Bobby Brown (‘Don’t Be Cruel’, ‘Every Little Step’). To Karyn White (‘The Way You Love Me’) and the Mac Band (‘Roses Are Red’). But also Boyz II Men (‘End Of The Road’, ‘I’ll Make Love To You’, A Song For Mama’). Not to mention Sheena Easton (‘The Lover In Me’) and The Jacksons‘ ‘Nothin That Compares 2 U’. Or ‘Mary Mack’ and ‘For The Cool In You’ which he crafted for himself among many others.
No surprisingly, Face has come to collaborate with a countless lumiaries. From Whitney Houston to Toni Braxton, Aretha Franklin and Janet Jackson. But also her brother, Michael, Ashanti, Mariah Carey, Faith Evans and Mary J Blige among many others.
Then, if it wasn’t already enough, Babyface performed on the Season 4 episode of ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ entitled ‘Mr. Walsh Goes to Washington (Part 2)’. And soon after he set up Edmonds Entertainment Group. Thus producing films such as ‘Soul Food’ and ‘Josie & The Pussycats’. Or putting together the soundtrack for ‘The Prince Of Egypt’. In addition to act as the executive producer the BET reality series ‘College Hill’ between 2004 and 2009.