DAR Music: 30th Annversary Of Bobby Brown's Don't Be Cruel

By @TrueGodImmortal

The legend of Bobby Brown is well known. As a lead singer in the legendary group New Edition, Bobby was all about growing himself as an artist and the spotlight, and at some point, we would witness the eventual departure of Bobby from the group. Upon his departure from the group, Bobby would focus on the next chapter in his career, which would end up being a solo run through the MCA label that still housed his former group. In 1986, Bobby would release his first solo album "King Of Stage", which was moderately successful and spawned a hit with the song "Girlfriend". While Bobby did have some success solo wise, it would not be at the level that he really wanted to make it to, so he set out on a new journey on this second album. As the era of music was changing, the New Jack Swing era was getting underway and needed a new face to spearhead it. Teddy Riley, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and Keith Sweat were a few names making their presence felt for New Jack Swing, but after undergoing a small image change, Bobby Brown would soon become the new face of New Jack Swing.
It would start with the production process of his second album, which would be titled Don't Be Cruel. Bobby sought to change the bubblegum pop star image that got him to prominence and become more aggressive, more rugged, more like himself, and the result would be rewarding. After working with a different set of producers on his first project, Bobby would go into this project with the assistance of two future legends in Babyface and L.A. Reid, and from there, his life and career would never be the same. 

The songwriting and production from Babyface and L.A. Reid would drive this album, as they are pivotal to this project from start to finish. In retrospect, I often wonder if those three knew just how big this album was going to be when they were making it, but you never really know how the music will be received despite how great you believe it is. Regardless, the album would become a major success, making Bobby a household name as a solo artist all around the world, and today, with the album turning 30 this week, we figured what better way to commemorate the anniversary of the album than by looking back at the music that shaped it and the greatness that is Don't Be Cruel, one of the greatest albums of the 80's and the greatest New Jack Swing album ever.

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

The album starts off with the Cruel Prelude, which isn't much to speak of honestly, as it begins the project and welcomes the listener to the experience. Like most albums from this era, the title track was the second song on the album and the first official track, and it didn't disappoint one bit. With an upbeat production from Babyface and L.A. that has a slightly dizzying rhythm, Bobby delivers a true to life hit about a woman who he's been getting the cold shoulder from. I always found it pretty funny that this was the title track and the album title, but it works very well anyways. Bobby actually adds a rap to this track, which is honestly unnecessary, but it somehow fits also. The hook and the bridge are what carry the song as expected, and there was a rumor that Daryl Simmons and Ralph Tresvant provided background vocals, accounting for some of the solid harmony found on the hook. Oddly enough, reading the personnel list for the album shows that Aaron Hall, Daryl Simmons, Ralph Tresvant, Karyn White, Ronnie Watkins, and of course Babyface were contributing background vocals to songs here, which also adds a little credence to the theory that when Bobby was struggling with drug usage through small periods, his vocals were done by other voices and artists on some songs. The title track of the album could definitely be one of those instances, but regardless, this is a solid way to start off the album and an excellent track.

The album continues with the classic and slightly in your face single "My Prerogative", which slams back at critics who had a lot to say about the way Bobby was living his life at the time. The track is pure New Jack Swing Funk, and it is one of the very few songs on the album that wasn't produced and written by Babyface and L.A. Reid. This track was produced by Gene Griffin and features some assistance from Teddy Riley to really give the song that New Jack sound. The verses address how Bobby lives and why he is comfortable with his choices and his decisions, and it all flows together nicely. While I'm of the belief that the best Bobby Brown music came with Babyface and L.A. Reid, there is no way to deny the greatness of "My Prerogative", but to be honest, when compared to the other singles on the album, it is probably the weakest of them, but still a classic. That's how great this album is really. The weakest single is still one of the best songs of that year and a true classic. However, the next song on the album is special and my favorite Bobby Brown song of them all.

From the moment the opening note of "Roni" hits, you instantly become enamored with the production and the smooth melody. For me, the melody is really amazing, and it is probably one of the most catchy melodies I've ever heard, and when Bobby comes on the song, he delivers his first verse with a very smooth sound, which leads to the beautiful bridge that features some Babyface and what sounds like Ralph Tresvant background vocals as well. The hook is beyond amazing, and while Bobby isn't the dominating voice on that (Babyface actually sounds like the more dominant voice on this part), he definitely sticks out regardless. The way the vocals are blended together gives the song a rich harmony and while I can listen to this song for hours and hours on repeat, it doesn't stand too much higher above the other songs on the album, which is a sign of how special this project is. Case in point, the very next song on the album is another Babyface and L.A. Reid ballad in "Rock Wit'cha", and it is one of the best slow jams of the 80's bar none.
The melody sounds 100% like the 80's, with the synths and the drums driving the production, but it all works perfectly. Bobby enters the track with a smooth flair that drives the lyrics home on a different level. The lyrics themselves are simple and to the point, but the chorus is where the song gets separated from the pack just a bit, as the sounds of "I wanna rock wit'cha baby... all night long" can set the mood no matter the occasion. Following this lovely ballad, perhaps the most popular song on the entire album follows up with "Every Little Step". With a nice production backed by the slick lyrics written by Babyface, Bobby delivered a great performance, but this song is also peculiar, because it sounds very much like more vocals handled by other voices, probably Ralph Tresvant alongside Babyface yet again. Still, that makes no difference to the song itself because it is amazing from start to finish, with Bobby having his most catchy hit here. The bridge is also one of my favorite parts of the song, as the "no matter what your friends try to tell you" opening of said bridge just flows beautifully. Simply put, "Every Little Step" is a true classic and one of the top 3 highlights on the album, possibly top 2 right next to "Roni".

As that song comes to a glorious end, we get treated to yet another one of the tracks that was not produced and written by Babyface and L.A. Reid. Another Gene Griffin produced track, "I'll Be Good To You", definitely has a similar upbeat style to it like "My Prerogative", but with even more New Jack Swing sensibility. The hook is the most infectious part of the song, but regardless, this is a song that delivers, despite not being one of the best on the album. If I had to rank the songs on this album, this would probably be in the lower half of the album, but this album is so amazing that this track is almost a classic and it is one of the " worst" songs on the project. However, it does speak volumes that the songs not produced and written by Babyface tend to fall into the lower tier category, but regardless, this is still a great song anyways. When the sounds of "Take It Slow" hit next, something about this song still feels like a New Edition ballad and it doesn't work as well as I expected Bobby hoped. Written and produced by Larry White and Jay Logan, this song is probably my least favorite song on the entire album, and it is a great ballad regardless. My only gripe with the song itself is that it just doesn't have the same life to it that the other songs on the album. Still, it is a good song and I'll play it from time to time with every other song on the album.

The final two songs on the album are both special to me, because they are the best songs on the album not written by Babyface. The slightly sensual ballad of "All Day All Night" which features solid background vocals and production from Larry White, shows Bobby in his element. Bobby wanted to get away with the image he was given in New Edition as the teenage smooth singing artist, and move into more mature adult like territory with his solo music. Regardless, this song is a great ballad, and keeps the flow of the album in tact for sure. The last official song on the album is the extremely infectious "I Really Love You Girl", which was produced by Gene Griffin and written by Bobby and Gordon Jones. It is a ballad that features beautiful harmony between Bobby and a female vocalist on the hook, and just an overall great sound. The album ends with the Cruel Reprise, which is just a small outro essentially, but simply put, this is a near perfect album, where even the possible negative elements of the songs here that are weaker are still classics in their own right. Don't Be Cruel is a legendary album and the music exceeds any hype people had when the project dropped some 30 years ago I'm sure.

When this album released, Bobby Brown was a solo star looking to take his career to the next level. When the album was finishing up the final run, he was one of the biggest stars in the world, with an album that sold 7 million copies, and surging popularity and hit records. 30 years ago, Bobby Brown became a true star in the music world and changed the game forever, and it all really started with this Don't Be Cruel album. 30 years later, this album sounds just as great, perhaps even better, showing the staying power and the longevity of an artist like Bobby to the music world. He was one of a kind and there will never be anything like him. Period.



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