Interview: Bobby Brown – “The King of New Jack Swing”

Posted: February 15, 2011 in interview, music
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Bobby BrownDate of Interview: 02/15/2011

Bobby Brown has never been afraid to push the envelope – musically, artistically or socially. His sheer bravery and brash honesty are the very characteristics that make him “Bobby Brown” – a pioneering entertainer with over three decades of experience. From his successful debut in New Edition, the boy bad prototype for groups like New Kids on the Block, Boyz II Men and the Backstreet Boys, to his multi-platinum career as a solo artist, Brown has left a mark on the music industry that can never be erased.

On May 10, 2011, Bobby Brown’s fifth solo studio album – The Masterpiece – will be released via Brownhouse Entertainment and Fontana Distribution, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group. In the midst of a promotional campaign for the album, Bobby Brown managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on fatherhood, the rise of Atlanta’s music scene, and the profound influence of Louis Silas, Jr.

Clayton Perry:  Having been in the entertainment industry for more than two decades, what do you consider to be your biggest contribution to the music landscape?

Bobby Brown:  I look at myself as an ultimate and all-around artist, whether it be acting, performing, or writing music. And there are a lot of artists out there right now that have taken that step of broadening what entertainers do, especially when it comes to R&B singers. I’m not one to bite my tongue, and everybody knows that, so I appreciate everything that’s out there right now. They’re following the same blueprint that I was following: giving the people what they want. You can’t skimp on the people. Once the people are happy, trust me, you’ll be happy.

Clayton Perry:  One major transition in your life, which is rarely discussed, is your move to Atlanta, Georgia – long before it became a major player in the music arena.

Bobby Brown:  Yeah, I was there first!

Clayton Perry:  Literally…

Bobby Brown:  Yeah, literally. I’m proud of what Atlanta has become. They might not be proud of me, the officials there. I guess they didn’t like how I was doing my thing. I made sure the music was alive and free in Atlanta. Once I opened my studio, I opened my studio to everyone. I opened my studio for everyone to be able to like music. I’m not one to hold anything back as far as allowing people to get ahead. They took it the wrong way, but I’m glad that the music scene has become what it has become in Atlanta; from Tray Deee to Jeezy; it all started when I got there. When Cameo was first there. The reason I moved there was because Larry Blackmon told me: “This is a hot music scene, man. This is going to be the future.” When I did the song “Cameo,” that was from my first album. In 1989, I was just like, “You know where I’m moving? I’m moving to Atlanta.” And once I moved there, everything started blooming. I mean, everything – from restaurants to the Super Bowl. I’m thankful that I played a big part in that development.

Clayton Perry:  One little known fact is that Outkast’s current music studio was formerly Bosstown. What life events led to its development and eventual sale?

Bobby Brown:  Well, with Bosstown, I really needed a space, and I really needed a space for other acts to be able to create and express themselves. And that studio is my home, still. I’m glad I was able to give Outkast a chance to buy it, and once they got it, they did great things with it, and that’s a good thing. I was leaving Atlanta anyways, so I needed an out. I really needed an out. L.A. came to me and said he wanted to buy it, and it was just a good thing to let it go. I wanted to start anew somewhere else. I’m in L.A., now, and it’s beautiful. Everything is going well and I’m glad somebody talented has that studio, because talent went all through that studio, and that’s all that was brought out of that studio.

Clayton Perry:  As a young, up-and-coming artist, how important was it for you to have a space of your own?

Bobby Brown:  It was great, because at the time, not many people of my age, or my caliber, were thinking about studios. But having a studiomade the recording experience easier for me and better for the people that wanted to become artists. Outkast, for example, worked out that studio many times. I guess once they realized that space had so much energy, they picked it up.

Clayton Perry:  Over the course of your career, one name had a consistent presence in your liner notes: Louis Silas, Jr. What lasting impact did he have upon your musical career?

Bobby Brown:  Well, the world is going to miss Louis Silas. Louis was a special individual – and he believed in art. He believed in the form of master mix. He believed in the form of making a good record and punishing it; not pushing it but punishing it. And that’s what he did with “Don’t Be Cruel.” That’s what he did with any record that I made with him. I named him executive producer because he was that. He went out and got the records. He went out and got the producers that I wrote with. And  he was just a lot of fun to work with like Teddy Riley and L.A. and Babyface. Louis Silas did that. I didn’t do that. Louis Silas did that. He was just a gentleman that really believed in music, and really trusted in the sounds that he heard from different individuals. And the sounds that you’re going to hear from the people that I’m working with right now is a Louis Silas type of style. I know he’s gone, but I know he’s right there with me, working on this album, The Masterpiece. I’m just grateful, man, for Lou Silas.

Clayton Perry:  I appreciate that insight. Although you are known as the “King of the Stage,” there is no denying that you are also the “King of New Jack Swing”! Since this genre is often cited as a fusion between hip hop and R&B, why do you think the two genres blended together so well?

Bobby Brown:  Well, I came up in an era that was fascinated and dominated by hip-hop. But at my core, I was an R&B singer. So in my mind, there was no better way to bridge the gap. I loved hip-hop. I loved Grandmaster Flash. Grandmaster Flash is one of my idols, along with Rick James, Michael Jackson and James Brown. So, I tried to mix all of them up. How do you do that? You build a sound, and the sound was new jack swing. Teddy Riley and I got into a studio in Harlem, in an apartment. We actually recorded “[My] Prerogative” in an apartment. I did the vocals out of a bathroom. So that was the texture, that was the style.

Clayton Perry:  Oh, wow! I can’t  count how many times that song been sampled or covered by artists. Britney Spears even titled her greatest hits set after the track! [laughing]

Bobby Brown:  Yeah, that song has had a life of its own, but I’m just grateful that people want to cover any work that I’ve written or performed. It can’t be anything else but a compliment for somebody to  want to do your music. Bobby Valentino just did a terrific cover of “Rock Wit’Cha” on his new album, [Fly on the Wall]. I think it’s an honor. This is how I feel: “If you can do it, do it. Have fun doing it, and sell it right. Don’t mess it up!” [laughing] As far as Britney Spears’ take on “My Prerogative” – that was a great check, but a terrible version of my song. Great video though! I loved the video. But I take it in stride, man, because it’s one thing to love what you do, but it’s another thing to love being who you are, and I love being who I am, for people to follow that and try to reduplicate it.

Clayton Perry:  Some may find it hard to believe that you are only 42 years old. When you turned 40, in what ways did your perception about life, love and work change?

Bobby Brown:  Let me say this: “I can still dance anybody into the ground!” [laughing]

Clayton Perry:  I bet! [laughing]

Bobby Brown:  Even though I’m a grandfather, I can still dance you into the ground! [laughing continues]

Clayton Perry:  No challenges here! [laughing continues] In your experience, what do you think makes the perfect live show performance?

Bobby Brown:  An artist has to know how to communicate with the audience. They also need to be able to establish a relationship with the audience while they are on the stage. That’s the one thing I have always loved – performing. I’m just glad I can still move my legs. I’m glad I can still hit a note. I’m glad I can be able to bring people quality entertainment. That’s one thing I value in stage performance: quality. You get your first reaction once you do something right, and fortunately, I do it right. That’s why they call me the King of Stage.

Clayton Perry:  This might come across a bit funny to you, but my very first memory of you as an actor was from a Disney Channel special, Mother Goose Rock ‘n’ Rhyme.

Bobby Brown:  Oh, yeah! [laughing] I played all three blind mice…

Clayton Perry:  As you dabbled in the acting world, what similarities and differences did you find, when compared against the music world?

Bobby Brown:  I think it’s all just entertainment, dude. It’s all entertainment. And if you’re going to be an entertainer, you’ve got to be all-around. You’ve got to be able to give people laughter or whatever. Make them cry or whatever. That’s what I’m here for, man. I’m here to entertain people, man. I’m not here to bulls**t. Music is one thing, but entertainment is the whole spectrum of what life is about. People need entertainment, and I’m just grateful that I’m able to do it.

Clayton Perry:  Your forthcoming album is entitled The Masterpiece. At this point of your career, you have the rare opportunity to introduce yourself to new fans, as well as allow older ones to rediscover your music. How does it feel to be in this position?

Bobby Brown:  The Masterpiece is made up of ten years of my life that I’ve lived through, from being married to divorced to drug problems that I’m rid of six years and seventy-eight days sober. So, I’m just hoping that they get the message that I’m an entertainer, I’m here to stay, and it’s something that was put in me. It wasn’t something that I went to school for. The Masterpiece is exactly what I am. I am an entertainer. I am Bobby Brown. I am. And that’s it. I don’t want nobody to take it no different than it is, because if you try to analyze it, and try to pick through it, then you’re going to lose out on the entertainment part.

Clayton Perry:  You can speak with so much confidence now, because your have lived an extraordinary life. But at what point did this confidence crystallize and lead you to pursue entertainment on a professional level?

Bobby Brown:  I have to thank my mother, who I just lost a couple weeks ago.

Clayton Perry:  Yes, I heard. My condolences.

Bobby Brown:  Thank you. At the age of three, my mother put me on the stage with James Brown. He was performing. She just picked me up and put me on the stage. Why I was at a James Brown concert at the age of three, I do not know; but I was there and she put me on stage. I started dancing and I heard the crowd scream. I heard the crowd cheering me on. And from that moment, it was just like: “This is me. This is what I’m going to do. This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to look at a crowd every day of my life, if I possibly can.” It’s only by God’s wishes that I perfected my craft, and I’m still perfecting my craft. And that’s what entertainers have to do. You have to perfect your craft. And I’m still working on me, and I’m trying to be better and better and better every day, but I know this is everything for me. It’s me. I mean you look up “entertainer” in the book, in the dictionary, and you’ll see my picture.

Clayton Perry:  Unfortunately, in this day and age, it will be very hard for newer artists to follow in your footsteps, because a large number of them are manufactured. They are literally here one day and gone the next. What’s your take on the past and present shifts within the music industry?

Bobby Brown:  Well, nobody grooms artists. These days, it’s about a record. It’s not about the artist. It’s about a record, and we have to really grab hold of that, because these kids are going to end up rich and stupid, basically. If they think it’s about just making money and getting out there and traveling and being on Lear jets, they’re not thinking about the show. They’re not thinking about performing for people. People in this country are very fickle. They like you one day and then they dislike you the next, so your craft is everything that you are. I work on myself every day. Every day. And I don’t know. I’m thankful that I’m able to do what I do and I hope they’re thankful for what they’re doing. But I would tell them to just perfect your craft and trust in entertainment. Trust in yourself, because yourself can get you in trouble. Trust in what your craft is, and that’s entertainment.

Clayton Perry:  Outside the world of entertainment, you also have the important task of being a father. In what ways has fatherhood guided your life decisions?

Bobby Brown:  Me being a father is so many things. Me being a father is me taking care of myself at forty years old. Me going to the doctor regularly to make sure that I’m healthy. I have a twenty-month-old son, so he keeps me so f**king energized, so alert and so ready to do anything in life. So that keeps me going, man. My oldest son, who is twenty-five just gave me my first grandchild!

Clayton Perry:  Congratulations!

Bobby Brown:  …so I’m a grandfather, too! [laughing] Now, I’ve really got to stay up on my pimpin’. I’ve really got to stay up on my game. He’s a musician as well – and he keeps me motivated. All of my kids are into music. So they keep me focused. And when they have new things that they want to say and new things they want to sing about, it reminds me about everything that I love.

For more information on Bobby Brown, visit his official website: http://www.bobbybrownonline.com











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