Before Bobby Brown became the poster child of washed-up celebreality, he reigned as the king of New Jack Swing. At least, that's the way he would prefer to be remembered.
But mostly, we remember everything that's happened since then: the numerous run-ins with the law; the unraveling of his roller-coaster marriage to Whitney Houston; the infamous reality show, "Being Bobby Brown," that highlighted his numerous run-ins with the law and the unraveling of his roller-coaster marriage; and, of course, the drug usage – both admitted and alleged.
In light of all that, it's easy to forget how relevant the original bad boy once was to pop music, particularly here in Atlanta. Luckily, despite a recent heart-attack scare, which he denies, Bobby Brown is still around to remind us of his lasting legacy.
"I think my contribution to the Atlanta scene was me bringing Hollywood to Atlanta," he says, speaking from an airport en route to Los Angeles. "I brought basically the big networks, the big stores, everything. It was like I brought Disney to Atlanta, Georgia. From that point on, Atlanta grew at enormous sizes. Everybody came once I moved there. I don't blame them; I want to be where I'm at [too]."
While the picture Brown paints is obviously tainted with a stroke of ego, he's right about one thing. His move to Atlanta in the late '80s helped jump-start the city's transformation into the urban-music capital it is today. Though he has since moved on, Atlanta fans will have a chance to reconnect with Brown when he headlines the New Jack Swing tour at the Civic Center Nov. 16.
His reputation for showing off on stage certainly hasn't suffered with age. At the 2006 Essence Festival in Houston, he was booed by some audience members when he raised the raunch-meter by taking off his shirt and talking about his sex life with then-wife Houston.
When Brown moved to Atlanta, however, he was a single man living in paradise. In fact, beyond the ripe Georgia peaches, he can barely recall what drew him to the city. "I thought the women there were exquisite, and the music scene, it wasn't so hot so I don't know," the 38-year-old Boston native attempts to explain. "I just loved Atlanta."
At the time, Brown was busy popularizing the New Jack Swing sound that transformed black music with the 1988 release of his second solo album Don't Be Cruel. Teddy Riley's featured production on songs such as "My Prerogative," Brown's signature hit, took R&B from quiet storm grooves to soul with hip-hop swag laid atop go-go rhythms. LaFace Records co-founder L.A. Reid also contributed production to the album. When his name pops up in the conversation, Brown offers a quicker explanation for Reid's relocation to Atlanta. "I think L.A. came here because I was there. It was easier to work with me there."
Once Brown arrived in the city, he didn't simply purchase a home like so many celebrities do now; he set up shop with Bosstown Recordings Studio. Don't count on him to remember who recorded there, though. "If you asked me," he laughs, "I couldn't even tell you. I didn't stay in the studio with them, but I let them work and things turned out fine for them."
Bosstown was a hub for some major works. In 1992, R.E.M. recorded parts of its influential, multiplatinum-selling album Automatic for the People there. It's also one of the first studios where a then-unknown OutKast recorded. Dre and Big Boi actually composed "Crumblin' Erb" and "Claimin' True" right in the building that would later become their very own Stankonia Studios. The way it changed hands is the stuff of legend. While Brown and OutKast were kicking it after a show in Tennessee, Bobby mentioned that the studio was for sale and he wanted OutKast to purchase it, Big Boi recalls in the Southern hip-hop book, Third Coast. As the duo later discovered, it was actually the IRS that was selling it.
Bobby just remembers that "it was about business, just black men doing business," he says. "I was not living in Atlanta anymore. I had moved to Jersey, and I just didn't have a need for a studio in Atlanta anymore, so I sold it to them."
In addition to OutKast, others such as Dallas Austin and DJ Jelly boosted their early music careers working at Bosstown. While Bobby didn't hire them directly, he says, "I knew they were talented. I knew every person that we allowed in the place was talented. It was all about bringing out the talents of Atlanta, Georgia."
Though 10 years have passed since Brown released his last studio album, Forever, he's still in tune with the changes that have swept the scene. "I find the music industry obsolete," he says. "We don't need record labels. We don't need the radio stations. None of that. Magazines and all that, if they want to write about us, they write about us. But musically, we can sell ourselves over the Internet.
"I, myself, I appreciate all three because that's what's gotten me to the position that I'm in right now."
That kind of statement might sound a wee bit presumptuous, considering Brown tends to be the butt of jokes rather than the recipient of accolades nowadays.
But, hey, it's his prerogative.
See Bobby Brown in his prime: Throwback videos on Crib Notes.