I’ll be real with y’all, even though I’ve loved the concept of Timbaland and Swizz Beatz’s Verzuz series, I haven’t had the chance to check out most of them – especially the ones they stick on the weekdays.
Tim and Swizz, you’re targeting middle-aged music fans with these things called JOBS, we can’t party all night like we used to, playas.
But if you think I’m missing KEITH SWEAT VS BOBBY BROWN, you haven’t known me long enough. When the Verzuz battle was announced a few days ago, I got so many texts and emails within the span of 15 minutes I thought either someone got shot or someone got pregnant – the main reasons for Black mass communication.
Obviously, if you’ve spent 10 minutes on this site at any point in your life, you know whom I’m pulling for.
In fact, when this battle was speculated as a possible matchup months ago, I outright called it a mismatch. One guy has three decades of solo hits with countless writing and production credits under his belt; the other guy has three years of solo hits and some group stuff.
This is like the Hulk vs Professor Hulk.
But, as always, I pledge to be the most Unbiased R&B Reviewer on the Innanets, so in anticipation of the big matchup, let’s review Bobby Brown’s solo discography from bottom to top. This list will exclude his New Edition contributions (I already ranked those! See them here) and his multitude of remix albums and compilations. They’re … just the same songs anyway. This will be a fun project personally because I’m either hearing these albums for the the first time in decades or in some cases, for the first time ever. Let’s see how that perspective shapes them.
Bobby ain’t beating King Keef in a Verzuz, but credit when it’s due – when Bobby was on top, absolutely no one was higher.
5. The Masterpiece (2012)
Soul In Stereo rating: 1.5 stars out of 5
Edd said: A masterpiece, you say? Listen, I’ll give the brother some credit before loading the chopper – this was Bobby’s first album in 15 years and he was clearly trying to find himself in a R&B landscape that was drastically different than his last outing in 1997. While this one does have an strong overarching narrative of a man rebounding from years of turmoil he’s experienced, it’s SO unfocused sonically – weird synthy techno tracks, bizarre country/gospel blends and pseudo-Jason DeRulo throwaways that would have bored crowd even in 2012. There is literally one listenable track here, and Lord knows I hope Johnny Gill gets a yearly edible arrangement for doing the heavy lifting.
Forgotten favorites: “All is Fair”
4. Forever (1997)
Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Edd said: Bobby was riding high after the celebrated New Edition reunion the year before but things infamously took a turn during the Home Again tour. This album was recorded following his departure and despite the constant drama, you can’t deny this man’s talent – Forever isn’t a bad LP. While the uptempos are forgettable, a strong selection of slow jams anchor this one, showcasing a strong evolution from his hyperactive New Jack Swing heyday. It has its flaws but is a very solid listen, maybe even a little underrated in the long run.
Forgotten favorites: “My Place,” “Been Around the World,” “Forever”
3. King of Stage (1986)
Soul In Stereo rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Edd said: Before Bobby Brown became BOBBY BROWN, I rocked heavy with King of Stage, which began his evolution from the tender New Edition kid to his own man. Bobby infamously was unhappy with the production on this one and I guess I can see why – it feels pretty standard for the era. That said, King of Stage might not have been groundbreaking but by no means is it generic. Bobby’s starpower is apparent, even among the more so-so offerings. It was a fun album for its time that mostly holds up today, but greater things obviously were on the way.
Forgotten favorites: “Spending Time,” “Love Obsession,” “Girl Next Door”
2. Bobby (1992)
Soul In Stereo rating: 4 stars out of 5
Edd said: After you drop an undisputed classic record, what can you possibly offer next? If you’re Bobby, that means throwing on your favorite backless leather shirt and walking around with your hat in your hand. Bobby doesn’t stray too far from the New Jack Swing sound of the era, and with Teddy Riley, Babyface, L.A. Reid, and Daryl Simmons on board, he was in good hands. Living up to his previous album was a nearly impossible task – this set isn’t nearly as air-tight as its predecessor, especially the uneven middle portion, but there are enough high-profile hits and memorable album cuts to make up the difference.
Forgotten favorites: “Storm Away,” “Pretty Little Girl,” “College Girl”
1. Don’t Be Cruel (1988)
Soul In Stereo rating: 5 stars out of 5
Edd said: Full disclosure: I’ve only heard this album once in my life, probably circa 1990 when my cousin had it on in the background. I thought it was just OK then. So in the years since, when scores of fans heralded it as one of the greatest R&B albums ever made, I scoffed. Even going into this list I expected to find it overrated by stan nostalgia.
But oh no. This one STILL lives up to decades of hype.
Don’t Be Cruel is Bobby Brown’s final form – the completed evolution from boy band to R&B’s bad boy. Sequentially, the first half of the album is second to none, a rapid fire selection of the biggest tracks of the era. And even though the second half slows down a bit, the quality remains stellar. It’s been called the best New Jack Swing album of all time – that might be a debate for another day but there’s no debate that it’s Bobby Brown’s greatest album ever.
Forgotten favorites: “I Really Love You Girl,” “All Day All Night,” “I’ll Be Good to You”
Which Bobby albums are your favorite? And who do you think comes out on top in the Verzuz battle? Let us know below.