Rewinding the Charts: In 1989, Bobby Brown Took New Jack Swing to No. 1
Apart from New Edition, the then-future husband of Whitney Houston dominated with his second solo LP, "Don't Be Cruel."
BY 1988, BOBBY BROWN'S CAREER was in freefall. Two years prior, he was voted out of New Edition, the quintet he started with four Boston friends, in part because of his rebellious streak. Then, in 1987, his first solo album, King of Stage, fizzled at No. 56 on the Billboard 200, despite a No. 1 R&B single, "Girlfriend."
"We had to regroup and find out what my identity was as a singer," Brown told Fred Bronson, author of The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, in the early 1990s.
What Brown discovered was a sexual swagger that fueled the six-month climb of his second solo set, Don't Be Cruel, to the top of the Billboard 200 on Jan. 21, 1989. Brown, then 19, and the album's main architects, Antonio "L.A." Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, brought new jack swing — a fusion of hip-hop, R&B and dance-pop — to the mainstream in a big way. Cruel ruled as the No. 1 LP of all of 1989 and scored five Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hits: the title track (No. 8), "My Prerogative" (No. 1), "Roni" (No. 3), "Every Little Step" (No. 3) and "Rock Wit'Cha" (No. 7).
Brown's next album, Bobby, yielded two Hot 100 top 10s in 1992, but after he reunited with New Edition for an album and tour in 1996, his career stalled as legal and personal troubles mounted. He was repeatedly arrested for drug and alcohol-related offenses, and his troubled marriage to Whitney Houston sparked tabloid headlines and a reality TV show, Being Bobby Brown, before their 2007 divorce. Houston and her only child with Brown, daughter Bobbi Kristina, died about three years apart, under eerily similar circumstances. Both were found unresponsive in bathtubs, and drugs played roles in their deaths. (Brown has six other children, including three with his manager, Alicia Etheredge, whom he wed in 2012.)
The singer resumed touring with New Edition in 2011, and the group will be the subject of a BET miniseries, The New Edition Story, premiering Jan. 24. "I've been through so many things in my life," said Brown at a screening in Boston on Jan. 8. "But I'm sane, I'm sober, and I'm alive. And there's so much I'm thankful for."