Bobby Brown has had a very hard year. First his mother and father passed away, then his ex-wife Whitney Houston was found dead in a hotel bathtub just before The Grammy Awards. And when he tried to pay his respects to the woman he loved at her funeral, he and his children were asked to move so many times they decided to leave—which led to Bobby taking yet another beating in the press.
But things may be looking up for the Boston-born R&B star who created the blueprint for today's Ushers and Breezys and Trigger Treys. He's got a new lady in his life, Alicia Etheridge, whom he plans to marry. And he's releasing a new album—his first in 14 years—titled The Masterpiece. Complex debuted the first single, "Don't Let Me Die," and now we've caught up with Bobby, who took a break from his tour with New Edition to talk about how music, friends, and family have helped him get through the hard times.
Interview by Rob Kenner (@Boomshots)
It’s been a while since we’ve heard you singing, but your song “Don’t Let Me Die” is so powerful. What was the inspiration for that one?
Well I lost my mom, I lost my dad, and just the things that life brings you. You don’t want to lose loved ones in your life. You don’t want to lose what you have strived for. You just don’t wanna do it. And after the recent death of Whitney, I guess that song really came to me because of me not wanting to lose.
You’ve taken some hard hits in the past year.
Yeah definitely. Wait till you hear the rest of the album. That’s why I called it The Masterpiece. What we did on this album is exactly what I see and what I’ve gone through in life.
This is the first album in 14 years. What was the one before that?
[Laughs] That was the Forever album.
What are you listening to these days?
I don’t listen to the radio right now. They’re playing the same things over and over and over. And they’re not giving the real artists that are great a chance. If it’s all about radio to solidify a great song, then radio’s not the move. You have to sell records other ways in order for somebody to hear you.
I see you’ve got some of your old friends from New Edition on the record. There’s a record called “Doesn’t Anybody Know” with Ralph Tresvant.
Yeah, we did that when we were at Ralph’s house. We had a cookout and we just went into his little studio and wrote something. That’s what we do when we’re together. We keep our friendship like it is. We like writing, we like eating some food, and we like hanging out. When you hear that song you can really feel that it’s all about fun with us.
And you covered “All Is Fair” with Johnny Gill.
Yeah that’s a classic Stevie Wonder song. And me and Johnny are both about to married. So we just thought, why not sing a song for our ladies?
That’s a pretty deep love song. That’s not just about hearts and roses.
Right. That’s what we felt about love too. And also being real Stevie Wonder fans we just wanted to pay homage to him in a real way.
Who is the artist JayAre who’s featured on the song “Starmaker”?
Oh, that’s my son. [Laughs] That’s little Bobby. His stage name is J.R.
So he’s following in your footsteps?
Oh yeah. He’s hot. He’s really hot. We’re preparing his album to be released after mine.
With all the lessons you’ve learned in the game, what sort of advice did you give him when he told you he was going into show business?
Just know that you want to do it. I mean this isn’t a business you just get in and try to do it quickly. It’s not always going to be a good time. This is a business that has its ups and downs. You have to be prepared for both the ups and downs. I just wanted him to finish school first before he truly makes the decision. But I’m gonna be there for him to make sure that he’s protected.
Lucky for him. Tell me about this last song on the album, it’s called “The Man I Want To Be.”
It’s a country song that I wrote when I was on a television show called Gone Country and I dedicated it to my mom. It’s just a great song. Writing it was part of a competition, but I didn’t win the competition. So I put it on the album just because it was a great song.
What is the message behind that one?
I mean, I’ve been locked up, I’ve been messed up numerous times... But wait till you see the man that I’m gonna be, when I get myself together. The man I’m gonna be. That’s basically what it is. Wait till you see me when I’m better—after being all of that, messed up and locked up. Wait till you get a hold of me.
The real you?
It was good to see another side of you on that interview you did with Matt Lauer recently. How did you feel about how that came out?
I was really happy just being able to sit with my kids and let people see how I raised my kids. Action speaks louder than words, and you could see it in my kids’ faces. No matter what you think about you, I take care of mine.
You have taken a beating in the press. Do you feel like that will ever change?
Well I’m working towards it. That’s what life is about. You try to be better at everything. I’m on tour now. We’ll be on tour until November. What I’m doing is being Bobby, the real Bobby. I always like to bring that out every night when we perform—show people who Bobby is. And then with this album, when people hear it and see the videos, just the new movement that I’m going on.
The last time I interviewed you was right when you and your wife were just breaking up. Do you feel like the music industry played a part in the end of your marriage?
I don’t even really think about that now. I’m really into what this album is about, and what this album is going to explain. The album is going to explain how I feel about everything.
How did you meet your fiancee Alicia?
I’ve known Alicia for years. We met so long ago, when she was working at a dance class. She was part of a dance crew. And we just all hung out at this dance studio in L.A. We met through that. We lost connection once I got married and all of that. But once I got divorced I saw her again and it just clicked. We just hooked up. It was nothing sexual before, we just all hung out.
And she’s also helping to manage your career now?
Yeah. She’s a very smart woman. She’s worked with Macy Gray and Magic Johnson and people like that. She’s just a brilliant lady. I love her dearly. My love for her goes beyond the love I feel for anybody. We’re looking forward to having a couple more kids and getting married.
More kids? You are a real family man.
Oh definitely. I mean I come from a family of 8, so that’s all I know. My father instilled in us that family matters.
I’m glad I had a chance to meet Pops when you were shooting the reality show.
This is what I’m happy about—they had a chance to hear most of the album when I was writing. Because our family is so close they got a chance to hear it. That is a beautiful thing.
It’s unimaginable the losses that you have been through. How has music helped you get through that?
We have a very great support system in this group. It’s how we stayed together for 29 years.
Of course New Edition has had its ups and downs like any other group. There has been tension at times, break-ups and reunions. Is that all behind you now?
Oh yeah. We all look at it as God’s plan for us to be able to do everything that we’ve done. We’re the only group in history that has branched off and done other things, set up new groups and solo acts and then been able to come back together and still be a group. We were all successful on our own and we come back as a group. This is the first group that’s ever done that.
How important were the other guys in New Edition while you were going through your trials and tribulations of the past year?
Oh big support. That’s what I call real friends. We just take care of each other. That’s what friends do.
Was performing part of your process of working through the hard knocks?
Nah, nah, nah, it’s all about the music and giving people entertainment. This is what I’m built for. Built for entertaining people.
There were critics in the press who said “why is he still performing?”
Why not? This is what I do for a living. This is how I support my kids.
Where do you want to be a year from now?
A year from now is way too far for me to even think about. I’m with my boys New Edition. We’re gonna put out great music for people to listen to. Ralph is coming with his album. Johnny’s album is out. BBD’s album is coming out, and we plan on doing a New Edition album. We’re just gonna ride this till the wheels fall off. We love touring. We love being a part of people’s lives where we can bring back the memories. So that’s what we just plan on doing this year. I mean, we’re humping. We’re doing shows every night. As old as we are, we are doing two hour shows every night in different cities. It’s a beautiful thing that we can still do this. And people are coming out, we’re selling out. It’s a great thing and we’re really grateful for it.
Will your son be joining you on any of those dates?
I don’t think so. If he does it will probably be when we’re in the area of Boston, cause he’s still in college.
No college dropout.
No, it won’t be none of that. Both of my sons—Landon and Bobby—are writers. They’re prolific singers. My mom instilled it in me and I guess I instilled it in them. They’re my boys. And wait till you see my little one tap. [Laughs] He’s a monster.
Yeah my little one, Cassius. He’s a tapper, singer, slash everything.
Wait, how old is he? He’s singing already?
He’s three years old.
Well how old were you when you got put on stage with James Brown?
I was like seven. And he’ll probably get on stage a little bit earlier. He always says he needs to. He needs to go on stage. He needs to do anything. He needs to. So it’s a burning desire. I mean when he sees New Edition perform, after we come off stage he goes “Daddy it’s my turn.” So he’s ready.