Grammy-winning R&B artist discusses his new CD, “The Masterpiece”—his first solo effort in 13 years.
R&B artist Bobby Brown
Tavis: Bobby Brown is back. This year marks the release of his first CD in nearly 15 years. The new disc is called “The Masterpiece,” which is already getting some buzz around the first single, “Get Out the Way.” Later this year he and the original New Edition members are planning a reunion to celebrate their 30th…
Bobby Brown: Thirty years.
Tavis: (Laughter) Wow. Makes you feel old.
Brown: Thirty years, yeah.
Tavis: Their 30th anniversary. More on that in a moment. First, though, Bobby Brown, good to have you on this program.
Brown: Thank you for having me, Tavis.
Tavis: You been all right, man?
Brown: I’ve been good. I’ve been really good, actually, yeah.
Tavis: I’m glad to have you here.
Brown: Thank you.
Tavis: I said 30 years. Does it seem like 30 years to you?
Brown: Yeah. (Laughter) All that I’ve been through in my life, yeah, it does feel like 30 years, but it feels like a good 30, after everything that – everything you go through, you learn from everything. So all the lessons that I had to learn, I’m just grateful to be here today.
Tavis: I’m glad you said that. When you say all the lessons that you had to learn, let me just deconstruct that. Why did you have to learn these lessons?
Brown: Well, in order to become a grown man, in order to become significant in my family and significant in my children’s life, I had to learn my lessons. I started early. At 14 years old we were traveling around the world making beaucoup amounts of money. Sometimes that can get to you.
It definitely got to me, and I didn’t know how to deal with it when I was younger. If I had the same mind that I have right now back then, I’d be a billionaire, definitely. But I’m just glad I went through the things that I had to go through in order to become the man that I am today.
Tavis: I haven’t experienced it at your level and I pray God I never have to, but the one thing about being a public figure is that whatever mistakes you make, whatever miscalculations, miscues – you know where I’m going with this – whatever you do, it’s done so publicly.
Everybody sees everything, they talk about everything. That video will haunt you to the grave, you know what I’m saying?
Tavis: How have you processed having to make these mistakes, to learn these lessons, in such a public way?
Brown: Well, I learned from watching it. I learned from watching myself. Like, the television show I had, “Being Bobby Brown,” I looked at myself and I just analyzed myself and dissected everything that was wrong. Just took it out of my life. I’m living so much better now. I’m eating better, I’m loving better. My children are happier. I’m just a better person right now, so I learned from watching myself.
Tavis: For people watching – and I’m anxious to talk about the record; we’ll get to that, I promise – for people watching – and gain, none of us is human and divine, we’re just human, we all make mistakes.
Tavis: But when it goes – let me break this into two questions. How does it go so wrong? How does it go so bad? Then we’ll talk about how you swing back from that. But how do you get so out of sorts, so out of whack?
Brown: You give a young man at 18 years old a couple million dollars and watch him destruct. That’s what happened to me.
I was always a part of the hip-hop world and party this and girls and cars, fast cars, and jewelry. That can hurt you. Then drugs come into play, and when drugs come into play that’s when you really lose it, because I’m glad to say I’m six years clean and when drugs come into play it’s just about that. You lose love for yourself, you lose love for yourself, you lose love for your family, you lose love for your friends, and it just becomes drugs.
Then you’re driving all these nice, fancy cars and you’ve got all this jewelry and you’ve got these big houses, and everything just turns to material. I’ve learned that it’s not always the best thing to be comfortable in this business. Comfort is just – I’m comfortable in my skin now, and not comfortable in a house or comfortable in a car or comfortable wearing the newest fashions or the watches and the jewelry.
Tavis: As a matter of fact, I was noticing when you walked out you ain’t got no jewelry on today. (Laughter) You ain’t got a ring, you ain’t got a watch, you ain’t got a necklace.
Brown: I don’t got a ring yet, but soon I’ll be getting married again, so I’m looking forward to that.
Tavis: I’m being funny about it on a certain level, but I’m asking that because – and I’m not suggesting that when you go on stage and do your thing, you don’t have to get fly and get all dressed up, but is this part of your maturation, that you can come on a show stripped down and just be Bobby Brown? That you don’t have to have all the bling and the ice and the floss?
Brown: I feel that the simplicity of life is just being yourself. So I just try to be myself and just – I’ve had all of that. I’ve been there and I’ve done that, the old saying. But I’m just a better person now. I’m just happy with being Bobby Brown, and it just pours out of me naturally now.
Tavis: I’ve been in a thousand conversations, it feels like, Bobby, and I think this may make sense to you and for those watching. I’m sure they’ve said this at times. I’ve been in a thousand conversations over the years where I’ve watched people who I’m a fan of, including Bobby Brown, persons I’ve been a fan of, and you see them going off the rails.
Not that I’m perfect; I’m a cracked vessel as well. But I’ve seen people go off the rails and I’ve said to myself, “If I could just get to Bobby, Bobby just needs somebody around him who loves him like I do.”
Tavis: “Who cares for him, who wants to see the best for him, don’t want nothing from him. I’m just a huge Bobby Brown fan and I want to be there for Bobby.” I’ve said that about a whole bunch of people. Now, there’s no evidence anywhere that just because you and I would have been friends back then that I could have helped you, but I say that to ask the question, what happens to people around you who ought to be trying to get you out of that, pull you back, help you when you’re going through that? Are those folks around, are they not around, have they left you? Are they doing this stuff with you? Who cares about you doing these (unintelligible)?
Brown: Well, at these down times, it’s like you don’t really care for yourself so it doesn’t matter what anybody cares about you.
Tavis: If they care, I got it.
Brown: Once you don’t care about yourself, then everybody else goes out the window. Nobody can tell you anything when you’ve got millions of dollars and you can do anything you want and you can pay people to say yes. You can do that.
But I’m glad that I’ve had genuine friends that have always been concerned about me and always worried about me and always tried to get in touch with me when I wouldn’t try to get in touch with them, when I wouldn’t answer the phone, when I wouldn’t – when I didn’t want to – see, this is the thing that I learned, that I had to want to get better for myself.
Anybody could tell me – my mother could tell me, my father could tell me. But if I didn’t want it then I wasn’t going to accept it and get it. I had to want to get better for myself, and I wanted to get better for myself. Six years ago it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had to.
Tavis: You and I are both Black men.
Tavis: As if you didn’t know. (Laughs) I’m thinking of the Betty White joke, she was busting my chops the other night. But you and I are both African-American men, and I raise that because you just mentioned your mother. I have found in my life that – I have a book out, as a matter of fact, right now where there are three or four stories I tell in the book that I was so embarrassed and so humiliated by I couldn’t even tell my mama for 20-plus years.
You know where I’m going with this – we had disappointing our mamas. We hate letting our mamas down. So let me ask you a two-part question. When you were going through this, how did you feel about letting your mama down, number one, and number two, I know your mother passed away not so long ago, and if you don’t mind talking about that, what does watching her struggle and transition, how did that impact your sobriety?
Brown: Well, when I was going through it I couldn’t even answer the phone from my mom, when I was in addiction. It was just way too embarrassing to even talk to her over the phone, nevertheless go and see her. I lived in Jersey and I lived in Atlanta and she lived in Atlanta, and I just couldn’t find myself being in front of her the way I was.
So that was definitely embarrassing for me. That’s one of the reasons why I had to get clean, because my mother is – that’s Ma Brown. She will cuss you out and cook you some food and then give you a bed to sleep in. So I couldn’t even be in front of her.
Then the second part of your question – I miss her. I miss her daily, and I’m just happy that she was able to see me at my better side before she passed. She was able to see me on my way back up and not doing bad. She never cared about the money, she never cared about the cars, the houses. She never cared about anything that I would try to give her because of my absence, of me being intoxicated.
She never cared about that. She only wanted her son, and when she passed, I’m grateful that she loved her son to the end and I was able to give her love in the end, and I was able to be there for her in the end. So I’m just – I miss her a lot, again. I miss her a lot, so.
Tavis: I’m halfway through this conversation now and I said to myself I want to talk about your music because I’m such a Bobby Brown fan.
Brown: (Laughs) Thank you.
Tavis: I want to get to the music. Let me ask one less question about the past and then we’ll get to the music, “The Masterpiece.” Obviously, in the news, Whitney has checked herself back into rehab of her own doing.
Tavis: Any thoughts about that?
Brown: Well, I just wish her the best. I wish her all the happiness in the world. She needs to love herself again. My daughter’s doing really good. She’s recording an album and –
Tavis: Bobbi Kristina.
Brown: Bobbi Kristina. I’m just grateful that she’s getting the help that she needs and that’s all we can really hope for, for her to be better. She’s a great singer, great woman, and I just wish her the best.
Tavis: You mentioned Bobbi Kristina. I don’t want to talk about her, but I do want to mention your – he’s sitting side-stage here, your almost two-year-old son now.
Brown: Yes, yes.
Tavis: He’s off the camera over here. I was asking about him when you walked on the set, and since you mentioned Bobbi Kristina is recording her album, you told me that he’s – when I see kids, two-year-olds, walk on my set for a live TV taping, the whole crew gets scared. A kid cannot scream out loud in the middle of a live TV taping, so only Bobby Brown would be let bring his son onto the set in the first place.
But Bobby said, “No, he’s cool. He’s a really, really quiet kid, unless and until you do what?”
Brown: You put a mic in front of him. (Laughter) You put a mic in front of him – trust me, you put a mic in front of that kid and –
Tavis: He starts going.
Brown: Oh, he starts going. He’s (makes baby noises). He can’t sound out words yet, but oh, he got a voice.
Tavis: So you got another one coming.
Brown: Oh, he’s another one. And my sons, my other two sons, Landon and Bobby, just recorded a record together and you can find that on YouTube. But my kids are just, like, I don’t – I know where they get it, because I know what I do and I know it was in my blood, but they’re just super-talented, man, and I’m just really, really grateful and impressed at what they do, man. They’re just great kids.
Tavis: What kind of advice is Daddy Brown giving them about the business?
Brown: Oh, about the business.
Brown: The business has changed so much that they’re able – we’re able these days in the music industry to be able to control our own destiny. That’s all I want them to do. I want them to know that whatever they want to do, it’s in their hands. It’s not up to anybody else to do
. Long as they get a good education and as long as they stay focused and practice on their craft, then the sky’s the limit, man. You could do anything. My oldest son just gave me a granddaughter, so I’m a grandfather sitting here.
Tavis: You too young to be a granddaddy, man. (Laughter)
Brown: That’s what I keep saying. I keep telling myself that, but every time I see her little face, man, she got the biggest dimples in the world. I could fit my hand inside her dimples, that’s how big her dimples are. She’s just so beautiful.
So I’m just happy with life because everything is going perfect for me right now, and when you feel something going perfect you tend to think okay, well, what’s going to go wrong? Something’s bound to happen. But I don’t have any thoughts of something happening, because I’m staying focused and clear about what I want in life, and I’m going to get it, man.
Tavis: What’s about to happen is this “Masterpiece” about to drop –
Brown: That’s “The Masterpiece.”
Tavis: – in June. Before I get to the record, what’s it like going back into the studio? You’ve been singing here and there, of course, but what’s it like going back in the studio to do a record of original music when you ain’t done it in 15 years?
Brown: Well, I can’t sit here and say that it’s the easiest thing in the world, but I can say that for the last past 10 years I’ve been in and out of the studio, messing around in the studio and for four years of that I was still high. So some of the songs, you get some high songs. (Laughter) Then you just have to deal with okay, what do I do with this high song that I did? (Laughter)
You have to figure it out for yourself. Then the other six years I just started doing some of the greatest material that I possibly could do because my mind was back. I didn’t have no fog around me, I didn’t have anything around me that was negative, and some of the greatest music came out of me, man, and I’m working with some of the greatest young producers.
I’m working with Whitey and Jarrett out of Detroit, I’m working with Blaze out of Chicago. I worked with this guy called Benjamin Franklin.
Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter)
Brown: You know what I’m saying?
Tavis: I got it.
Brown: So I worked with him, and we’re in the studio and we’re just doing some really great music and I just – that’s why I called it “The Masterpiece,” because I think God used me as a vessel to bring forth something that is different and something that is basically a masterpiece, because what he made me – if he could bring me back from what I’ve been through, he made a masterpiece, because I’m so much better now than I was before.
I’m just – I don’t know how to explain how this music sounds. I’ve got songs like “Set Me Free,” wow.
Tavis: This is autobiographical stuff, some of it?
Brown: Most of it is about what I’ve been through. Then some of it is just happy music. It’s just good loving, good fun, happy music, and people will enjoy this album. They will enjoy this album. That’s why I named it “The Masterpiece,” because this is just like – it’s so well put together that if you don’t like it, I’ll refund your money. (Laughter)
Tavis: No, if it’s Bobby Brown, I’m sure we’re going to like it. In this very chair some months ago, in this very chair sat El Debarge, and El came on and he had to check himself back in, but he came on and we were so happy to see him when he came out with his project called “Second Chance.” The thing about El’s record that so blew me away – and I want to ask you a question about this – it blew me away, El has been, in some ways, on the same journey you were on.
Had the drug problem, all the stuff we know about El’s background. What blew me away about El was when I saw that – first of all, before he came on the show, I was at a private party one night and El performed a week or two before he came on the show.
I was at this party, like, my eyes were bugging out of my head because I could not believe his voice.
Brown: It’s still the same.
Tavis: After all – oh, Lord, after all he had done to his instrument that God had blessed him with, that voice, that falsetto, he still had it after all those years.
Brown: Yes. He’s a great man.
Tavis: You know where I’m going with this. After all these years, how does the voice hold up when you get in the studio?
Brown: Well, my voice has changed, but it’s still the same. I can still hit the same notes that I hit way back when. If anybody has seen me in concert, you know that I still blaze them, I still knock them out. That’s what I do best, I perform. That’s what God’s gift to me was, to be able to entertain people live and direct and give it to you raw.
My voice holds up really good in the studio, actually. I’m able to at least do a song a day. (Laughter) But on stage it’s totally different. I get a different energy from somewhere else. I believe it’s the crowd. The crowd gives me so much that the only thing I can do is pour out everything that I am, everything that I’m about, and all I’m about is entertainment. I love entertaining people, and it’s just me.
Tavis: For that space of time, you were – and I take this seriously – you were the kind of R&B for that space of time.
Brown: Thank you. (Laughs)
Tavis: You were blazing it so hard and so hot –
Brown: See, Whitney, he didn’t lie. (Laughter) He didn’t lie, Whitney.
Tavis: Yeah. Tavis said so – you didn’t lie. That don’t mean nothing. I’m just a Bobby Brown fan. But you were hitting it so hard back then, and I look back on that period and I want to ask you what was it about the music, the sound, your style, the substance of your music, the times that we were in in the country – what was it that made that moment so – there’s that picture. That’s what I’m talking about, right there. What was it that made that moment – just, it all worked, Bobby, it worked.
Brown: I don’t know.
Tavis: Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Yeah.
Brown: Oh, the pants, the pants, oh, boy.
Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter)
Brown: I think I took a little bit of Michael Jackson, I took a little James Brown, I took a little bit of Donnie Hathaway, I took a little bit of Prince and I just mashed it up into a ball and swallowed it, and just went out there to be Bobby Brown. Gratefully, the people accepted it, and I’m forever thankful to the people right now.
Tavis: When you look back on that period, analyze for me now in your own words what do you make of the music. When I hear it on the radio it still holds up now as well as it did when you put it out. But when you hear it now in retrospect these years later, what do you think of the music that you were doing then?
Brown: It’s like a gumbo. It’s a little bit of rap, it’s a little bit of R&B, it’s a little bit of funk, it’s a little bit of soul, and then a whole bunch of country. Because country music to me is people the most purest form, other than jazz.
Brown: It’s just a pure form that comes from your heart, and I think I just mixed it all up into one. I didn’t know what I was doing, but we called it New Jack Swing, and New Jack Swing ain’t nothing but every type of music just bashed into one song.
Thank God for people like L.A. and Babyface and Teddy Riley. We had a good run. We really started something that is still relevant today in music. So I’m just grateful to be a part of it.
Tavis: We talked earlier about the voice. How, on this new project, “The Masterpiece,” how would you describe the content, the sound of the music? You just described what New Jack Swing was back in the day. Is it the same thing? Is it different? How would you describe the sound on “The Masterpiece?”
Brown: I think just like I just said, it’s a gumbo. It’s a little bit of rock and roll, it’s a little bit of R&B and I just think what we’re doing now is music that people can enjoy. Because you’re hearing so much on the radio and (makes noise). Somebody needs to sing about love. Somebody needs to sing about having a good time.
Tavis: And some melody.
Brown: Yeah, with a melody.
Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter)
Brown: With some sustance. That’s how we say it at home – “sustance.”
Tavis: Yeah, some sustance. (Laughter)
Brown: So that’s what this album is, this music is, man. It’s just fun-loving music and I’m pretty sure the people are going to enjoy it.
Tavis: Yeah, I’m sure they will, because it’s got a whole lot of sustance.
Brown: Yeah. You got to have that sustance.
Tavis: (Laughter) The new project from Bobby Brown – Bobby’s back, y’all – the new project is called “The Masterpiece.” It drops in June, and I feel so fortunate that Bobby got a chance to see us before the project even drops, give us a heads up on it, and I think you’re going to like it. Bobby Brown, I’m delighted to know that you’re happy.
Brown: Thank you, thank you.
Tavis: That’s the most important thing, is you’re happy, man.
Brown: Thank you, thank you.
Tavis: Good to have you on the program, and congrats on the project in advance.
Brown: Thank you for having me. Thank you so much.
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