Over the weekend, I breezed through Bobby Brown's memoir, Every Little Step: My Story and it was quite the learning experience. Well, duh, of course I know who Bobby Brown is, but when he was doing his thing in the 80s, my wee heart could only focus on Anita Baker and Janet Jackson. My earliest memories of him involve Video Soul, which filled many a VHS tape in my house back in The Age of Cross Colours, but I wasn’t pressed. I learned about the magic after the fact.
I never performed "My Prerogative" for my mama and her friends. I have no problem admitting that I can only name all of the members of New Edition because of the rap in “Cool It Now.” I love their music, but don't ask me to rank Bobby's albums or opine on the superiority of the original lineup versus the Johnny Gill situation. (Or svelt Luther versus thickums Luther, for that matter.) I know Bobby was a dancin'-ass nigga a few lifetimes ago, and that he was influential in the New Jack Swing movement. But I mainly experienced him as Whitney Houston's oft-misunderstood, juicy-mouthed drug buddy/partner-in-crime, and Bobbi Kristina's pappy. I knew that he, too, was a shoulder pad enthusiast, but he’s much more than that. Anyhow, after finishing the book on a recent flight, dammit, I have some thoughts.
The book was good as shit. After devouring Kat Kinsman’s Hi, Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves, I spent a few weeks trying to get into Grace Jones’ memoir, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, and it has yet to put any rooter in my tooter, so it’s been el struggle. Bobby had me on the first page. I reckon I’ll get back to Grace later. (I’m now reading The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat—my first time reading her—and shit damn wow.)
Co-written by Nick Chiles, it is straightforward, messy, and compelling. He will not let you forget that this book is his moment in the sun, his turn to be Beyoncé at the Super Bowl, the shedding of an Ike Turnerized legacy, his chance to expel all misinformed hateration from the dancerie. Thankfully, it wasn’t done obnoxiously. Shoutout to growth and copy editors.
I didn’t realize the extent of his success and impact pre-Whitney. I knew he had some jams, but I didn’t know that Don’t Be Cruel was the best-selling album in the U.S. in 1989. Or that was number one on the Billboard 200 charts for six weeks. Or how young he and the rest of New Edition were when they became breadwinners and stars.
It was refreshing to hear his side of the story. Most of what I know about Bobby relates to his role as Mr. Whitney Houston and as the model from which the ancestors 3D printed Bobbi Kristina’s face, mouf and all. He is often blamed for Whitney’s demise, or at least leading her down the yellow brick road to destruction. So I enjoyed learning his version of events, my previous impression of him inevitably shaped by how he’s been portrayed in the media, thanks in large part to the Houston Family Narrative Control Center. Reading of his exploits as a young fly zaddy awash with luchini, hangers-on, milk, and honey, I felt like we were sitting on the dock of the bay with red cups of jungle juice, vibing over hoeism on a seventh grade reading level. Muy honest. Mad intimate.
Bobby is pretty self-aware. Bobby has no problems reminding you—spending pages upon pages recounting, in case you had forgotten—of his greatness. Of his bad boy swagger. Of his swole bank accounts. Of the innumerable coochies he hath explored. He is proud of what he’s done, and rightfully so, but he’s open about his fuckups, mistakes with money, friends, and associates, and his struggles and shortcomings as a husband and parent, particularly with Bobbi Kristina. Though he has indeed paid the cost to be the boss, when reflecting on yesteryear when he was That Nigga, he’s more matter of fact and less obnoxiously self-indulgent than I had expected. He didn’t paint himself as the hero throughout the book, which would have been powerfully corny. He accepts his shitbag tendencies.
Bobby was a hoe. He told it all. He was indeed humpin’ around, laying it low and spreading it wide. Sharing his music and penis with the world. He smanged many famous wimmenz, and named names, places, and freaky-deaky fetishes. He mentioned intimacy issues and all that jazz, too, and how sex affected his relationships. Who doesn’t love a good wayward-hoe-turned-family-man saga?
The Janet stuff made me clutch my pearls. I don’t know if it was common knowledge at the time, but this was all news to me. I would stab your grandma’s puppy if Janet asked me to, so I was initially defensive. I mean, he was an energetic and flashy tenderoni back in the day, so I suppose I can’t blame her if indeed there was some smangage.
I had forgotten about the cocaine chicken story. When news of a forthcoming epic from Sir Bobby of Brown first hit the skreets, one of the first released snippets detailed that time an eager Young Bobbington took it upon himself to fry up some chicken for his famlay, and unknowingly breaded and fried the chicken in the cocaine his loving mother intended to sell. He took a few bites and started feeling however cocaine-coated chicken makes you feel, not recognizing the smell of cooked drugs. But you know who did recognize that smell? His startled slinging-ass mama. And while I read and shared this tale when the story dropped months back, there I was this past Sunday morning, crylaughing at child endangerment and drugstuff on the train. One minute, she’s the hood’s Mother Teresa and the next living, la vida droga that Rick Ross daydreams about. It was the worst of times.
Based on his level of self-awareness, I would watch a Bobby Brown biopic. His candor about his shitbag tendencies is endearing. There’s sangin’ and dancin’. And I love a grand dance moment. There’s ambition, love, sex, betrayal, drugs, access to excess, and niggas with legendary curls of Jheri. Sure, there’s bound to be a questionable Gumby wig or two, but there’s no way it won’t be a captivating watch. As long as none of the rat bastards responsible for Flex Alexander’s gout-inducing attempt at playing Michael Jackson are in the mix, I vote yes.
I say all that to say, buy the book.
Join me, my podcast cohost Jay, and the VSB brohams in DC next Thursday for “New Edition: A Very Extraordinary Watch Party” for the finaly of BET’s The New Edition Story. Hit us up for sponsorship or vendor information.