Following the lukewarm response of his debut solo album King of Stage in 1986, teen idol Bobby Brown was at his crossroads in his career. While his former bandmates New Edition had linked up with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to oversee production on their Heartbreak album, Brown elected to work with Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and Antonio “L.A.” Reid. L.A. and Babyface were already making a name for themselves in music, so it was a brainer to work with them. In May 1988, Brown released “Don’t Be Cruel,” the first single from his same-titled sophomore album.
Music historians liken the song to Janet Jackson’s “Control” as it showcased a maturing artist coming into his own. From the opening instrumentation moments of the song to the moment Bobby sings the first note, he displays confidence well beyond his age of 18 when he recorded the song. L.A. and Babyface, with additional writing by Daryl Simmons, provided Brown with a song that has a man pursuing a woman who isn’t interested in his games.
Don’t Be Cruel was the beginning of a successful atop-the-charts run for Brown and one of his most notable songs. Thirty-three years later, the song still sounds fresh, and I can’t help but smile every time Brown does his rap in the song.
Final Grade: A
Don’t Be Cruel is available on all streaming platforms.