The late 80’s found R&B rapidly morphing into raps less raucous cousin and two of the artists who spearheaded that charge were Bobby Brown and Al B. Sure!
Brown’s acrimonious split with his Boston brethren, New Edition immediately spawned the relatively lackluster King of Stage. Two years and a shifted production team later though (with up and coming producer Teddy Riley in the mix), Brown lifted R&B to edgier heights with the classic Don’t Be Cruel. The album was a slick mix of old school soul, new school rap and tweener pop that put Brown on the superstar map both critically and commercially. It also had a hand in getting tongues wagging about a new blend known as new jack swing.
Don’t Be Cruel would have stood head and shoulders over everything sonically similar if it wasn’t for another album by newcomer Al. B Sure that was released a month prior. In Effect Mode’s move up the chart wasn’t quite as quick as Brown’s LP, but once it splashed into the mainstream, it was heavy duty competition for the already seasoned young crooner. In Effect Mode was smooth and soulful while pushing the envelope of appropriate content. And you know Teddy has a production credit buried in there as well. However, one has to be seen as the foundation of the market that Riley cornered.
Presenting Brown dramatically as the cool bad boy of the NE family, Don’t Be Cruel was a pounding thrill ride through a new subgenre. However, Brown, L.A. Reid and Babyface still managed to insert just enough lovey dovey panache to balance the release perfectly. No longer was Bobby looking for a girlfriend.
He found her, rocked with her and then blasted her because she needed to chill with the attitude. The production came with whispers of 70’s soul, bubble gum pop, funk laden dance numbers and plenty of drum swing for the solo new jack who went on to sell over 8 million copies. However, some late 80’s aficionados believe that Bobby was edged out on the album quality tip.
In Effect Mode was the debut album from a then unknown Al B. Sure and even though the lead single “Nite and Day” got more than its fair share of airplay, Sure was still seen as a untested commodity. A crack production team including Kyle West, Andre Harrel and you guessed it… Teddy Riley took Sure and his multi octave voice from satin sheet anthems to running man dance specials with a healthy dose of Teddy’s soon to be swing sound sprinkled all around.
Al B. Sure sang in Spanish, covered Roberta Flack before Lauryn and even chased a lesbian around in introduction. Yet the album managed a tight sonic cohesion that ribboned through the entirety of the concise offering.
Of the pair though, one has to be better. Is it Brown’s sophomore offering that established his prerogative of R&B domination while coining one of the last innocent girl nicknames in the realm of urban music. Or is it Al B.Sure’s sexy debut that laid the foundation of Riley’s climb to swing svegali and made uni-brows totally cool? You decide.
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