For the 25th birthday of Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel, his former manager, Steven Machat, pours kerosene on the cake
Before Whitney, before the crack pipe, before the high-speed police car chases, before the battery, before the missing child support payments, before the AA meetings, and before jail, Bobby Brown was the biggest R&B star on the planet. Today marks the 25th anniversary of his magnum opus, Don’t Be Cruel, an album that sold over five million copies, topped the Billboard pop chart for six weeks, and gave the world's karaoke bars “My Prerogative”, “Roni”, "Rock Wit'cha" and, of course, “Every Little Step”. Apart from Mike Tyson and us, no one seems to be celebrating this New Jack Swing milestone, not even Chris Brown, Bobby's musical heir apparent. However there is one person who is eager to stick a knife into the birthday cake and set the facts straight about the creation of this immortal record – his former manager, Steven Machat, who now runs cult NYC indie label Hippos In Tanks with his son Barron. Graciously opening up some old wounds for this auspicious occasion, Machat – who has served as legal counsel and management for the likes of the Wu Tang Clan, ELO, Phil Spector and Leonard Cohen – looks back to the heady summer of 1988 to recall the trials and tribulations of making this stone cold R&B classic. Don't be cruel now, Steven...
“My Dad (Marty Machat) and I handled Phil Spector. When I oversaw the production of Don’t Be Cruel, I sought to invoke the same spirit that Spector had created in the 60s – teenage angst, plain and simple. The single ‘Don't Be Cruel’ has both my name and my father's name credited on it as the management. It was the last time my Dad’s name appeared on an album. He died shortly before the release of the disc. It was my tribute to him.
The song ‘My Prerogative’ was written in my house as Bobby didn’t go to see Beetlejuice with me that Saturday afternoon. ‘Get busy’, the words he shouts at the start, are what my then wife's mother yelled at Bobby as he stayed home to put lyrics to the instrumental version of the song Teddy Riley gave us. We did not have a full album because Bobby was not capable of finishing more songs. The beginning and last tracks of the album I did with MCA A&R Louis Silas so the album would be filled with numbers. The song 'Don’t Be Cruel' is on there three times! Silas begged Babyface and L.A Reid to produce it – Bobby did not show up at the studio. He only came by sometimes to try to sing. And that was an endless wait. Drugs were part of the make-up of this album. Bobby was missing from the studio when we were scheduled to finish 'Every Little Step'. He was on a drug run and New Edition’s Ralph Tresvant was waiting for him. Babyface and L.A were about to leave, so Ralph filled in. ‘Every Little Step’ has two singers. Bobby and Ralph. Go back and listen to the lead vocals. Then listen to Ralph.
The suit on the front cover was from Versace. My friend. I wanted Bobby to be different than the rest of the kids of his age. Girls like uniforms and this album was set up for the girls, just like the artists of the 60's – another lesson I learnt from Spector. It was initially only released on vinyl and tape as MCA did not believe in it. But I knew kids needed something more than the majors were giving. Even today, the majors will not survive without the indies feeding and breaking artists – the indies create and the majors perpetuate. New Edition were an indie band to begin with. In fact all my successful acts started as indies. Majors sell what exist, it is hard for them to get the monies to create what is really new. They couldn't care less about the art. It is all about a bottom line. They want sales and do not care what they sell as long as it sells. The prophets all start in the street.
Bobby was unable to duplicate the success of that record because the team that did it was gone, me included. I left because I awoke from the dream. I was representing and promoting a fraud. A fraud that lived on the fumes of the dust he smoked and the lines he inhaled. I got disgusted with myself. I thought I could mould him, instead he moulded me. When I quit it was to regain my honour which my ego had got in front of. The last straw was when his mother called the night I got back to LA from my Dad’s funeral in NY, demanding that I bail her daughter out of jail. She was arrested for prostitution.
Instead of becoming an example and role model, Bobby stayed on the floor, constantly looking for his next high. I must add, Whitney was worse than him when they met. She destroyed him as much as he destroyed her. They lived in the shadows of the light.”