In 1987, Bobby Brown was in New York City, working with producers L.A. Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, on the recording of Don’t Be Cruel, his second solo album since departing from the teenage R&B group, New Edition, several years earlier. The recording sessions were almost finished, but Bobby felt they were missing something from the collection of songs that would truly bring the album to fruition.
Chance Encounter Takes Don’t Be Cruel To Next Level
While walking through the hustle and bustle of NYC, Bobby kept running into a budding musician, and future producer extraordinaire, Teddy Riley, who Bobby remembered was always toting a Casio keyboard, constantly at the ready to lay down some new beats. Bobby thought their encounters were more than coincidence and believed they should collaborate on some music for Don’t Be Cruel.
Bobby and Teddy started to work out of Teddy’s apartment in Brooklyn, New York, which was used as a make-shift recording studio. Teddy introduced Bobby to his friend Aaron Hall, and the trio began crafting music for “My Prerogative,” a song that Bobby had written as a response to his detractors, who criticized him for his lifestyle that led to his termination from New Edition. “My Prerogative” is full of defiant lyrics, such as “I don’t need permission, make my own decisions,” and, “They say I’m crazy, I really don’t care, that’s my prerogative.”
Bobby Brown Finds New Groove
Once Bobby connected with Teddy, he experienced what he called “a whole different groove.” Teddy came up with an infectious beat and baseline for “My Prerogative” that instantly hooked Bobby and Aaron. “When we heard that beat, we knew we had something special, we couldn’t get it out of our heads,” Bobby recounted. What Bobby heard was the genesis of what became a ‘new jack swing’ anthem.
Teddy Riley and Bernard Belle are largely credited for creating a recording sound called new jack swing, by fusing the rhythms, samples, and production techniques of R&B, hip hop, and dance-pop into the recording of popular music. The sound of the new jack swing comes from the hip hop “swing” beats created by a drum machine and computer hardware samplers.
It was the definitive sound of the New York club scene from the mid-80s through the early 90s.
Teddy was one of the most sought-after producers during that era, incorporating the new jack swing into songs by Michael Jackson, Keith Sweat, Kool Moe Dee, MC Hammer, and Bobby Brown, along with Guy, and BLACKstreet, two groups that Teddy, himself, was a member of.
The Birth of New Jack Swing
Bernard Belle is credited with writing and co-writing with Whitney Houston, Patti LaBelle, and Al B. Sure, along with Bobby Brown and Keith Sweat. Bernard also collaborated with Michael Jackson on “Remember the Time,” which was co-produced by Teddy Riley. According to Teddy, the term “new jack swing” was coined by Barry Michael Cooper in 1987, while he was a writer for the Village Voice, from an article that Cooper wrote with the heading “Teddy Riley’s New Jack Swing.” Cooper would later write a review of “My Prerogative” for SPIN Magazine, where he wrote that the song “sounds like gin-drenched Roaring Twenties swing.”
“My Prerogative” Undeniable Hit
“My Prerogative” became a mega-smash, topping the Billboard Hot 100 30 years ago this year and the Billboard Hot Black Singles charts, and hitting #7 on the Billboard Dance Club Play chart, as well as finishing #2 on the Billboard Year-End Singles chart for 1989. It was the second single from the album Don’t Be Cruel to achieve major success, helping to catapult the album to the best-selling album of 1989 in the U.S., and one of the Top 5 in the U.K and Australia. Don’t Be Cruel featured five Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold over 7-million units in America alone. The video for “My Prerogative” was nominated for ‘Best Stage Performance in a Video’ at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards.
Britany Spears recorded a remake of “My Prerogative” in 2004, that also went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and performed even better than Bobby’s original version did internationally, climbing to #1 in Ireland, Italy, Finland, and Norway, and hitting #2 in Spain.
Besides being considered an “anthem” for new jack swing, “My Prerogative” is first and foremost an anthem for the career of Bobby Brown. It is his signature song and the song that he performs as his encore at his live concerts. So raise a glass and watch this mini-documentary in celebration of 30 years of this phenomenal hit and electrifying album.