Being Bobby Brown’s Shadow
Coffee is for losers. At 8 a.m. Bobby Brown is seeking more than a caffeine kick. Speaking barely above a whisper, the sleepy-eyed crooner asks no one in particular for what he considers to be the breakfast of champions: a ntruitious blend of wheat, barley and yeast...beer, if you want to get specific. Strolling the lobby of Boston's Crosstown Center Hampton Inn, a modest hotel where single rooms max out at $169 a night, other guests are chomping on rubbery eggs and dry muffins. Some a probably passing judgement on the self-proclaimed King of R&B. Of course, a breski probably isn't the best thing for Brown to consume on his way to a Massachusetts court of law, but he's a stubborn man. Still, his entourage dismiss his request.
It's hard to tell if the unflinchingly nuts Bobby we know from the runaway hit Being Bobby Brown - now filming its second season - is a made-for-TV trainwreck, or a man who consciously does the disoriented dance because he knows that it's expected. Blame the show's success on our need to feast on the travails of others, or the primal point-and-laugh instinct that kicks in when someone trips and falls. Any way you cut it, though, Brown, 37, is America's guilty pleasure. Playing fly-on-the-wall, KING looks for the man behind the caricature.
TV CAMERAS AND CELL-PHONE HARASSMENT
8:15 A.M. America's courts and NBA basketball sidelines have something in common: sweats, oversized jeans and Air Force 1s are discouraged. And for good reason. It's not the best dress code for disarming men in black with gavels. Done up in a tilored pinstripe suit, Bobby is up and at 'em early. He looks refreshed seated at the Hampton Inn - a far cry from his haggard "Just Say No To Drugs" appearance during his 2002 Dianee Sawyer interview, after which he claims he sobered up for good. His bottom lip is still pronounced, but he doesn't look as worn as he does on TV. He's recently lost 15 pounds - it's a fair guess that seeing one's gut on the small screen would make anyone hit the stationary bike. Phaedra Parks, who will be representing him today at his child-support-adjustment hearing, makes the initial introduction. Bobby doesn't seem impressed, or ready to have KING with him for the day, but is cordial nonetheless.
The quite of the 40-minute ride to the courthouse is broken by no fewer than five phone calls from Whitney. Evenly spaced that's a call every eight minutes, but who's keeping track? their conversations run the gamut from giggling teenage love to grown-folk war of words. In the end: "She misses me," says Bobby, smiling at his cell.
Pulling into the courthouse parking lot, a controlled Bobby begins to show cracks. "I hope ther earen't any cameras outt front," he says. As the Suburban pulls up, three news camera crews ambush the whip. Parks advises against his talking to the press. Composing the group in the car, she leads everyone in prayer asking God to protect and bless them, Amen. The car is still.
WAITING FOR JUSTICE
9 A.M. In a crowded waiting room, Bobby is fidgeting. "I'm not going to jail," he says, adjusting his jacket and tie. People are starting to recognize him; one guy even offers him his seat. Bobby, graciously, accepts. Seated, Bobby's leg can't stop shaking and his pants jump with every twitch, revealing a bright white pair of tube socks.Just as everyone with him notices them, Bobby's buddy, Styles, rushes in with two pairs of dress socks - one for Bobby and the other for his brother/manager Tommy. The brothers take off their shoes and put the dress socks over their tub socks. Everyone at the table giggles, even the woman he's here to battle in court, Kim Ward - mother of LaPrincia, 16, and Bobby Jr., 14. For exes meeting for a courthouse showdown, they are strangely at ease, cracking jokes and reminiscing about their days growing up in Roxbury, having known each other since they were seven. It's safe to say that Bobby's baby-mama drama isn't all that dramatic.
MORE CALLS FROM THE MISSUS
11:45 A.M. Bobby is ecstatic. The outcome of the hearing isn't made public, but we gather it's good news, because Bobby is in a celebratory mood. Greeting the cameras as he exits the courthouse, he obliges them with some stock comments. "We're very pleased with the judge's decision, everything's great," yadda, yadda, yadda. Bobby's a pro. He proceeds to invite several of his friends members of his defense team and Kim to lunch at Legal seafoods. Lunch for four is now lunch for 11, and Bobby's camp makes it clear that the King of R&B won't be picking up the tab.
With the Long Island iced teas flowing as we look through the menu, Bobby takes us back. "I won every talent show I've ever been in," he says, beaming. "I used to jump out of my third-story window to sneak out to talent shows." It's a telling admission that unveils the making of Bobby Brown Let's not forget he's got five Grammys, seven American Music Awards and has sold 70 million albums worldwide. But today, we're talking talent shows. We can't help but wonder where he keeps those amateur titles he's so proud of. Next to Whitney's massive collection of Grammys and American Music Awards, perhaps.
Bobby is in heaven, eating a big bowl of steamers and sippin' on his afternoon delight. His jacket is off and he's about 20 minutes away from undoing his pants button. When the attention is on him, he revels in it. "Will the missus be joining us?" asks the waiter. Bobby smiles and politely tells him no. On cue, Whitney rings.
"Hi honey...I'm doing an interview right now... [Court] went okay... I'll call you later...love you." He hands his phone to his brother. The cell, it appears, has been put in timeout.
APPETITE FOR ATTENTION
2 P.M. The convversation turns, naturally, back to Bobby. Specifically, his career. He's touring the country with New edition, appearing on talk shows. He's getting the biggest boost of his career since... since... since.. nevermind. The public has been clamoring for season two of Being Bobby Brown, which is in the midst of a network tug of war.
"I love watching it," he says. "Missy Elliott told me my show is her Good Times. It's probably the easiest money I've ever made in my life, because all I'm doing is being myself." See, Bobby feeds off attention. doesn't care if it's good or bad; it's his appetizer, main dish and dessert. "I love performing. For me, performing is like... I need it like breathing. It's the only place I feel comfortable, I feel relaxed."
Reaching the meal's third course, we U-turn back to New Edition. Bobby's never been bashful when it comes to his feelings about how shady NE's business dealing were when the group first blew up. Just how much money does he think NE was shorted during his first run with the group? "About $20 million." High number. A breakdown won't be easy. KING attempts to justify his guesstimation, nonetheless. They were the biggest black boy band since the Jackson 5. And the show dates were plentiful. Publishing on a fair contract could have been lucrative. Still, a $20-million stiff is a lot for the five-member heatbreak contiingent. "No, [not the whole group,] just my shit." oh. We clearly need to recalculate. Bobby lets out a snicker. But he'll tell you he ain't joking. And he's dead serious about that exorbitant number, which relates only to him.
CHANGE CLOTHES AND GO
2:30 P.M. Accompanied by some childhood friends and Kim, we all wander into a nearby mall. Kim needs to pick up some things for LaPrincia's 16th birthday party. Almost immediately, Bobby and Tommy disappear. About 15 minutes later, Bobby's back: a vision in a blue Adidas tracksuit, shell toese and matching baseball cap. His designer suit is balled up in a plastic bag. Walking in and out of stores, a few "Hey Bobby!" calls are yelled out. Nothing comparable to his heyday, but that suits him fine. He knows his public persona has changed for the better in the past year, and he relishes it.
"I think there are a lot of people who think I'm going to do them bodily harm," he says. "I'm a fighter but I just ain't into it no more. I don't start trouble, but if some trouble comes my way, believe me, I'm going to finish it. I collect guns. I don't shoot people, though." A gun collection in the Houston-Brown household? And no one's been shot yet? Miraculous.
By now, it's evident Bobby feels wronged. He's been the butt of many jokes, but the man, at one point, was at the top, and he isn't about to let anyone overlook his reign. "I feel like I was blacklisted, but the Don't Be Cruel era is hard to forget. 'My Prerogative' - that song got a lot of people through college." More like, it had a lot of people running to the dictionary. "If they've seen Usher and thought they've seen great talent, they ain't seen shit yet. I can do this with my eyes closed, I don't need rehearsal."
3:30 P.M. Piled into three cars, we caravan over to LaPrincia and Bobby Jr's public high school in a Boston suburb to pick them up, much to their surprise. The mostly white students are paralyzed with excitement as they see Bobby's tinted window slowly roll down. Shrieks of "That's LaPrincia's dad!" can be heard from the throngs of high schoolers standing around. Embarrassed by the attention, LaPrincia walks over to the car and greets her father with a kiss. Bobby Jr., unmoved by the drama, hops in the backseat. Their famous dad rolling up in the black-tinted chauffeur-driven Suburban is sure to be the cafeteria conversation the next day. All that was missing was a red carpet and MTV's Super Sweet Sixteen crew.
"Dad you need to cut your hair!" says LaPrincia, who is more like a mother than a teenage daughter. The whole way home, she is ribbing her dad's hair, his gut, then his hair again, while Bobby Jr. sits in the back listening to his iPod. Turning into the driveway of their two-floor modern house, with a manicured lawn, in one of those recently developed suburbs a' la Wisteria Lane, Tommy, parks and I wait in the car. Worn out from the day's events, we rest.
A cell phone interrupts the siesta. It's Whitney. Again. She makes the rounds when Bobby doesn't answer his phone; Tommy. Parks. Tommy Parks. The goal: Do not let her find out that Bobby's gone inside his baby-mama's house. Tommy goes in on a recovery mission. He returns without his sibling. Bobby is asleep. In his baby-mama's house. After she just finished taking him to court for more money. Oh, hell-to-tha-no!
ALL IN A DAY'S WORK
10:00 P.M. Bobby resurfaces back at the hotel. An attempt to ask some additional questions is made. When he opens the door with a chicken wing in his mouth, we gather our time as his shadow is over.
What you see on TV is, in fact, quite real, with no need to pluck the myth from the man, or vice versa. Bobby's a ham, and that's how he wants it. "Probably the hardest thing in the world is being an artist and nobody recognizes you," he says, in a rare serious moment. "nobody asks for your autograph. That's why you get into the industry in the first place."