Bobby Brown released his solo debut King of Stage in 1986 after parting ways with New Edition. The single “Girlfriend” was a #1 R & B hit, but album sales failed to meet the lofty expectations placed upon the young singer. The second time proved to be a charm for Brown, as his sophomore effort Don’t Be Cruel became a massive commercial and critical success by fusing R & B and New Jack Swing together in perfect harmony. Released in the summer of 1988, Cruel was the best selling album of 1989 thanks in large part to the chart-topping hit “My Prerogative” as well as the other charting singles “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Every Little Step”, “Rock Wit’cha”, and “Roni”.
In addition to spawning multiple hit records and incredible sales, the album marked the beginning of Brown’s work with producers/industry legends Babyface and L.A. Reid. The duo produced five of the eleven songs on Don’t Be Cruel and were responsible for some Brown’s best-received solo work. Also joining them in co-writing “Don’t Be Cruel” was Daryl Simmons, a longtime friend and collaborator of Babyface. After establishing a bond with Brown in ’88, the famed production/songwriting trio would again team up to provide the music for one of Brown’s biggest hits from ‘89.
The opportunity for Brown and his production team to further capitalize on his chart dominance came when the filming for Ghostbusters II started. By the late 80s Ray Parker Jr.’s iconic theme song from the first movie was synonymous with the franchise, but the soundtrack’s executive producer Peter Afterman wanted to move away from Parker Jr. for the sequel. After choosing Brown as an optimal replacement, Afterman approached MCA Records with a unique proposal. “Afterman went to MCA Records, Brown’s label, with an offer: MCA could have the lucrative rights to the Ghostbusters II soundtrack if Brown agreed to participate,” Rolling Stone wrote in a 1989 feature on Brown. Brown agreed, but on one condition — he showed an industry savvy beyond his years by leveraging his star power to secure a small role in the film.
“So they packed up their group, got a grip, came equipped/Grabbed their proton packs off their back and they split.”- Bobby Brown
“On Our Own” plays like a normal R & B/New Jack Swing hybrid for Brown, but he puts the Ghostbusters stamp on it by sneaking in a rap about the film’s plot and some of the central characters around the 2:54 mark. Rapping was not uncommon for Brown and his songwriting partners, as “Don’t Be Cruel” and other songs from that time also featured attempts to flex on the mic.
But who was responsible for composing Bobby Brown’s raps? “Don’t Be Cruel” and “On Our Own” co-writer Daryl Simmons told the website Songwriters Universe that he was responsible for co-writing the rap on “Cruel”. “At that time, I was into rap music — I was into Heavy D, Public Enemy…I loved Chuck D. So I wrote the raps for ‘Don’t Be Cruel,” he said. Simmons penned the crux of it, but Bobby also “made it ‘Bobby’ — he brought attitude to it.”
Given Simmons’ affinity for rap music at the time and Brown’s role in writing his own raps, it’s unclear who made the decision to copy Eric B & Rakim’s 1988 single “Follow The Leader”. Jump to the 3:46 mark and listen to the way Rakim raps “So back up, regroup, get a grip, come equipped/You’re the next contestant, clap your hands, you won a trip” and you’ll see that the flow and lyrics are near identical to Brown’s “So they packed up their group, got a grip, came equipped/Grabbed their proton packs off their back and they split” at the 3:03 mark of “On Our Own”.
“So back up, regroup, get a grip, come equipped/You’re the next contestant, clap your hands, you won a trip”- Rakim
The raps are too similar to be a coincidence. Eric B. & Rakim were rap royalty in the late 80s and based on Simmons’ listening preferences it can be assumed that Brown and company had heard “Follow The Leader” when “On Our Own” was written. Subsequent internet research failed to provide any interviews with Rakim speaking to the two songs, so his feelings on the matter are unknown.
As “On Our Own” climbed to #2 on the Billboard charts and became another money maker for Brown, few people outside of rap’s die-hard fans were likely aware of “Follow The Leader”/“On Our Own” connection. Although New Jack Swing pioneer Teddy Riley once proclaimed the style “may well threaten rap’’, it actually appears that one of the genre’s biggest stars was drawing on rap for inspiration.