On Thursday, July 1, in a collaboration between EssenceFest and Verzuz, Bobby Brown and Keith Sweat, two kings of the stage (pun intended), took to the stage to face-off in the pandemic-created battle royale series.
Since I watched it in on my FITE app, I actually have no idea how many people were watching—though I imagine quite a few—and though I was on Twitter tweeting along, really I didn’t ready any commentary from social media on it in real time. I’ve been excited for many a Verzuz, but this one featured one of my favorite artists ever, Bobby Brown and Keith Sweat, two veterans in the game who would either have stories for days—nary a story was to be told—or shenanigans for days—the shenanigans leveled up, mostly on the part of Keith, as the night went along. Here are some thoughts:
1. I know we’re long past the “battle” portion of Verzuz—at this point it’s really just a celebration of music from artists we love—but I expected this to be a fairly even battle. While Bobby Brown is at or near the top of my personal list of favorite artists, Keith Sweat has a sneaky-ass catalog of jams, hits and babymakers that is kind of unrivaled. What I didn’t expect was for Keith Sweat to MURDER Bobby Brown. Whoever picked Bobby’s set, particularly the order, set Bobby up for failure from jump. Maybe it was Bobby. Maybe Bobby was there to share and Keith was there to win. And whew chile, Keith laid out a clinic. For my money, I’m kind of glad, too. I don’t think Keith’s contributions to music get the appreciation that maybe they deserve. He put it all on display last night. The fact that we got one song from Bobby’s Don’t Be Cruel album out the gate and then a litany of shit nobody wanted to hear until damn near the second half? Fail, fail, fail. Bobby was like “Hits? Who only plays hits at Verzuz?” He clearly didn’t understand the assignment.
2. You can tell Keith still tours and hits the old lady tours and shit. He was looking like he stays in shape; he still has the showmanship, and when he gets drunk, which he clearly was by the time it got to the end, he gets downright fun, ornery and goofy, which I’m sure is a total joy on one of those cruises where you only pack white linen clothes for seven straight days.
3. I can’t front—and I texted this to several people—at some point, I was just praying Bobby would make it to the end in tact. He was NOT on his conditioning game before this show last night. He was sweating and struggling to breath before his second song ended. By the second half, though, he was out there standing up the whole time, dancing and singing along to all of Keith Sweat songs, providing backing vocals. It’s like he knew he lost so he just had fun—labored fun—but fun.
4. Since we all know that they provide set lists in advance, how in the hell was Keith Sweat accusing Bobby Brown of cheating by playing New Edition songs, songs where he sang (though we heard way too much of Ralph on “Mr. Telephone Man” and “Jealous Girl”) and then also had LSG songs and songs he wrote on his setlist, too. Bobby was on every song he played. Keith told that man he was cheating like seven times.
5. We have to circle back to Keith Sweat and his inebriation. I saw somebody tweet (forgive me for not being able to find this damn tweet) something to the effect of being surprised that Bobby Brown was on stage and we were all worried about the other guy’s level of being drunk. Keith was singing to glasses of Ciroc, stalling the show for no reason at all, basically toying with Bobby and whoever else was watching for seemingly no purpose other than for his own shits and giggles. Had me wondering how many shots of brown liquor (you cannot convince me that Keith and Bobby weren’t backstage drinking the finest of cognacs; that Ciroc shit was for sponsorship purposes) they were backstage taking and maybe Keith kept going in and Bobby was like, “I can barely breathe, I can only do one.”
6. At some point, and after we all realized that Bobby lost big early on, Keith just wasn’t playing fair, dropping the songs he wrote for Silk, Johnny Kemp and Guy. When he played “Let’s Chill”—which was E.V.E.R.Y.B.O.D.Y.S. song when it dropped in 1990; I remember my older sister playing that song on a loop for what felt like months—Bobby literally thought he was Aaron Hall and sang the whole damn song, which was a fun subplot of this Verzuz: Bobby could barely breathe but literally sang all of Keith’s songs as if he wrote them. Meanwhile, I’m not sure that Keith Sweat ever even heard Bobby’s jamtastic, classic third album (yeah, I said it) Bobby, which was either a troll or a damn shame because that album is so good.
7. While I was very happy that Ja Rule and Bobby’s “Thug Lovin’” made an appearance, NOBODY expected to hear that or New Edition “Jealous Girl” or “Girlfriend,” the TRASH ALBUM VERSION OF “You Don’t Have to Worry,” or the Damian Marley song. That’s FIVE wasted records. Keith Sweat? He wasted no jams, save for the song with Snoop but looking back, I see some folks liked that song.
8. I really think this Verzuz could have benefited from a real audience. Bobby lives for the stage. It was a little too quiet for my liking in there, especially given who was on stage. Keith puts on shows all the time in some fashion or capacity with folks whose mobility probably varies. Bobby needed the energy. Shit wouldn’t have fixed that set list. Damn shame what they did to that, dog.
9. On the list of guests of folks at a Verzuz, Tank and Pleasure P is literally the “most random, nobody would ever guess them” pair of all time. Clearly they were just in the audience and some producer thought Bobby was going to pass out from moving back and forth too many times and was like, “How about you all get up there and dance a taste?”
10. You can tell Bobby and Keith are probably real good friends and got into some major shit back in the day together because otherwise, the way Keith whipped his ass and was talking shit, Bobby Brown would have had to go full Patrick Beverley on Keith Sweat out there, and you never go full Patrick Beverley. There was a time or two when I felt like Bobby was like, “this is my mans, he just drankin’ and I know a thing or two about pissin’ folks off and talking shit when I’m drinkin’ plus I can’t breathe and/or fight because I don’t see any oxygen tanks.” Either way, it was great to see the two OGs in the game on stage, and Bobby Brown is now and will forever be a treasure and I’m hoping more people realize that same thing about Keith Sweat.
11. Random last thing based on the way the show went last night: You’d never realize that for maybe a three-year stretch, Bobby Brown was literally one of the biggest things in Black music without the last name Jackson. That makes me sad.