After a few years, Bobby quit the group to go solo. (Ricky, Michael and Ronnie went on to form Bell Biv Devoe.)
“When I was in New Edition, I was forced to grow up,” the Don’t Be Cruel artist told Rolling Stone in 1989. “It was rough for us, being kids. I think I still have the youngness in me, but when it’s time for business. it’s time for business, I just don’t want to be taken advantage of.” (The group had tangled with Starr over what they felt was his unfair share of their earnings. At the time of the interview, Bobby had his brother Tommy and mom Carole Brown managing his affairs.)
By then a man of faith, which he continues to be to this day, Brown added, “No matter what happens in life, you gotta deal with the problems. I was always taught this by my mom and dad. No matter what, you can’t let them break you down. Once they see that you’re broke down and you can’t take it no more, boom, right over the edge you go. That’s when you lose it all.”
He wrote that he made enough money off of “Girlfriend,” his first solo hit, to move his parents and siblings from Boston to Los Angeles, feeling blessed and totally unprepared for the trappings of fame and fortune still in his future.
A slew of arrests, starting in 1990, for battery, DUI, drug possession, failure to pay child support and more were ahead of him, but in the late 1980s Bobby said he wasn’t doing any other drugs aside from smoking weed and drinking alcohol. His 1988 song “My Prerogative” served as a musical retort (“Everybody’s talking all this stuff about me / Why don’t they just let me live”) to the rumors.
He was dating Janet Jackson when he met Whitney Houston at the Soul Train Music Awards in April 1989 and the “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” singer, six years his senior, asked if she could hang onto the jacket he wore onstage. They exchanged numbers, she invited him to her birthday party, and it was on from there.