By the spring of 1988, jheri curls had more or less given way to high-top fades (at least on the East Coast) and R&B music was going through an evolution as well. Slowly acquiescing to hip-hop’s eventual dominance, soul music became more aggressive on the production tip, and young producers like Teddy Riley had started fusing soul melodies with rap beats. The hybrid sound, dubbed “”new jack swing, picked up steam through the latter half of the decade, and exploded thanks to hit albums by Riley’s group Guy, Keith Sweat, Bobby Brown, and a young singer from Mount Vernon, NY, named Al B. Sure!
Born Albert Brown, the singer/songwriter/producer got his stage name from Heavy D. & the Boyz member Eddie F. He was a star football player in high school, but decided to put his athletic dreams on hold to pursue music. After winning a Quincy Jones-judged talent contest in 1987, Al was signed to Warner Brothers Records and began work on his debut album, In Effect Mode.
Tall and light-skinned, with an unusual stage name and the best unibrow this side of George Michael, Al B. was a hit with the ladies from the very beginning. His first single, the airy ballad “Nite & Day,” blasted to the top of the Billboard R&B charts and also placed in the top ten on the pop list. For the follow up, Al B. decided to up the tempo and came up with “Off On Your Own (Girl),” a song that has a slightly more interesting story than it’s predecessor.
I no longer remember the exact backstory (although I recall reading about it in Joel Whitburn’s Book Of #1 R&B Singles,) but the head-nodding track was apparently inspired by a girl that Al B. was pursuing. The girl was uninterested, and Al couldn’t figure out why. I don’t know why he never thought to actually separate his eyebrows and then see what happened. As it turns out, separating the brows would’ve been for naught anyway, because this particular girl was into other girls. The song was pretty aggressive lyrically for 1988 (or at least for a teen idol in 1988,) considering the full chorus is “all alone, you get off on your own girl.” It didn’t stop girls everywhere from doing the wop and the running man to it-“Off” became Al B’s second consecutive #1 R&B single and just missed the pop top 40, stalling at #45.
Al went on to have a pretty charmed next half-decade or so. He hit the top of the R&B charts four more times between 1988-1993, although major success eluded him on the pop charts. He also collaborated with artists ranging from David Bowie to Tevin Campbell. Perhaps most importantly, he played a big part in the early success of vocal group Jodeci, co-producing their breakout single, “Forever My Lady.” Al took a lengthy break from the industry in the Nineties, eventually resurfacing as a radio personality (yep, the deep speaking voice and the squeaky falsetto both come from the same person) and releasing a well-received comeback album in 2009 entitled Honey, I’m Home.
And he still has the unibrow. You have to admire the man’s dedication.