Bobby Brown vs. Keith Sweat in Essence Verzuz Battle of R&B Icons: Billboard’s Scorecard & Winner For the Showdown

2021-07-02T10:17:21+00:00July 2nd, 2021|

On Tuesday (June 29), Verzuz announced that they would be joining forces with Essence Magazine for a match-up between R&B heavyweights Bobby Brown and Keith Sweat on July 1st.On Tuesday (June 29), Verzuz announced that they would be joining forces with Essence Magazine for a match-up between R&B heavyweights Bobby Brown and Keith Sweat on July 1st.

Typically, the outlet, a cornerstone of Black womanhood, reserves this date as a celebratory first night of their annual music festival, kicking off three days of live shows at New Orleans’ Superdome. But the world has of course changed a great deal since the last in-person Essence Festival in 2019. Still, Verzuz managed to harness that feeling on Thursday night (July 1st) with both Keith Sweat and Bobby Brown bringing their best to the stage.

“This is truly a celebration of two giants of the culture…” DJ Cassidy enthused later in the evening and he couldn’t be more on target. Bobby Brown’s career soared in the mid-‘80s as part of the omnipresent R&B boy band New Edition — and while he ventured out on his own in 1987 with a built-in fanbase, Keith Sweat was finding his place on the Billboard 100 for the first time with hits like “Make It Last Forever” and “I Want Her” from his debut album.

As the lights brightened in the venue, the two sat across from each other, backs straightened against ornate thrones, ready to prove why they’ve long been crowned kings. Here’s how Billboard scored their showdown.

Round 1: Keith Sweat’s “Something Just Ain’t Right” vs. Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel”

Sweat maintains his cool, crooning the lyrics to “Something Just Ain’t Right,” while seated. The crowd in-house is losing it but Keith is far from breaking a sweat. Bobby Brown jumps into “Don’t Be Cruel” and fans in the Instagram feed are going nuts. Plenty of hearts flying in the comments as DJ Envy parrots Whitney Houston’s proclamation from years past, saying simply, “King of R&B.”

WINNER: Bobby Brown

Round 2: Keith Sweat’s “Make You Sweat” vs. New Edition’s “Mr. Telephone Man”

Keith chooses “Make You Sweat” next and when he’s just about finished, he nudges Bobby, “That’s just a lil’ bit. Don’t hurt me too bad now…” Bobby shrugs it off with a smile, dropping “Mr. Telephone Man” to the audience’s delight. Some commenters quip about the differences in Bobby’s current voice from the original track, discounting the fact that he was 15-years-old when New Edition released it. “You might as well have brought Ronnie, Ricky and Mike up here,” Sweat teases.

WINNER: Bobby Brown

Round 3: Keith Sweat’s “How Deep Is Your Love?” vs. New Edition’s “Jealous Girl”

Keith doesn’t finish the first line of “How Deep Is Your Love?” before the venue reverbs with screams. For the duration of the clip, the IG feed lights up with hearts. Bobby leaps out of his throne to perform “Jealous Girl” and Keith feigns dismay two-stepping alongside him.

WINNER: Keith Sweat

Round 4: Keith Sweat’s “I’ll Give All My Love to You” vs. Bobby Brown’s “Girlfriend”

When Keith drops “I’ll Give All My Love to You,” Bobby can’t resist but sing along with the hook. Respect from both on the highest level. Then Bobby keeps the groove going with “Girlfriend” and the feed is feeling it. Gabrielle Union comments, “Alright now…” One woman in the venue screams, “Do that sh*t B!”

WINNER: Bobby Brown

Round 5: Keith Sweat’s “How Do You Like It? (Part 2)” vs. Bobby Brown’s “Girl Next Door”

Keith picks up the pace with “How Do You Like It? (Part 2)” featuring a verse from Left Eye. “Y’all might not remember this but I just wanted to do something funky here.” Bobby keeps it going with “Girl Next Door,” after which Keith goes into the many reasons why having a girl next door would never work in his favor.

WINNER: Bobby Brown

Round 6: Keith Sweat’s “Right and a Wrong Way” vs. New Edition’s “Hit Me Off”

Keith goes into “Right and a Wrong Way” with Bobby pitching in on the vocals. If it wasn’t clear before, the two are obviously fans of each other. ”You know they say I love to beg…” To which Keri Hilson replies “Normalize begging…” in the Instagram feed. Bobby finally peels off his leather coat to perform New Edition’s “Hit Me Off.”

WINNER: Keith Sweat

Round 7: Keith Sweat’s “Telling Me No Again” vs. New Edition’s “You Don’t Have to Worry”

Sweat shows off his soundtrack placement with “Telling Me No Again” from New Jack City and Bobby follows up with some hip-hop flair dropping New Edition’s “You Don’t Have to Worry.” Sort of a mismatched pairing of songs, but the crowd seems to love both.

WINNER: Bobby Brown

Round 8: Keith Sweat feat. Snoop Dogg’s “Come and Get With Me” vs. Bobby Brown’s “Thug Loving”

Here’s where Keith gets playfully cocky: after running through a few lines of “Come and Get With Me” with Snoop, he pokes at Bobby, “Do something to make me sweat man! My name’s Sweat and I ain’t sweating yet.” So, Bobby hits back with “Thug Loving” and a couple of spins, center stage. “Oh you got up cause Ja Rule was on your joint,” Keith jokes. That’s when Swizz Beatz slides into the IG feed, “I told y’all Keith is a movie.”

WINNER: Bobby Brown

Round 9: Keith Sweat feat. Kut Klose’s “Get Up on It” vs. Bobby Brown’s “One More Night”

Sweat dives deep into the slow grind side of New Jack Swing with Kut Klose and “Get Up on It,” blessing us with a few lines a cappella well after the music ended. Bobby responds, “Oh, we talking New Jack City. New Jack Swing. Teddy Riley.” And appropriately, he follows his statement up with 1992’s “One More Night.” It just isn’t quite strong enough to claim the round.

WINNER: Keith Sweat

Round 10: Keith Sweat’s “I Want Her” vs. Bobby Brown’s ”Get Away”

For the second half of the Verzuz battle, both men emerge from backstage in fresh wardrobes, plugging each other’s wares. Keith gifts candles and Bobby gifts barbecue sauce. Moments later, it’s back to business as Keith proudly bobs around to a clip of Craig Mack’s “Flava In Ya Ear”: “Step on stage, girls scream like I’m Keith…” Slick. Then he springs into “I Want Her,” his first smash record of the New Jack Swing era. “Party time.” Timbaland comments in the feed. The energy is electric by the time Bobby pounces on “Get Away,” gliding into some smooth choreography on this one. “Do that dance again,” Keith prods with a grin.

WINNER: Bobby Brown

Round 11: Guy’s “Let’s Chill” vs. Bobby Brown feat. Aquil Davidson’s “That’s the Way Love Is”

“I don’t just sing, I write too,” Keith teases. “You played New Edition. Since you cheated. I might as well go to my pen game.” On cue, Guy’s “Let’s Chill” booms from the speakers and Keith seems to feed off of the crowd’s enthusiasm. Bobby hits back with the bouncy cut “The Way Love Is” but it isn’t enough to pull a win out of this round.

WINNER: Keith Sweat

Round 12: Silk’s “Freak Me” vs. Damien “Jr. Gong” Marley feat. Bobby Brown’s “Beautiful”

Keith Sweat’s pen game is stronger than most. Kicking off the round with Silk’s “Freak Me,” is enough to earn an endless flurry of hearts. Kandi Burruss, fellow songwriter, drops her approval in the feed: “I knew Keith was gonna pull out the Silk hits. Had to!” Then Bobby follows that up with “Beautiful” featuring Damien “Jr. Gong” Marley. It’s a lovely song but definitely ill-placed in this round.

WINNER: Keith Sweat

Round 13: Keith Sweat’s “Keep It Coming” vs. Bobby Brown’s “Good Enough”

Keith dials the energy up with “Keep It Coming” but Bobby’s “Good Enough” has viewers in the IG feed reminiscing on high school breakups and the first time they figured out that Bobby had coded “grown folk” activities in the lyrics.

WINNER: Bobby Brown

Round 14: LSG’s “My Body” vs. Bobby Brown with Whitney Houston’s “Something in Common”

It was only right that Keith pop up with a couple group entries after Bobby’s New Edition plays. His turn as one-third of LSG produced one of ’90s R&B’s most memorable tracks “Your Body” and the audience is elated. But when Bobby comes back with “Something in Common,” his collab with then-wife Whitney Houston, he seals the win for round 15. Johnta Austin leaves a note on the IG feed: “RIP Nippy.”

WINNER: Bobby Brown

Round 15: Keith Sweat feat. Kut Klose’s “Twisted” vs. Bobby Brown’s “Humping Around”

Keith keeps the slow jams coming, gliding into “Twisted” in round 15. Another classic track with his group Kut Klose on the background vocals. Bobby responds with the effervescent “Humping Around” — and in a show of support and appreciation, Teddy Riley appears in the IG feed: “Thank y’all!!! Peace and love family!!!”

WINNER: Keith Sweat

Round 16: Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid” vs. Bobby Brown’s ”Rock Wit’cha”

Keith is in his writing bag at this point, playing Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid,” and it’s one of those Verzuz songs where nearly everyone in the feed is shocked that the track is connected to the artist in the battle. comments that Keith actually wrote this while he worked at the New York Stock Exchange. Kinda wild. Bobby smooths things over with “Rock Wit’cha,” and no one’s comment is louder than Verzuz alum Raekwon’s in the feed: “Come on Bob. Break his damn neck. There you go!”

WINNER: Bobby Brown

Round 17: Keith Sweat’s “Make It Last Forever” v. Bobby Brown’s “Roni”

There’s no way to tell which time is the “right” time to play your biggest hits in a Verzuz, but somehow Keith ordered this one perfectly. Three rounds from the end of the battle, and “Make It Last” hits perfectly. Even Bobby joins in on the hook before bringing the mic stand out for his 1988 hit “Roni.” Warren G pops into the chat: “Wow.”

WINNER: Keith Sweat

Round 18: LSG feat. LL Cool J, Lil Kim and Busta Rhymes’ “Curious” vs. Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own”

Here’s where the guys get a little loopy. To be fair: The Ciroc had been flowing for at least two hours at this point. But the audience at home specifically have their eye on Keith. “Who’s driving Keith home?” one commenter asks. D-Nice quips, “That Ciroc is kicking.” “I know what you gon’ do next,” Bobby taunts. “You don’t know,” Keith shoots back. “I know ‘cause I read your list.” “Oh my God. You gon’ get it now.” Keith follows this statement with LSG’s “Curious” featuring LL Cool J, Lil Kim and Busta Rhymes. “Okay,” Bobby challenges, “Let’s go to soundtracks.” The pop of the production on Ghostbusters 2’s “On Our Own” has Keith’s tween nephew moving in the center of the dance floor. Later, he goes on a sort of rant about how he would have preferred that placement over the one he procured on New Jack City. “That don’t count,” he bantered, leaning just a little, “I’da rather had that check. I’da been one of your dancers back then.”

WINNER: Bobby Brown

Round 19: Keith Sweat’s “Don’t Stop Your Love“ vs. Bobby Brown’s “Every Little Step”

Keith pushes through Round 19 with “Don’t Stop Your Love“ but it doesn’t stand firm against Bobby’s “Every Little Step.” Seems like Sweat could’ve used something else here for sure.

WINNER: Bobby Brown

Round 20: Keith Sweat feat. Athena Cage’s “Nobody” vs. Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative”

Keith held on until the end but by Round 20, he threw the question of what his final song should be, to the audience although we’re fairly certain he already had his song cued up. One woman in-house screamed out “Nobody!” He responded, “Aiight c’mon.” And sure enough the whine of those familiar synthesizers piped up at the top of the track. Bobby fittingly wrapped up his 20th round with his biggest Billboard Hot 100 solo hit, the roaring No. 1 “My Prerogative.”

WINNER: Bobby Brown

Wider Catalogue: Bobby Brown

Bobby takes this one easily. Starting his musical career as a teenager in 1983 and moving into young adulthood, already a major star by the late ‘80s, gave him the room and platitude to try anything and everything without sacrificing his personal style. Big budget movie soundtracks, New Jack Swing bops with bars in the middle, Quiet Storm slow jams, even a reggae-tinged song!

Biggest Snub: Bobby Brown (point to Keith Sweat)

Seems like if Bobby was going to use New Edition tracks, he could’ve found a place for “Candy Girl” or maybe even “Cool It Now.” Either one of these could’ve worked here in one of the earlier rounds.

Best Banter: Keith Sweat

While both men seemed comfortable in their respective roles, Keith Sweat was much more talkative and lively between songs. He teased, taunted and poked at Bobby. He sang over his songs then acquiesced to their appeal before bounding onward into the next round.

Biggest KO: Bobby Brown

Not sure Keith was expecting Bobby to come barreling out of the gate with New Edition’s “Mr. Telephone Man” in the second round. “Make You Sweat” didn’t stand much of a chance next to the poppy ‘80s smash courtesy of those boys from Boston.

People’s Champ: Keith Sweat

Keith Sweat seemed to draw more support online as the night went on — especially as he refilled his Ciroc. People love being entertained, and Sweat’s antics throughout the evening had many commenting on his rare form all night. His songs are pretty dope, too.

FINAL SCORE: 15-10, Bobby Brown

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