After a tumultuous year, spurred on by ‘the incident’ which reverberated around the world, R&B star Chris Brown is back and looking to reassert his place at the top with new LP ‘Graffiti’ (due December 7th in the UK // December 8th US). With the world’s glaring eyes fixated on the performance of the project, it’d be hard to deny that this is the most important record the 20 year old will ever release. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the album, Brown’s 3rd, boasts production from some the industry’s most renowned hit-makers and artists alike.
The question on the lips of many, though, is: Does ‘Graffiti’ do enough to redeem Brown in the court of public opinion? I vote ‘Yes!’, albeit cautiously…
Largely comprised of up-tempo, club-destined tracks, the 13 song set kicks off to a cracking start with the Swizz Beats produced ‘I Can Transform Ya’. Featuring Lil’ Wayne, the track– one of the album’s lead singles – sees Brown enlist rapper-like delivery in detailing how he can change the life of a lucky lady. Beyond being a rather good ode to self-indulgence, the song formally introduces the listener to a markedly different Chris Brown in comparison to the clean-cut teen who burst onto the scene back in 2005. In its place, an older, lyrically fearless, and sexually-unguarded Brown pervades the record.
Indeed, on the ridiculously catchy ‘Sing Like Me’ (produced by Los Da Mystro), Brown delivers the suggestive lyrics (“looking for a ‘right now’ don’t need no wifey”) with such subtlety that one almost forgets the risqué nature of what he’s singing (a feat only Janet Jackson has perfected better). Whilst elsewhere, the sexual undertones become overtones, on the Tank-assisted ‘Take My Time’. Ushered in by African drums, and featuring a distinct 90s R&B aura (especially the vocal arrangements), the track – put simply -oozes sex (sound effects inclusive). Put it this way, if ‘Take You Down’ (from Chris’ last LP ‘Exclusive’) had an older, more experienced and all-round kinkier cousin, this would be it.
Not to be mis-pegged as a bedroom record, the album also excels with its grittier offerings, particularly The Runners produced ‘What I Do (ft. Plies)’ and ‘Wait’, which was crafted by Polow Da Don and features Trey Songz and The Game. Brown re-enlists his rapper-esque tongue on street-anthem ‘What I Do’ (yes, street anthem), really surprising with his rapid-fire delivery. While the banger ‘Wait’ hits a home-run with stellar production, which Brown, Songz and Game ride effortlessly. The selection of Songz for the record is somewhat ‘hit’ and ‘miss’ in that, while he compliments the track well, more times than not he and Brown sound too alike – making it difficult to distinguish who is singing. Nonetheless, a great track.
Produced by Brian Kennedy, ‘Pass Out (ft. Eva Simmons)’, is a blazing up-tempo, which should assemble clubbers of all persuasions on dance-floors across the globe. Featured is a sample of Eric Prydz club classic ‘Call On Me’, which works surprisingly well.
It is the lyrically explosive ‘Famous Girl’, however, that is undeniably the album’s centre-piece and will have MANY tongues wagging. The song’s sparse production allows for the illumination of its lyrical content – which is explicitly aimed at a certain Rihanna (yes you read right, and will want to read on!) The reflective mid-tempo sees Brown acknowledge his fault in the relationship breaking down, however there are quite shocking revelations levelled up against his one-time love. Lyrics include: “Drake would say you’re the best he ever had…everywhere we go, rumours follow…yet I still love you” // “should have known you’d break my heart” // “…you were the first to play the game…though I was wrong for cheating in the beginning ” // “I was wrong for writing Disturbia”. Brazen, naked and deeply insightful, this drum-driven cut highlights that there’s more to the pair’s story than meets the eye and ear. My jaw is still on the floor.
Elsewhere, while epic ballad ‘Crawl’ (produced by The Messengers) serves as one of the album’s standout cuts, really showcasing Brown’s matured vocals, it’s largely the LP’s slower-paced offerings which leave much to be desired. Besides not re-capturing the grandeur of ‘Crawl’ or exhibiting Brown’s artistic growth as well, tracks such as ‘So Cold’ and ‘Lucky Me’ sound as if they were placed on the record with the sole intent of garnering pity. Particularly interesting to note is the sarcastically titled ‘Lucky Me’, for in reality Chris couldn’t be any luckier to even have a record out, a fact I’m sure he should be/is grateful for. Hence, the poor-me gig could have been left on the cutting-room floor. Other tracks which could have joined it there include 80s Synth-Pop filler ‘I.Y.A (I Wanna Wake Up In Your Arms)’ and ‘I’ll Go’ (produced by Brian Kennedy) – which sounds a little too similar to Oasis’ ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ (I kid you not).
Despite its shortcomings, ‘Graffiti’ succeeds much more than it doesn’t. Brown’s newly-embraced adulthood, a recurrent theme during the album, never comes across as contrived or pretentious. Instead, listeners will eject the CD at the end of its run-time having acquired a deeper sense of who Chris Brown is. Between the album’s highly charged up-tempo’s (which seem to have been specifically crafted with his trademark choreography in mind), mid-tempos and ballads, Brown bares all lyrically, vocally, and artistically. A great album by an artist, who regardless of the odds, is destined for great things.