In Depth: Chris Brown

A few weeks ago Chris Brown released another single off of his upcoming ninth studio album – eighth solo album – “Heartbreak On A Full Moon.” The newest single “Questions” is an interpolation of Kevin Lyttles “Turn Me On,” although the track is fairly enjoyable it triggered some issues that I’ve been having with Chris Brown’s music over the years. Before diving into this new era let’s rewind things a bit:

There comes a time in a fans life where you witness the artist(s) you’ve gravitated towards excel in their field, completely forget about them while moving on to the next thing, or watch them travel into the realm of obscurity; the latter is me with Chris Brown. The undeniable turning point was 2015, with the Tyga assisted “Fan of a Fan: The Album.” Five months prior to that project, Chris Brown released “X” – his sixth album – after several legal issues and generally all around bad press. “Fine China” initially led the album’s campaign and, in my opinion, still reigns as one of his best singles. But, due to legal issues, the album was eventually delayed and when Brown stepped back on the scene to reignite promotion for the project, “Loyal (Feat. Tyga and Lil Wayne)” was chosen as the new single. From that moment, I knew things would only go downhill – I must clarify that the song doesn’t reflect the album as a whole, there are some missteps and cringe-worthy records (see: “Body Shots“), I was very surprised and pleased by its turnout. The reason for this epiphany was the realization that chasing the charts had become a strong priority for Brown. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the want/need for any artist to want their chart performance to be filled with various number ones while putting up great sales. But, it almost comes across as an obsession and ultimately sacrificing your artistry to achieve certain feats. Up until this point Chris had been doing music professionally for ten years, that’s a big milestone to get to especially considering the circumstances that surrounded his career in previous years. “Loyal” was inescapable and proved to be a critical stepping stone both for the “X” era and for other projects moving forward.

That brings us back to “Fan of a Fan,” an album version of the duo’s 2010 mixtape under the same name. Initially, I didn’t give the album too much attention. I mean, when the lead single’s chorus starts with “all my bitches got real hair” I tuned out and the presence of Tyga didn’t garner my attention either. But for this article I decided to give the album a spin; it’s just as bad as I thought it would be. Even though it doesn’t stray away from the sound that was popular at that time, and is still popular,  that doesn’t make it good. The general consensus is, Chris Brown, what are you doing? The narrative on the project stays within the lanes of talking about girls, sex, money, weed, liquor and the occasional gang/trap talk. There is also a lot of rapping from him on the album which he has grown fond of over the years. I won’t dive further into the album but it marks the first Chris Brown project that I didn’t purchase in any capacity. However, going back and listening to it, I want to shout out the TLC “Take Our Time” sample on “Better,” that didn’t change my opinion on the album but it was nice to hear my girls get some love.

When somebody puts out a record and it goes number one, the next artist thinks that’s the go to. People don’t try to just make music and create whatever they want. I just feel like the substance in music, now, has shifted.” – Beats 1 interview (2016)

That same year saw the release of yet another album, “Royalty.” The album is all over the place yet nowhere at the same time. It lacks cohesiveness. Switching from “soulful” R&B, to pop, to trap without finding some kind of connection between each track. The album as a whole also lacks creativity both sonically and lyrically with topics rarely venturing from the usual sex talk or partying, and when they do it’s nothing attention grabbing. The Pop songs feel hallow (i.e. “Anyway” and “Zero“), the “love making” ones, they were compared to the likes of D’Angelo, Joe or a Musiq Soulchild record, lack any sense of actual love or intimacy, (i.e. “Back To Sleep” and “Who’s Gonna (Nobody)“) and the party records are nothing special (i.e. “Day One,” “Wrist,” and “Picture Me Rollin“); on the latter track Chris raps “I got ups, bitch, what can brown do for you?Here’s the answer. There’s also a song that’s dedicated to his daughter Royalty, at least at first glance it seems that way. “Little More (Royalty)” soon comes across as a record about sex that was later altered, there’s a lot of double entendres meant to symbolize his daughter but is instead pushed by heavy sexual innuendos. To put things in perspective, imagine if instead of J. Cole’s “She’s Mine” pt, 1 being about his significant other, that it was actually an impromptu cover of “The Hoe Is Mine.”

“Royalty” confirmed what I had been feeling and fearing for awhile, Chris Brown is lost musically while never really reaching a creative peak. He has been consistently releasing music since 2009, whether it was studio albums, mixtapes or being featured on someone else’s record. In 2017, that makes eight years of almost nonstop music, as if “quality over quantity” isn’t a real concept. While I’m sure any fan would won’t consistent music from their favorite artist, the creative process between projects is crucial. Artists who typically release albums every year tend to show less growth musically but once they take a leave of absence, even if it’s a quick one, something great can come out of it (i.e. Rihanna’s “Anti”). Brown has drastically regressed musically, the same guy that was spoken to be able to maintain in the same lane that was led by Michael Jackson, has now been reduced to an artist not so different than the likes of Bryson Tiller, Tory Lanez or Trey Songz. The MJ comparisons were never going to come to fruition but Chris Brown is approaching 30, with eight albums (seven as a solo artist), and hasn’t been able to deliver a “classic.” By 30, Mike had – arguably – three classics under his belt, Prince continued pushing the envelope creatively and even Usher released “Confessions” before reaching dirty thirty. At this point the hole Chris has dug for himself has effected his artistry in a major way. He went from “Yo, Excuse me miss” to bitch, I’m moving bricks. With that transition ultimately shattering the remains of what could’ve been.

All of this ties into the newest era of Chris Brown. His ninth album “Heartbreak on a Full Moon” is scheduled to drop on October 31st, it’s also allegedly supposed to be a double disc album with a total of 40 songs; that’s a lot of music. So far, nothing that he has released to support the project has given me the impression that this will be his redemption album. When you start the first verse of your first single with “bitches dancing naked in my living room” it’s pretty clear on how the song will play out. The second single “Privacy” is yet another raunchy record added to Chris’ catalog with a rap verse that was very much unneeded. “Pills & Automobiles” is far from anything special or out of the ordinary. This brings us back to his newest single, “Questions.” It’s a nice departure from the money, drugs, or even the tough guy act that has flooded his music as of late but it’s not a song that would make me jump and purchase the forthcoming album.

On an Instagram post promoting the song/video for “Party” he wrote “I work harder than all these niggas with half of y’all consumers and bias ass opinions on me. Name one nigga out here that can even do half of what I can. Take your head out your ass and support the only artist left with a vision and dedication to his fans” “Y’all better wake up, following these non lyrical rappers and scared ass internet thugs.” Where do we start? Well, for someone who often seems aggravated with the lack of recognition he gets because of his work ethic, that same ethic has been turning out more and more stagnant music. So to yell that you work harder than any other artist, is that really something to boast about? On to the “support the only artist left with a vision and dedication to his fans” bit, visually his music videos have been more interesting than the music itself but not enough so that I would label him the only artist that’s left with a vision. Is he Beyoncé? Exactly. In all seriousness, there are a lot of other artists out there who have jumped leaps and bounds beyond Chris musically, artistically, creatively and conceptually. I know as an artist you should think of yourself as the best, but where is the line drawn between believing you’re the best out and being delusional? The “dedication to his fans” part is also perplexing. Chris Brown is a singer who has appealed to a few different groups. There’s the people who’ve been fans since 2006, the “thugs,” and also the newer “turn up” audiences to name a few; two out of the three have been shown severe favoritism to the point where he has put his own self in a box. Yes, the “turn up” audience can get you a few streams while the “thug” crowd gets you some sort of street reputation you desire, but who is actually buying your music? I highly doubt those two groups are. Instead, the fans that purchase the music are left with material that’s not crafted with them in mind.

At the end of 2016 he tweeted “Did this for the fans,” attached was a SoundCloud link to a song called “Dat Night” that featured Trey Songz and Young Thug. “All my bitches with the shit when I be in Chicago, LA, New York and Miami pussy everywhere I go” is the opening chorus and the remaining song is filled with bitch this and brick that, clearly catering to those two specific groups and there’s no thought about the people who, for whatever reason, actually want to give him their money. So that “dedication” is to the wrong fans. In an effort to constantly prove that he’s “harder than most rappers” he has now isolated himself from reaching past a certain level. A level that, in theory, when you map out the trajectory of what Chris Brown’s career was supposed to be, would be considered “beneath him.” But it isn’t beneath him, it’s eye level and will remain that way for years to come unless major changes are made in a short amount of time. There’s still a good amount of people who want to see him win, to have the awards that he cares so much about but how many artists reached their peak 10+ years after their debut with nine albums already under their belt? That’s almost unheard of.

The real question is, who does Chris Brown make music for? If the answer is the fans, he has been oblivious to their requests. If it’s for recognition, then that type of attention can only last so long while garnering little to any growth. And, if the answer is for himself, he must be extremely shallow.

You have money, cool. You have bitches, cool. What else is there? Or is there anything else? Is this all you have?” Myke C-Town DEHH

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