As I watched Chris Brown swagger and glide his way to glory on the 2007 MTV Awards I could barely hold back the comparisons. He had the showmanship of Prince, the dance moves of Michael Jackson and the energy of Bobby Brown (pre-crackhead Bobby). Finally, I thought, here’s a man ready to take the king of R&B title Usher has so woefully neglected. Omarion, Trey Songz, Mario; they’re all good, but they’re just not music royalty. After watching Chris deliver a performance so dope Diddy’s head almost exploded I decided, in the immortal words of …
DJBooth Album Review
The only thing missing was the music. I mean the poor kid was so tired by the end of the show he could barely stand, let alone sing. I figured that little problem would be solved with the release of his sophomore album Exclusive. Turns out I got a little overanxious. Exclusive is many things; the most danceable album in recent memory, the record of a boy becoming a full grown man, but it ultimately falls short of monumental status. Just to be sure I went back and listened to Usher’s landmark album Confessions - I encourage you to do the same - and there’s no doubt who’s still the king. Just don’t sleep, Chris Brown’s definitely got next.
Brown’s real strength is making the kind of dance music even the gangsters want to get down to, even if they’ll never admit it. The first single off the album is Wall to Wall, a bouncing track with some absolutely knocking Swizz Beatz production. There’s no secret formula to the song’s success; Brown’s personality makes up for the minimal vocal power outage and the subject matter is women, women and more women. Wall to Wall’s a perfectly enjoyable R&B/pop track, but it’s no Kiss Kiss. This is the song that had me believing, if only for three minutes, that Brown might just take the title after all. That bass line does something to your spine from the first note and T-Pain crafts the kind of addictive hook that’s put him on top. Even more surprisingly the vocoder effect on the track isn’t on Mr. Pain's vocals but on Brown’s, giving his normally squeaky-clean voice some much-needed grit. Don’t front tough guy, you're feelin Kiss Kiss too. Now if I could only figure out if he’s saying “she wants that lovey-dovey” or “laffy taffy.”
Where Chris Brown stumbles, and noticeably so, is on the slow jams. It’s just hard to believe someone whose posse consists of two nine-year-old kids that can really get freaky. Take You Down is exactly the point where the gap between him and Usher becomes apparent. The track starts off with a sultry saxophone solo and minimally grinding beats before Brown smoothly glides onto the scene with his best imitation of some 112-styled lyrics. It shouldn’t be a surprise he comes off as the teenager he is, after all the chorus is, “It ain’t my first time, but baby girl we can pretend.” Similarly Damage is an almost blatant attempt at another Confessions, complete with slowly burning production from The Runners and a monologue from Brown apologizing to his girl for cheating. But instead of some desperately soulful vocals we get Brown’s almost embarrassed attempt to get his girl back. I honestly don’t think he could have done anything more. In three years Brown should be able to deliver some truly sheet-twisting jams, but for now he’s still a rookie.
The majority of Exclusive finds Chris at a crossroads; he’s trying to hang onto his teenage fans while simultaneously striving to win some adult respect. With You’s acoustic guitars and live drums sound so much like Stargate’s other smash hit Irreplaceable they should sue themselves. If I was a teenage girl I’d probably be tearing up listening to Chris sing “there’s hearts all over the world,” that not being the case I was searching for the skip button. On the flip side Scott Storch does his best to give Chris some over-21 club appeal on Nice, a cameo from The Game never hurts, and the effect is a scorching hot song with plenty of dance breaks that’s sure to become a single. All this makes Chris Brown R&B’s Lebron James, a future champion that still needs a few more years to mature. Hear that Usher? Chris Brown’s coming for you, what are you gonna do?
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 11/6/07
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Wall To Wall" (2007)
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