If anyone called on me to surmise my thoughts on Chris Brown’s sophomore album, Exclusive, in one short statement, I would do so with the following: I have a greater appreciation for Usher. I’m somewhat reluctant to say that, given over the years Usher has built quite the reputation for being the embodiment of self-love, but Chris Brown forces me to.
It’s not that I dislike Chris Brown. He has many redeemable qualities: He can dance, and his performances are filled with a degree of energy lacking in a lot of today’s large crop of dull performers. I even get the feeling that he’s a nice kid, considering that I often see him with the biggest grin on his face. But, I’m not a judge on So You Think You Can Dance, nor am I voting for the superlative of “Friendliest”. I’m looking at Chris Brown as a singer and an artist, which therein the problem lies. There’s something about his voice that I just can’t get over. He can carry a tune, though in some instances I often wonder if he needed to take weight training classes beforehand to do so. This wasn’t a problem on his debut album as his pre-pubescent vibrato meshed perfectly with the fairly innocent material he was given.
This new album, however, is an attempt (by his pressing handlers, no doubt) to transition the young R&B star from teenage idol to adult superstar. Unfortunately, these transitions tend to be only believable when the artist comes to the table with maturation and their own vision of where they should go musically and visually. Exclusive seems aimless, an album where Brown is doing what he’s told versus being the anchor of his own ship. This album comes across as the brainchild of an A&R rep, with very little input from Chris Brown.
That idea came to mind immediately after I listened to “With You”, the Stargate produced track that sounds like a second tier version of “Irreplaceable”. Many of the songs on the album are credited to the current batch of pop music’s hit makers, but like “With You”, they all sound like their throwaways. Not even Kanye West delivered, offering Chris Brown a track that samples the annoying 4 Non Blondes hit “What’s Up” for the song, “Down”. The sample serves as the perfect example of why some songs need to be left in the decade they originated from. You would think an album titled Exclusive would demand such in production value. The album does offer some gems, like “You” and “Take You Down”. But remember that comment about his voice? The latter song will chart well, thanks to young girls with crushes (not to mention the adults eager to join them now that are legally allowed to do so), but that doesn’t negate how unbelievable he sounds on the song. Yes, I hear the lyric “It ain’t my first time, but baby we can pretend” and while that may be true, he still sounds like an 11-year-old… and that just makes me uncomfortable.
Young Chris sounds a lot more believable on songs like “Picture Perfect” featuring Will.I.Am, where he calls for the fellas to stay away from his girl as inoffensively as possible. Even “Hold Up” with Big Boi sounds like the Chris Brown I’m familiar with, especially when he pleads his case to the father of his would be date. I suppose he “takes her down” after she sneaks out past her curfew. This isn’t a case of one’s refusal to accept that a child star is now an adult. It’s just that I remain unconvinced that he has the panache to pull off the more mature material he’s been given yet.
It’s interesting, considering that when an underage Usher first made his way onto the scene he was doing nothing more than singing the lyrics of Donell Jones and Faith Evans over the creations of Devante Swing and a producer then known as Puffy, yet he did so convincingly—a skill the 18-year-old Chris Brown has yet to master. The difference between the two—and if you’re wondering, yes, it’s fair to keep comparing the two since is Chris is increasingly lauded as Usher’s successor—is that Usher could draw from his experiences living with Diddy to help sell the material. Or at the very least, his superior voice made him more adept at faking it in the studio.
I have no doubt that Chris Brown will sell more than his competition, which includes the likes of Omarion and Lloyd, but their latest offerings still best Exclusive in terms of beats, lyrics, and overall cohesiveness. I’m even more certain Chris’ young audiences will love Exclusive, and could care less that Chris’ attempts to convey maturity come across as just him trying too hard. But, personally, I’m looking forward to the album where instead of Chris telling me he’s an adult, I can listen to the material and come to that conclusion myself.