With Usher debatably titled the new “King of R&B”, he virtually has the game of male R&B on lock. But as he slowly ages, so does his fanbase and his subject matter, which leaves the burgeoning legion of prepubescent Usher fans feeling understandably alienated (not to mention, most parents wouldn’t be too keen on their pre-teen daughter (or son) singing along with tunes like “That’s What It’s Made For”
Thus, the age difference creates an age gap that can be anxiously filled by a younger, PG-rated carbon copy of Mr. Raymond. And though many have tried, and are still trying, to plug the gap, fresh-faced newcomer Chris Brown appears to be the only one qualified to do so.
Barely 16 and hailing from Tappahannock, Virginia, Chris splashed onto the scene late last year and mesmerized young girls across the country with his adorable baby face, stylish dance moves, boyish vocals, and the incessant thump of his #1 smash, “Run It”. But with catchy pop singles and their accompanying artists being as disposable as day-old Chinese Food, it’s reasonable to wonder if Chris’ eponymous debut actually carries any weight indicative of potential longevity or if he’s just an understudy for the actual “next big thing.”
Given his age, the album’s subject matter is pretty light, fluffy and predictable. And from a musical standpoint, his production is as gimmicky and manufactured as expected. But there’s no denying the two combined create one of the most well-crafted and executed “mainstream” R&B debuts of the year.
Lead single, Run It has an incessant bassline, cheap, faux-“Yeah!” synth lines, and an infectious cameo from Juelz Santana that makes it a perfect tune for any adolescent imaging their bedroom as a nightclub. Yo! is the predictable attempt to show off Chris’ softer, loverboy side; Dre & Vidal successfully creating a mellow groove with a hypnotic 808 knock that subtly glosses over the inane lyricism and p!ss-poor chorus.
And 3rd single, Gimme That, will only sustain Chris’ momentum thanks to Scott Storch giving off his best Lil’ Jon impersonation with the crunk-lite beat and inanely catchy hook. The singles aside, the album rests comfortably on autopilot right between average and above-average.
Young Love is self-explanatory and benefits nicely from the soulful horn sample and Chris’ tender vocals. Tank and the Underdogs redeem themselves with the smooth and faux-soulful bravado of Ya Man Ain’t Me.Ain’t No Way is easily the production highlight of the record; S. Dot creating an airy, ethereal melody that makes Chris’ whiny vocals hypnotic yet soothing.
Then “What’s My Name” follows and fails horribly at establishing Chris Brown as a young p.i.m.p.-in-training. There’s the calliope lullaby that is Poppin’ if you enjoy your R&B a little mindless at times. Just Fine wins both best melody, with the acoustic guitar adding some much-needed flavor and flair to the album, and hook, with Chris’ inspirational love note to his former flame making him sound his most natural on record. And Say Goodbye is supposed to be the vocal showstopper and finale of the album and proves why Chris’ voice is that sword that cuts both ways.
On one hand, he can evoke some strong emotion and faux-soul in his voice when directed properly but on the other, his nasal tendencies and constipated whines too often bring down the majority of his material. He has one of those decent voices that’s best stomached in small doses and 55:00 of it borders on overkill.
All in all, Chris Brown’s debut album is nothing special but nothing horrid. It’s simply well-manufactured and well-executed “mainstream” R&B that has enough fodder to satisfy the hunger of millions of prepubescent teenage girls while convincing the older generation of his potential to become the next successor to the “King’s” throne. If you like catchy R&B that tickles your ear, moves your feet, and doesn’t require a lot of thought, then Chris Brown is worth a listen. But if you’d rather pass on it, you’ll be just fine.