Welcome back to Head to Head with Edd, where yours truly goes toe-to-toe with the superfans of the game’s biggest artists. We’ll take a look at the selected artist’s biggest hits and misses and see where we can find common ground.
This week Soul In Stereo contributor Alex Goodwin is back to break down the controversial career of my Cousin Chris Brown. He’s been at the forefront of R&B’s evolution over the past decade. Let’s revisit his best and worst moments and if his legacy includes the elusive classic album.
Name Chris Brown’s three greatest albums
2. Chris Brown
One of the most unfortunate aspects of Chris Brown’s career is his catalog boasts a few very good albums but no career-defining release like others of similar talent level (Usher with Confessions, Stevie Wonder with Songs in the Key of Life, Marvin Gaye with What’s Going On, Michael Jackson with Off the Wall). F.A.M.E. is the closest he’s gotten to checking that box, and is his best project by the thinnest of margins. F.A.M.E. showcases Brown’s musical versatility and artistic diversity as he seamlessly transitions from Contemporary R&B, frenetic Top 40 Pop offerings, and hip-hop without breaking a sweat. His debut album featured writing and production from heavy hitters Bryan-Michael Cox, Johnta Austin, Scott Storch, Tank, The Underdogs, Shea Taylor and more. Simply put, Breezy’s self-titled debut has aged liked fine wine. Exclusive avoided the dreaded sophomore jinx as he showed great improvement vocally and also features some of the best deep album cuts that can be found in Brown’s discography.
1. Chris Brown
Alex and I are reading from the same sheet of music, for the most part. He’s not wrong about F.A.M.E.’s sonic diversity being it’s calling card – and I have no problem anointing it as his signature album – it’s way too uneven to get top billing from me. My cousin was at his best in his early days, when the albums were focused and consistent. He has yet to top his star-making debut in my eyes, though his sophomore set is a close runner-up.
And what’s his worst album?
Alex: Heartbreak on a Full Moon
Imagine how long you think the first church service is going to be after all of this coronavirus madness is over. Now that you have that in mind remember this; no matter how long you think that’s going to be, and LORD KNOWS it will be LONG, Heartbreak on a Full Moon is still an hour and a half longer than that. The biggest issue with this album is that there is absolutely no quality control here. Breezy just threw everything at the wall hoping something would stick, and there are 12-15 songs here that have that potential. However, you have to filter through 33 other subpar songs and half of them are indistinguishable sonically and content-wise. Avoid this album like we’re all avoiding that Rona. Social distance from Heartbreak on a Full Moon, y’all.
Alex, if you think Heartbreak on a Full Moon was longer than the announcements at your grandma’s church, you CLEARLY haven’t checked out last year’s Indigo – an album that’s somehow both longer and worse than Heartbreak. Even though both those projects are crippled by a metric ton of aimless filler, there are still good songs to be found within. That cannot be said for 2009’s Graffiti. And listen, I’ve spent a decade hearing the excuses from Team Breezy about this one – that it was unfairly maligned due to the Rihanna drama, that it was intentionally short-stocked at retail, blah blah. Excuses aside, this album was disaster, a mish-mash of conflicting sounds and themes that come off like sonic schizophrenia. Even the cover is lazy and laughable. Y’all gotta take off the nostalgia googles, this was a catastrophe.
Which album would you call his most underrated?
Fortune is a project that often gets forgotten because it lacks big singles like “Loyal” and “Take You Down” which anchored X and Exclusive respectively, and it arrived 16 months after the Grammy-winning F.A.M.E. album. But despite the lack of big hits and being released immediately after his best work to date, Fortune is a really solid album with great products that I think a lot of fans will appreciate a lot more after giving it a listen in 2020.
I could go with either X or Fortune here but I’ll stick with the latter since it seems to be one of the more forgotten releases in Cousin Chris’ catalog. Fortune is by no means a perfect album – lord no – and it’s biggest sin is that often feels like a watered-down F.A.M.E. clone. But hey, that’s not a bad blueprint to follow and there are gems to be found.
What’s your favorite single?
With his career was on the ropes and his public reputation tarnished, Brown rebounded by hitting the mixtape circuit releasing the Fan of a Fan mixtape with everyone’s favorite punching bag Tyga and this gem was the result. Produced by then-frequent collaborator Kevin McCall, this song about ridding yourself of toxic relationships eventually began making noise, peaking at number one on the Hip Hop/R&B charts and ended up being the lead single from F.A.M.E. in 2011.
Edd: “Yo (Excuse Me Miss)”
I LOVE me some “Deuces” and believe it gets too much hate from R&B purists. That said, even “Deuces” can match up to “Yo,” arguably the most feel-good song my cousin has ever released. Sure, it feels absolutely quaint today and probably doesn’t connect as strongly with Breezy’s post-F.A.M.E. fanbase, but there’s a reason this song gets love across the board. It just feels so lighthearted and genuine. Aunties two-step to it, guys still sing it to girls they want to woo and the TikTok crowd has been making parody videos of it for years. When it’s all said and done “Yo” will be his most enduring hit.
Which single is Breezy’s worst?
Alex: “Sing Like Me”
Y’all don’t remember this song? If you do not let me jog your memory. In 2009, less than a year after Brown became public enemy No. 1 for the assaulting Rihanna, instead of disappearing for a while or overhauling his image (I still contend to this day he should’ve done a gospel album in the aftermath of the Rihanna scandal) Breezy put out Graffiti, a bland album without anything worth revisiting. “Sing Like Me” is one of the promotional singles from that album most of you have forgotten about and that I didn’t recall until I started doing research for this piece. Now that we’re all caught up, the song itself isn’t awful, but it surely isn’t that good. The songwriting and production sound like something Chris and his team picked up from the cutting room floor from Trey Songz’s recording sessions from the Ready album released earlier in the year. Put simply, you’ll lose interest in the song a minute or so after it comes on and will be checking your phone to see how much longer you have to sit through it if and that’s if you don’t abort mission and just hit the skip button.
Edd: “I Can Transform Ya”
I definitely remember that Great Value Trey Songz track “Sing Like Me.” But since we’re on the subject of that awful Graffiti album (can’t wait for the stans to eviscerate me for crapping on the childhood), “Sing Like Me” has nothing on “I Can Transform Ya.” Look, I’m as critical of my cousin as anyone but, for the most part, his singles are rarely outright BAD. “I Can Transform Ya” is BAD. Swizz Beatz’s ear-splitting beat might be the worst track he’s produced and lame Autobot metaphors don’t help. In fact, the whole song sounds like Optimus Prime has the runs. Adding Lil Wayne to this act during the height of Weezymania gave Breezy a little cred, but even he can’t work miracles.
Breezy is definitely a performer. What’s his best video?
Alex: “Gimmie That“
Chris channeled his inner Michael Jackson for this “Smooth Criminal” inspired video. Complete with a well placed Lil Wayne feature and slick dance moves, videos like this are what made it obvious that he was R&B’s next superstar.
Edd: “Gimmie That“
I love it when you’re right, playa. “Gimmie That” was the first video where we heard Cousin Chris’ name uttered in the same breath as Michael Jackson. His stardom couldn’t be questioned after that performance.
Chris has stolen the show on several guest spots. What’s his best feature performance?
Alex: “I Luv It Remix” – August Alsina, Trey Songz and Chris Brown
Now, this is a tough one because he’s worked with everyone from Ariana Grande to Ace Hood but this track always stood out. With production built around synth horns and a well-placed bassline, this song which focuses on late-night revelry was perfect for Breezy to put the cherry on top of what was already one of the biggest hits of 2014.
Edd: “Another Round” – Fat Joe featuring Chris Brown
Wanna know why I went with this track? When Fat Joe dropped this one in 2012, Breezy’s feature was so powerful people assumed it was HIS song, not Joe’s. That hook was undeniable. Somebody should have called the po-po, Chris absolutely stole the show on this one.
Does Chris Brown have any classic albums? If so, name them.
Alex: It’s normally a cold day in hell when Edd and I agree on more than one thing, but I think today a Satan and his crew will be putting on fur coats because we agree yet again. Sadly, Chris Brown has no classics. Despite the ability to make hit singles in his sleep, producing a solid cohesive body of work is a skill that often eludes the bad boy of R&B. Over the past decade, Brown’s albums have a tendency to be unfocused and have six or seven songs that could have been left on the recording engineers’ hard drive. To make a sports metaphor, Chris Brown is R&B’s James Harden. Both are supremely gifted otherworldly talents, first ballot hall of famers, have given fans many amazing moments, but both lack the crowning achievement to stack their resume’s against the other greats in their respective fields (Harden is missing an NBA Championship, Breezy is missing a classic album). As a fan, I hope he can give us a great album that also redefines the genre soon. We all know he has the ability to make it happen.
Edd: Y’all throw around the world “classic” like Twitter throws around coronavirus conspiracy theories. While most people these days use “classic” as a synonym for “an album I liked when I was a kid,” these are my defining characteristics of a classic:
- An incredible (but not necessarily flawless) body of work
- An album that becomes a defining moment in said artist’s career
- An album that in some way makes an impact on its genre
If it doesn’t check all three of those boxes, it’s not a classic in my eyes. His debut? Maybe give it point No. 1. F.A.M.E.? Definitely point No. 2, arguably No. 3. But no album currently in Cousin Chris’ discography that connects all three of those dots. At least not yet.
Is Chris Brown the biggest R&B artist of his generation?
Alex: Absolutely. Since his debut in 2005, no artist has had the staying power and number of hit records to their name that Chris Brown does. Despite a plethora of public relations nightmares and public missteps Brown still sells out arena tours year in and year out and has influenced scores of new artists. It is worth noting that he doesn’t have much competition as the majority of the genre has gone towards an amorphous half-rapping half-singing style which has left R&B without an emphasis on vocal ability. But even if vocals were still emphasized in the mainstream Chris Brown would probably still hold this crown. (P.S: if anyone in the comments section mentions Jacquees in the discussion of King of R&B or this conversation I’ll have you drug tested or committed to the nearest psych ward expeditiously.)
Edd: The homie said it all – though I will point out that Cousin Chris had a big hand in normalizing the half-rapping/half-singing style that defined (and crippled) R&B over the past decade. Still, facts are facts – for better or worse, Breezy has been the standard-bearer for 10 years and counting. While most of his peers can’t sniff mainstream success without a Drake feature or copious amounts of autotune, Brown has maintained his presence as being the most visible face for the genre. Personal demons and sloppy albums aside, the man knows how to make hits – and he knows that hot songs and meme-able videos are the recipe for success in this era. Simply put, for a generation of fans, Chris Brown is the personification of R&B.
Tell us – who won the battle? Did Alex hit the right points or did Edd drop the most knowledge? Let us know below.