During a sneak peek of his sixth album last week at Burbank, Calif.’s Glenwood Studios, Chris Brown shared the project’s lead single, “Fine China,” which will be released along with its official video on April 1. “Fine China,” an uptempo song defining the qualities of a woman, is one of five tracks the Grammy Award-winning singer shared of “X,” the RCA set is slated for late August/early September. The reflective “Autumn Leaves,” Diplo-produced title track, new ballad “Lady in Glass Dress” and uptempo “Add Me In” were also played to whet appetites for the follow-up to last year’s “Fortune.”
Following the sneak peek, an enthusiastic and talkative Brown sat down for a 20-minute chat about the album, the “Fine China” video and other projects.
Billboard: How far along are you with the album?
I’m always thinking ahead so with every album I’m doing, there’s always another album in mind. When I did “F.A.M.E.,” “‘Fortune” was already being thought about with certain songs we’d already started. As far as this album, I think it’s pretty much done. In a nutshell, we have about 40 songs and we’ve got to break those down tremendously. “Fine China” will be the foot in the door. Hopefully, when people hear it, they’ll like it, saying it’s something they haven’t really heard from me. But I’m never really done recording. I always stay in the studio whether I’m just writing or coming up with other stuff. If you keep your mind going, you always come up with something new, fresh.
We’ve got a lot of collaborators on this album. I didn’t really bounce around doing songs for the album. I basically kept it in one place, almost like a writer’s camp the way Quincy Jones did back in the day. Put everybody in one place and come up with music. That was the process. We’d come up with ideas. We’d also have parties in the studio; invite people and just pack it out, playing music. Then we’d see what their response was to it, just to get a different feel.
What inspired the album’s title?
When we were doing “Fortune,” I had another concept for my next album. It was “Carpe Diem” — about seizing the day, living in the moment. We had maybe 15 or 16 songs done for that album, and I did a Carpe Diem tour overseas. But when I got back from that tour, I kind of switched the album concept. It’s still in same vein of living in the moment. But “X” defines more of what I wanted to talk about. There’s a numerical tie-in. I turn 24 on my birthday, which is 5/5/89. X is the Roman numeral for 10 and also the 24th letter in the alphabet.
Then there’s a personal side. “X” can also mean something forbidden or bad — like a bottle with a skull and crossbones on it. So I wanted to look at that in a different way, to put it all on the table: all my emotions, my past experiences, everything I’ve been feeling and going through, life in general as a 23- and now 24-year-old man, and call it “X.” At the end of the day, being young, we always want to rebel. But I also want my fans to be able to identify with who I am and understand my music. I just wanted to go back to what people love me for: my music. People will tell me, “Your first album was your greatest album.” I don’t want to make songs that sound like my first album, but I do want to go for the same feeling, give fans that same emotion.
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Who directed the video for “Fine China”?
I co-directed with Sylvan White, who did “Stomp the Yard.” I wanted to go with a film director to set the mood and bring that artistic side to it. I’m not one who always loves to stand in front of the camera with flashy cars and big booty girls all the time. It’s cool and I do features on raps (laughs). But I like to showcase a different side. I tweeted the other day that chivalry ain’t dead. What that meant was, in this video, you’ll see me taking care of the girl, doing gentlemanly things — showing another side of me. I know my female audience sees it. But the naysayers might say, “No, that’s not him.”
Beyoncé, The-Dream and others have said they want to bring R&B back. Is that where you’re headed with “X”?
With this album, you won’t hear me going fully pop or four-on-the-floor. It’s just going to be me expressing myself in however the music comes out. A lot of my inspiration is driven by Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Sam Cooke. I got the chance to collaborate with a lot of new writers and producers who haven’t gotten the chance to have their creativity heard. My being able to do that is almost like starting from the ground up. I just take it as it comes. If a song comes in and we feel emotion from it, we go from there.
Hopefully, as a whole we can bring music back in general. I wouldn’t say just R&B. I still love music, but I think we’re at a place where there’s no substance sometimes to our music, including mine too. There needs to be more subject matter, more of a message in music. And we need to be able to inspire the youth. If youth doesn’t have anything to look up to or forward to, they just run rampant. So hopefully, in a positive way, I can still do my thing musically and touch the masses.
Judging from the songs you’ve played and listening to you talk, would you agree that “X” is your most personal album to date?
Yes. I’ve been going through my own trials and tribulations, overcoming a lot of stuff and persevering through things. And my release is the studio, that and painting. You can see it in my artwork. Hopefully when people hear “X,” they will be blown away. I think a lot of my biggest songs have been songs about real life that people can identify with, like “Deuces.” That’s what I want to bring on this album.
You mentioned Kendrick Lamar as a guest. Any other guests you’d care to reveal, possibly Rihanna?
I don’t want to say any more names right now because we’re still waiting on yes’s and no’s. But I have collaborated with Rihanna. I’ve got a couple songs we’ve done with me just writing. We also did “Nobody’s Business” for her album. In return she did do a song for my album. It’s a great song but it’s in the pot with all the other 40 songs. So right now, we’re still debating.
In the meantime, you’re doing cameos on a lot of songs, with everyone from Afrojack to Tank. Do you worry about overplaying yourself?
A lot of people don’t know my work ethic. I do nine to 10 songs a night when I’m in the studio. It’s like painting for me — I can never have enough of it when it’s a record I love. I’ve had my share of assists, but I don’t look at the star power in it, I don’t look at the status of it, because I might do a song with a new artist that nobody’s ever heard of or a song with an established artist that people might think isn’t “in” right now. It’s all about the music.
And now two of your artists, Sevyn and Sabrina Antoinette, are working on solo albums.
They’re workaholics — they work harder than me. Sevyn is an incredible writer. She wrote on my album and I’m writing on her album as well. And Sabrina is a phenomenal entertainer as well. The sky’s the limit for them. I have five acts signed through CBE including an alternative act.
Any plans for a U.S. tour?
Absolutely. That will be the first thing that’s mandatory after the singles come out. I want to put out at least two, three singles to give people something to with, then from there we can tour. Between this album and with the catalog of songs I have, a tour would be phenomenal. I’d bring my 110% A game.
Will recent release “Home” appear on “X”?
“Home” will actually be an iTunes bonus. It was a song I wanted to put out because I’d done the Carpe Diem tour. I just wanted to show people me. The song is like, “Everybody’s got their hands out. What the fuck you want from me?” It’s not even a plea. It’s just me releasing my emotions rather than being angry. It’s just me being in the studio and expressing myself. I’m saying, “Look, this is me. Sometimes it gets hectic. I could be a celebrity; I could be whoever you want me to be. But it’s always good to go home and know who you are.”
In “Home” you talk about wishing you could go back and change a thing or two. What would you change?
Basically perception, choices in life. A lot of things we do we can’t take back or we learn from them in the process. If I could back and say look, you’re about to mess up, Chris. Don’t do this. That would be my goal. If I could just retrace the steps, I would do it.