Who needs haters when you’re your own worst enemy? Chris Brown has been a self-saboteur since his infamous 2009 assault of Rihanna — a talent whose skill for hit singles and agile performances is only matched by his knack for cannonballing into career-threatening pools of legal and PR problems. His sixth studio album, X, is a great example.
The LP was originally slated for release in late 2013, on the heels of single “Fine China,” an instantly catchy tribute to Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson. But before you could call it a comeback, Brown was charged with assault in Washington, D.C., a parole violation that led to stints in rehab and 108 days in a Los Angeles jail. Even he was behind bars, however, another single, “Loyal,” crept into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100.
After his June release, Brown is returning to the spotlight, conducting his first post-jail interview for Billboard’s Sept. 13 issue and finally unleashing X.The album is solid, with several potential hits. But it’s also over-packed, with a whopping 17 tracks and nine all-star features, including Rick Ross and Lil Wayne. Credit the album’s overlong gestation period, or a 25-year-old fresh out of jail and too eager to impress cynics — either way, the LP would benefit from fat-trimming, especially on its lustful first half.
But once gratuitous fillers are skipped, gems appear, especially on the closing half, where Brown is lucid about his tabloid love life. Lyrics from the love songs could hint at Brown’s post-jail perspective. Otherwise, there are few clues as to whether his time away altered his music or mindset — an unfortunate missed opportunity.
Maybe there’s hope for Brown yet — or maybe he’s betting his new batch of potential chart-toppers will change the subject.
Read on for Billboard’s track-by-track review of Chris Brown’s X.
“X” – Brown’s most honest moment comes at the top of the album, on the title track. “I can make you a believer if I turn the nonsense down,” he moans, before the schizophrenic Diplo production takes over. It’s safe to say that this is a man who knows he’s got to get his life together and has to prove to himself and others.
“Add Me In” – If one can be both suave and cliché, Chris achieves it so here. “Add Me In” boasts several weak come-ons: “Your body is an isosceles/ And I just wanna try angels.” He continues the math-tinged plead with singing about dividing his lover’s legs and subtracting her boyfriend to “add me in.”
“Loyal” – “Loyal,” with it’s anthemic, albeit crass, hook and playful beat, rattled through clubs and radio all summer. Lil Wayne opens the song rapping, “I wasn’t born last night/ I know these [women] ain’t right.” Chris then skips through with verses about how shady ladies leave one man for a richer one.
“New Flame,” featuring Usher – The second single from X is sweeter to women than the first. On “New Flame,” Brown and Usher finesse themselves into positions where they can “be the one to do you right.”
“Songs On 12 Play,” featuring Trey Songz – This raunchy cut pays homage to R. Kelly‘s brazen 1993 debut album 12 Play, with Brown and Songz claiming that some familiar faces remind them of Kelly sex jams.
“101 (Interlude)” – “You got me doing 101 on the 101,” Chris sings to his girl on this quickie interlude. He’s “stuck in traffic trying to make it to my baby.”
“Drown In It,” featuring R. Kelly – Instead of homage, “Drown In It” actually features R. Kelly. The pair crudely sings about swimming in the metaphorical waters of who they’re courting. It’s an odd pairing of pariahs: Kelly’s history with women is far worse than Brown’s.
Brown is known for having a few lustful cuts on every album. The ones on X, however, don’t compete with, say, “Take You Down” from Exclusive.
“Came to Do,” featuring Akon – While “Came to Do” features another Oakland bounce beat by “Loyal” producer, NicNac, the song’s tone is friendlier to women than the first single.
“Stereotype” – On “Stereotype,” Brown sings about girls who lost his trust. The swirling Danja-produced track is solid. “Now I see you’re just like the rest,” he sings. But with “Loyal” essentially serving the same purpose, lyrically, “Stereotype” is not needed.
“Time for Love” – On Jean Baptiste and Free School production, Brown melodically raps: “Let me get in your comfort zone/ We can move together.”
“Lady in a Glass Dress (Interlude)” – Between the finger snaps of the beat, Brown promises a girl recovering from a rough breakup that he “can make your dreams come true.”
“Autumn Leaves,” featuring Kendrick Lamar – Brown is sullen here, comparing a lover’s departure with summer’s, in time for fall. “It seems that all the autumn leaves are falling/ I feel like you’re the only reason for it.” It’s a quiet cut with guitar tickles. Kendrick Lamar seemingly raps on Brown’s behalf, mood-swinging from thoughtful to vicious. “And they won’t let me live/ Even when it’s remorse that I give/ When are they gon’ rejoice and forgive/ Tell me how [do] I stay positive?” It’s a question that’s easy to imagine Chris asking, as he hopes to wipe his slate clean. It’s been a while since Brown has had a hit, that wasn’t intended for the club; this could be it.
“Do Better,” featuring Brandy – The exceptional “Do Better” features the raspy timbre of Brandy, who plays the role of a scorned lover. “I learn more and more each day that I don’t know me / It’s like I can’t get out of my own way,” Brown sings on the sparse and pensive song.
“See You Around” – This folksy song is a different sound for Brown, with guitar strums and a baseline that could be easily replaced by Mumford & Sons-like foot stomps. On “See You Around,” he sadly admits that “I should have loved you way more.”
“Don’t Be Gone Too Long,” featuring Ariana Grande – The latest X dance single finds Brown and Grande praying that they never split. “Who’s going to love me when you’re gone?” they ask.
“Body Shots” – Sequentially, this is a poorly positioned song on X. After thoughtful songs, this — a lude dance song, fit for an EDM Vegas club set and about doing body shots on women, pops up; not good.
“Drunk Texting,” featuring Jhené Aiko – Brown swerves into an ex’s iMessage inbox on “Drunk Texting,” duetting with the beautifully understated vocals of Jhene Aiko: “Tonight, I’m blowing up your line / I’ve got you on my mind/ The truth is hard to fight.”