Album Review: Chris Brown “Graffiti”

by Marcus K. Dowling

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” – Matthew 16:26

If this album were by anyone other than Chris Brown, it would be the best R & B album of the last five years. He aimed to be Michael Jackson and Prince, and came through with flying colors. However, given that this is Chris Brown’s hasty return to the spotlight after the domestic assault charge heard ’round the world, it’s the most transparent apology in the history of music. The name of the game here is to bank on the idiocy of the American public. To bank on doe eyed teenage girls who can’t refuse the yearning voice, seemingly innocent charm and million watt smile of a VERY guilty young man. Chris Brown’s Graffiti is just that. A covering of an edifice, an attempt to beautify a structure that in this case is fouled, sullied and not worthy of public viewing. The all star team of individuals who accepted money from Jive Records to participate in this album either did so out of sheer greed, or out of the morbid curiosity of attempting to rehabilitate the most notorious “Public Enemy #1″ in music of the decade. And in succeeding in giving Chris Brown a more than ample and completely awe inspiring sonic background by which to ply his craft again, it proves that Robert Johnson isn’t the only man in music who ever made a pact with the devil for otherworldly talent. A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip famously states on “Check the Rhime” that record industry rule #4080 is that “record company people are shady.” This record is living proof of that statement.

If this album were by anyone other than Chris Brown, it would be the best R & B album of the last five years.

Let’s start off by saying that every track on this album is a winner. Comparing this record to any other release in its genre all year is a criminal mistake. Lead single “I Can Transform Ya” is a winner, as Swizz Beatz’s kickdrum and robotic synth track are so completely unique to anything released in quite some time that it arrests the ear in a positive sense, and with flows from a rare focused Lil Wayne in a guest spot, there’s really nothing at all wrong about the entirety of the song. Follow up single “Crawl” brings the supertalented Messengers to the table who create a gigantic and spacious track for Chris Brown to apologize in a manner most awesome and epic. They write a song here that is a pop radio surefire hit. It’s easily one of the lyrically superior songs of 2009, as C.B. describes the arduous attempt to crawl back to the love of his defiant ex-girlfriend. Latest single “Pass Out” is the bottle service club champion, taking Eric Prydz’s “Call on Me” in a decidedly pop direction, a club confection of nightclub romance. Brian Kennedy, responsible for the pop successes of Brown’s “Forever” and Rihanna’s “Disturbia” mans the production board here, and doesn’t deviate from form here to massive success.

This is not the only success here. Wunderkind Ryan Leslie appears here as well, his “Famous Girl” an amazing R. Les track that benefits from excellent songwriting as Brown gets ponderous about his “famous girl” “breaking his heart.” He namedrops Keri Hilson, Jazmine Sullivan and Beyonce through namedropping their songs or lyrics here highly uncomfortably as other “famous girls” he could’ve dated, but didn’t in one of the times on the release where angst or vomiting are perfectly acceptable reactions to the lyrical content. The Business aim for a classic on “Take My Time” featuring underrated soul man Tank, and succeed, Chris Brown’s natural talent for singing once again almost outshining his most unforgivable error in judgment. Virginia homeboys Trey Songz and Brown join with LA rap veteran The Game on Polow the Don’s “Wait,” which is yet another hot Polow track, and between Game’s verses, Songz’s ever present “Yuuup,” and Brown’s vocals, there’s really nothing at all wrong with the content here from a professional standpoint. Relative newcomers Jevon Hill and Charlie Bereal contribute the two most empty ballads of the release, “Falling Down” and “Lucky Me,” tracks that are filled with lyrics that explicitly ask for apologies when there are none that could or should be given. Album closer “I’ll Go” is another Brian Kennedy masterpiece, opting for something out of the Billy Joel collection, a plaintive piano ballad that closes the album with the closest move to earnest apology this album at this particular moment in Brown’s career can muster.

Chris Brown doesn’t need an album to rehabilitate his public image, he needs an extended hiatus to do so.

This album could have waited. Chris Brown doesn’t need an album to rehabilitate his public image, he needs an extended hiatus to do so. Fresh in my mind, as well as the minds of millions more, are the acts he perpetrated on the worst night of his life. An album that on one side of Brown’s mouth can aggrandize partying, sex and generally balling out of control, and on the other side appear completely contrite and apologetic is not the proper look. Yes, the production on this release is legitimate and out of this world, but it is in no way enough. Chris Brown mortgaged his soul on this record for greed. And sadly, greed, on this album, is not just good, not just great, but absolutely and phenomenally tremendous. For shame.


  • TonyB

    You do great album reviews. I’m especially fond of the Wale and Ryan Leslie reviews, but I respectfully disagree with the way you went about this one. Either the album was good or it wasn’t. If it was good than it deserved a good review regardless of your view of Chris Brown’s personal shortcomings. If you disagreed so much with his personal actions than they best thing to do would be to not write a review at all. I just feel like your giving him publicity just by doing the review. Again, I’m not knocking you cause your the man, but I feel like the music is separate from the person.

  • jaycee

    I have to agree I think its totally wrong to include his personal situation in the review. Either the music was good or it wasn’t. That’s like saying a food is nasty because you are mad at the cook. I love the cd thought it was a little bit for everyone and I think his album coming out now is fine, he threw himself back into work and this was the result. I appreciate he thought enough of his fans not to insult us by slinking of into obscurity and change his image and release a love strung bitter album. Great album let’s focus on that and leave his personal life to him .

  • kg

    Is the review about his music or his actions? How can it be said that it’s the best R&B album of the last 5 five years and only recieve 3.5/5 stars?

  • Tygress

    Real talk, i hate the whole auto tune that chris uses on this album it just take away from the songs… couple of the songs were good not great or exceptional. I liked so cold and crawl. I can transform ya was bland… it does nothing for me but i can at least bump to it in the clubs. Famous Girl that he did was just low… i didn’t realise until that song how tacky he was. Over all the album was ok at best.

  • jconda

    HaHaaaaaa, I knew they were going to light it up on this review!

    Unfortunately there aren’t too many artists who have released incredible albums that aren’t guilty of some kind of moral degradation, whether it be drug abuse, alcoholism, adultery, physical abuse or all of the above.

    I in no way shape or form condone his actions…but we based our reviews on moral character, just about everybody would get, like, 2.5 stars…

    But you my dude because you say it like you feel it!

    Keep it coming MKD!

  • Stone

    I was going to go hard in defense of this review, but yeah, I think I gotta agree with Jonathan. No recording artist is not without his or her faults. Nobody is perfect. People who we thought are bastions of morality are outed for who they really are (Tiger Woods). Everybody else is just slick enough to keep their indiscretions away from TMZ.

    HOWEVER..I will say that spent part of my week in a courtroom, where I saw multiple domestic violence cases come before a judge. These people are monsters (one dude struck his pregnant wife multiple times) who need rehabilitation and counseling. I hope to God that Mr. Brown was able to get the help he needs, though I doubt he ever had the chance.

  • dopeablum

    I agree.. Chris came with a nice album.. Should have waited a little longer though. A little to soon to release a album like this. But none the less it is a crazy dope album. Not every artist can come out with back to back to back nice albums.. But the public is not accepting him all the way, and he can obviously feel it. In reality though people need to learn how to get over his whole situation that happened and move on. He apologized and knows what he did. Yeah he beat the hell out of Ri but come on now. In this industry we have seen a hell of a lot worse than that and we know it. But overall.. Graffiti was a great piece of work hands down. He should get the credit he deserves for this album. Personally I would give him a 4/4.5 out of 5 on this album. Lets not low ball him. It’s dope!

  • Khyber Khan ( USA )

    Chris bro: i gotta say that this album should be the best album of the year, this review is based on his personal life which iz showing that how stupid some critics writers could be, this review is a complet rabbish/ CB forever and ever
    god bless

  • Kiezo

    I dont agree with the above review, I think that his album is great. What he done is unacceptable, but we cannot judge or look done upon him. Because let he who is without sin, throw the first stone. I enjoy his music and think he is really gifted.

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