“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.
3.5 OUT OF FIVE STARS