Nobody's child

Now 18, Brown matures into 'Exclusive' grown-up themes

November 30, 2007


Kids today -- they grow up so darn fast. It often seems as if only yesterday, they were G going on PG. And today, they're ... R, bordering on X.

Critics have certainly made this point when writing about "Exclusive," the second album by Chris Brown, arguably the hottest up-and-comer in R&B today. And the 18-year-old singer has been just as eager to boast about his rapid path to maturity during the long wait for the new disc. (Originally scheduled for release last August, it was pushed back several times until it was finally issued on Nov. 6, when it proceeded to debut at No. 4 on the Billboard albums, selling almost 300,000 copies sold in its first week.)

"I am still going to keep it so my younger fans can continue to listen to my music, but I got a couple of joints on there that's for some of the older people," Brown told MTV before the album's release. "I would say it's just me being mature, getting older, growing a little bit more hair and peach fuzz on the bottom of my chin. ... It's another stepping stone for me. Every day is a learning experience when you're in the music industry. From Day One, I've learned how to be a better artist, working on my music and with other people."

In the new song "Kiss Kiss," co-written and produced with T-Pain and his second No. 1 hit, Brown puts it another way: "I'm a country boy from Tappahannock/V-A is where I reside, so shawty understand it/And I know I just turned 18/And I get a little mannish/And you see this bandanna hanging/That means I'm like a bandit (like a bandit, bandit)."

It's not surprising that this newly self-proclaimed love bandit grew up fast: Brown has been preparing for stardom since he was a toddler. One of two children raised in a working-class home in small-town Tappahannock, Va., soul music constantly played on the radio, and the artist started practicing the dance moves that would steal the show at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards when he was only 2 years old.

At 13, Brown first won notice for his singing when he was discovered by a local production team that was visiting his father's gas station. A series of demo recordings eventually led to him signing with Jive Records, the home of R. Kelly and Britney Spears, and in 2004, he quit school and began working on his self-titled debut. Released in late 2005, "Chris Brown" boasted a major hit with the Scott Storch-produced single "Run It!"

Typical of the music on both of Brown's albums, "Run It!" mixed equal parts of the ultra-slick, groove-heavy modern R&B championed by Chicago superstar Kelly and the more catchy soul-meets-dance-pop favored by Usher -- though Brown's image was definitely closer to Usher's than Kelly's. In fact, several writers have joked that Brown's entire career was made possible by the fact Usher has taken so long between albums.

Musically, "Exclusive" is once again a fresh and endearing mix of R&B, hip-hop and pop with just the slightest hint of the go-go music that was popular in Washington, D.C., when Brown was growing up. It reunites the singer with many of the producers from his first disc -- among them Storch, Dre & Vidal, Sean Garrett and Bryan-Michael Cox -- in addition to new names including T-Pain, and Kanye West. Lyrically, however, the balance shifts more toward sexual super freak R. Kelly this time around.

Witness "Get At'cha," a winning tune dropped at the last minute from the U.S. release, which finds the young star virtually panting about his unbridled lust: "Hey girl, I love what you do/The way that you move/I'm tryin' to give it to you/I'm tryin' to get at'cha!"

But even at his most hot to trot, the artist exudes a vulnerable sweetness: He may be lusting after their daughter, but he'll be a fine Southern gentleman when he meets the girl's parents, and he'll be certain to get her home on time. "Now baby please/Hang up the phone/'Cause I'm talkin' to your father," Brown sings on "Hold Up." "Mrs. Jones, Mr. Jones/I've been talkin' to your daughter/And she like me/She told me that she likes me/And I really like her/She's gonna be my wifey!"

This attitude as much as his undeniable talent as a singer and dancer is what has marked Brown for stardom, and it seems to be translating on screen as well as on album: After making his acting debut in "Stomp the Yard," Brown went on to appear in "This Christmas," (now in theaters) and he's currently developing a reality show for Nickelodeon. Is there any doubt that this young star is hoping to eclipse both Usher and Kelly in the near future? Or, as he sings in "Take You Down," "Get ready, babe/I got plans for me and you."