Chris Brown – Graffiti
Zomba/Jive Records

“Fall Down 7, Get Up 8”

Graffiti is taking unconventional steps to making artwork. Most use spray cans over various canvases to show themselves to the world and make them stand out as individuals. This was one of Chris Brown’s hobbies as a youngster. While rest assured he’s no longer a teen but more of an R&B star in career limbo, the main message Brown wants to make is that fans focused purely on his music and not that much publicized fallout from whatever happened back on February 8th.

Thing is, we’ve been at this crossroads before. Not with a singer with as much unlimited potential as Brown but in the frame of trying to recapture public opinion and swing it in a positive light. If R. Kelly can somehow dodge evidence that he is a well-known pisser and release a new album with the song “Pregnant” on it, then Chris Brown can release an album with a theme of being a Karate Kid right?

Well, of course not – but Graffiti, Brown’s third album is obviously his most personal and retains almost none of the bubblegum charm that was showcased on his first two albums save for maybe the lead single in “I Can Transform Ya”, another Brown collaboration with Lil’ Wayne that is club ready, coming of age teen approved and relates to a easy to access topic, swag R&B. Don’t worry, if you didn’t get enough of it with Weezy then Plies & the ever annoying DJ Khaled join the swag fun on “What I Do”.

The thing which showed Brown’s growth from his self-titled debut to Exclusive was that he was ready to transcend from just making R&B songs to creating those pop songs that could be accessed from any station on the planet. Graffiti finds itself straddling both fences at times, maybe because of the giant success “Forever” had in keeping Brown’s name in a decent light thanks to that wedding video on YouTube.

At 20, you wouldn’t expect Brown to reach for World Peace or anything subject wise and he sticks to what he knows best, having fun and winning girls hearts. “I.Y.A” doesn’t seem like it should be on the album given that Brown is showcasing his slightly growing vocal range but with auto-tune and some enthused synths, the acronym “In Your Arms” seems perfectly acceptable, even if it caters to more Top 40/Pop stations as opposed to today’s current R&B, also known as the pretty boy division of hip-hop. “Sing Like Me” however is a sure-fire new age R&B jaunt singling out a particular girl that Brown wishes could be the female version of him really.

“Crawl” is the album’s first ballad and despite it’s somewhat interesting chorus of “crawling before we walk”, it calls out to fixing everything at the beginning before rising back to where a couple was once before. Does it do the trick? In some ways it does, even though “So Cold” is a much better take on love lost. Some nifty wordplay makes “Famous Girl” the eye-opening track on the album since it basically details why Brown may have done what he done, or in other words – an ex cheated on him and broke the heart of a heartbreaker who feels that he shouldn’t have written Disturbia. If you don’t get who that song is aimed for, then shame on you.

And then the album gets sexual, something we normally question any singer/rapper who grew up young in the spotlight and basically has to grow up and be an adult.

With the assistance of R&B crooner Tank, “Take My Time” trumps his predecessor “Take You Down” or that song’s elder “Poppin’” by miles, not only in how far it actually goes in sexuality but by how much it incorporates in the song. Moaning, gazing at chicks fresh out of the shower, you name it – it’s in this song. A new bedroom staple indeed.

Trey Songz and Game (formerly known as The Game) join Brown for some more sexual fun on “Wait Your Turn”, an ode to passing a girl off or in the words of Ray J, “lettin’ her hit the homie!”. It’s standard club fare really, not exactly anything mind blowing as it’s usually what you’d expect from Songz 007 when it comes to a club track. Game thankfully leaves the name dropping just to the two other participants in the song, phew.

The personal side of Brown, the one that has dealt with the negative spotlight and wants to get away from everything shows up at the tail end of the album. “Fallin’ Down” echoes with many who feel that too much is thrust upon them when they simply want to be normal, easily one of Brown’s strongest tracks. The mid-tempo closer “I’ll Go” sounds like a rehash of John Mayer’s “Dreaming of a Broken Heart” and fittingly just ends unfinished, not with a whimper but more of a question. After trying to please you, where do I go from here?

Thankfully, Breezy didn’t let anything derail him from making a solid comeback album. For when it’s all said and down, a lot of people will consider this just that given his previous standing in R&B at the tail end of last year. With nobody else making any ground breaking transitions or movements, Chris’ seat as the up and coming male pop star/entertainer du jour hasn’t been abdicated at all.

He just had to step away and find himself really.

STANDOUTS: Fallin’ Down, I’ll Go, Sing Like Me, I Can Transform Ya, Take My Time, Lucky Me

DUDS: Pass Out, Famous Girl