Chris Brown - Graffiti

Posted December 7, 2009
Tags: Chris Brown,

As much as we might want to, we can’t completely separate the artist and the person. We...

Graffiti Album Review

As much as we might want to, we can’t completely separate the artist and the person. We didn’t love Tupac just because he made incredible hip-hop, we loved him because of who he was as a man; a thug, a poet, a complex human being who wasn’t afraid to reveal his flaws in his music. Similarly, America didn’t fall head over heels for Chris Brown just because of Forever. No, America adored him because he reminded us of a young MJ or Usher, a teenager on the verge of manhood whose wholesome image and camera ready smile made teenage girls everywhere hyperventilate. So while some critics are determined to slam his new album Graffiti based solely on his personal failings, and others are set on reviewing it as if he never brutally assaulted Rihanna, we’re going to have to consider Graffiti both for what is says about Chris Brown as an artist, and as a person.

Deep personal pain can push an artist to tremendous heights. Back to Black was so gripping because you could hear Amy Winehouse’s struggle against drug addiction in every note, and more notably, Rihanna’s Rated R wouldn’t have been as dark and emotionally raw had that painful night in Los Angeles never happened. Disappointingly, Graffiti reveals only that Chris Brown is a shallow and occasionally spiteful young man who seems incapable both of serious introspection and of channeling his personal experiences into music. Brown should have either ignored the assault entirely and simply made enjoyable music, or delved into it deeply (as Rihanna did), but instead Graffiti attempts to do both, and fails twice.

If Brown had gone the “I’m going to ignore the drama and just make music” route Graffiti would sound a lot more like I Can Tranform Ya, the album’s most successful single to date featuring an appropriately robotic beat from Swizzy, decent verses from Wayne and half-sung, half-rapped vocals from Brown. There’s nothing particularly remarkably about Transform, it’s enjoyable and not much more, and that’s perfectly fine. The same goes for Sing Like Me, a more laid back track featuring Brown getting his grown man on over some quasi-Oriental production. Unfortunately, even in the guilty pleasure department Graffiti has some serious stumbles, most notably the incredibly clichéd, swagged-out What I Do and the “please jesus tell me Lupe Fiasco isn’t actually on this travesty” Girlfriend, a terrible track featuring the most annoying production since LOL Smiley Face. Rihanna aside, Graffiti doesn’t have a hit even approaching Kiss Kiss or Wall to Wall on it.

What stops Graffiti from being simply a forgettable pop/r&b album are those moments when Brown does choose to address Rihanna, either indirectly or directly. The best of this bunch is Crawl, a lush ballad that while lyrically immature in its pleas for forgiveness is easily the album’s best purely musical offering. Brown’s voice lacks the soulfulness needed to make Crawl truly great, a problem that also drags down So Cold. But while songs like these are decent but ultimately shallow attempts at examining his past relationship, unfortunately there are a handful of tracks on Graffiti that are at the least narcissistic and at the most infuriating. The least offensive of these is Famous Girl, a track Brown unwisely seizes as an opportunity to accuse Rihanna of cheating on him first (as if that justifies the assault). Still, I’d take Famous Girl any day over Lucky Me and Fallin Down, two tracks Brown uses to portray himself as a victim, at one point in Lucky Me openly saying “whatever money can buy I got it,” and then moments later earnestly complaining about being forced to go to photo shoots, as if America somehow wants to hear a spoiled, rich superstar complain about how hard he has it. Even if the rest of the album was incredible, which it’s not, Fallin Down and Lucky Me are such egregious mistakes they make Graffiti almost unlistenable. I hope someday he’s doing one of those Save the Children commercials in Africa and Lucky Me comes on in the background, and some little African child kicks him in the shin. It there is a God, this will happen.

Chris Brown doesn’t want or need my advice, but this is my review so he’s getting it. He should have laid low, let the fervor die down and dropped a Rihanna-free Graffiti in the summer. Instead he’s back too soon, and he’s going to pay the price. Brown will always have a hardcore group of urban fans who will stick with him, at least until he completely loses his teen appeal, but the mainstream America that once made him a superstar has left him behind, and on Graffiti he doesn’t give them any reason to come back.

DJBooth Rating - 2 Spins

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Posted December 7, 2009
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