Chris Brown is a multi-talented artist who is rarely out of the news for many different reasons. He was born in 1989 and grew up in Tappahannock, Virginia. Early musical influences came from the local church, where he sang in the choir, and from the R & B and soul music that his parents listened to: Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and other classics of the genre. The boy’s musical talent was spotted by his mother. She helped him to make contact with people who could guide his career in music. Unfortunately, this stable childhood was interrupted by parental divorce. As a teenager, Chris Brown was to witness domestic violence against his mother, at the hands of her new partner.
Many of Chris Brown’s songs deal with the joy and pain of love, and they reflect the troubles that young people have to overcome in a world that can be violent and unforgiving. Some of them have an up-tempo beat from the night-club scene, while others are more fluid and lyrical. Rap, soul, and commercial pop sounds occur together, sometimes revealing a surprisingly smooth and yet innovative blend.
First and foremost, Chris Brown is a singer-song writer. His debut single, “Run It” was a phenomenal success in the U.S., going straight to number 1 in the charts in 2004. A series of similarly chart-topping singles followed, helped by his move to New York and his collaboration with the Jive label. The first album, entitled simply “Chris Brown” was a sensation. It featured material written by some of the same authors who had helped Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake achieve world-wide appreciation. During this time, Chris Brown was often compared with Michael Jackson. His lyrical voice and infectious smile made him very popular with his fans. At the same time, Brown displayed a huge talent for dance, using and adapting Michael Jackson’s moves for a younger audience. He was able to blend old and new in an exciting, relevant combination that was a huge hit with younger audiences.
Chris Brown’s early musical style was firmly in the hip-hop genre, and he enjoyed another number 1 single success with “Kiss Kiss” in 2007. This track featured established rapper T-Pain. The American high-school vibe of the official video confirmed his status as a teenage idol. The second album “Exclusive” consolidated his position as one of the most exciting younger musicians in the hip-hop community. By this stage, Chris Brown’s talents as a dancer and actor, as well as a rapper and singer, were opening doors to a career in film and television. There seemed no limit to the potential that he could bring to so many different entertainment genres.
Preparations for releasing his third album “Graffiti” in 2009 were interrupted by legal issues relating to his assault of Rihanna, who was his girlfriend at that time. There was an understandable backlash against Chris Brown. Many radio stations refused to play his songs. After a pause of several months, during which Brown expressed his remorse, his career took off again. There was just no holding him back. Several records, films and television appearances quickly followed. The music developed too, stepping out of the confines of hip-hop and reaching into the wider international pop scene.
Popular success was matched by numerous industry awards. He won a Grammy award in 2012 for “F.A.M.E”, which was his fourth album. This is a creative mix of different styles, including a lyrical duet with Justin Bieber and a pure rap number with Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes. Further albums including “Fortune” (2012), “X” (2014) and “Royalty” (2015) have also been well received by critics and public alike. Chris Brown has a huge following on social media, with many millions of followers on various channels, including YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. Chris Brown truly does cross over many boundaries, and this explains his phenomenal success.
There is a clear evolution in this artist’s work, showing that he is aware of the need to keep his output fresh, and break new barriers in all aspects of each production. Part of his longevity in a notoriously fickle business comes from his ability to be flexible and adapt to different influences and styles. Since 2011, Chris Brown has therefore featured on a huge number of mix tapes and collaborations with stars, including Rihanna, T-Pain, Pitbull, Rita Ora and many others. These other artists add something to his work, just as he brings a vibrant edge to theirs. They keep each other relevant, and these collaborations provide a fascinating mix of styles and images to entertain an increasingly broad range of fans.
The familiar themes of street life, drugs, drinking, girls and dancing have always featured strongly in Chris Brown’s work. However, more recently Brown has produced some quite different material, expressing a more responsible kind of love. His song “Little More” (2015) expresses his devotion to his little daughter: “Like a better me you put back my energy and making me stronger, bring out the best of me”. This serious approach to fatherhood, and his continued courage in the face of adversity, add a soulful dimension to his music that is quite distinctive. Masculine strength and fatherly tenderness characterise this song. The official video offers a deeper insight into the complex psychology of this gifted young man.
Despite his acknowledged difficulties with relationships and with the justice system, Chris Brown continues to make a phenomenal contribution to music, film and dance. The best of him is surely yet to come. Of all the troubled stars of our time, he is the one who has shown that he can learn from his mistakes. In fact, he uses them to inspire his prodigious talent for creating new and relevant music, dance and film. After every fall, he rises again, and rebuilds his life with the kind of hard-earned wisdom that comes from failure, loss and determination to do better next time. Sometimes it is hard to remember that he is still a young man, struggling to overcome the demons of his past. With growing maturity, his work will surely change, and this is one of the reasons why Chris Brown is likely to be a rising star for many years to come.