Chris Brown emerged in 2005 with “Run It,” which was basically a rip-off of Usher’s “Yeah.” But he’s a talented performer in his own right, even appearing in a few movies (Stomp the Yard). His sophomore album, Exclusive, is pretty much what we should expect from an eighteen-year old major-label R&B singer: up-tempo beats from hot producers, hip-hop swagger, high-profile guest stars, cheesy ballads. Aside from a charming turn from Brown himself, what mainly keeps it afloat are the A-list collaborators.
Chris Brown is definitely not a singer — none of Exclusive’s sixteen tracks reach the vocal power of Usher or even Justin Timberlake. But this is contemporary R&B, not classic soul. Brown has the perfect formula to reach club-hopping teenyboppers. Opener “Throwed” has a vibe infused by D.C. gogo, and the list of guests is impressive: T-Pain, Will.I.Am, Big Boi, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, the Game, Scott Storch, Jazze Pha. The best tracks, specifically “Picture Perfect,” with its rapid-fire verses and pounding 808 and synthesizer stabs, and “Gimme What You Got,” a slinky number that rides twinkling electronic effects, are creatively constructed, great pop songs.
Brown is more sincere and less arrogant than many of his contemporaries, something that shines through. Lyrics like “I’m genuine with it/ I ain’t trying to put no pimping in it” (“Hold Up”) play up his fresh-faced youth, a welcome change from all the bad-boy, sex-crazed talk we usually see in R&B lately. (I’m looking at you, T-Pain.)
Like most club-oriented R&B, the ballads fall short. They suffer from lame, redundant, and derivative production. Those Stargate guys keep recycling Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable”; this time they have repackaged it into a track called “With You.”
Brown is riding on the coattails of artists greater than he is, but he is clearly a talented performer who can deliver high-octane club hits. And as Exclusive shows, he also has a knack for teaming up with the right collaborators.