After dropping a critically acclaimed self-titled debut album in 2005 that was deeply rooted in R&B, CHRIS BROWN was quickly given the daunting task of spearheading a new generation of a genre that houses such greats as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. In 2008, though, Brown released “Forever” – his first real venture into crossing over into the mainstream and the pop/dance/electro hit shot him into superstardom. Many felt this success signified the end of his career as an R&B artist and haven’t given him much acknowledgment in the genre since. I feel like this debate will always be relevant because Michael Jackson is considered one of the greatest of all time and he’s deemed The King of Pop yet his name is thrown in plenty of R&B conversations; Brown has traveled a similar path but is slandered constantly whenever he’s nominated at award ceremonies in the R&B categories.
God forbid he actually win an award, but he did in 2012 when he snagged the Grammy for Best R&B Album for 2011’s F.A.M.E. and beat out El Debarge, Ledisi, Kelly Price and R. Kelly. People said Chris hasn’t been R&B since he first came out and that he shouldn’t claim the genre at all; I think that’s extremely unfair especially considering his catalogue is full of R&B gems that are hidden for some reason – until now. With his sixth album, X, slated for a summer release Chris has said that this album will revisit the vibe his debut effort held and many are skeptical that he’s able to pull this off.
So much music has been recorded but the masses have never gotten to hear them for whatever reason. Industry politics are a bitch but I’m here to bring the best of the best from CB’s resume so you’re not so lost out there – here we go!
10.) “Submarine” (2010) – A song that has him recounting where he went wrong to make his woman walk away, Chris spoke his heart and he spoke it to a jazzy, shoulder bopping beat that, if performed live, would have his feet moving in some way. No rapping, no cursing – just a voice and a beat. That’s what R&B is and “Submarine” displayed just that.
9.) “Calypso” (2012) – This Polow Da Don-produced promotional single was released ahead of Brown’s fifth LP Fortune in the summer of 2012 and was the lowkey cookout song for the scorching months. With backing vocals that were strongly reminiscent of a Mike Jackson in his prime, Brown had no problem enticing young ladies to just give into him and his harmless advances. He just wants to find out what you like, girl.
8.) “Erased” (2008) – This is actually songwriter Andre Merritt’s song which features Brown and is included in a collection of other compositions that the pair worked on in 2008. “Erased” has an electric production but the vocals – with a dash of Auto-Tune sprinkled in – were all R&B. Andre and Brown proved to be an awesome force, continuing their partnership (along with Rob Allen, who wrote “Erased”) after smashing the charts with 2008’s “Forever” and Rihanna’s “Disturbia” with “Pass Out” featuring Eva Simons on 2009’s Graffiti. I would love to see these guys work together again – they’ve made some great stuff together thus far.
7.) “Diagnosed With Love” (2008) – This was the year of unreleased gold from Brown as “Diagnosed With Love” surfaced online and blew fans over. It’s your standard R&B ballad with crooning, a gentle piano melody underneath a lovelorn teenager who doesn’t have the slightest idea how he got himself in the “predicament” he’s in. Produced by Bryan Michael-Cox, “Diagnosed With Love” wouldn’t have fit on Exclusive by any means but it would have been nice to hear this on the radio.
6.) “Back2Back” (2008) – Brown sang his heart out on this scorned boyfriend track that details just how much he didn’t want to argue anymore. Seems like Bryan Michael-Cox was onto something, producing this as well from the sound of it, and he’s had a history of pulling the R&B singer from within Brown with past works like “Say Goodbye” and “Winner” from Brown’s 2005 debut album. Studio reunion for Bryan and Chris? I’d support that.
5.) “That Somebody” (2010) – This mid-tempo song was a bit on the stalkerish side, not even gonna lie. Calling somebody with your number blocked … for a week? At least he ‘fessed up and hopefully it worked out for Chris in the end. Besides all that, this is a great R&B song: no Auto-Tune, no extra techno production – just his vocals and a jazzy two-step beat that almost makes you forget the lyrics. I’m sure he doesn’t have to do this anymore – hopefully. I’ll take another song similar to this, though.
4.) “I May Never Find” (2005) – The day this song came into my life, I never wanted it to leave. Years later, I discovered that IMNF is actually on the B-Side of Brown’s debut single, “Run It!” and what a contrast this was. It may have been his most heartfelt ballad from that era, a tender composition that has Brown singing his lady’s praises with him admitting that there will never be another like her. It was beautiful and R&B in its purest form. As he says in this song, I had to savor every moment of this. Perfection. PERFECTION.
3.) “Another You” (2010) – Kevin McCall came in CB’s life a short time before the release of In My Zone, Chris’s first mixtape effort in 2010. The songwriter/producer quickly gave us the gift of R&B tracks the way our older siblings and younger aunts remembered it to be – one gem being “Another You” from 2010’s In My Zone 2. Everything about this song screams soul: the production, the lyrics, the vocal arrangement. The fact that this isn’t brought up in conversations about Chris’s catalogue is a travesty.
2.) “Open Road (I Love Her)” (2011) – We were this close to having one of the most profound songs of CB’s career on an actual album to shut naysayers down but due to a leak, that was a no-go. In the summer of 2011, “Open Road (I Love Her)” leaked in its entirety and as butt-hurt as I was that it wouldn’t appear on 2012’s Fortune, I’m just glad that I know it actually exists. Yes, there is a smidge of Auto-Tune sprinkled in there but the song itself is marvelous – and I don’t use that word at all. It’s autobiographical and you almost feel like an intruder for listening but it tells your story as well so he gets points for relating to you. I think I love this song – no, I actually know for sure. Thank you CB.
1.) “Froze” (2008) – The greatest song in Chris Brown’s discography – fight me if you think otherwise. Written by JordyWrites and said to be produced by Hit-Boy and Chase N Cashe, “Froze” is the perfect culmination of heartache blending in with a new generation R&B production that still speaks to the soul culture. It was supposed to appear on 2009’s Graffiti but was passed up due to it unlawfully surfacing online. Damn shame because this would have ruled the airwaves and MAY have been the push that album needed to be more successful. Never underestimate the power of a good song and “Froze” is more than just a good song.
So what have we learned here today? Chris CAN do R&B and he can do it well – he just chooses to be flexible and diverse in what he makes. What’s so wrong with that?