Monday, December 7, 2009

Chris Brown's Messy Masterpiece: "Graffiti"

Graffiti is an appropriate summation of Chris Brown as an artist thus far. Born of contemporary street culture, it can appear disposable. Further examination shows graffiti as an art like any other.

This is Chris Brown. A contemporary hustler at a glance, peel back the surface to discover swirls of Michael Jackson and Usher (think "U Remind Me"). Imagine what Graffiti, Chris Brown's third outing, would have been without the fallout from his domestic abuse incident with R&B-pop waif Rihanna. No one can know, but Graffiti is an album of modernist R&B properties. Brown manages to address his recent ills and push Graffiti forward outside of that context. He trademarks his uptempo vigor on the future funk of "I Can Transform Ya," featuring producer Swizz Beatz, and rap urchin Lil' Wayne. "Wait," a jangly groover is sure to reverberate through any and all car speakers in the approaching 2010 summer season. "Sing Like Me" is Brown at his bedroom best whereas "Famous Girl," a colorful shuffler, hides a bittersweet sentiment lyrically. That sentiment appears readily on "Crawl," a highlight where Brown emotionally stretches his legs.

Brown takes tentative steps on the verses toward the explosive imploring chorus: "If we crawl, till we can walk again, then we'll run until we're strong enough to jump. Then we'll fly, until there is no end. So lets crawl, crawl, crawl, back to love." " The lonely "Fallin' Down" displays a healthy amount of vulnerability and "I'll Go" nearly matches "Crawl" in intensity. A deluxe edition includes six additional songs, all surprisingly sturdy. On "I Love U," one can hear Brown's boyish smile riding the goofy, romantic accordion sample.

Stumbles do crop up on Graffiti with the clumsy "Pass Out" and the semi-spellcaster "Take My Time." Both songs feature unneeded collaborations (Eva Simmons and Tank), Brown can carry his own album. Brown's statement in "Lucky Me," "I'm finally becoming a man, now I've got a bigger show to do," has him facing a difficult transition into adulthood. That Brown is willing to share the bumpy journey makes Graffiti's softer sides real.

Directed By: Joseph Kahn

Graffiti, like the aforementioned art and Chris Brown are not perfect. Perfection isn't the aim, instead Graffiti wins in its mixture of confidence and curiosity. Look for more from Chris Brown in the future, a work in progress. Four stars out of five.-QH

[Editor's Note: For more information on Chris Brown, visit]

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