When Rocker Lenny Kravitz had a very public split with his former wife and actress Lisa Benet he released the album Mama Said soon after. It was an album filled with the emotions of loss, longing, and regret. Marvin Gaye’s 1978 album, Here, My Dear, was dedicated to his ex-wife who after a very public and messy divorce was awarded all proceeds of that particular album. Artists throughout the decades, who face these private situations turn public, have the choice of articulating them through their craft or moving on privately. Fans and media alike wait eagerly for their choices, ready to interpret every lyric on the album. Chris Brown’s Graffiti is his first project since the platinum, family-friendly singer's epic fall from grace. With his split with Rihanna making Brown a public villain, he approaches Graffiti with the tricky task of singing honestly while remaining true to his craft. Will his fan base stick by him? Will he get a second chance? All those questions are irrelevant if the hit-maker is unable to deliver a solid project.
The album starts with the single, “I can Transform Ya.” Swizz Beatz handles the production and comes through with a banger. Unfortunately, Lil Wayne’s guest appearance along with Chris Brown’s insistence on singing every cliche lyric ever written kills the track. Brown, from the start, wants Graffiti to appear as if its a party. The party pauses quickly though, considering he slows it down considerably with the following three songs. The catchy “Sing For You” has Top 40 appeal, but is poorly placed behind the first single. “Crawl” which is easily is the album's best effort and perhaps the best writing of Brown's career is the show-stopper. He tackles the Rihanna situation directly with potent lyrics, like “Everybody sees it’s you / I’m the one that lost the view / everybody says we’re through / I hope you haven’t said it too.” He delivers the songs solid metaphor with his best vocals of the project. If he can hold his crown as R&B’s prince, this song will be what propels him onto radios across every market. This track could easily be the “Bleeding Heart” of the next six months. “So Cold” is next and it again tackles the looming presence of the album. Though the Auto-Tune use comes in the year that may have deaded the trend, Brown uses it selectively, as singers have done with echo and the layering of vocals. He could do without it, but it doesn’t discredit the effort whatsoever.
Rihanna is all but mentioned on “Famous Girl.” It is certain to have gossip sites and bloggers breaking down every line but the listener can appreciate Brown’s honesty. The album closes with a building ballad entitled “I’ll Go.” Vocally, Chris continues to show growth and does a fairly successful job at translating emotion. As an artist, it is clear that he takes his craft serious and it is easy to forget that he is indeed only 20 years old. With his youth intact and his ability to entertain a given, the poignant songwriting and the improved vocals show the potential that this young man still has.
The up-tempo, pop crossover efforts are scattered throughout the project. Some, like “I.Y.A.” sound like a Auto-Tuned Ready For The World club remix, while “Pass Out” has a pounding bass line and Dance-inspired lyrics, that have strictly a rave feel. The track works to a degree, but the production and artist don’t seem like a natural fit. Clearly, Chris Brown had crossover intentions with the album. Besides three or four songs, he strays from his R&B beginnings. When he does, guests like Plies are tough to listen to, while Game shines on “Wait.” Like his ex, Brown walks the line between Pop and R&B, with more emphasis on the former this album. The 20 year-old surrounds himself with some of the most talented producers, and writers, and assists in easily the most consistent and best lyrics of his young career.
It’s a commendable effort from one of R&B’s youngest singers. The album's individual tracks are greater than the sum of the parts. Brown is stuck between the past and the future, popping a bottle of champagne or sipping cognac alone. He approaches what easily is one of the most difficult public situations that any performer will have to endure and does so with maturity unforeseen. It is clear that he is evolving as an artist and hopefully a man, and Graffiti may be the bridge between where he was and where he is going.