A lot has been made of Chris Brown‘s uncommon grace as a dancer (the frenetic flips, the footloose floor work) but really, it’s his way with a ballad that makes it so hard to count out the ever-embattled Brown, even when his fiercest critics were closing the book on his career. With his album Fortune set to hit e-tailers on Tuesday and laced with slow-burners, we spoke to the chart-topper about what keeps him coming back … and couldn’t help but look back on a key track.
In November 2009, it was dark days for the once -squeaky-clean teen sensation from Leesburg, Virgina. The singer had made dust of his relationship with Rihanna during a brutal pre-Grammy assualt on the Bajan star. Still flailing in a public purgatory after a spate of ill-concieved attempts at saying he was sorry, Brown released “Crawl,” off his album Graffiti. Like the LP, the Messengers-produced single was mostly brushed aside by the mainstream music media, but the achy power ballad had been built to melt hearts, and it managed to touch a few.
Throwing himself at the feet of his (unnamed) ex, Brown offers a three-step plan to repair the damage he’s done: “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 wind/ So let’s crawl, crawl, crawl back to love.” The then-20-year-old’s tenor is just slightly raspy, his ad libs in the final stretch stirring. It was Brown pleading not just for his lady, but for his Team Breezy faithful. An adoring army of fans, some perhaps too eager to forgive Brown any trangressions, pushed the song like a boulder up a steep hill, landing it halfway up the Billboard Hot 100, and the accompanying album in the top 10 on the album charts, most notably at #1 on the R&B list. That trajectory was underscored on Sunday night when Brown took home the prize for Best Male R&B Artist at the 2012 BET Awards.
When we caught up with Chris last month, we asked him why it was important to include rhythm-and-blues jams like “Don’t Judge Me” and “Sweet Love” on his F.A.M.E. follow-up, especially when he’s been on his MC thing.
“It was important for me to go back to the basis of what people love me for, and that was my R&B,” Chris explained. “You know, the ‘crooner’ kind of record,” he added with a smile. “So, on this album, you get to see the different textures within Chris Brown. But I think all in all, you get that R&B guy again, you get the love songs and the more intimate songs.”
The “Deuces” singer’s love life has of course been grist for the blogs, but the Garmmy winner also sees these slow-and steady tunes, whether melancholy or romantic, as an opportunity to weigh in on his own narrative.
“Me being 23 now, I get a chance to be more mature and adult, but at the same time still cater to my younger audience,” he told us.
And as for whether Quiet Storm staples are in danger of extinction, Brown was emphatic.
“That’s why I’m here. That’s why we have [The-]Dream; we have the Ne-Yos and Trey Songz and people who still are passioinate about music and singing.”
Are you excited to hear Fortune? Tell us in the comments.