Chris Brown is returning to his R&B roots, with a taste of hip-hop, on his upcoming sixth studio album, X, and as we've come to expect from his controversial public persona, he's not holding anything back.
Last week, MTV News had a chance to sit down with Brown in a Southern California studio during a listening session for the album. As we took in the new material, Breezy explained why he's through trying to explain himself via social media and is ready to let his music do all the talking.
"I think it's smarter as an entertainer and as a leader," he said, trying to leave behind last year's Twitter tussle with a female comedian and February's lengthy Instagram rant. "I have to think logically. When I'm too attainable, it makes me too down. Now I express it through my music and through my paintings as well. What I want to talk about comes out, and the beat fills in the rest. All of it coexists with my reality now. I'm an open book. I think the way my life is, people want to know all the time, so I have to let them know through my music."
As for his army of critics, he's tuning them out: "I'm saying, 'You can start a fight, but why? I came to party. Why trip off the bullsh-- when I'm on the good sh--?' "
Brown's demeanor was pleasant — upbeat, even — as he danced in his seat and sang along to his new songs. He was proud to share the new material, and for good reason. The tracks place his sweet-sounding voice up against huge beats, taking us from old-school, soul-inspired sounds to the heart-pounding, uncontainable recklessness of trap-step.
The first single, "Fine China," was penned with Philly-based producer Diplo, who also helped perfect Brown's 2011 hit "Look at Me Now." In the instantly infectious heartbreak song, the hard-hitting bass line carries Brown's aching voice through a mesmerizing melody. Noticeably absent are the over-produced, Auto-Tune-aided hooks that permeated his previous releases. Instead, we're reminded of the cute kid with the heart-melting voice who burst onto the scene in 2004.
"For the first single, I wanted to go more nostalgic, bring Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Sam Cooke to it, but also bring a new sound to what my audience and fans are listening to," he said. "For this album, I wanted to have the same mentality as I did with the first album — me being green, me not thinking I know what's hot and what's next, me just being Chris Brown. I think this will show my vocal ability a lot more. I've developed a falsetto, I can sing at a higher register, and I can elaborate more on my skill."
A departure from those teen-dream days, however, is his rhyming skill. The single features Brown spitting some verses that rival the best MCs in the game. While we're still getting used to hearing him rap, Brown said he's had the knack all along.
"It's funny, because I tried to get my record deal as an MC first, and when they heard me sing on the choruses, they wanted me to sing," he said. "You don't want to say something another rapper has said or come off like you're trying to produce a punch line. It's about being a lyricist and being clever about what you say. I don't try to spit the hardest sixteen's, it's just me being clever with my poetic side, that's where it derives from."
Despite his return to the mic, he's still enlisting the help of some famous friends for a few features. While he's keeping a majority of his collabo wish-list under wraps, Brown revealed that Kendrick Lamar will lend a verse to "Autumn Leaves," one of the smoothest songs on the album. "If you're in your car just riding, it's perfect. It just feels like a weather record — an emotional record," he said of the slowed-down selection with a bass line that sounds like a heartbeat. "I feel a certain way when I hear it."
"Add Me In" is a cute, clever offering that makes mathematics a metaphor for love. "Your love is trigonometry/ Just trying to solve the whole equation," he sings on the track. Produced by Danja, it's more of a throwback with an industrial sound that Brown calls "old-school with a new-age feel."
Also produced by Diplo, the title track is an enigma from the start, blending 808s with a trance-like, dubstep buildup. "If you're only as good as the company you keep/ I'll keep my secrets in a safe house," he coos before the building beat drops and he declares, "I swear to God, I'm moving on!'
"It's a pop song, but it's still hip-hop," Brown said of "X." "Pop producers added hip hop to it to make it more epic."
So if X marks the spot when the project is released in August, what's behind that cryptic title?
"The song and the album title 'X' has a couple different meanings," he explained. "It can refer to an ex-girlfriend, in terms of you always look forward to moving forward from. It's also about being a reject in a sense. In me being myself, being able to grow up, me not always hanging around the right crowd or doing the right thing all the time — it's me saying, 'I'm over it. I'm past the bullsh-- now.' "
What are you expecting from Chris Brown's new project? Let us know in the comments!