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— by Brandee J. Tecson

It takes some bravado to upstage a multiplatinum superstar at his own post-Grammy soiree, but Chris Brown has no qualms about stealing Usher's thunder. In fact, it can even be said the 16-year-old R&B crooner is aiming to dethrone the A-Town idol as "Mr. Entertainment."

"I just went out there on the dance floor, did my thing and they ended up putting the cameras on me," said Brown, coolly recalling his friend Usher's party. "I don't like to say it, but yeah, I stole the show that night."

With his schoolboy charm, suave good looks, slick dance moves and unwavering conviction, the comparisons between Brown and his predecessors are inevitable. The young man who hails from Tappahannock, Virginia, says he always had dreams that transcended the boundaries of his tiny hometown (population: 2,000). Even as a youngster, Brown would spend his days studying old tapes of classic artists like Sam Cooke, Teddy Pendergrass, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, gathering the tricks of the trade that would one day shape his own artistry.

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Still, Brown is quick to note that he intends to blaze his own path of glory, refusing to tread in anyone else's footsteps, no matter how iconic they may be. "I'm not trying to be Michael. There's never going to be another Michael Jackson. I'm not trying to be Usher or Mario or Omarion. I'm just trying to be Chris."

Brown's mother promoted his talents at a young age, and he began polishing his heartthrob status during recess by serenading the girls. "I don't know if they were fainting over me, but they were thinking about me by the time I left," he said.

Soon, the aspiring artist hooked up with a family friend working as a producer in Washington, D.C. After recording two tracks, Brown found himself meeting with LA Reid prior to his departure from Arista. According to Brown, the music mogul told everyone in his office, "This kid can't leave till he's signed," but when the paperwork didn't move through quickly enough, Brown boldly decided to take his talents elsewhere.

He met with Warner Bros. and Jive, signing a contract with the latter label on Christmas Eve after a bit of coaxing from a friend. "Usher called me right before I got signed and he was like, 'Whatever you do, just make sure it's the best thing for you and it benefits you 100 percent.' He was very influential to me."

Brown hit the recording studio in March and knocked out his self-titled debut in less than eight weeks, raking in the talents of Jazzy Pha, Dre & Vidal, the Underdogs, Cool & Dre, and others along the way. "I write about the things that 16 year olds go through every day, like you just got in trouble for sneaking your girl into the house, or you can't drive, so you steal a car or something," he said.

The singer's debut single, "Run It," is an up-tempo dance track produced by Scott Storch (Gwen Stefani, the Roots). Brown lays down smooth vocals amidst scorching beats: "You see, girl, I can set you off/ Don't believe that age can slow us down/ I can definitely show you things that will have you saying I can't be 16."

The Casanova-in-training jokes that the toughest part of his job is controlling himself around the ladies, which proves to be even more problematic when you've got your mama hanging around 24/7. "Sometimes I'll be like, 'Mom, chill! Can I be alone for like, 10 minutes, please?!' "

Still, Brown dedicated "Thank You," the most sentimental track on the album, to his mother. "I'm just amazed at my mom, 'cause she's been putting up with me," he said. "And I'm just proud that God has blessed me with the ability to do this."

Already a talented vocalist, songwriter and dancer, Brown hopes to add entrepreneur and actor to his budding resume. "I just want to explode on camera. I want to be selling as many records as I can and know that people know my name everywhere I go. I want to achieve greatness."

Yes, even if that means going toe-to-toe with Mr. Entertainment. So, should Usher be worried now that this ambitious newcomer has entered the game?

"I don't know," Brown grinned slyly, "but it's a problem."


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  "Run It"
   Photo: Jive