's fourth album, F.A.M.E
., is scheduled for release on March 22. Its leak date has already arrived. In anticipation of its official release, I'm revisiting Brown's previous release -- Graffiti
, from November 2009 -- which was critically mauled, yet one I found to be an incredible step forward for an artist that has become one of the most polarizing members of not only the music community, but the country.
Some reviews from well-respected music critics:
Jody Rosen, Rolling Stone
: 2.5 stars (of five)
Pete Paphides, The Times
: 2 stars (of five)
Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times
: 1.5 stars (of four)
Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
: 1 star (of four)
Jim DeRogatis, Chicago Sun-Times
: 1 star (of four)
Eric Henderson, Slant Magazine
: 1.5 stars (of five)
Andy Kellman, Allmusic.com: 1 star (of five)
Michaelangelo Matos, The A.V. Club: F
Rich Mayor, Gowhere Hip Hop: 4.5 stars (of five)
The general population doesn't like Chris Brown, and maybe they shouldn't. It's difficult for anyone who's seen the TMZ photo
of Rihanna, beaten, bruised and (yes) bitten by Brown to find remorse for the (young) man.
After this incident, Brown's talent, which had been lauded as comparable to early-Michael Jackson
(FF to 4:17 for tribute), took a backseat. Over two years removed from their altercation, he's still paying for it. And he very well should.
So it's extremely difficult to focus on the music, to separate the man from the art. But isn't that what a critic is supposed to do? Because with or without the incident Brown, now only 21, is a young man with a lot of growth, both musically and mentally, ahead.
Upon its release, Graffiti
was critically panned. And by "panned," I mean absolutely mutilated. Of the dozen-plus reviews I've read, he maxed out at 2.5 stars of 4. He received some "F" grades, some "1 of 5" ratings (as you can see above). On Metacritic
, the "Rotten Tomatoes" of music, the album received a score of 39 of 100, signaling "generally unfavorable reviews," a gross understatement if I'd ever read one.
Most reviews dripped with hatred of the man, thus carrying over into intense disdain for the music. It was "bland, occasionally obnoxious" (Rolling Stone
), "a simply below-average collection of paint-by-numbers R&B beats" (Slant Magazine
). The lyrics were seen as not only poor, but complete fabrications. Jim DeRogatis of the Sun-Times
finished his review with this flurry: "Sometimes, great art is made by reprehensible human beings, and squaring the two is enormously difficult. Thankfully, that problem isn't nearly as thorny when reprehensible human beings make art that is thoroughly mediocre and at times just garbage."
Brown was a monster, and anything he said, sang or created was a reflection of that. There wasn't a genuine bone in his body.
My appreciation for the album hinges primarily on my disagreement with the previous sentence. What Brown did to one of America's sweethearts was reprehensible. But was he lying each and every time he apologized, both rehearsed
? Rihanna has "forgiven" him and moved on
; is that not enough? Why are music critics -- who are paid to give unbiased critiques -- so insistent on trashing his music to prove their hatred for him? It's irresponsible, and honestly, discouraging.
Upon hearing Graffiti
for the first time -- on a leak, which came before all the scathing reviews -- I knew I was hearing something different. It was a kid my age who had made a terrible mistake and had only just begun to pay for it. It showed an incredible talent at a crossroads in his life, a boy attempting to become a man in the burning, despising eye of the American fishbowl. It was a hodgepodge of feelings, conflicting thoughts of lost love, extreme regret and the desire to, much like any 19-year-old, have a good time.
It was an artistic expression of the greatest kind. Much like Kanye West in his universally-acclaimed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
, Brown's mind was everywhere. He didn't know how to feel, couldn't narrow it down. So he let it all out. The album itself is far from a cohesive unit - but each of the songs are. And in that, the album makes a statement that we, as human beings, can relate to at our cores.
"Crawl" and "So Cold" are melodic, slow-churning, modern-R&B masterpieces of regret and internal turmoil. "Famous Girl" is a riveting commentary of mutual fault, contributing to the end of his and Rihanna's relationship. In it, he suggests that they both cheated during their time together. Ah, the perils of young celebrity love. "Take My Time" contains one of the most graphic sexual-moaning outros you'll hear today (can't say he's not attempting to push the envelope). "I.Y.A." and the Steve Winwood-sampling "Pass Out" are pop gems with nods to the 1980s. "I'll Go" and "Fallin' Down" are simple, vocally-impressive confessionals, the latter of which is Brown at his most human. And "Lucky Me" is the best of all, a building commentary of life in the spotlight when, quite frankly, being hated by everyone.
Perhaps you despise Chris Brown and always will -- what he did is impossible to erase -- but has enough time passed? His prodigious talent means he won't be going anywhere anytime soon. Are you ready to forgive him? Because in this never-forgiving, Brown-boycotting mindset, you likely let this gem slip under your radar. You may have missed a classic.
Must-hear: "So Cold," "Crawl," "Famous Girl," "Pass Out," "Lucky Me"