Chris Brown – Graffiti [Album Review]

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The much anticipated new release from Chris Brown was always going to be surrounded by controversy.  After his well publicised assault on former girlfriend Rihanna, Chris’s fan base has become divided over whether he can ever be forgiven and whether his career can ever recover.  It is almost impossible to hear a Chris Brown track now without the accompanying association with domestic violence; the release of a new album from the R&B star for many is still an unpalatable prospect.  However, it really has to be said that musically Graffiti is a strong offering from Brown.  You can not deny his talent both as a vocalist and songwriter – Chris Brown has a gift for writing interesting melody lines, hooks and possesses a stylistic vocal quality that is uniquely him.

The first single to be released from the album, the Swizz Beatz produced “I Can Transform Ya” featuring Lil Wayne, is also the opening track and is a solid catchy mid-tempo R&B/Hip Hop tune that is much better than its number 20 peak on the billboard chart might suggest.  The rest of the album, however, takes on a more personal tone and at times describes explicit details of his relationship with Rihanna.  This is evident particularly on the songs “Crawl” and Polow Da Don production “So Cold”.  Both tracks lyrically allude to the fact they are written about Rihanna. On these tracks Brown comes across as genuinely regretful and humble.

However the singer literally changes his tune on Ryan Leslie produced track “Famous Girl”.  If the former tracks hint at their subject matter then this track confirms the fact with the lines, “I might have cheated in the beginning” and “I was wrong for writing Disturbia”, the song that he famously wrote for Rihanna.  On the same track Chris name checks a host of contemporaries including Keri Hilson, Keysha Cole, Beyonce and Jasmine Sullivan with the line “Keri would’ve said my love knocks her down, Keysha would’ve told me I was sent from heaven.  Sorry, B, I don’t wear no halo, You were the first to play the game, though”. Lyrically, the track gets more sinister and revealing as it goes on with the line “Sorry I bust the windows out your car” – perhaps in reference to another violent incident involving him and Rihanna.

It’s not surprising that Chris Brown would use this album as a form of catharsis – and lyrically there is a real depth to some of these songs. There is an overall dark feel to the subject matter of the album.  A guest appearance from Sean Paul on Scott Storch produced bonus track “Brown Skin Girl” breaks up the overall heavy tone of the album and helps to make the project more accessible – as does the lush and emotive ballad “I Need This” which was penned for Chris by upcoming UK singer/songwriter Jessie.  Other guest features on the album include appearances from Tank, Trey Songz, Game, Plies and Dutch reality TV pop star Eva Simons (ironically, best known for “Silly Boy” – a song “for women who are treated badly by their partners”).

Overall this is a lyrically and musically strong album. Personal issues aside, Graffiti stands up.  However it is impossible to talk about this album without commenting on the circumstances and situations behind it as they are the very subject matter that has inspired the album.  It would be nice to think that everyone deserves a second chance in life, only time will tell.

Graffiti is out today on Jive Records.

Written by Chris O’Gorman

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