Less than two years ago, he was the 16-year-old boy next door, a teenager from the small town of Tappahannock, VA (population: 2,000), with a world of talent and big dreams, fueled by the artists he grew up with, from Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder and Donnie Hathaway to Michael Jackson and Usher.
Now, with the release of Exclusive, his sophomore album for Jive Records, Chris Brown is ready to take his place alongside those heroes.
"Exclusive is something that not everybody can get," he says, explaining the title. "I feel it's an album especially for my fans. It's not for the critics or the haters‚Ä¶ or people that get it just to fit in. It's only for those who truly want to hear my music."
Exclusive is the follow-up to his self-titled debut, released in November 2005, which debuted at 2 in Billboard and was recently certified double-platinum, having sold 1.9 million copies in the U.S. and more than three million worldwide.
The CD spawned the 1 Scott Storch-produced smash "Run It!" (featuring Juelz Santana), the Top 10 pop singles "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)" and "Gimme That," along with the Top 20 "Say Goodbye." Brown's year was capped off with a pair of Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best R&B Contemporary Album in addition to a nationally televised performance on Awards night with Lionel Richie and Smokey Robinson singing a medley of their respective hits. He also nabbed a Soul Train award (Best R&B/Soul New Artist), two BET awards (Best New Artist, Viewer's Choice), a Teen Choice honor (Choice Music Breakout Artist Male), three Billboard Awards (Artist, Male Artist and New Artist of the Year) and an NAACP Image Award (Outstanding New Artist). He also was featured on Bow Wow's hit single "Shortie Like Mine."
"I always imagined that I could be what I wanted to be, I just hoped that I could do it," says the humble Brown, now 18-years-old. "I never knew how fast this would take off, so I'm just thankful for it."
The new album, which features collaborations with the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am, fellow platinum artist T-Pain ("Kiss, Kiss") as well as hit songwriter/producers Sean Garrett ("Wall to Wall"), the Underdogs ("Get at ‚ÄòCha" and "Take You Down") and Adonis and Bryan-Michael Cox ("Tho'd," "Fallen Angel"). The songs show how far Chris Brown has come in the two years since his last album. This time around he is co-writing on several tracks.
"I would say it's just me being mature, getting older," he admits, "growing a little bit more hair and peach fuzz on the bottom of my chin. This time, I was more physically and mentally into the whole process. I just jumped in head first and delved into everything. It's another stepping stone for me. Every day is a learning experience when you're in the music industry. From day one, I've learned how to be a better artist, working on my music and with other people."
And that includes hooking up with some of the biggest stars in the pop, R&B and hip-hop business for his new album. "That was my manager, my team at Jive and me just going in all the way," Brown says. "We pushed the floor and the envelope, stepped it up and continued to rock it out. When we had a chance to pick those we really wanted to work with, magic just happened."
The first single, the Sean Garrett-penned "Wall to Wall," is a cheeky look at how success attracts female admirers ("I don't hear nothing but ladies calling"), while Brown shows his appreciation for the opposite sex in the tongue-in-chic "Picture Perfect," a collaboration with will.i.am and Tank, a tribute to a stunning supermodel. ‚ÄòWe wanted to write something that was kinda fun, but talked about me," explains Chris. "I may not be dating cover girls now, but hopefully in the future, I will be."
"Tho'd" is a musical nod to the D.C. go-go scene of Brown's youth, the rhythmic, syncopated dance-floor beat he dubs "like reggae, depending on how you listen to it." The song is about just loving the fact you're with this girl," says Brown. "‚ÄòTho'd' means being uncontrollable, your mind boggled to the point where you're just, ‚ÄòWow.'"
Brown also has tracks that appeal to his female fans. "Kiss, Kiss," co-written and produced with T-Pain "is about what we like in girls," laughs Brown. Produced with the Underdogs, "Get at ‚ÄòCha" is Brown in pursuit mode, chasing after the girls as he teases himself by referencing his first big hit: "I know they're waiting on me/To run it."
"They started it out, then I re-wrote some of the lyrics, the second verse and the bridge," says Chris. "That was a great collaboration."
The budding superstar continues to fuse his R&B soul roots with a hip-hop edge on the stunning old-school ballad, "Fallen Angel," as he reaches out to embrace someone who's been misunderstood. "The song's about a girl who's being criticized and talked about because of who she is," he explains. "She may have started out as a bad person, but I can see the good in her."
Last summer, Brown headlined his own Up Close & Personal tour with Lil Wayne, Ne-Yo, Dem Franchize Boyz and Juelz Santana, a 32-date, Live Nation-promoted jaunt. "I love being on the road more than anything. Making an album is about recording the songs you love," he says. "By the time you get to performing them, it's about putting that out on stage and expressing yourself physically through your voice and your feet." Chris is set to go on another nationwide tour this fall.
In addition to his burgeoning music career, Chris Brown is also branching into acting, with appearances on TV shows The O.C. and UPN's One on One, as well as the hit feature film, Stomp the Yard, and a role in This Christmas, a holiday film coming out this winter with Loretta Devine, Delroy Lindo, and Regina King. The Screen Gems feature tells the story of a Christmas celebration one clan will never forget, as the children return home for the first time in years, bringing along plenty of baggage, revealing secrets and testing bonds to discover the true meaning of family.
"I want to show people I'm not just a singer, but an all-around entertainer," he says. "I love acting."
Chris will also be a part of the new Rocawear men's campaign in the fall of 2007. The campaign's concept "I Will Not Lose" celebrates those who have overcome adversity daily to continue to thrive and make the world a better place. Chris' participation in this campaign shows that he believes in the campaign motto: "Every success story no matter how big or small we all share a common thread and attitude."
Chris is also involved in charity work. He has been an incredible supporter of the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital which is internationally recognized for its pioneering work in finding cures and saving children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. He donated 50 cents from each ticket sold during his tour last summer/fall, which raised over $50,000 for St. Jude's! Chris' largest and most visible involvement with St. Jude to date is with their Math-A-Thon program. Math-A-Thon is a school-based fundraiser where students ask their friends and family to sponsor them to do math. For every correct math problem they complete, their sponsors give them an undisclosed amount of money. The program is expected to raise over $22 million this year!
Not only is he helping others with his charity work but with his new album Exclusive, Chris Brown is that much closer to fulfilling his dreams, not just following in the footsteps of his idols, but taking his place alongside them.
"I'd rather be known as the first Chris Brown," he says. "At the same time, I can fill the void, but Usher and Michael Jackson aren't going anywhere. They're still doing their thing, but I feel I can be a part of that and just continue to be the best that I can be at what I do."
On his new album, Chris Brown is at his best‚ and that's more than enough.