Chris Brown arrived in the mid-2000s as a squeaky-clean teen R&B artist with "Run It!," the first debut single by a male artist to top the Billboard Hot 100 in over a decade.
While there was nowhere to go but down, at least in terms of chart positions, the singer and occasional rapper was only getting started, despite the swift decline of his wholesome image. By the end of the decade, he was one of the biggest active pop stars, with a clutch of Top Ten singles and platinum albums to his credit, along with constant comparisons to a young Michael Jackson and several acting roles on the side. His momentum slowed little despite pleading guilty to assaulting girlfriend Rihanna in 2009. His commercial clout remained, as his successive albums into the next decade topped the Billboard all-genre and R&B charts.
Brown came from a small Virginia town called Tappahannock. Like a lot of kids born in the mid- to late '80s, he was initially into his parents' favorite music but eventually fell under the spell of hip-hop. Around the time he reached puberty, he discovered his singing ability and switched his focus away from MC'ing. A move to New York led to being discovered by Tina Davis, a Def Jam A&R executive who became the singer's manager shortly after losing her position in the Sony-BMG merger. The Jive label, due in part to its track record with younger artists who had established longevity (like Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake), won the bidding war for Brown and lined up several production and songwriting heavyweights, including Jermaine Dupri, Bryan-Michael Cox, Dre & Vidal, Sean Garrett, and Storch, for his self-titled first album. An immediate Top Ten hit when it was released in 2005, Chris Brown not only featured the number one "Run It!" but two other Top Ten singles in "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)" and "Say Goodbye." Exclusive, released in 2007 and a bit of a departure from the squeaky-clean image he displayed throughout his debut, was even more successful, featuring the number one single "Kiss Kiss" and two other Top Five hits. Yet another Top Five hit came with "No Air," a duet with Jordin Sparks that appeared on Sparks' own self-titled album.
In March 2009, Brown was charged with felonious assault of Rihanna -- an altercation that had prevented his then-girlfriend from taking the stage at the Grammy Awards. Brown was scheduled to perform as well, but he did not appear and maintained a low profile for several months. A fairly substantial backlash resulted in Brown's songs being pulled from rotation on several radio stations. Ultimately, however, it had little bearing on the progress of his music and acting careers; the week prior to the December release of his third album, Graffiti, the single "I Can Transform Ya" was well on its way to reaching the Top 20 of the Hot 100, and his acting roles -- which had already included spots in Stomp the Yard and a recurring role on The O.C. -- hadn't shown any sign of drying up. Graffiti fell considerably short of gold-selling status, but it was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Contemporary R&B Album, and the Tank collaboration, "Take My Time," was nominated for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
Weeks after the 2011 Grammy Awards ceremony, Brown released his fourth album, F.A.M.E., which already had four singles on the charts. That album topped the Billboard 200 and the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts, and it also took the 2012 Grammy for Best R&B Album. During the ceremony, he performed a medley of "Beautiful People" (off F.A.M.E.) and "Turn Up the Music," the latter of which previewed Fortune, his fifth album, released in May 2012 and an immediate chart-topper in the U.S. Brown toured Asia, Europe, and Africa during the rest of the year, and prepped his sixth album. A sequence of several singles that began with "Fine China" preceded X, released in September 2014, two weeks after he pleaded guilty to simple assault (for an altercation with a man that had occurred the previous October). Less inspired by European dance-pop and more R&B-oriented than his previous release, the album included contributions from Lil Wayne, R. Kelly, Usher, Rick Ross, and Brandy, among many others. Four of its singles peaked within the R&B Top 10. Only five months after the release of X, Brown and Tyga, who had previously teamed up for one of those singles -- "Loyal," as well as the earlier "Deuces" -- teamed up for Fan of a Fan: The Album. By the end of 2015, Brown released Royalty, his seventh proper album, which was propped up by the Top 20 pop hit "Back to Sleep." The following year, Brown issued singles such as "Grass Ain't Greener" and "Party" as preludes to the 45-track Heartbreak on a Full Moon, released in October 2017. The following year, Brown appeared on a handful of high-profile collaborative singles including "Stranger Things" with Joyner Lucas, "Freaky Friday" with Lil Dicky, and "Overdose" with Agnez Mo. He returned to his solo work with 2019's "Undecided." ~ Andy Kellman