[EXCLUSIVE] Introducing the âNewâ Chris Brown?

Chris Brown

When I first learned I would be interviewing Chris Brown I didn’t know what to expect. One friend joked that I should “bring a facemask” to our chat, and my 78-year-old grandmother wondered why I was interviewing “that boy who beat up that girl.”

Four years after the now-infamous domestic violence indecent that left his then-girlfriend (and current boo?), Rihanna, bloodied and bruised, it’s clear that Brown is still a polarizing figure. Although he’s amassed millions of rabid fans, many just can’t seem to forgive him for the 2009 assault. And as someone who has written critically about his outburst over years, I was unsure if I would be able to leave my biases at the door and give Breezy a chance.

Going in, I knew I did not want to rehash the past, after all we’ve seen the epic Twitter smack downs, heard about the fights, and watched as he spazzed out on bystanders. After wracking up his fair share of salacious headlines, many have labeled Brown a douche, an asshole, and troubled, if talented young man.

But are they right?

After going into a self-imposed exile—ditching Instagram and handing over control of his Twitter account—Chris Brown is getting ready to once again to step on the world’s biggest stage. Only this time he hopes his music will answer the pressing question everyone wants to know:

Who is the real Chris Brown?

Recently, Brown invited EBONY.com into the studio to hear an exclusive sneak peek of his upcoming album, X (due out later this summer), and if the music is any indication of where the chart-topping singer is headed next, then this new and improved Chris Brown just might convert a few haters into bona fide fans.

Unlike his edgy (and sometimes explicit), pop-infused music of late, the five tracks I sampled ("Fine China," "X," "Autumn Leaves," "Add Me In," and "Lady in a Glass Dress") were soulful, introspective, and revealed an emotional maturity and vulnerability we’re certainly not used to hearing from Breezy.

From the moment “Fine China”—the album’s lead single—came blaring through the speakers, Brown's passion for music was apparent. A ball of raw energy, he simultaneously puffed on Newports and excitedly sang along to the track, almost serving up an entire performance while we listened. He was clearly feeling it, and after hearing the song, I could see why.

“Fine China” is a surprisingly lush and infectious tune reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall.” And despite being a bit of a musical snob, it had me from the first note. But it was the album’s deeply reflective title track, "X"—with its contemplative lyrics about love and life and an intoxicating bass—that really made me question if I had ever been wrong about him. I believe wholeheartedly in redemption, in second chances. As damning as The Incident was, is it fair to reduce Brown to a man incapable of change?

This time around Breezy insists his music, not his antics, will speak for him. The jury is out, you be the judge.

This time around Breezy insists his music, not his antics, will speak for him. The jury is out, you be the judge.

EBONY.com: It seems like you’re more introspective this time around. You’re talking about love. Are you in love? What is the inspiration for this album?

Chris Brown: The title of the album is called X. So basically, it’s defining who I am as a 24-year-old male trying to grow up. But also X is also a release. X is almost like the forbidden sign, or caution, So it kind of demonstrates not always being the good guy all the time, but identifying with the people who don’t have a voice, or never had a chance, or never had that yes in their life. So with X that kind of defines who I am, being able to have that voice through my music.

[With his legs propped up and arms crossed tightly across his chest, Chris smiled but was clearly guarded. It was also clear he wanted to keep the conversation on his music and little else, he clearly avoided the love question.]

EBONY.com: I went back to listen to all of your albums and it seems like you grew up a lot on [F.A.M.E. and Fortune]. So what have you learned about yourself personally and musically over these last few years?  

CB: It’s just been a growing process for me in general. I think everybody is expected to grow. I think me being 15 [when I came out], I wouldn’t want to have the same mentality I had back then, now. So just me going through different personal experiences and life lessons and dealing with relationships and love.

My album kind of brings my interpretation of everything that I’ve been through in my life—and everything that I’m going through. You really hear it from the horse’s mouth when you get a chance to hear this album. You get a chance to take a journey with me and