Chris Brown: New Kid On The Block

While waiting for a lift in the Manhattan offices of Jive Records, Chris Brown is openly singing to himself, taking little notice of those around him. The singing is sensational, and he is obviously confident, but the song isn’t his; it’s Usher’s “Nice & Slow”. Although it’s safe to say there will never be another Usher, the comparisons have haunted Chris Brown since the video for his new single “Run It” dropped a little less than a month ago. Will this 16-year-old R&B singer and dancer be able to step out from the shadow and carve his own niche?

Former Def Jam A&R Tina Davis (Dru Hill, DMX) seems to think so. After Chris Brown, a Virginia native, auditioned for her and Def Jam Chairman LA Reid in New York, there was obviously something about him that made Tina believe. So much so, that when Chris asked her to become his manager, she agreed, and within months of moving from Def Jam to Jive, she found him a home at the label too.

But as we all know getting signed hardly equals success. Not even close. Just take a look at all the R&B one-hit wonders that have come and gone throughout its musical history. And today the grind is even harder, with the extra pressure of selling units (Soundscan) and the increasing number of urban acts being pushed out by major labels like canned soup from a factory. So what will it take to differentiate Chris Brown from the other R&B artists? And will he be able to sustain a career in this fickle industry? Alternatives speaks directly to the teenage heartthrob as he prepares to drop his debut album. Alternatives: Tell us how you got started?

Chris Brown: Well actually I started with a small production team out of Virginia and they took me to New York. Within a span of two years, I was working with them and another production team in New York. I was 14 at the time.

AHHA: How did you get in touch with the first production company from Virginia? And how did the process of getting signed take place?

Chris Brown: Actually they met my father at a gas station and they said they were looking for talent. From there they hooked me up with some writers and took me to New York. I was in New York for a year and half and one day they were like, ‘Yo Chris we got a meeting at Def Jam!’ I went and performed for Tina Davis and LA Reid, who wanted to sign me on the spot. But soon after Tina got sprung from Def Jam, so I asked her if she wanted to be my manager. She accepted and she took me to Warner Bros, Atlantic and Jive. All of them gave me deals but we picked Jive.

AHHA: Was there ever a moment, between those deals, that you thought maybe it wasn’t going to happen; maybe you would have to go back to Virginia?

Chris Brown: Not really. I doubted myself but I never fell back or took steps back. In my head it was always about taking steps forward, taking it higher and higher.

AHHA: Did you experience a culture shock when you came from Virginia to New York?

Chris Brown: When you come to New York for the first time, you really have to get accustomed to it because everyone is not the same. They’re rude up here! You have to get used to that and never think somebody is going to be nice to you all the time. So when I came up here for about a year, I got ‘real’ the New York way, and just stayed to myself and did what I had to do. I tried to grind out and do my music. I really wasn’t shocked at the way of New York; it is what it is. It was still enjoyable.

AHHA: Let’s talk about some of your critics. Now that your first single is out, what would your response be to some of your critics who say Chris Brown is trying to be like Usher or that ‘Run It’ is an average single?

Chris Brown: I would say my style isn’t like Usher. They make the comparisons because we both sing and we both dance. But if it was any other R&B singer/dancer that did the same thing that I did or that Usher did, they would be comparing them to us. And they would be comparing me to them, just as well. I’m doing my thing- Chris Brown- and Usher is doing his thing.

AHHA: Tell us about the new single ‘Run It’. How did the collaboration with Juelz Santana come together?

Chris Brown: Actually when we first recorded it I really wanted to base it around me. I didn’t want to have a rapper on it. I sat on it for a little while and my manager suggested that I should get a rapper on it. We were debating on who it should be and I was already a fan of Dipset. So within the next week we got Juelz on it and he just murdered it. He did his thing.

AHHA: Tell us about the album.

Chris Brown: The album comes out November 29th. We’ve got a lot of hot new producers on it as well as Scott Storch, Cool & Dre, R.Kelly, and Jermaine Dupri. Over five or six months we recorded almost 50 tracks. The album basically consists of [roughly] 15 of those songs with a mix of up-tempos, mid-tempos and ballads. Usually it takes a long time for you to get that hit but the beats were so hot, the hits just kept coming and coming. I’m really excited.

AHHA: How do you describe your style?

Chris Brown: My style is based around Hip-Hop but my singing comes from R&B. I’m influenced by both. I like Rakim and Run DMC. As far as new school I love Lil Wayne, T.I, Young Jeezy, and Dipset. And as far as R&B, it’s Sam Cooke and Michael Jackson.

AHHA: Do you rap?

Chris Brown: Sometimes I like to do a little something but I’m not the one that’s going to put a whole 16 on a track! I play around with it but my style is very old spirited R&B.

AHHA: What’s been the craziest experience since you’ve become recognizable?

Chris Brown: The craziest experience is really just seeing how fans appreciate me. They bug out like, ‘Wow that’s Chris Brown’. I’m just a kid from Virginia and they’re going crazy over me? It doesn’t go to my head. I really appreciate my fans and I try to go to my message board as much as I can and sign as many autographs as I can. This has really been a dream of mine.