Despite his penchant for self sabotage off the mic, Chris Brown is still immensely talented. But the flashes of his skill are hit or miss on the "X-Files" EP.
Chris Brown - “The X-Files EP” (Mixtape Review) DX Consensus: “EP-Worthy”
Regardless of how much Chris Brown attempts to distance himself from his missteps outside the recording booth, for many listeners, the line between his music and personal life will always be blurred. In addition to being infamous for the 2009 assault on then-girlfriend Rihanna, Breezy is releasing his “X-Files” EP on the heels a stint in a rehabilitation center for alleged anger management issues after an October, 2013 arrest.
Brown is and will continue to be presented with the challenging option of either incorporating his own struggles and societal perceptions into his music or constructing an entirely alternate narrative. For the most part, he’s vacillated between the two by creating saccharine-sweet synth Pop, such as “Forever,” and offering a mix of singing and rhyming that occasionally hints at his personal life. “X-Files” follows suit with six songs in a similar mold.
As a pure vocalist, Brown still has incredibly limited range. He doesn’t possess a rich vibrato, wisely doesn’t reach for higher octaves, and the presence of pitch-correcting software is often obvious when he does. This partially explains why his best work is often done on uptempo singles. The “X-Files” EP also displays the dichotomy of Breezy being an above average rapper whose writing skills seem to suddenly abandon him as a Pop/R&B songwriter.
This is best displayed on the opening track, “War For You,” where he sings, “Step one, I can be your man / You can call me daddy when we fuckin’ in the sand / Step two, let’s go for a ride baby / You gotta hold the stick, I don’t drive baby…” Such trite clichés are only partially offset with a verse that hints at what fuels Brown’s perceived petulance and self-sabotage, as he rhymes, “It’s kill or be killed nigga, you or us / But I keep it movin’ like a U-Haul truck / ‘Cause adolescence had me stressing, I was too fucked up / I’m gone / What’s the point of you having a crown if you ain’t got a throne / If you king you need a queen / I’m gone…”
Given Brown’s success rapping on some of his own and other artist’s singles, his choice to enlist Busta Rhymes and Ludacris is a curious one. Busta offers his usual, faux double-time gibberish of “really-gotta-get-a-little-bit” stylings, while Luda revisits 2000’s “What’s Your Fantasy.” Neither emcee detracts from the proceedings, with the Busta-assisted “Sweet Caroline” serving as the clear standout among the six songs presented. It precedes the equally druggy (and suicidal) “Love 2 Remember,” to provide a strong finish on a brief project.
His repeated appearances in front of a judge’s bench will likely overshadow Chris Brown’s visits to award show podiums—as they should. The fact that the “X-Files” EP’s artwork features him in a straightjacket likely hints at this. But Brown is still immensely talented, and should find a place on the charts in the reshaped, ratchet world of R&B/Pop he’s occupied since “Deuces” when his X album finally hits shelves.