Chris Brown is more talented than anyone in the top 10 of Billboard’s Top Hot 100 Chart. Some, he beats with his singing ability, a nasal blend of silk and sandpaper. Others, with stage presence and charm. All, with his dancing. Which makes his February incident — when he beat his then-girlfriend Rihanna — that much more of a catastrophic mistake. It gave everyone an opportunity to forget what an incredible artist he is.
But last night at Manhattan’s Nokia Theater, the conclusion of his Fan Appreciation Tour, VIBE’s cover boy reminded a capacity crowd why he once sat atop the charts and that he’ll be back in no time. The night kicked off with a jerking start. Cali’s The New Boyz performed 15 minutes of material, including their teen-hop smashes “You’re a Jerk” and “Tie Me Down.” After warming up the crowd, comprised mostly of teen girls and younger ones with parents in tow, the 30-minute countdown to Breezy’s entrance began. Even the wait was fun, as numerous Michael Jackson hits rang out in full. Surely, it was no coincidence. Brown often praises the King of Pop for being the sole reason he’s the singer and dancer he is today.
But as Hot 97’s Angie Martinez introduced the Virginia native to the stage, Brown recalled images of another self-proclaimed king. Chris crept on to the stage with his four dancers dressed in black from skully to jeans, instantly whipping his body to the robotic bounce of “I Can Transform Ya,” the lead single off his new album, Graffiti. He’s more Bobby Brown than Jackson-like — Brown 2.0, if you will. He’s smoother around the edges, but oozes the same sex appeal that the “King of R&B” did circa 1988, pelvic thrusts and all. Chris’ three-album catalogue boasts more sexual energy than Jackson’s did in his 40-plus years of musical wizardry (He later ripped off his shirt for swooning youngsters and grinded on the floor when he performed “Take You Down”).
He’s also close to the hood and urban culture like Bobby was. In light of the year he’s had, he might not want to play up the bad boy rebel with a smile image he owned, but he certainly won’t be dumping his rapper friends. After performing an abbreviated version of his 2005 single “Run It!” Juelz Santana strutted on stage. “Ay!” he yelled as the sirens from his latest Brown-assisted single “Back to the Crib” blared over cheers and screams. Breezy then took some time to talk to the ladies.
“You guys know I’m single now,” he asked. “I want a New York girl. She’s got to have a body. She’s got to be smart. And she has to be able to…” New R&B artist Ester Dean jumped on stage and her summer jam “Drop It Low” worked the theater into a frenzy. She dropped it. Chris dropped it lower.
Brown is most amazing when dancing. His ability to create or recreate another’s trademark moves until they become his own is uncanny. His chest pops on beat with his drummers. He ticks at the speed of a wind-up car. He swag surfs as if he was from Decatur, Georgia, krumps like a Californian and breathes new life into forgotten dances like Harlem’s Chicken Noodle Soup. The things Chris can do with his lanky frame rival the capabilities of a contortionist, at times making it a one-man Cirque du Soleil show. At one point, he took it to the eighties and wopped, even sprinkling in a little Dougie action.
The fun and games continued as his DJ ran through some old school joints. Chris imitated R. Kelly‘s intense delivery when his DJ played “Bump n’ Grind” and poked fun at Montell Jordan‘s South Central drawl when “This Is How We Do It” dropped.
If mimicry is the highest form of flattery, though, the ultimate compliment is reserved for Michael Jackson. When the silliness subsided, the kicks and snares from “Billie Jean” leapt from the speakers. Chris struck a vintage MJ stance, stiff in front of the mic stand, spun and, of course, moonwalked as if second nature. In his white Billionaire Boys Club tee, he sang “Rock With You” in the same sultry manner MJ did in 1979. He closed his tribute with “Thriller” while the classic video played on the screen behind him.
With that done, Chris next tested the crowd with a capella’s of new songs from Graffiti. They knew them all. Chris finished the show with his biggest hit to date, “Forever.” It’s the song that won him an endorsement deal with Wrigley’s gum, one the he would eventually lose. But last night wasn’t just a reminder of how great he was and is months away from his 21st birthday. It was an escape. There was no gossip about Rihanna or talks of his Twitter rants about being blackballed by major retailers. Just stellar music and dance. This tour was about Brown showing appreciation for the fans that stuck by him through his rough times. But as he threw towels to open arms and exited stage left, they seemed thankful to have the star they knew back. —Brad Wete