A is for Asshole. Chris Brown is an asshole. Even if we summon all of the self-control needed to ignore his violent, petulant, destructive, unrepentant, homophobic conduct, and focus on his music, his on-record persona is consistently dickheaded in a way that is out-of-step with the contrived redemption arc devised to promote his new album X.

The first words we hear Brown say on X, in its title track, are, "If you're only as good as the company you keep / Then I'mma blame you for what they say about me," which is about as confessional as it gets. The compulsively catchy "Loyal" finds him gloating over economic disadvantage: "Just got rich / Took a broke nigga's bitch / I can make a broke bitch rich / But I don't fuck with broke bitches." His duet with Jhené Aiko, "Drunk Texting," concludes with the lines: "If by chance you're laying next to someone else right now / I hope it's the worst sex ever / Hope it's the worst sex ever."

B is for Beating. It is reasonable to dismiss Chris Brown outright for his 2009 beating of then-girlfriend Rihanna. This isn't a critical stance, but an emotional one, and I don't blame people at all for taking it.

C is for Caveat. In case your memory isn't quite ready to let go of Chris Brown's domestic abuse, X's first single "Fine China" offers a caveat: "I'm not dangerous." Well then, that's settled.

D is for Disco. In an attempt to do something classic-sounding, there are stabs at disco here, undoubtedly included because of the success of Daft Punk and Pharrell's "Get Lucky." The gift keeps on…well, it keeps on. Much of Brown's discoid dabbling sounds like attempts to recreate Off the Wall by an artist who had never heard that Michael Jackson album but instead once heard someone describe it, and that person neglected to mention the glorious orchestra. "Fine China" is an example. "Time for Love" also sounds like already been chewed "Juicy Fruit," Mtume's oft-referenced 1983 hit. In the ebullient "Lost in Ya Love," Brown sings, "Her fragrance turns me on / Her skin's so soft, oh," but it sounds like, "Her fragrance turns me on / Her Skin So Soft, oh," and it's funny to think about Brown getting horny via that Avon oil that people used to use as insect repellant. (Did you know, though, that it's not at all effective for that purpose?)

E is for EDM. Don't let the disco fool you, if you want loud, ugly EDM with big, dumb drops, there are plenty of those, too. There's the Diplo-assisted title-track and the acoustic-guitar driven "See You Around," which rips off Avicci's "Wake Me Up" with a twist of Brown's treacly 2007 hit "With You." In "Body Shots," Brown sings, "I'm about to do some body shots…" and then, just before the drop, a pitched-down voice notes, "…in the pussy, baby!" Yeah, baby!

F is for Fans. Every pop artist's fans are the worst, but really, Chris Brown's fans, Team Breezy, are the worst and easily impressed. Just a reminder.

G is for Grave. Aaliyah's proverbial grave was robbed for X's second single, "Don't Think They Know," which features previously unheard vocals from the deified diva. Also, the video shoehorns pseudo social consciousness in a song that's about fan appreciation. It opens with an on-screen statistic about children dying from gunshot wounds and a message [sic]: "Unity is what we are afraid of so fear is insanity, lets love each other." It is credited to "Not CB, just Christopher," whatever that means.

H is for Hook. Check out this fucking hook:

[There was a video here]

Here it is transcribed:

You know what I came to do, you
You know what I came to do
You know what I came to do, you
You know what I (Oh)
You know what I came to do, you
You know what I came to do
You know what I came to do, you
You know what I came to do
You know what I came to do, you
You know what I
(For all my ladies)
You know what I came to do, girl

I is for Interludes. The interludes on X, "101" and "Lady in a Glass Dress," are the best songs because they are understated and convincingly mimic Drake collaborator Noah "40" Shebib's humid production style that defines contemporary R&B. It's not just because they are the shortest songs on the album, but certainly that helps.

J is for Joyce Hawkins. Joyce Hawkins is Chris Brown's mom, and probably the most entertaining thing about his career. She cultivated her excitable, ANGELS-loving persona via her Twitter, but has been quiet as of late. She came out of social media retirement to promote X, though, and the result was another classic Mombreezy tweet:


K is for Kendrick Lamar. Kenrick Lamar, the most respected and probably best mainstream rapper alive right now guests on this mediocre album. Why is Kendrick Lamar on this shitty album (besides, you know, money)?

L is for "Loyal." "Loyal," the album's fourth and most successful single, is an outright jam, despite its despicable subject matter, which blasts people who turned out to be disloyal after you manipulated them via your money and used it as the basis of your bond. Nic Nac's crisp, percolating production, tho! (Which, by the way, is pretty much replicated verbatim in "Came To Do," excerpted above.) You can try to resist Chris Brown, even when he's being a jerk in his own song, and yet, sometimes his song choices are flat-out undeniable.

I do prefer Keyshia Cole's "Loyal" "freestyle," though:

M is for Math. There is some math on X, but it is not good math. The first verse of "Add Me In" goes:

Your body's an isosceles
And I'm just tryna try angles
Your love is trigonometry
Just tryna solve the whole equation

The second verse goes:

I'll calculate her home invasion (yeah, add it up)
Divide your legs and count to 3 (3,2,1, come on)
He's just not the answer baby
And that's just my hypotheses (real talk girl)

Who says you never use math later in life, once your schooling is over? This is why you make sure your child star gets a proper education.

There's also this, from "Time for Love":

I wanna see you putting it together like a number
Multiply the times we done took it, our love
Baby, we should just add up our love

N is for Negativity. Chris Brown, despite his own behavior, does not take kind to others' negativity. In a lobotomized recent interview with Billboard, he said:

As long as you're doing something good, people will always bring up old stuff or negative stuff because they don't want you to surpass a certain level or elevate. But as long as you have your head on straight, it shouldn't matter what people want to say.


Everybody gets caught up watching Instagram or whatever; they have jokes and all kinds of things. I can still engage in it but not participate in the negative side.

Last year, he had a seizure that was brought on, according to his rep, by "he continued onslaught of unfounded legal matters and the nonstop negativity."

O is for Overkill. X, in its deluxe edition format, has 21 songs on it. It is a slog. By the middle of it, I felt like I need to lie down, even when I was already lying down listening to it.

P is for "Put It Up." "Put It Up" is a duet with Rihanna that was considered for this album. Said Brown:

When we did "Nobody's Business" [their 2012 single] we actually did another song for my album called "Put It Up"...I wanted to do an R&B record with Rihanna. I didn't want to do the pop stuff, I wanted to do something that people aren't used to hearing.

We're used to hearing plenty from them already. Thank god this song didn't make the cut.

Q is for Quincy Jones. Legendary producer Quincy Jones—responsible for Michael Jackson's golden triology of Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad—was an alleged source of inspiration for X. Said Brown:

I tried to stay away from the Euro beats, and not go totally pop. Instead, I wanted to take the Quincy Jones approach. The record pays homage to the Stevie Wonders, the Michael Jacksons, the Sam Cookes: I wanted to put that classic essence of R&B and soul with the new age of music now. There's a lot of live instruments, and a lot less Auto-Tune. I really wanted to demonstrate my vocal ability, creating the vibe of me singing along with a band.

There are plenty of Euro beats, plenty of pop sounds, and there's plenty of Auto-Tune. Either, X turned out to be not what Brown wanted it to be, or he just says whatever about his music, regardless of whether it's true. At any rate, we can say objectively that this album is ill-conceived.

Also "new age?"

R is for R. Kelly. R. Kelly is rhapsodized in X's duet with Trey Songz, "Songs on 12 Play." This track is a straight rip-off of The-Dream's 2009 album cut "Kelly's 12 Play," and even worse, the Brown/Songz duet should be called "R. Kelly Songs," as it references plenty that are not on R. Kelly's solo debut 12 Play, including: "Feelin' on Yo Booty" (TP-2.com), "Half on a Baby" (R.), "Ignition" (Chocolate Factory), "You Remind Me of Something" and "Down Low (Nobody Has To Know)" (R. Kelly). The song can't even get its own simple and warmed-over concept right.

Additionally, R. Kelly also appears on X on a song called "Drown in It." In this song, R. Kelly who famously videotaped himself urinating on an underage girl a little over a decade ago, sings:

And I can feel your tide slowly rising
As I'm sipping from your water fountain
We gon' flood the bed, take it to the ground
While I'm in your ocean baby, hold my head down

This is either the most inconsiderate choice of material, or straight up trolling in response to a renewed interest in Kelly's life-destroying behavior. It reminds me of how, on Brown's first post-beating album, Graffiti, he used the phrase "hit it" to refer to sex. Plenty of people say "hit it," and they don't mean to invoke violence; if you were just arrested for brutalizing your very famous girlfriend, you should know better.

S is for Scissor Sisters. Scissor Sisters' Babydaddy helped produce X's Ariana Grande duet "Don't Be Gone Too Long." But don't get your hopes up—it just sounds like generic euro dance pop.

T is for Treatment. Chris Brown voluntarily sought treatment at a rehab facility last year, after allegedly punching a man who wanted to appear in a picture with him. Then Brown got kicked out two weeks later for "breaking program rules by acting violently." Then, for violating probation, he was sentenced to a mandatory 90 days in anger management rehab. Then he was sentenced to more time. Then he got kicked out again for breaking rules. It goes on and on. All of this would make interesting fodder for a song, if not an entire album. None of it is addressed on X.

U is for Usher. Usher appears on X's mediocre fifth single, "New Flame," a quasi-sequel/response to Usher's 2008 hit "Love In This Club" (which by the way, already had a wonderful sequel). Usher basically set the full-package template within modern R&B that Brown has applied himself to. That said, anything Chris Brown does, Usher can do better—especially sing. This is the sonic equivalent of that Vine of Brown getting dunked on by Andre Drummond.

V is for Voice. Chris Brown's voice has not matured much in the decade or so that he's been making music. He's still prone to whining, his falsetto is still too thin to be remarkable, he still comes dusted in Auto-Tune. You can hear a choppiness in some verses that results from lines sung separately being joined together, post recording. When he ventures out of his comfort zone, the results are even worse. He employs a weird bellow in "X," and sings in a croak a few octaves lower than Grande in "Don't Be Gone Too Long." To me, his lackluster voice is Brown's biggest debit as an artist. I don't hear soul; I hear an entertainer who's on the job. I guess that's enough for pop, but Brown works in an R&B/soul tradition (and claims to be honoring it). I've never believed a word that has come out of his mouth on a song—not an earnest one, at any rate—and X changes nothing in that respect.

W is for Why. Why even bother with Chris Brown at this point? Why discuss him at all? Well, the fact of the matter is that he is never not relevant via his headline-grabbing antics or his ability to turn out hits with relative regularity. He gets plenty of shit, but people like Chris Brown. He's a hard worker, a good dancer, can carry a tune, and is an utter spectacle. He has and consistently provides all that it takes to be a modern pop star.

X is for X. When Trace Adkins, Kylie Minogue, Def Leppard, Klaus Schulze, Spock's Beard, Royal Hunt, Fourplay, Gnags and the 69 Eyes named their albums X, it was because those albums represented their 10th full-length release (sometimes including hits compilations, sometimes not). That is not why Chris Brown named this album, his sixth, X. He told Ebony:

It's the Roman numeral for 10. 5/5/89 is my birthday: 5 plus 5 is 10, and this is my tenth year since I got into music. "X" is the 24th letter in the alphabet, and I will turn 24 when this album comes out. "X" is also a metaphor, as in "ex-girlfriend": it implies you're progressing and moving on in life, not holding on to the past and your old ways.

He told The Guardian:

The album is called X because that's the Roman numeral for 10, he explains, so, "I just tried to give people something that would have more meaning, more depth", because his date of birth is 5.5.89, and if you add five plus five you get 10, "so it's like 8, 9, 10."

The delay of this album invalidated using the title to celebrate a decade in music. (Also, his debut wasn't released until 2005, which is where most acts start counting.) Also, that's not a metaphor. Also none of this is meaningful or deep.

Y is for Youth. Chris Brown is defined by his youth. He is 25! He's a baby! I would hate to have my mid-20's life blasted to the universe in the way his has been. That he got into this business so young, with clearly no real way to grasp implications or possible outcomes, is pretty sad. I'm not saying he's made the best of it, or that he's even done a particularly good job at navigating fame, but my sympathy to child stars extends even to him when I really think about it. This is not an excuse, but an explanation.

I do wonder when he's going to grow up and start acting like a responsible, accountable man. Or for how long he will be allowed by the music-buying public to creatively tread water. It might be forever.

Z is for Zzzzzzz. Because, I mean, over the course of 21 tracks and about 75 minutes of music, the guy says nothing of consequence. He's been doing this for about a decade, and his biggest, most memorable statements have not been in his music.