Wrestling with Chris Brown: His Talent vs. His Reputation

It started with these lyrics:

It seems that all the autumn leaves are falling
I feel like you’re the only reason for it.

Those words really grabbed me. An echoing vocal, a couple of guitar chords…I didn’t recognize the song but I started to recognize the voice. It was Chris Brown.  And I was surprised.

That snippet was all I heard the other day while driving home. Some young brother was playing the song with his windows down.  And those lyrics was all I heard as he drove past me.

Chris Brown

Chris Brown


So today, I went in search of the song to hear it in its entirety.  The song is Autumn Leaves from Brown’s new CD X.  The guitar and percussion work, along with the keyboards and lyrics, are very moving.  This is not one of Chris’s club beats or jeep jams.  This is a cruisin-in-your-car, chillin’-on-the-couch slow jazz jam.

In a quote from Ebony Magazine regarding the album title, X.  “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.”

And I’m stuck wrestling again.  I’ve been wrestling with Chris Brown for a while.  Like many, I recognize his wonderful talent as a singer/dancer/entertainer.  But it is sometimes overshadowed by his past behavior.  And like a lot of mature African-Americans, especially men, I want more from “Chris Breezy”. He is a reluctant role model to young men, again, especially African-American young men.

There is no need to rehash his past here.  Many of us know the public part of his history like we recall the lyrics to an old familiar song.  With Autumn Leaves, even he doesn’t address his past directly.  Instead, the main verses speak of a relationship that’s falling away like the fall leaves from the trees.  But it does touch briefly on “bleeding in your silence” and feeling “safe in your violence”.  And he also speaks to God before he sleeps but “He must be mad at me, it’s coming.”

But it’s the words and staccato delivery of rapper Kendrick Lamar that share the most insight and vulnerability.  Speaking in the voice of a critic, Lamar says the words advisors have probably spoken to Brown.  And words many of us wish we could say to Brown.  And may probably say to ourselves.

Kendrick Lamar

Rapper Kendrick Lamar looking Dapper for GQ magazine

When you make mistakes the most, the most
One day it’ll make you grow, you grow
When you outlandish and you lose manners
To God you shall consult, consult

Then, Lamar turns things and takes on the persona of Chris Brown himself:

And they won’t let me live even when remorse that I give
When it gon’ rejoice and forgive, tell me how I stay positive
When they never see good in me
Even though I got hood in me
Don’t mean he won’t redeem me, Lord

Unfortunately, these lyrics are lost on deaf ears.  Since it’s release in September, Brown’s X CD has sold only a quarter of a million copies.  Although Team Breezy, his loyal supporters and fans, probably downloaded his latest CD, there’s a sector of the public not ready to forget or forgive.  They  still hold him responsible for violent behavior against several entertainers and fans.  But the biggest act of violence is really against himself.  He may have healed from past self-inflicted injuries to his reputation.  But it remains to be seen if he is completely cured.

And even if he doesn’t invite temptation in, it always finds a door to kick down or a window to break.  Even as he tries to do better, tries to be responsible and tries to be remorseful…he is now a target.  And there are those who are manipulative enough to create situations to make him look bad.  Or get him in trouble with the law.  He probably has top security and PR/media advisors to guide him but does he listen to them?  As he tries to grow as a man, his efforts will be meaningless if he’s still aligning himself with people from his past – and present – instead of those who can take him to the next level of maturity.  He is smart enough to align himself with popular producers, musicians and singers.  He needs to be similarly aligned with male figures who can provide the same sort of life and spiritual support.

As I listened to Autumn Leaves, I’m drawn back to the wrestling match:

  • Do I appreciate his talent and disregard his personal behavior?
  • Do I become tone-deaf and blind to his talent in disappointment because of his personal behavior?

Actually, there’s a third option.  I can choose to admire his talent but recognize his need to grow.  Because Chris Brown is really like some of us.  He is flawed.  He has a past he’s trying to overcome – the past that shaped him, a recent past that almost ruined him.  Fortunately, most of us are allowed to make mistakes without the glare of lights and flash of cameras.  Only our immediate families and close friends get to see the ugly side of us.  And somehow, they still manage to love and accept us.

I do not condone any of Brown’s past violent behavior.  However, I must be compassionate enough to understand where this behavior came from.  He witnessed it growing up.  He experienced the fear, anger and frustration.  Those emotional wounds never healed.  And the pain still exists in his young adult life.

As of today, my wrestling match with Chris Brown is over.  I downloaded Autumn Leaves from iTunes this morning.  It will probably be part of my musical soundtrack to the fall season.  On a CD filled with party and sex songs, it’s a small glimmer of hope, and promise, of an older, more mature Chris Brown.  And by downloading, I have the opportunity to enjoy the song…and perhaps send a message of support to Brown as he continues his growth as a musician and a man.  Everyone deserves a second, maybe even a third, chance. And the opportunity for redemption.  If that’s what we choose.

Be blessed,


“There’s no need to talk about it, because the truth of what one says lies in what one does.”

Bernhard Schlink, The Reader

Note: The clip posted below is the “clean” version.  Kendrick Lamar’s original rap includes some profanity some may find offensive.  Though poignant in terms of the tone, some listeners may be offended by the content.  You may find the original version on YouTube or iTunes.





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