“We made it like the club in the studio!” Chris Brown tells Rolling Stone of the party-hearty process behind recording his upcoming album, X. “We’d have people come in, turn the lights off and play all the music. It was a good way to gauge people’s reactions.”
That bumping atmosphere belied the singer’s newfound introspection: As well known on gossip blogs for his controversial behavior as he is for chart hits like “Don’t Wake Me Up” and “Forever,” Brown, 23, claims he’s facing down all his demons for the world to see on X – his sixth album, which he began recording in February.
“Making X, I found out who I am,” Brown says. “This album has a lot of substance, from the subject matter and the situations to how it deals with love. It’s really derived from personal experiences. Then again, I always like mixing reality with art.”
Currently, Brown remains busy in Studio A at Glenwood Place Recording, whittling X’s final track list down to 14 songs from a selection of 50 candidates. Located on a nondescript street in the L.A. suburb of Burbank, Glenwood is an appropriately exclusive haven for someone of Brown’s ubiquitous pop-cultural stature, evoking a luxury hotel as much as a musician’s hangout.
There’s Pharrell Williams moving through the studio’s lush, feng-shui gardens dotted with Buddha sculptures; he’s quickly followed by Wiz Khalifa. It’s here where Brown largely assembled X, which is expected for release in late summer or early fall of this year. Working with hitmakers Timbaland – fresh off his triumph with Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience – and Danja (Madonna, Usher, Britney Spears) along with up-and-coming talent like DJ RoccStar, he strived to create a more mature sound.
“I tried to stay away from the Euro beats, and not go totally pop,” Brown notes. “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.”
That approach is clear on the first single, “Fine China,” whose video debuts April 1. With Brown singing “I’m not dangerous” in a vintage King-of-Pop falsetto over elastic bass and swinging ’80s funk grooves, it’s a hype combination of futuristic and throwback, blended with decidedly old-school romance.
According to Brown, the chorus (“It’s alright/I’m not dangerous/If you’re mine, I’ll be generous/You’re irreplaceable/A collectible, just like fine china”) is about “how delicate, priceless and beautiful a girl can be.” Likewise, the new track “Add Me In” fuses crazy techno synths with jazzy, Off the Wall-style changes. “That song gives you the nostalgic feel, but with a more contemporary bottom end on it,” Brown says.
X also features its share of Brown’s signature ballads, yet still manages to flip the script on that format. The slow-burning electronica of “Lady in the Glass Dress” proves nearly beatless, the stark accompaniment showcasing Brown’s pleading vocal that “[begs] you to stay with me/But you’re staying right there.”
Read more: RollingStone