1989–2004: Early life and career beginnings
Christopher Maurice Brown was born on May 5, 1989, in the small town of Tappahannock, Virginia, to Joyce Hawkins, a former day care center director, and Clinton Brown, a corrections officer at a local prison. He has an older sister, Lytrell Bundy, who works in a bank. Music was always present in Brown’s life beginning in his childhood. He would listen to soul albums that his parents owned, and eventually began to show interest in the hip-hop scene.
Brown taught himself to sing and dance at a young age and often cites Michael Jackson as his inspiration. He began to perform in his church choir and in several local talent shows. When he mimicked an Usher performance of “My Way“, his mother recognized his vocal talent, and they began to look for the opportunity of a record deal. At the same time, Brown was going through personal issues. His parents had divorced, and his mother’s boyfriend terrified him by subjecting her to domestic violence.
At the age of 13, Brown was discovered by Hitmission Records, a local production team that visited his father’s gas station while searching for new talent. Hitmission’s Lamont Fleming provided voice coaching for Brown, and the team helped to arrange a demo package and approached contacts in New York to seek a record deal. Tina Davis, senior A&R executive at Def Jam Recordings, was impressed when Brown auditioned in her New York office, and she immediately took him to meet the former president of the Island Def Jam Music Group, Antonio “L.A.” Reid, who offered to sign him that day. “I knew that Chris had real talent,” says Davis. “I just knew I wanted to be part of it.”
The negotiations with Def Jam continued for two months, and Davis then lost her job due to a corporate merger. Brown asked her to be his manager, and once Davis accepted, she promoted the singer to labels such as Jive Records, J-Records and Warner Bros. Records. According to Mark Pitts in an interview with HitQuarters, Davis presented Brown with a video recording, and Pitts’ reaction was: “I saw the potential … I didn’t love all the records, but I loved his voice. It wasn’t a problem because I knew that he could sing, and I knew how to make records.” Brown ultimately chose Jive due to its successful work with then-young acts such as Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. Brown stated, “I picked Jive because they had the best success with younger artists in the pop market, … I knew I was going to capture my African American audience, but Jive had a lot of strength in the pop area as well as longevity in careers.“Brown attended Essex High School in Virginia until early 2005, when he moved to New York to pursue his music career.
2005–06: Chris Brown and acting debut
After being signed to Jive Records in 2004, Brown began recording his self-titled debut studio album in February 2005. By May, there were 50 songs already recorded, 14 of which were picked to the final track listing. The singer worked with several producers and songwriters—Scott Storch, Cool & Dre and Jazze Pha among them—commenting that they “really believed in him“. Brown also made some input on the album, receiving co-writing credits of five tracks. “I write about the things that 16 year olds go through every day,” says Brown. “Like you just got in trouble for sneaking your girl into the house, or you can’t drive, so you steal a car or something.” The whole album took less than eight weeks to produce.
Released on November 29, 2005, the self-titled Chris Brown album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 with first week sales of 154,000 copies. Chris Brown was a relative commercial success with the time; selling over two million copies in the United States—where it was certified two times platinum by the RIAA—and three million copies worldwide. The album’s lead single, “Run It!“, made Brown the first male act (since Montell Jordan in 1995) to have his debut single to reach the summit of the Billboard Hot 100—later remaining for four additionally weeks. Three of the other singles,”Yo (Excuse Me Miss)“, “Gimme That“, and “Say Goodbye“, peaked within the top twenty at the same chart.
On June 13, 2006, Brown released a DVD entitled Chris Brown’s Journey, which shows footage of him traveling in England and Japan, getting ready for his first visit to the Grammy Awards, behind the scenes of his music videos and bloopers. On August 17, 2006, to further promote the album, Brown began his major co-headlining tour, The Up Close and Personal Tour. Due to the tour, production for his next album was pushed back two months. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital received $10,000 in ticket proceeds from Brown’s 2006 “Up Close & Personal” tour. Brown has made appearances on UPN’s One on One and The N’s Brandon T. Jackson Show on its pilot episode.
In January 2007, Brown landed a small role as a band geek in the fourth season of the American television series The O.C.. Brown then made his film debut in Stomp the Yard, alongside Ne-Yo, Meagan Good and Columbus Short on January 12, 2007. In April 2007, Brown was the opening act for Beyoncé Knowles, on the Australian leg of her The Beyoncé Experience tour. On July 9, 2007, Brown was featured in an episode of MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 (for the event, it was retitled: Chris Brown: My Super 18) celebrating his eighteenth birthday in New York City.
In November 2007, Brown starred as video host for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s Math-A-Thon program, to show his support by encouraging students to use their math skills to help children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Shortly after ending his summer tour with Ne-Yo, Brown quickly began production for his second studio album, Exclusive, which was released in the United States on November 6, 2007. The album debuted at number four on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 294,000 copies in its first week, and received generally positive reviews from music critics. As of March 23, 2011, it has sold over 1.9 million copies in the United States. The album’s lead single, “Wall to Wall“, peaked at number 79 on US Billboard Hot 100 chart, and number 22 on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. “Kiss Kiss“, featuring and produced by T-Pain, was released as the album’s second single. It reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, and became Brown’s second number one single following “Run It!” in 2005. “With You“, a song produced by Stargate, was released as the third single from Exclusive, and reached number two on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.
On November 21, 2007, Brown appeared in This Christmas, a family drama starring Regina King. To further support the album Exclusive, Brown embarked on his The Exclusive Holiday Tour, visiting over thirty venues in United States. The tour began in Cincinnati, Ohio, on December 6, 2007, and concluded on February 9, 2008, in Honolulu, Hawaii. In March 2008, Brown was featured on Jordin Sparks’ single “No Air“, which peaked at number three on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. He also made a guest appearance on Ludacris’ single “What Them Girls Like” alongside Sean Garrett. The song peaked at number 17 on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and number eight on the US Hot Rap Songs chart. Brown re-released Exclusive on June 3, 2008, as a deluxe edition, renamed Exclusive: The Forever Edition, seven months after the release of the original version. The re-released version featured four new tracks, including the single “Forever“, which reached number two on Billboard Hot 100. In August 2008, Brown guest-starred on Disney’s The Suite Life of Zack & Cody as himself. In October 2008, he was featured on T-Pain’s single “Freeze“, from his third studio album Thr33 Ringz. Towards the end of 2008, Brown was named Artist of the Year by Billboard magazine.
2009–10: Graffiti and mixtapes
In 2008, Brown began work on his-then upcoming third studio album. According to him, he would experiment a different musical direction for his new album—titled, Graffiti, while hoping to emulate singers Prince and Michael Jackson. He stated, “I wanted to change it up and really be different. Like my style nowadays, I don’t try to be typical urban. I want to be like how Prince, Michael and Stevie Wonder were. They can cross over to any genre of music.” The album’s lead single “I Can Transform Ya” was released on September 29, 2009. The song peaked at number 20 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, and number 11 on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. “Crawl” was released as the album’s second single on November 23, 2009. The song reached number 53 on the Billboard Hot 100. Graffiti was then released on December 8, 2009. The album debuted at number seven on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 102,000 copies in its first week, but received generally negative reviews from critics. As of March 23, 2011, it has sold 341,000 copies in the United States.
While performing a Michael Jackson Tribute at the 2010 BET Awards, Brown started to cry and fell to his knees while singing Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”. The performance and his emotional turmoil resonated with several celebrities present at the ceremony, including Trey Songz, Diddy and Taraji P. Henson. Songz said, “He left his heart on the stage. He gave genuine emotion. I was proud of him and I was happy for him for having that moment“. Michael’s brother, Jermaine Jackson, expressed similar sentiments stating, “it was very emotional for me, because it was an acceptance from his fans from what has happened to him and also paying tribute to my brother“. Later during the award ceremony, Brown stated, “I let y’all down before, but I won’t do it again…I promise“, while accepting the award for the AOL Fandemonium prize.
In May 2010, Brown released a collaborative mixtape with Tyga, titled Fan of a Fan. “Deuces“, which features Tyga and Kevin McCall, was released from the mixtape in the United States on June 29, 2010. The song peaked at number one on US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for seven non-consecutive weeks, giving Brown his first number-one on the chart since his 2006 hit single, “Say Goodbye“. It also peaked at number 14 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. In August 2010, Brown starred alongside an ensemble cast, including Matt Dillon, Paul Walker, Idris Elba, Hayden Christensen and T.I. in the crime thriller Takers, and also served as executive producer of the film.
2011–12: F.A.M.E. and Fortune
Brown’s fourth studio album F.A.M.E. was first released on March 18, 2011. Although it received mixed critical reviews, the album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, with first-week sales of 270,000 copies, giving Brown his first number-one album in the United States. Its lead single, “Yeah 3x“, reached the top-ten in eleven countries, including Australia, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The album’s second single, “Look at Me Now“, featuring rappers Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes, reached number one on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, where it remained for eight consecutive weeks. It also reached number one on the US Hot Rap Songs chart. The album’s third single, “Beautiful People“, featuring Benny Benassi, peaked at number one on the US Hot Dance Club Songs chart, and became the first number-one single on the chart for both Brown and Benassi. “She Ain’t You” was released as the album’s fourth US single, while “Next 2 You“, featuring Canadian recording artist Justin Bieber, served as the album’s fourth international single. To further promote the album, Brown embarked on his F.A.M.E. Tour in Australia and North America.
Brown received six nominations at the 2011 BET Awards and ultimately won five awards, including Best Male R&B Artist, Viewers Choice Award, The Fandemonium Award, Best Collaboration and Video of the Year for “Look at Me Now“. He also won three awards at the 2011 BET Hip Hop Awards, including the People’s Champ Award, Reese’s Perfect Combo Award and Best Hip Hop Video for “Look at Me Now“. At the 2011 Soul Train Music Awards, F.A.M.E. won Album of the Year. The album has also earned Brown three Grammy Award nominations at the 54th Grammy Awards for Best R&B Album, as well as Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for “Look at Me Now“. On February 12, 2012, Brown won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album. During the ceremony, Brown performed several songs marking his first appearance at the awards show since his conviction of felony assault.
On October 7, 2011, RCA Music Group announced it was disbanding Jive Records along with Arista Records and J Records. With the shutdown, Brown (and all other artists previously signed to these three labels) will release future material on the RCA Records brand. Brown’s fifth studio album Fortune was released on July 3, 2012. The album debuted atop the Billboard 200, but received once again negative reviews from critics. “Strip“, featuring Kevin McCall, was released as the album’s buzz single, with “Turn Up the Music” released as the lead single, and “Sweet Love“, “Till I Die“, “Don’t Wake Me Up” and “Don’t Judge Me” released as the album’s following singles, respectively. To further promote the album, Brown embarked on his Carpe Diem Tour in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Trinidad.
Brown’s sixth studio album, X, previously titled Carpe Diem, is scheduled to be released on September 16, 2014. The album’s lead single, “Fine China“, was released on April 1, 2013, and sent to US Top 40 radio on April 9. The album features a guest appearance by Kendrick Lamar and production from Diplo and Danja. On August 9, 2013 at 1:09 AM PDT, Brown was reported to have suffered a seizure from Record Plants Studios in Hollywood, California as a 9-1-1 call was made. When paramedics arrived, Brown allegedly refused to receive treatment and also refused to be transported to the local hospital. Brown has reportedly suffered from seizures in his childhood. The next day, Brown’s representative reported the seizure was caused by “intense fatigue and extreme emotional stress, both due to the continued onslaught of unfounded legal matters and the nonstop negativity.”