It's been a long stretch between Usher albums — long enough for Chris Brown to build a whole career, growing from a temporary substitute to an undeniably major pop star. He seals the deal with Exclusive, an all-grown-up album on a level with Justin Timberlake's Justified, Rihanna's Good Girl Gone Bad or even Bobby Brown's King of Stage. "With You" is the convincer, even if you can instantly tell that producer Stargate was just trying to roll out "Irreplaceable" one more time — Brown moans over the acoustic-guitar loop with a poignant R&B surge, sending this one out to "hearts all over the world tonight." Brown cruises through teen-romance ballads ("Take You Down") and jumping dance tracks like the T-Pain duet, "Kiss Kiss," where he reminds everybody, "I'm just a country boy from Tappahannock V-A." A true Southern gentleman, he offers to take your mama shopping in "I Wanna Be." Kanye West adds an adult pop touch to "Down" — hell, even the Will.i.am song isn't completely garbage. Brown's gotten a stronger grip on his Stevie Wonder croon, and it's hard to imagine he doesn't have an album's worth of hits here.
- Chris Brown
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