Why are my hands bleeding? I think I know why/
I’ve been holding on/To the words from your every lie.
The fact that Chris Brown happens to release a brand-new album with graphic lyrics like this during what might be the world’s worst week for famous black men and domestic violence has got to be someone’s twisted joke. In the midst of an entire culture becoming hyperaware of its huge problem with downplaying violence against women, the music industry’s baddest bad boy puts out an unashamedly chauvinistic album that spends much of its time verbally attacking them. It’s absolutely cruel proof that fate is real.
Rihanna-gate occurred more than five years ago, but it still hangs over Brown and his brand and seeps into his music. Getting expelled from a court-ordered rehab program and arrested on assault charges finally landed Brown behind bars in March for violating probation—the probation that was installed after he beat his then-girlfriend to a bruised, darkly iconic mess. There’s nothing that Brown could ever do to remove that image from our minds, just as there’s no way we can unsee that Ray Rice video. But striving for redemption—something that continually evades Chris Brown—would seem like a good place to start.
To include lyrics about bleeding hands on his fourth post-Rihanna effort is irresponsible at best—and it’s just the start for X, from a man who seems fully aware of his demons and is only vaguely sorry about them. But in the meantime, he would like to remind the women in his life that when he’s not screwing them, everything is really all their fault.
The album’s very first line, on the title track, “X,” is a declaration of innocence: “If you’re only as good as the company you keep/Then I’mma blame you for what they say about me.” It leads into an opening song marked with accusations of betrayal by the women and friends surrounding him, as somber head hanging is punctured by exploding fits of rage. “I swear to God I’m moving on!” he barks often, each yell cuing a beat that warps from somber wallowing to punching aggression.
In the songs that follow, the ladies who exist in X are hardly human: On songs like “101,” “Drown in It” and “Songs on 12 Play,” they’re fantastic sex objects to conquer. On this year’s summer anthem for demeaning women, “Loyal,” they’re money-hungry adulterous hos. On the album’s most prominent moments, they become evil in their manipulation of Brown.
Throughout his trials, he’s never far from mentioning how the woman is often at fault (“Thought you were different, my baby/Now I see you’re just like the rest,” he wails on “Stereotypes”) or how he still, despite it all, needs them. “I’ve been bleeding in your silence,” he admits on “Autumn Leaves” before also confessing, “I feel safer in your violence.”
Then there’s the entirety of “Do Better,” which features Brown and Brandy amid the debris of a damaged relationship. They resent each other as they sing together: “I’m starting to hate me, a little more each day/I don’t know me, it’s like I can’t get out of my own way/You don’t love me, you don’t love me/If I knew better, I would do better.” Things later turn downright dark as they sing, “Knowing that it’s over/Thoughts got me thinking ’bout suicide.” Even here, when Brown is at his most confessional, it has to be a two-way street: If he’s going to admit his faults, then she’d better do it, too.
The most bizarre thing about journeying through X is that it feels like a world where his rationale for playing a victim—not an attacker or a troubled man—makes sense to him. With X, Brown spends less time admitting fault and much more time alluding to the fact that if we knew the whole truth, we wouldn’t judge him so harshly. In this self-serving narration of his own story, the women in his life are hardly given emotional agency, whether they wish to love him or leave hm.
From any other artist, this would feel much less poisonous. But coming from a man still trying to escape the worst of himself, he continues to make music that actively provokes memories of his all-too-publicized past. What’s worse, you get the unsettling feeling that he’s doing so on purpose.
Terron Moore is social media editor at The Root.