|01. Beat It||4:14||320||9.78||Download|
The week "Run It!" was released, it went straight to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and became the first single from a male artist to debut at that spot. That's no slight feat, especially for a reheated version of Usher's "Yeah!" made by a fresh-faced teenager who reps a little town in Virginia that rhymes with "grab a hammock." On "Run It!," Chris Brown is boosted by production from Scott Storch and an appearance by Juelz Santana. The song's way of tempering Brown's small-town innocence with hard-edged backing and a guest spot from an MC of ill repute is clearly a strategy to make the singer appeal to more than tween girls. (Had Brown been coming up in the early '90s, Quincy Jones -- not Dr. Dre -- might've produced him and Prince -- not Luther Campbell -- might've assisted, which just goes to show how much R&B has changed in 15 years.) Chris Brown, a durable debut album, almost always involves an even push-and-pull between what appeals to kids who don't consider street credibility and those who do, all the way down to the visuals: check the album cover, featuring the singer's strained "Don't mess with me!" face, and compare it to the photo spread inside, featuring Brown's natural "Pinch my cheeks!" face. He doesn't often try to sound harder or more demonstrative than necessary, unlike a lot of singers his age who have sprouted during the late '90s and early 2000s, and he rarely oversteps the kind of romantic territory that most teens find relatable. Toughness comes instead from the beats, whether they're provided by the Underdogs, Dre & Vidal, Cool & Dre, or the overworked Storch. While Brown's audience will be almost exclusively 18 and under, few of his fans will feel sheepish in owning this album. He's a refreshing presence, a high-schooler who's neither as family friendly as Will Smith nor as comically vulgar as Pretty Ricky.