Since his 2005 self-titled debut, Chris Brown has gained considerable momentum as one of America’s most influential R&B stars. Powering through the rest of the 2000s as an artist balancing controversy and heartthrob status alongside his steady growing fame, Brown has seemingly perfected the formula for a hooky track. However, his latest release 11:11 has shown cracks in his method. From skippy trap hi-hats to trending Afrobeat grooves, the album clearly seeks to make use of a range of rhythmic elements but feels recycled in execution.
In opener Angel Numbers/Ten Toes, Brown seeks out healing through an 11:11 wish for refuge from the pressures of mental health coupled with squeaky clean guitar licks, contrasted with a bumping beat. “Anxiety/Don’t let the pressure get to your head,” being Brown’s rallying cry appears effective after an emotive, dreamlike acoustic introduction, but the passion in his vocals is not mirrored by the hollow instrumental that levels out the second half of the song. Although the pace changes to allow for steadied bars, they are poised against a dated trap beat which feels too simplistic. Following a recount of mistakes made and an ardent desire for healing, Brown loses accountability by fourth track That’s on You featuring American rapper Future with slightly more abrasive lyrics. It distracts from the jumpy lightheartedness established by Afro-fusion second track Sensational featuring Davido and Lojay, and the more sensual third track Press Me.
Across the record, the influence of Afrobeats is apparent on various tracks which embrace a funkier, percussion-driven feel. As this appears to be a present trend across hip-hop over the past couple of years, it is difficult to identify anything stand-out about the way Brown incorporates this sound. This does not discredit their ability to be enjoyable, but the lack of notability can lead them to get lost within the other tracks. What does hold its own in highlighting what feels like a classic Chris Brown song is single Summer Too Hot, which has earned over 20-million streams. It does what it intends to do, acting as a slow-pulsing summer feel-good number, waking the album up for the last few tracks.
On 11:11, it is evident that Brown is mostly playing it safe and sticking to what he knows. But for a 22-track record that exceeds an hour, it can become quickly obvious and consequently monotonous. While it is an album that is ultimately palatable, it is hard to walk away with a feeling of something particularly memorable. Brown does well to demonstrate his dynamic vocal quality and his collection of songs are good for easy, passive listening for those who are looking for a high-powered workout or spending late nights in a club. Although Brown can be commended for this, there are moments that feel like 11:11 has gotten wrapped up in quantity over quality.