Like it or not, together or apart, Chris Brown’s name is tethered to Rihanna’s. But with his new single “Party” with Usher and Gucci Mane now out, a documentary about to be released and an on-the-move apparel company, the vexed musician appears to be nearing a professional turnaround.
In an interview Friday, Brown made it clear he’s moved on with his life, and the media should too. “I feel like my opinions vocally can be misconstrued but you can’t ever deny the talent or the music that comes behind it. I would rather withdraw on trying to prove myself or apologize for a mistake I made when I was 17. I’m 27. That’s 10 years ago. I’m pretty sure 10 years ago, you might have done some s–t where you were like, ‘Damn, I’m a bigger person,'” he said. “Nobody wants to have that stigma for the rest of their life but in retrospect I could give a f–k about that stigma at the end of the day. I know my positive lane, I know my positive objective. That’s why my music has always transcended as well as the fashion.”
Brown is still defined by many for pleading guilty to felony assault charges against his then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009. The seven years that followed were checkered with other incidents with the most recent being a criminal assault investigation at his Los Angeles home last summer. “When people see Chris Brown headlines, they’re looking for negative press or a negative story because we live in a world now where yellow journalism sells. Because if you sell that first, they’re not caring about the truth,” he said. “Right now my priorities are more focused. I’m more in tune and inclined with what I want to do as an adult, a musician, an entrepreneur, fashion designer, a creator — I just want to be able to exploit every one of my artistic abilities.”
Nominated for 15 Grammys and the winner of one, Brown vowed earlier this week he’s “got heat coming” via Instagram. As any of his 33.5 million Instagram followers can attest to, Brown is more than his criminal record or his music. Along with a flurry of images of his Black Pyramid collection, recent posts include him wearing an Army green jacket from the brand in the new video “Party,” a shot of a Ralph Waldo Emerson book cover, Charlo Williams boxing, Brown’s two-year-old daughter Royalty drawing, various anime posts and an image of handwritten sign that reads, “When the Rich rob the Poor, It’s Called BUSINESS. When the poor Fight back, it’s called VIOLENCE.”
“In our society, let’s talk about America’s society, we talk about breaking people down to lift them back up. We all know that’s bulls–t. Once you’re canceled out from society they expect you to stay there. I think the reason I’ve been able to have this longevity is because of my actual goals, positivity, my music to inspire change in the world,” he said. “Because the only thing that can bring people together — it’s not language…it’s music because that invokes the soul, the unconscious feeling you feel when you like something that’s your natural desire to like it. Some people might like something because their friends like it. But eventually when you go back and look at yourself in the mirror, you’ve got to be OK with that person you want to be.”
Brown started his first clothing business in 2002 with his aunt Christine in the garage of her Virginia home. Now, 18 months after hooking up with Michael Prendergast, chief executive officer of Maxima Apparel, a $100 million New York conglomerate that is Black Pyramid’s licensor, the label is sold in 350 to 400 stores including leading ones like Xhibition in Cleveland. The brand’s Black Pyramid pop-up shop, a 2,000-square-foot unit, is open in Amsterdam through Sunday and similar ones will bow in Milan, London and Tokyo in the next three months or so. Not really interested in other designers, Brown said, “Designers are almost, like, clique-y. I like being the leader of the underdogs because everybody’s fake. Everybody’s going to shake hands and be political so they can get to the next spot. I don’t do that. I’m just going to be real. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t and then we have to move on.”
Even without Brown flying in for the pop-up’s opening, a few thousand units of Black Pyramid apparel have been sold. And European retailers have been buzzing by to place wholesale orders for what is expected to be $15 million to $20 million in revenue for fiscal year 2016, Prendergast said. Freestanding stores are part of the 10-year-plus strategy. Making the point that October was a $1 million month for Black Pyramid, Brown said, “We’re being focused. We’re not petty, angry, aggressive, we’re just strategic. So everything I’m doing is a step to better myself and to better my world for the people who actually believe in my artistry.”
His artistic sense was evident in the spring look book shot by Emanuele D’Angelo at the Sheats Goldstein Residence. The fall one shot by Jenny Vi in Hollywood features Will.i.am and Jenny Aoki among others. D’Angelo said, “The clothes he makes are very [true to] himself. That’s really who he is. He’s not trying to be someone else. Do you know what I mean? I kind of respect that. You can like it or not, but at least he is himself.”
“My brand is based on individuality, being your own person, self-awareness, enlightenment but also just being able to feel comfortable. Clothes are almost like a supersuit. It’s confidence. When somebody puts something on they feel good in, they feel confident, it feels nice. But it’s affordable,” he said. “I’m not breaking pockets because I grew up in poverty, in the ghetto. I know what the struggle is. I used to live with 13 people in a trailer park trailer with a kerosene heater so fashion and stuff like that was kind of scarce.”
Offering easy-to-reach prices isn’t the only way he is giving fans access to the brand. Brown plans to use Instagram to find out what they think of the collection and to have them submit their own art that could potentially be used for one-off styles. An artist himself (as in painter) Brown said he doesn’t follow other designers just as he doesn’t copy other musicians. “When I do my music, I don’t have any restrictions. I don’t listen to other artists on the radio because I don’t want to sound like them. Over the years, I’ve been able to see music and how it has shifted into other things. Everybody tries to make a hit like the last one they just heard. I’m not trying to be arrogant or biased, I just take my time to distance myself from that,” he said. “I go to my studio, listen to music that makes me feel good and I create it with my team and just try to be myself. I don’t want to crawl into the smorgasbord of just trying to fit in because I never had to.”
The Virginia-born Brown also has a good grasp on the speed of fast fashion. Referring to an incident at Brown’s house last summer when he supposedly pulled a gun on a young lady named Baylee Curran, Prendergast said, “The charges were ultimately dropped because her story was proved to be false.”
Brown’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Brown phoned Prendergast on a Thursday to say, “‘Hey Mike, I’m going to be in court next Wednesday. I’d like to wear a T-shirt. Can you put this T-shirt together for us? And I want to sell it.’ We delivered it to him on Tuesday, he wore it to court on Wednesday and it is the single biggest-selling item that we have had to date.”
Nearly 5,000 units of the shirt which is imprinted with “This B!tch Lyin'” on the front and a Roy Lichtenstein-like crying blonde on the back, have been sold. Other Black Pyramid apparel carries “OHB,” which refers to all sorts of tags “Original Hood Bosses,” Out Here Ballin’,” “One Hundred Billion” all of which are “in reference to his quote-unquote crew of close friends and business associates and his expanding empire,” Prendergast said.
As for Rihanna, Brown said, “I think the Rihanna situation happened 10 years ago so you guys are stuck in the past. I can easily call Flash from “Justice League” and he probably can take y’all back through time and you can figure that out. For me, I’m only about moving forward.”
Putting “The trivial things aside,” Brown said, “You get to a certain age if you don’t start to mature and grow from everything, then you’re only going to be in the same cycle continuously…I know the rationale and inspiration I’m trying to set for the younger kids coming up, the next young guy or the next young female. It’s a point of actually understanding the artist and understanding the intelligence instead of getting an interview on TV and somebody fighting a question thinking you’re going to be triggered. I’ve been a victim of that since I was younger. But now I don’t even give that attention. It’s not even relevant in my life. Because those things consume you and all you think about is trying to please people. So I’ve never been one of those people.
Brown’s fans will get a more in-depth look at his days (and nights) when the Andrew Sandler-directed documentary about Brown “Welcome to My Life” debuts early next year in 300 theaters. “As humans, we limit ourselves by insecurities whether it be the insecurities that are parents put on us because of their protective fears. They don’t want us to make the same mistakes that they did, or peer pressure from kids in college and school that you have to want to be accepted. Everyone is looking for acceptance or love — everybody,” he said Friday. “It’s on us as people to see past the blemish that people might put on other people whether they’re overweight, pretentious, cocky, arrogant, racist — whatever it is — all of that stems from fear. Everybody wants to be loved and accepted. My goal is to transcend that and show people, ‘They may break you down, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop.’” I’m sure Michael Jordan wasn’t the best when he started but he didn’t let the ‘no’s’ stop the ‘yes’ that was inside of him.”
Brown continued, “When you tell yourself there’s stuff you can’t do, you’ve already defeated yourself because you allow yourself to believe in false imagination. Try it, and if you fail, ‘Cool!’ You understand what that failure is. Failure isn’t a failure because you’re learning from it. You get to prosper, grow, get to understand yourself more and then from there go back at it again…I don’t really need to be a role model but I would love to be an inspiration because good or bad, you learn something.”