Chris Brown accepts the award for best male R&B at...

Chris Brown accepts the award for best male R&B at the BET Awards in Los Angeles. (July 1, 2012) Credit: AP

Until now, Chris Brown has been all about potential -- the next Michael Jackson, the next great hip-hop superstar, the next big brand spokesman.

Many of those possibilities evaporated after Brown pleaded guilty to felony assault for beating his then-girlfriend Rihanna so severely she ended up in the hospital in 2009. His recent bottle-throwing brawl with Drake and his crew has likely soured some of the little goodwill he had left.

That's unfortunate, since his new album, "Fortune" (RCA), shows so much of the musical growth that his fans had long been expecting.

Brown's range has widened significantly, able to vocally tackle a straight-up R&B ballad like "Sweet Love" as well as the club anthems like "Turn Up the Music" that have been filling the charts. Whether anyone but his most strident fans can believe him when he croons, "Baby, let's get naked just so we can make sweet love," after seeing his well-publicized anger-management issues, remains to be seen. However, the light touch he brings to the emotional "Stuck on Stupid" or even "Strip," the kinda-degrading come-on he disguises as sprightly pop, shows a vocal maturity that Brown didn't have before.

Perhaps that explains why so many top-flight producers and artists, including Madonna collaborators William Orbit and Benny and Alle Benassi ("Don't Wake Me Up") and Nas ("Mirage"), are still willing to team up with him. Brown doesn't make anyone forget his issues with "Fortune," but he does show he's still willing to fight (metaphorically) for his career.

CHRIS BROWN

"Fortune"

GRADE B

BOTTOM LINE Finally growing up -- at least musically

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