LOS ANGELES — When Chris Brown talks about the intricacies of his white-hot career — whether it's directing music videos, co-writing songs, his latest film or his fledgling record label — he sounds like your typical, seasoned music veteran.
Every so often, though, he'll slip a little something into the conversation that reminds you that despite his budding superstar status, he's still just 18.
"Dudes have bought $15,000 worth of champagne and brought it over (to me)," says the 6-foot-1-inch Brown, who sports an assortment of tattoos. "I just give it to the older people, like, 'Y'all can have that, I don't drink. Give me a cranberry juice or a Sprite!'"
But Brown's preference for soda may be one of the few childlike aspects of his world these days. Already a double-platinum success thanks to his 2005, self-titled debut, as he releases his sophomore album, "Exclusive" this week, he seems poised to deliver on industry hype that he is the music world's next king. The album's first single, "Kiss Kiss" featuring T-Pain, is already a No. 1 hit after just seven weeks on the Billboard pop charts.
"Chris is a true artist," says Andre Harris, one-half of the Philadelphia-based production duo known as Dre & Vidal, who've produced tracks on both of Brown's albums as well as for Justin Timberlake, Usher and Mary J. Blige, among others. "He takes his craft seriously and you can just see his potential. He's the next little dude."
Harris is not the only one with that opinion. Brown — who sings with a high tenor and is a spectacularly gifted dancer — was anointed "The Future of R&B" on his inaugural Vibe magazine cover in February 2006. No less than Michael Jackson has sang his praises, and Timberlake gushed about his talents after Brown's show-stopping performance at this year's MTV Video Music Awards.
Brown even has the Queen of Soul in a frenzy.
"I love Chris Brown," Aretha Franklin recently told The Associated Press. "He got down on the Grammys and he's as bad as he wants to be. He's definitely Numero Uno!"
Brown is aiming high for "Exclusive," which he also executive produced: "I'm trying to sell a lot. My personal goal would be 400,000 or 500,000 (units in the first week), but I'd love to do ... 800,000!"
However, he doesn't want to let the chase for No. 1 get the best of him. Though he admits he'd "like to reach the success of Michael Jackson, or higher," he also adds: "I don't try to live up to those names because you can lose focus of who you are as an artist. I just try to be me and continue with my success."
There's been no looking back for Brown since his first single, "Run It, ascended the charts in November 2005, taking the No. 1 spot for five weeks. Since then, he's had a stream of top 10 hits, collaborated with the likes of Bow Wow and Rihanna, and even had a box office hit with this year's "Stomp the Yard" (another film, "This Christmas," opens Nov. 21).
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Brown, a native of Tappahannock, Va., got his record deal at 15 and has been singing professionally since he was 12. Michael Jackson was an early influence — he remembers watching the King of Pop's videos, courtesy of his father.
"My dad recorded all those joints and let me watch them," he notes while mimicking the lyrics and choreography from The Jacksons' video for their 1980 hit, "Can You Feel It?"
Unlike Jackson, however, Brown doesn't feel like he was robbed of his kid years.
Full props to mom
"I had my childhood," says Brown. "(Having a childhood) gives you morals and a sense of your own self without being mentally consumed by the industry."
Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings Davis credits Brown's mother, Joyce Hawkins, who is often at her son's side, with keeping the young star grounded.
"She doesn't play games with him," he says. "If he was acting up or not doing well in school, he was on punishment." Harris laughs in agreement: "I think he was on punishment when we were in the studio! (Artists) need to have a regular life and some down time and I'm sure Chris got plenty of that growing up in Virginia."
Of course, now, things are far from regular for Brown. He talks of mall trips interrupted by shrieking fans, his $80,000 bracelet, and a Lamborghini: "You've got to have some toys," he laughs.
He also has his own record label, CBE, or Chris Brown Entertainment, on Interscope Records, and his own artist — Scooter, one of his young dancers.
"They can really dance and everybody says they dance like me because they dance around me and watch me," he says.
Two years in the business, and already there are kids trying to be the next Chris Brown. Is it possible that Brown could be holding pop culture in the palm of his hands as its next superstar?
Brown takes a moment to ponder the prospect, and then, once again, sounds like the teen that he is, exclaims: "That's hot!"
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