The “rule of three” refers to the number of times you multiply or divide the quantity of sexual partners a woman or man, respectively, claims to have had, since, the principle implies, ladies don’t want to sound like sluts and guys don’t want to sound like losers. It also sometimes refers to the universe’s apparent insistence that notable events occur in groups of three, like the deaths of beloved public figures, or, say, incidences of high-profile domestic abuse. And while a new Chris Brown album isn’t exactly an act of abuse (though this one’s 75-minute running time and inclusion of an R. Kelly duet make a good case), coming on the heels of the NFL/Ray Rice controversy and this week’s Oscar Pistorious verdict, it’s hard not to also think of Brown’s history of violence.
The title of the singer’s X apparently has numerical significance as well, at least to him: In an interview with Rolling Stone last year, the singer explained: “5/5/89 is my birthday: 5 plus 5 is 10, and this is my tenth year since I got into music. ’X’ is the 24th letter in the alphabet, and I will turn 24 when this album comes out. ’X’ is also a metaphor, as in ’ex-girlfriend.’” Other notable numbers are 21, the whopping number of tracks on the album; 25, the total tally of producers involved; 13, the number of guest artists; and five, the amount of pre-release singles, three of which have been relegated to the deluxe version as punishment for their lackluster chart performances.
Aside from the standout club banger “Add Me In,” which is steeped in arithmetic and trigonometry metaphors, and “101,” which finds Brown doing “101 on the 101,” the album’s lyrics largely eschew mathematical objects in favor of soul-baring like “Autumn Leaves” and sex talk like “Songs on 12 Play,” which likens a girl to a song from the titular R. Kelly album. “Drown in It” features Robert Kelly himself at his most revolting, trading verses with Brown about female ejaculate, the homoeroticism of crooning the song together obviously lost on both of them. On the Diplo-helmed title track, Brown makes an admirable attempt to take responsibility for his anger-management issues (“I deal with my pain like a lonely child”), but only after seemingly placing the blame on others, specifically on-and-off-again girlfriend Rihanna: “If you’re only as good as the company you keep/Then I’m gonna blame you for what they say about me.” Which brings another number to mind: one—which is, they say, the loneliest.