Christopher Maurice Brown was born on May 5, 1989, in the small town of Tappahannock, Virginia, to Joyce Hawkins, a former day care center director, and Clinton Brown, a corrections officer at a local prison.  He has an older sister, Lytrell Bundy, who works in a bank. Music was always present in Brown's life beginning in his childhood. He would listen to soul albums that his parents owned, and eventually began to show interest in the hip-hop scene.


Brown taught himself to sing and dance at a young age and often cites Michael Jackson as his inspiration. He began to perform in his church choir and in several local talent shows. When he mimicked an Usher performance of "My Way", his mother recognized his vocal talent, and they began to look for the opportunity of a record deal. At the same time, Brown was going through personal issues. His parents had divorced, and his mother's boyfriend terrified him by subjecting her to domestic violence.


At the age of 13, Brown was discovered by Hitmission Records, a local production team that visited his father's gas station while searching for new talent. Hitmission's Lamont Fleming provided voice coaching for Brown, and the team helped to arrange a demo package and approached contacts in New York to seek a record deal. Tina Davis, senior A&R executive at Def Jam Recordings, was impressed when Brown auditioned in her New York office, and she immediately took him to meet the former president of the Island Def Jam Music Group, Antonio "L.A." Reid, who offered to sign him that day. "I knew that Chris had real talent," says Davis. "I just knew I wanted to be part of it."


The negotiations with Def Jam continued for two months, and Davis then lost her job due to a corporate merger. Brown asked her to be his manager, and once Davis accepted, she promoted the singer to labels such asJive Records, J-Records and Warner Bros. Records. According to Mark Pitts in an interview with HitQuarters, Davis presented Brown with a video recording, and Pitts' reaction was: "I saw the potential ... I didn’t love all the records, but I loved his voice. It wasn’t a problem because I knew that he could sing, and I knew how to make records." Brown ultimately chose Jive due to its successful work with then-young acts such as Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. Brown stated, "I picked Jive because they had the best success with younger artists in the pop market, I knew I was going to capture my African American audience, but Jive had a lot of strength in the pop area as well as longevity in careers." Brown attended Essex High School in Virginia until early 2005, when he moved to New York to pursue his music career.