“Before my first album, I was doing a sitcom called Thea. I was afraid because you do a show and you don’t know how long it’s going to run, but you hope for the best. But my true passion was music. Growing up, Whitney Houston was it for me. I studied everything she did. I could sing the lyrics to every song she ever made. I actually wanted to be Whitney! I went to Atlantic Record when I was 11-years-old, but they thought I was a little too young and they told me to come back when I was 14. I was in female girl groups and singing by myself. I was doing anything to keep my craft up and running. The more training and development time you have the better you become. I went back to Atlantic at 14 and they gave me the shot they promised. When Thea was canceled I was like, ‘Okay, I can now put all my focus into my album.’
Working with Keith Crouch (who produced much of Brandy’s debut including the career-making singles ‘I Wanna Be Down,’ ‘Baby’ and ‘Brokenhearted’) was very important for me as a young artist. At the time he was not trying to be like anyone else on radio. He was all about his own sound. But what I really loved about Keith is he gave me real music. He didn’t give me teenybopper records. It was age appropriate, youthful records, but it was still real music. We had a great connection.
The hip-hop remix to ‘I Wanna Be Down’ (feat. MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, and Yo Yo) meant the world to me. I’m new…I’m fresh out of the box and these superstars are a part of my first single! They are my mentors and I looked up to them. I was a huge Queen Latifah fan. I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God…I can’t believe this is happening to me.’ I got the chance to vibe with all three of them. They embraced me as a little sister. I was one of the first R&B artists to welcome hip-hop onto an R&B beat. It had never been done before quite like that. Sylvia Rhone came up with that idea, and I just thought it was brilliant. She should get all the praise in the world for that. She wasn’t scared; she just said, ‘This is what we are going to do.’ I knew it was a special record.
I never really thought about album sales or going platinum. I just wanted to be famous [laughs]. I remember when they called my hotel room while my mom and I were sleeping. We woke up and the label told us, ‘Brandy, you just went platinum.’ I didn’t even know what that meant. I’m like, ‘Is that good?’ And they were like, ‘It means you sold a million records.’ All I could say was, ‘Really???’ It was like blah. I just kept going. I never really got caught up in all of the hype. There was so much going on. I was able to go out on tour with Boys II Men, which was big for me as a new artist. But I knew I really made it when I was at this chicken spot in Carson with my friends. One of the cars that pulled up was playing ‘I Wanna Be Down!’ That was it for me! My friends and I were so excited. You couldn’t tell me nothing [laughs].”
“I was going crazy with my vocal runs because I really wanted to impress Babyface. I knew how to pull back, but it was one of those things where I thought, ‘This is my chance!’ I always wanted to work with Babyface going back to ["Tender Lover"]. Every song he did I loved, and he was the hottest producer out at the time. Actually, he was the most legendary producer that I had worked with to that point. So when I was recording ‘Sittin’ Up In My Room,’ I was thinking, ‘This is my chance to show Babyface that I could sing!’ But he was like, ‘You don’t have to do all of that [laughs]. Just sing, baby. Just keep your vocals simple.’” [Laughs]
“Doing the video for ‘Missing You’ was great because I got the chance to meet Gladys Knight and Chaka Khan and hang out with Tamia. It just seemed like we were all family. I recorded my part of the song long before we did the video, so I forgot the lyrics. Tamia had to teach me the words [laughs]. We had a great time. It was as if we had known each other for a long time. I was really nervous when I met Gladys and Chaka. It doesn’t really get any bigger than those two. I was standing next to them thinking, ‘Oh my God. I can’t believe this is happening to me!’ These were the singers that I listened to and practiced to, to better my voice. These are the singers that opened the door for me. You just feel amazed. I would have just hummed on the track or sung background just to be on the same song with them [laughs].
After the success of my first album I was offered my own television show Moesha. When I was doing Thea I didn’t have that many lines. I didn’t really want to be an actress. I was just using whatever vehicle to get my foot in the door as a singer. They gave me Moesha…I didn’t have to audition for it. But when I went in to read with them I was terrible in the beginning [laughs]. Very bad. So they sent Kim Fields out on the road with me while I was touring. I would go onstage and then I would come back and work with Kim over and over again with my acting. She was preparing me for the first table read and I was getting the hang of it. So when I went to the table read the producers were like, ‘Okay, this is good…’ I kept working with Kim for Moesha and my rhythm got better everyday. Later on after I got better, they told me that in the beginning they thought I was horrible [laughs]. But it all worked out.”
“The impact of ‘The Boy Is Mine’ was just so epic. You are talking about a song that was no. 1 for 13 weeks. It was perfect timing and a duet featuring two people that no one would ever think would do a song together. It changed both my career and Monica’s. I just felt like I was on a cloud when that song came out. I was filming my first movie [I Still Know What You Did Last Summer], so I didn’t get the chance to enjoy it the way I’m sure Monica did because she was in the States while I was shooting in Mexico somewhere. But I definitely felt the love that was going on. Rodney Jerkins really set the tone for this album. He wasn’t afraid to push me as a vocalist. He understood where I wanted to go. This was a mature statement for me.
But people really wanted Monica and I to have beef with each other. And the song didn’t help the situation because it was about us fighting over a boy. Being that young and our fans being young, people thought we were really against each other. Even our camps wanted us to compete with each other all of the time. It was unnecessary because I was a huge fan of Monica and I still am. And she was a fan of mine. It’s a shame when the industry and record companies and publicists want to start a rivalry. Everybody wants that one artist to shine. But how come Monica and I couldn’t shine together? We missed out on a lot of things. We should have done more records together. We should have toured. But that’s how this business is. You can’t appreciate more than one artist. It’s sad.”
“This is my favorite Phil Collins song. I’ve always been a fan of his, so to do a song for him for a Phil Collins’ tribute album was great. Everybody knows everything about my brother [laughs]. But to be honest with you, Ray has a sensitive, delicate side that he doesn’t really show everybody. Because usually he’s all about being that cool guy with the swag. But he’s a really sweet guy. He’s very affectionate…he loves his mom and sister. I love working with Ray because it doesn’t feel like work. We love to make music together just as much as we love to laugh and play around.”
“Full Moon was when I realized that I wanted to step it up vocally from Never Say Never. I wanted the vocals to be better. I wanted the songs to be better. I just wanted to give the fans something they had never heard before. And of course, around then I was getting older. This was a different sound for both Rodney and me. When I was in the studio with Rodney I knew we were doing something special [particularly on ‘What About Us?’]. I knew Rodney was special and different. He got me as an artist and was willing to try different things with me. I’m not afraid of anything when it comes to the music. I’ll sing anything just to see how it sounds.
‘What About Us?’ felt good to me. I loved the writers on that song—Kenisha Pratt, LaShawn Daniels, and Nora Payne—and the way everybody came together. It’s funny because I have different ways to approach a song. Not every track needs a gospel run or melody. So I always sing the song the way it makes me feel. That’s why you hear the different tones come out of me. I tend to express what’s going on in my life in my music.
I worked with the Neptunes, but it really didn’t fit the concept of the album. At the time my formula was one producer setting the foundation for an entire album. I think the Neptunes would have been that type of [production unit]. My voice would have sounded differently with Pharrell’s music. But I just felt like at that time where I was and where the album was the sound didn’t fit Full Moon. But I would have loved to work on an entire album with the Neptunes.
The birth of my daughter Sy'rai really affected me as a person. My responsibilities and my experiences with unconditional love…I had never loved anything or anybody the way I love my daughter. So I’m different as a person, but my work ethic was still high. I was 23-year-old going on 24 at the time. And she added love and responsibility to my life.”
“Afrodisiac was an album that was still about my relationship with love and life in general. I wasn’t singing any mommy songs [laughs]. This was about my young life outside of being a mom. Afrodisiac was a sexy album, but it was also edgy. Timbaland meant so much to this project. I always wanted to work with Tim from the very beginning when I heard his music with Missy [Elliott] and Aaliyah, rest in peace. I really wanted to see how I would sound over his production. I knew that another type of creativity was going to flow through me, so I wanted to experience that. And it was everything I thought it would be, and more.
It feels good to work with people that are fans of yours and you are fans for them. You play this dance of wanting to impress each other and please the other. And that’s what we were doing. When we were in the studio together, Timbaland would hear my vocals play back and he would go crazy. And when I would hear one of his tracks for the first time I would just scream! That was what he brought…that edgy, fearless energy. I just wish that everyone else who was involved got what we were trying to do as a team.
We had already pretty much recorded the bulk of the album before Kanye West got involved. The label wanted to come out with ‘Talk About Love’ as a single, but I didn’t want it to be released. And that wasn’t because it wasn’t a good song. It just didn’t match the energy of what Timbaland and I had done. I wanted a single that represented the sound and the movie feel of my album. But I loved Kanye’s song. I loved what it was talking about because I definitely experienced that in my life where everyone is in your business and wants to talk about you. I learned a lot working with Kanye—like how to stand firm in what you believe in. It’s different when you believe in something and you are trying to make yourself believe that you are doing the right thing. But when you believe it and know it, that’s an entirely different thing. And that’s the type of person Kanye has always struck me to be. He believes in what he feels is right whether you agree with him or not.
I didn’t want to leave Atlantic Records, but I knew it was meant to be. Everybody that was Team Brandy had already left. The guy who signed me, Darryl Williams, Sylvia Rhone, and Richard Nash…they had all gone. I didn’t think that the new people that were coming in…not that they didn’t get me or didn’t want to help me in my career, but I just think they were looking more towards the hip-hop artists. They didn’t know what to do with me. I just had a feeling that it was time for me to go.”
“Kanye really wanted me to feel ‘Bring Me Down’ when we were in the studio. He wanted me to let loose. He said, ‘You know why you are doing this song? Because you are my favorite singer and I really feel like you can bring this song to life.’ That was really sweet of him to say. I think this song hits home for everybody. We all go through a time when somebody tries to bring you down or tries to make you feel like you are not worthy of anything. I could totally relate to that growing up in this business. Kanye being the person that he is, we could both relate to that. People build you up to bring you down. It’s all about who has the strength to overcome it and who can get up when they fall. Because you are going to fall…you are going to struggle and you are going to make mistakes. Everybody has their haters. I always tell myself that people who bring you down are already below you.”
“I love doing songs like [‘Thought You Said’]. Rapping is a hobby, so I definitely love to sing in pocket. It’s definitely more challenging than holding a note for five seconds [laughs]. Diddy is the type of producer that knows exactly what he wants..but only when he hears it [laughs]. When I did the first take of ‘Thought You Said,” Diddy loved it, but he wanted me to do more takes. After the sixth one I was like, ‘Puff, all you are going to do is pick the first take you heard. We are doing this work for nothing.’ But Diddy wants to make sure he knows what he wants. We ended up doing 14 takes. And he still chose the first one.!' Ha!"
“I blame myself for the results of Human. It was too pop. At the end of the day, it’s what I believe in. It’s what my vision is for the album. And if I don’t take a stand on what I believe in then somebody else will do it for me. If I’m not feeling what’s on the album or if I’m not feeling the direction and I don’t say anything, that’s on me.”
“I was just fooling around with Timbaland in the studio when he heard me rap. He actually wanted me to rap on his record, but I was like, ‘Yeah, but this is just something I do for fun…this is not something I do professionally.’ I looked at him like, ‘Really???’ [laughs] But he liked it. He wanted [my MC name] to be Bran Nu because that’s also my nickname. He wanted that to be my name on the record because he didn’t want anybody to know that it was me. Tim felt that if people just would have heard me without the Brandy name attached to it then they would have better accepted it.
Hip-hop means everything to me. It’s a language…it’s a feeling. There was a time I listened to hip-hop more than I listened to R&B. And it’s still so important to me in my life. To have been able to collaborate with hip-hop artists at an early age and have respect for it was great. To work with someone like a Timbaland [who has done both R&B and hip-hop], he brings that hip-hop element out of me.
My new album is definitely going to be R&B, which I’m really excited about because I haven’t done R&B in a long time. I just want to do R&B that is very forward where it’s not just what you hear on the radio now. I want it to be different. I’m going to be working with as many producers as I can. I want to connect with a variety of producers. I don’t want to stick with my same formula of working with one specific person. Why not work with everyone who wants to work with me? I really want to work with different writers and producers like Ester Dean and Rico Love…people that I really feel that can really get what I want to say out. I want to make sure that this is an album that the fans really deserve. The fans are going to stick with you no matter what you do. You can at least give them your best.
My family has helped me through my darkest times. I prayed a lot. It took a lot for me to get to this point. I’ve stopped discussing [the accident]. I can’t go into it in detail. I think I’ve said all I’ve had to say about it. (Brandy settled a wrongful death suit with the family of Awatif Aboudiha in 2009.) But my family has meant everything to me. My daughter is just a great person. When I was eliminated from Dancing With The Stars, she cried and really went through it. She was more upset than I was [laughs]. I had to calm her down and let her know I was okay.
It feels good to be known and appreciated. When people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I love your show (VH1’s Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business), I’m happy for the kind words. I’m flattered when I hear people say that I’m their favorite vocalist. It feels good. It’s why I do what I do. I just want to continue to be an inspiration to everybody. That’s why I’m going to put everything I have into this new record. I want to continue to move people and inspire them as much as I can.”