VIBE Lineage is an interview series with the heirs of Black excellence. Now that their legendary predecessors have gained high regards in their own right, these younger kin are blazing their own trails.
When icons have children, it’s often pondered: Who will that child become? Will that child possess the same talents as their parents? Or will they grow tired of the legacy and rebel against the spotlight?
Brandy’s daughter, Sy’rai Smith, embraces her singing and writing gifts. From sweet memories of her mom hiding in the closet and secretly listening to her sing, to Brandy coaching her on how to reach certain musical notes, the two are a close mother-daughter duo. Smith made her debut on her mother’s seventh studio album, B7. Earlier this year, the two released another duet, “Nothing Without You,” for the soundtrack to Disney+’s Cheaper By The Dozen remake.
“I’m going to make a name in this industry, that’s for sure,” Sy’Rai said in the episode. “I want my name everywhere.”
When Sy’Rai’s not studying entertainment business and music production at The L.A. Film School on Sunset or playing tennis, she’s perfecting her musical craft. In an exclusive interview with VIBE, Sy’Rai got candid about paving her own lane as a blossoming recording artist.
VIBE: Can you speak on being a part of the series “More Than a Name” and being vulnerable about your journey as the daughter of Brandy?
Sy’Rai: Yeah, it was an amazing experience. I’ve seen other people do it that are related to people in the industry. I just wanted to do it. I was so honored that they thought of me. I loved the idea of speaking about my story and where I want to go in my career. And yes, I was vulnerable. I love being vulnerable with my platform and people that I want to watch because it’s important to be real and tell people your true story and your essence in this crazy world.
Aside from your shared passion for music, how close are you with your mom, Brandy? By the way, VIBE is sending her love and healing energy.
Thank you. I’ve always been close to my mom, but there is a time where you grow up [and] you’re not as close. As soon as I got out of that stage where I wanted to do everything by myself, I realized that my mom is really my best friend. We do regular mom-daughter stuff. We go see movies, and then sometimes we just chill at the house and not do anything. We like watching Dance Moms or Bring It.
My mom really pours a lot of life lessons into me. Doesn’t matter if it’s 3:00 in the morning, she’ll lecture me for an hour about life. I really do appreciate her because she does have a lot of gems that she just places on my heart, on my life.
What’s one gem you were taught that sticks with you?
Just to really be independent and know your value in this world and not everybody deserves to be in your life. Be very selective, humble, and kind because it’s really important. She’s really taught me to be kind, just by setting the example. She’s the nicest human being, and she’s just very angelic. I think me seeing her like that all my life — I want to be kind to people.
Have you ever felt like there’s a certain pressure placed on you to pursue music?
Absolutely. When you have such a legacy, you do feel a lot more pressure than an upcoming artist that doesn’t. God has blessed me with a platform where people can be like, “Okay, her [Brandy] daughter came out with music, I want to go see what that’s about.” But also, there’s another side of it where it’s like, “Well, she doesn’t sound as good as her mom,” or, “Her music is not that good compared to her mom.” That pressure? That scares me. I just really want people to understand that there is a difference. I am me, and my mom is my mom. I love when people do compare me to her because I mean, who wouldn’t want to be compared to my mom?
If I sound like her then I must be doing something right, but at the same time, it is a lot of pressure to exceed someone’s expectations when they already set something so high. I just don’t want to disappoint anybody. We want the audience to understand, “Okay, she’s great just as she is.” But it’s hard to think about people comparing me and not being just as in awe.
Are you defining your sound to be different from hers to lessen the comparisons?
Yeah. But it’s hard to steer away from how I sing because it’s just what I love to do. R&B is everything to me. That’s all I listen to, but then again, I also grew up on the side where pop was really popular. I have tapped into other genres. I’ve done some pop, I’ve done some afro[beats] just to see where I can go. But I always put an R&B spin on everything.
I don’t want to place myself in a box. I do want to get into house [music]. I want to get into EDM. I want to get into alternative. One of the songs me and mom did was a pop song — an R&B song, too. I think you can do whatever genre if you have a voice.
What do you remember to be your earliest memory of music?
When I was growing up, all I wanted to do was be in musicals at school. I remember watching Hairspray and Dream Girls. I used to have this CD player in my room, and I would literally just listen to Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and my mom. Those were the only four albums that I would repeat. I wouldn’t watch TV. I wouldn’t even do my homework. I would go home and just sit there, and dance and have a brush in my hand and pretend I was on stage. My mom would creep in my closet to hear me sing.
She would take me into her room and say, “Okay, can you do this? Can you sing this note?” I would do it, and she would freak out. She’d be like, “Okay, she’s going to be a singer.” Then every year, my mom would make me sing on her voicemail. It would be “Single Ladies,” Annie Get Your Gun the musical, and Annie. It was just funny because everybody would know it was me singing. I never thought about being a doctor, never thought about being a dentist. I was like, “No, I’m going to be a singer. That’s what I’m going to be.”
What are some of the regular young adult things that you like to do? People probably expect you to walk around with security detail all the time.
Oh no. I’m so normal. People don’t realize I’m home most of the time. I don’t like going out much. I just recently started picking back up and going back out. But I love regular things: shopping, going to amusement parks, arcades… then some days I like going to dinner. I like dressing up and then [going to] events or anything like that. But most of the time, I’m chilling at home with my cats … watching Love and Hip Hop. That’s pretty much what I’m doing or homework.
What would you say is the biggest misconception that celebrity children get?
[That] Life is easy. Money doesn’t solve a lot of internal problems or mental problems. We are blessed, but we can’t do “normal” things. A lot of people don’t understand the value of being normal. It’s like when you grew up, your mom was in the kitchen cooking you spaghetti and turkey sandwiches and sending you off to school. My mom was halfway across the country filming a show so that she could provide for me. It’s difficult for me to understand when people say, “Oh, they have it easy, it’s cool, they have money and have famous parents.” But our parents kind of sacrifice a lot to be able to do what they do, and sometimes, we’re a part of that sacrifice, too.
We don’t see our parents all the time. Sometimes we have to miss months of school or be homeschooled. I’ve been attacked in public. I’ve been bombarded with people. Some things I can’t just go out and do. Eyes are always on me, so I always have to watch my back. I’ve always been a good girl, but it can be perceived that she’s [Brandy] a bad parent if I were to be caught doing something crazy. It’s like you always have to watch what you do.
How would you describe your overall transformation as a young woman?
My transformation really happened a good two, three years ago. I wasn’t taking music too seriously. Then I had a health scare which scared the crap out of me, and I was like, “No, you want to sing? This is your time to do it,” because life is not promised. I said “yes” to every opportunity. If I had to be at that studio ’til 9 a.m. and I got there the night before, I would do it.
Even though I had help from my parents, my grandparents, my uncle [Ray J], and all these people — I worked so hard to sing the way I sing, to write the way I write, and to work with people that I work with. They had to hear my talent or see my drive to even be like, “Okay, let me get in the studio with her” or “Let me start training her.” I think that I’m going to flourish and surprise a lot of people.
Is there anybody that you would love to work with or we can expect to see you working with?
I would love to work with my favorite, Snoh [Aalegra]. We’ve talked of me working with James Fauntleroy, which is my favorite songwriter ever. I’ve already got to work with [Dahryl] Camper [and] Cadence. Ari Lennox and I kind of worked together. I just worked with Cardiak, who is a crazy producer. I’m just really happy that they see something in me. Timbaland … I would even work with his son. I’ve already worked with Eric Bellinger. Hitmaka.
What else is next for you?
Music is coming [in] 2023. That is a promise. More stuff like TOGETHXR, too. I really loved doing that. Definitely, you’ll be seeing my face more.
Check out Sy’Rai’s full More Than A Name episode from TOGETHXR below.