Brandy has been at the forefront of a few cultural resets over the course of her over-25-year career. She broke the charts with her self-titled debut album, which went quadruple platinum; she made history as the first Black Cinderella in the 1997 remake of the Disney classic; and she’s been called the “Vocal Bible” for her impressive range.
She laid some foundational blocks that influenced R&B artists of today, from Jhene Aiko to Jazmine Sullivan. If “booked and busy” were a person, Brandy in her early career would be the epitome. During the ’90s, Brandy was known as one of the hardest working teens in business. With minimal downtime, she’d film “Moesha” during the week, “Cinderella” on the weekends, work on her music in between, and tour afterwards. Her rigorous schedule and the public pressure to live up to perfect girl-next-door expectations were a burden that she’s still working through with inner-child healing.
She said that she still feels pressure, but is letting her authentic experiences and truth inform her music. For the past two years, the Grammy winner has been working on music for “b7,” her first album in eight years, which she says is the most vulnerable she’s ever been in her career. On top of that, she’s hoping to bring her fans some joy in the midst of a global pandemic.
“It all aligned,” Brandy told HuffPost of the timing. “I didn’t plan it like this, but it just happened to fall in the same space so I’m happy about that.”
On May 1, she released “Baby Mama” featuring Chance the Rapper, the first song from the new album. “b7,” which comes out July 31, also features a song with Daniel Caesar and a duet with her 17-year-old daughter Sy’rai.
Brandy spoke to HuffPost about her new album, updates on the “Moesha” reboot and the ironically timed 25th anniversary of “Sitting Up In My Room.”
You haven’t released new music in eight years. Why is now a good time for you to come back?
Well, I felt like I’m in a great place in my music. I feel very strong about my music, confident about where I am with it. I believe in it, and I just felt like this was the time. I’ve been working on it for the last two years. So when you gather all of your nuggets and everything seems to be right, that’s when you want to share and relate. I didn’t know the world was going to be in the place that it’s in right now, but I mean, everybody needs music right now. Everybody needs to feel uplifted so it’s a good time and R&B is in a great place right now as well.
You just released your first single from the new album, “Baby Mama.”In the song, you reclaim the power behind this term. What significance does that hold for you?
I love being a mother to my daughter. I love feeling like I have a responsibility to shine the brightest light that I can, lead by example and to provide and to be inspired by such an amazing young girl. And I’m just so happy to be her mother. And I know there are a lot of mothers out there who feel the same way, who love to provide and to keep everything going in terms of holding the family down and I just wanted to celebrate that and always wanted to do a song that celebrated my love for my daughter. So it was just the perfect song, the perfect message, the perfect beat. It’s such a triumphant beat that Hit-Boy was able to share with me. And baby mama is not a bad thing; it’s a great thing. We’ve been given a voice to celebrate in our motherhood, and I wanted to give that voice for all single mamas out there and every mama out there that’s holding it down for their family.
I love that your daughter sings now as well.
We’ll be able to hear even more of her on your forthcoming album. What’s it like working with her? What lessons, especially having had your mother as a manager, have you been able to incorporate in your coaching her as an artist?
Well, I have always given her the advice to stay true to herself as an artist. She has to love her music. Music is a way to express your deepest feelings, your surface feelings, any feelings that you have. Music is a way to do that and I’ve always wanted her to say something with her lyrics and know that she’s going to always be sharing and relating and speaking to people, not just telling her story but telling other stories as well in her music. And so it’s just great to see her develop into a songwriter and a singer. I also just respect the fact that she told me once, “Mom, I want to find my own way. I want to find my own sound. So just allow me to do that.”
I don’t want to be overbearing, so I sit back and I watch her find her own way. One day I’ll get the chance to really work with her and tell her the things that I wanted to do in the studio, just as a vocal producer. But for now, I’m allowing her to find her own way and she’s doing a fantastic job. And I think it was so brave of her to put out a song where other people can listen and then share within the space of music. It’s been great to see it and watch it.
What can we expect from your forthcoming album, not just sonically but also content wise?
Well, I would have to say this is going to probably be one of my most personal, authentic albums to date because I just bare it all. My whole entire heart is on this album, and I was able to write a lot of the songs and find my own melody. So this is my perspective of myself and I was able to do that in a safe environment with great producers and great writers that I got a chance to work with who really championed my story and the things that I wanted to speak about in terms of love and heartache and coming into my own and finding my own self love. It’s just a beautiful body of work that I’m so proud of and I can’t wait to share because it’s so honest.
Your first album debuted 26 years ago, and it’s considered canon. It has undeniable success and longevity. I’m wondering, especially now, what pressure, if any, you feel to have this new music be relevant but also authentic to yourself?
My goal is to just be as authentic and genuine and honest as I can in my art. I don’t do it for any other reason but that. Pressure is definitely something that I feel, but more so a responsibility to my purpose. I know music is my purpose. I know there are people out there that feel like they need my music and that is why I continue to do what I do. They need my voice; they need my songs. And that’s a responsibility and I have to continue to stay true to that. Music is the reason why I was born and I just have to continue to keep going no matter what. And I’m just so blessed to be able to have longevity in this business. I’m blessed to still have my voice. Why not get out there and be a light and share the light and actually sparkle brighter? It’s just a great time for me. I feel so good about where I am.
You were one of the hardest working teens in the game and you talked about doing inner-child healing, especially because you didn’t really have time to just enjoy childhood as regular folks are able to do. Are you still doing that work and what does that look like for you?
Oh my God, absolutely. I don’t think that’s work you ever stop doing because that inner child never, never leaves. You have to nurture yourself. You have to practice self-love. That’s something that I feel like I will practice for the rest of my life. I journal every day. I talk to God every day. I try to keep my inner dialogue as positive as possible. So my whole life is based on affirmations and just keeping negative thoughts away. That’s a tough journey, but it’s the work of my life. It’s the work of all of our lives. Even if we don’t do it, it’s going to always be there waiting for us when we decide to turn to it and face the things about ourselves that we need to improve or just to continue to grow and change and evolve. And I think it’s a beautiful walk, although sometimes it can be challenging, but it’s great to look in the mirror and say, “I love you.” It’s a beautiful thing.
What’s been the biggest lesson that you’ve learned?
I would have to say that self-love is the love that I feel like I’ve been searching for my entire life. There are times where we think it’s in other people, we think it’s in our relationships or in our significant other, and not to say that you can’t share love and have a partnership and be content with that, but self-love is the love that we all search for and we don’t know it. We think it’s in everything else but ourselves. And it’s a never ending lesson because the more you love yourself, the deeper it could go. It never ends. And I’m thankful to know that. It took me a little bit to get it, but I got it and I’m here to just spread that.
I think it’s funny that “Sitting Up in My Room” turns 25 this year, especially in the time of social distancing. Reflecting back, what significance does that song hold for you in the grand scheme of your career?
It was such a great moment for me. I dreamt of working with Babyface for as long as I can remember and to work with him and to have such a great experience with a great song and to be connected to Whitney Houston, my idol ... I spent all my childhood trying to meet her so to be a part of such a phenomenal project like “Waiting to Exhale,” it was a dream come true. It’s just been great.
Everybody’s in quarantine and people were doing the “Sitting Up In My Room” challenge and it’s just great to see that it still has an impact and it’s still in the hearts of people. That’s when you know you’ve done something timeless. When I was doing that song, I had no idea it would still be something that people would remember. So I look back and I just appreciate the experience and I’m just thankful to have records that have stuck with people and a record that people can always remember and remember exactly what they were doing when they heard the record. So it’s a blessing.
Are there any updates on the “Moesha” reboot?
Not as of yet, but I’m definitely still in talks about doing it and figuring out the best way to present it if it were to ever happen because it was such a great show. I just want to do it the right way because sometimes you can get a redo and it’s not what people expected and it falls short so I just want to make sure we don’t do anything like that. So if it comes back, it would have to be right and well thought out. And so I’m definitely still in that process of trying to make that happen. But I’m very hopeful and yeah, I have a lot of faith that it will happen.
Ideally, would you want it to center on Moesha or maybe her potential kids or what? Any ideas on that?
I mean there’s so many different directions of where it could go where Moesha is in her life. I think one of the main things I would love to do is answer a lot of the questions that we didn’t answer when the show ended because it ended on a cliffhanger, and I would love to tackle some of the topics that were not answered because everybody’s still wanting to know what happened to Myles. Who was pregnant? All the things that the loyal fans of “Moesha” want to know. So I want to get into that first and then go from there and see if Moesha is a journalist now because that’s what she loved to do when she was a teenager. She had a dream about being like you.
I watched “Cinderella” recently and I felt like I was a little girl again and it’s just such a significant film. What was the dynamic of the mentorship you received on set from Whitney Houston? I know she handpicked you to be Cinderella, and we’ve seen some of these behind-the-scenes moments, but can you talk about that experience and sharing that set with her?
Absolutely. I felt like I was living a dream. Years before, I was at a Whitney Houston concert, and I was in the nosebleed section and I talked my way all the way backstage to meet her and I didn’t get a chance to meet her and I thought life was just over because I had been so close. So I would not have believed just a few years later I would be on set working with her. Acting is something that I never thought I would ever do. I just wanted to sing. So to be in the studio with her, meeting with her, clowning with her, laughing with her, being friends with her, I just never would have thought that. And then Cinderella being such an iconic role. To play that role, to be chosen by her, it didn’t feel real ... I was really Cinderella because all of my dreams were coming true through Cinderella’s story.
So it was surreal. But I realized that she was just a normal, down to earth, grounded human being that just happened to be a phenomenal person. And I just remember always wanting to stay as humble and as grounded as she was. And we just had a great time. I just loved working with her. It didn’t feel like I was even at work. I was always just smiling and happy just to be around her. I wish you could have been there because it just was a sight to see. I think that was one of the happiest times in my life ... to be around someone that I looked up to for so long and then to become like her little sister. It felt so unbelievable.
I watched footage of us during that time and it is mind blowing that it actually happened. I never would have thought that it would have happened, but it did.
Is it ever possible that we’ll get a soundtrack for that film? I know it never came out.
I don’t know. I have no idea about that. I mean if it were left up to me, absolutely. There would have been a soundtrack a long time ago. But I mean that would be awesome, for sure.
I would want to rerecord some of the songs though. Well maybe not because I mean, such a precious time. So no, I scratch that, no rerecording.
Lastly, what have you not done in your expansive career — which also includes appearances on Broadway — that you hope to do before it’s all said and done?
I just would love to tell my story in a theatrical way, just paying homage to when I was able to experience Broadway. I have never felt that free on stage. I never felt so alive in my life. And so I would love to bring that feeling, that training, that way of expressing art to television, which is another thing I love. I love television and I love film. So to bring all of that in one genre would be awesome.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.