Remembered by many as the 15-year-old alto singer from next door, Brandy Norwood is doing much more than sitting up in her room these days. The Mississippi-born soul singer is currently celebrating the release of her sixth studio album, Two Eleven, named in honor of her birthday as well as Whitney Houston’s death date. With more than 10 million albums sold over the past 18 years, R&B’s teen star didn’t ever think she would ever be a music icon for a new generation. In fact, she never thought her career would take off the way it did. But, “God is awesome,” she readily admits.
Brandy moved to Carson, California with her musically-influenced family at the age of four. After singing in her church choir, and wanting to follow the footsteps of Houston, a 13-year-old Brandy started her career in music singing backup for Immature (now IMx) in 1992. Just two short years later, the songbird released her self-titled debut album, Brandy, which went on to sell four million copies; her sophomore album, Never Say Never (1998), sold five million units. Back then, the only thing this songstress had on her mind was taking over the music world. “[At 15], I just wanted to be a star,” she says. But fast-forward 14 years, and the daughter of a church music director is looking at her place in music much differently.
While Brandy has dropped quite a few albums and produced multiple chart-topping singles over the years, she decided to take a break from entertainment to contemplate if that was still the place to be. “[I needed] to take a break to figure out what it was that I needed to do,” says Brandy. “Just not knowing at one point if this was something that I was supposed to do anymore because I didn’t feel like I was creating any opportunities for myself. People were calling me a ‘has been.’ It was a hard time for me.” After reevaluating what it was she wanted next in her life, the now 33-year-old vocalist chose to work on what she calls her comeback because she didn’t if anyone would give her a chance. But the fear of being accepted into the mainstream once again wasn’t the only obstacle weighing on Brandy’s mind when deciding to work on her sixth studio project.
Two Eleven is now the second album of her career that does not include super producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins—a collaborator who has influenced all her previous projects with the exception of Afrodisiac (2004)—in the credits. “I was afraid at first because I’m so used to only Rodney.” She continues, “I just become a different person [and] a different artist when I’m working with him. So I was afraid that I would not be able to become that with anyone else because Darkchild is who I’ve been used to for long. But I gave it a shot. I really trusted Breyon Prescott [and] his instincts. He put me with all the right people… It felt good to have someone like Sean Garrett helping guide the ship, and Rico Love who was there at the very beginning. Everybody really made me feel comfortable and…showed their support for me. I think that helped.” But as the Grammy wining-artist conquered one fear, there was still one more to overcome.
People were calling me a ‘has been.’ It was a hard time for me.
In 2008, Brandy released Human, an album that was not well perceived by fans or the music world. On her VH1 reality show, Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business, the singer addresses the project’s poor performance, questioning Rodney Jerkins’ commitment to the album. But even with the non-success of her last LP, the ’90s-bred star kept it moving, knowing it was something she had to look passed. “Your past sometimes tries to creep in the moment and…it’s all an illusion,” she points out. “[There’s] that negative voice that we all experience.”
The first single from Two Eleven, “Put It Down” featuring Chris Brown, peaked at No. 3 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, making it her 10th top 10 single on the Billboard charts. “I feel like I’m being reincarnated,” she says reacting to the single’s success. “I think everything that I’m doing from here on is my way of coming back to the full potential of who I am…with the mentality of really being of service. The fame, people knowing who you are, [changing] your lifestyle up… all that’s great, but that’s not the reason [I do this]. When you have that mind state, everything becomes important to you because your whole goal is to inspire people.”
While most teenagers were trying not to get grounded, Brandy was busy touring the world. And 20 years later, she’s proven she’ll never quit... but she does have a backup plan just in case: “I would be a kick ass lawyer, and doing hair and