Every generation romanticizes the quality of music of their youth, particularly when compared to what’s presently ruling the radio. This statement certainly holds true for 80s babies that came of age in the 90s —like myself— who remember the legion of R&B artists who made soulful music, and to this day yearn for the return of true rhythm and blues. Brandy was among that elite class that shaped my musical memories, and one of the few who has managed to stay around.
As with any artist interested in evolving, Brandy experimented with different sounds on both 2004’s Afrodisiac and 2008’s Human. Diehard fans, who connected so deeply with her debut Brandy and its follow-up Never Say Never, yearned to see Brandy reconnect with the genre and pump some new life into the weakened heart of R&B. The 33-year-old singer wasn’t oblivious to this when she started creating her sixth album, Two Eleven. “I wanted to give my fans something that they’ve been waiting for, that they deserve,” Brandy told me when we spoke in the days immediately following her new album’s release. “For so long they really wanted me to get back to the root of R&B.”
Over the four years that elapsed since Human‘s release, Brandy lived. She survived. Her triumph is poured on to wax for the world to judge. Sonically, Two Eleven is a mix of sultry ballads and bass-heavy dance records—all of which stay true to the classic tenets of R&B, eschewing the trendy incorporation of EDM-style beats that so many artists cling to these days. The soul you feel in Brandy’s album is what’s been missing from a genre that’s been overrun with oversexualized lyrical and musical content.
Thematically, Two Eleven details the winding road that all relationships take, from courtship to falling in love, from physical intimacy to the rocky stages that follow. “No Such Thing As Too Late,” written by Rico Love, is the track she reassures women that it’s okay to make a guy wait for intimacy. Her breathy voice smoothly croons over the bass-snare. As Brandy herself told us about the track, “I think it’s important for women to understand their worth is so special. You gotta make a guy work for who you are, and your time, and your space and your intimacy.”
“Slower,” “Let It Go,” “Put It Down” and “Paint This House” are lovemaking songs. “Let It Go,” which samples Lykke Li, is an uptempo track similar to “Put It Down” featuring Chris Brown. Both have the ability to work either in an intimate setting or the club, while “Slower” and “Paint This House” are reserved for behind closed doors.
“Wildest Dreams” is an ode to finding the right one and was inspired by Brandy’s boyfriend Ryan Press. Although the pace or production of “Wildest Dreams” isn’t what you’d expect for a tune about finding love, it works with her signature runs. After courtship then falling in love followed by intimacy, there’s the end of the honeymoon phase. When love starts to hurt and things get rocky there’s “So Sick,” “Hardly Breathing” and “Wish Your Love Away.” It no longer feels good and the only choice is to walk away. “Do You Know What You Have” produced by Mike Will asks the question: Do you know what you’ve got here? Because you never know what you’ve got until its gone.
One of most beautiful songs on the album happens to be written by Frank Ocean, another artist responsible for the R&B genre’s recent resurgence. “Scared Of Beautiful” is about self-love, realizing one’s own greatness. “You’re so terrified of beautiful/Scared of the good more than the evil/scared of the light more than the dark/Scared of a truth so much more than a lie/I’m scared for me/I’m scared of me/Scared of beautiful.” This is one of her favorites. “I call ‘Scared Of Beautiful’ my ‘Greatest Love Of All,’” referring to her dear friend Whitney Houston’s classic.
Unfortunately, positive reviews and popular catchphrases like “Brandy’s back!” don’t always translate into great record sales. Despite landing at No. 3 on the Billboard charts (which is her first top 10 album in eight years), only 65,000 copies of Two Eleven were sold during the album’s first week of release. Compare that to the aforementioned Frank Ocean, who had very little in the way of promotion yet still managed first week sales of 131,000 copies of Channel ORANGE.
Brandy admittedly thought music was over for her at some point. “What was stuck in my head was what I chose to pay attention to, which is, ‘You’re a has-been, you’re only as good as the last thing that you just did,’ I started to focus on the wrong stuff.” It’s obvious Brandy never thinks that she’s the Brandy in the way the world sees her. The Brandy whose debut album sold four million copies when she was only 15. The same Brandy that had the co-sign and love of Whitney Houston. The Brandy whose lead role as Cinderella garnered ABC 60 million viewers back in 1998. To her, she’s just a woman with a tremendous vocal gift who was put on earth as a vessel to help others through her music.
Perhaps Brandy’s gift and curse is she’s too humble. Every now and then people need to be reminded that Brandy paved the way for the younger singers who top the charts today. And as India Arie mentioned before serenading Bran at New York City’s W.I.P. last week, those are Brandy runs your favorite singer tries to imitate.
This feels like Brandy’s moment. The sparkle in her eyes says it all. She’s really happy. And in love. Her music has restored faith in the lovers of a genre they saw slowly diminishing. Brandy revived R&B. Her new music reminded us of the 90s era of rhythm and blues that we revered while growing up. Finally, this 80s baby can smile about my generation’s music without solely coasting romanticized notions of what once was. Today, I can enjoy what’s in front of me—and in my earbuds—today. Brandy singlehandedly did that.
[Photo: Getty Images]