Although her fans have never forgotten the teen star that broke into the R&B scene years ago, Brandy Norwood feels now is the time for her to revive all the talents she has to offer.
by Steven J. Horowitz // Photography by Miguel Starcevich // Styling by Darius Baptist // Hair by Kim Kimble for Margaret Maldonado // Makeup by Eric Ferrell/dion peronneau L.A.
Brandy is definitely in her zone. Following the release of her underrated, under-promoted 2008 album, Human, the former teen star retreated from the spotlight – a place she’s been centered since her first meeting with Atlantic Records at 15 years old. After several years of personal strife, including sagging sales of Human and severing ties with her recording label, Epic Records, the 33-year-old talent is ready to shed her skin and start anew.
“I think a lot of the struggles I’ve had are what I needed to go through to get to another place,” she says. “Everything is pretty sudden. One day I just woke up and I changed my mind about everything. I felt like I wasn’t fulfilled. I was acting simultaneously with singing as a kid, and I just felt like I have this talent, why am I not using it? Why am I not trying everything and doing everything I can do?” Snapped back to reality after a near four-year hiatus from her solo career, Brandy is back to basics with the upcoming release of her sixth album, Two Eleven, releasing in June. The LP, which features production and writing from Sean Garrett, Bangladesh, Rico Love, Frank Ocean, Drake and Noah “40” Shebib, comes on the heels of reality show stardom with her family (VH1’s Brandy and Ray J: A Family Business) and hand wave appearances at red carpets. Her public standing shrunk; her star dimmed.
But with Two Eleven, a reference to her birthday (February 11th) and the day her mentor Whitney Houston passed away, Brandy is signifying a reinvention of sorts: she’s signed with a new label, RCA Records, shifted out of her comfort zone and is embracing reality. It’s a near confrontational way to reclaim her artistry. “It’s taken a minute for me to really figure out the type of artist that I am, the type of music that I need to sing to reconnect with my audience. I just know with this album, I wanted it to be as honest and as real as possible,” she says. “Sometimes, you can get caught up in wanting to make hits and wanting to get on the radio and performing on everything that’s out there. I just wanted to stay true to who I was. That’s why it’s taken me so long to figure out the right home for me to put my music out there with. Other than that, I wanted my album to represent honesty and clarity and struggle and pain, as well as love, with a different sound and a different edge. That’s what this album is.” Her first steps back into the pop culture arena came with a handholding counterpart. Fourteen years after their chart-rocking, she-for-all “The Boy is Mine,” Brandy and Monica reunited to record the Rico Love-penned “It All Belongs to Me,” the first single from both Two Eleven and Monica’s upcoming album New Life, due in April. On the sassy back-and-forth, the two unite instead of fight, staking materialistic territory in the wake of a breakup (“That MacBook, that shit belongs to me / So log off your Facebook,” they sass on the chorus). For Brandy, the intention was to release a solo single, but opportunity was too sweet to dismiss.