Following a four year hiatus from the limelight, Grammy Award winning R&B star Brandy made a return to the charts recently with the release of her 5th studio album ‘Human’.
In this candid interview, the 29 year old opens up to That Grape Juice about being underrated, album sales, her 6 year old daughter Sy’Rai, Beyonce being her inspiration, her love life and so much more. As ever, we don’t shy away from the questions you really want answers to. A lengthy, yet great read. Enjoy.
Brandy: I’m good. How are you?
Sam: I’m great, thank you.
Brandy: I love your accent, by the way.
Sam: (laughs) Thank you very much (laughs)
Let me just start off by saying it really is a pleasure speaking with you.
Brandy: I appreciate it.
Sam: There was an overwhelming response from both our readers and your fans alike when we announced we’d be interviewing you. With it now being almost 15 years since you first burst onto the scene with ‘I Wanna Be Down’, how does it feel to still be anticipated today?
Brandy: It feels amazing. You work so hard to touch people and to relate to people, so when they start with you and finish with you, it feels like there’s a sense of loyalty there. They (my fans) are always there and supporting me. I always say, I feel like my fans have always believed even me, even when I haven’t believed in myself. It just feels so good to have people support you throughout the years.
Sam: After a 4 year hiatus, this past December saw the release of your 5th studio album ‘Human’ – which I must say is truly phenomenal, I love the album…
Brandy: Thank you.
Sam …tell us a little about what inspired the album’s title and direction?
Brandy: Well, I will definitely say, whilst taking the time off and going through different life challenges – through the ups and downs, as well as the things I’ve seen, I just wanted to sing again. I wanted to sing about what I’ve experienced. Share with people (what I feel have been) some of my challenges and obstacles. I wanted this album to reflect who I am as a person. Definitely, have songs on the album, which people can relate to and feel like they aren’t alone in their situations as well. I just realised, at the end of the day, we are all in the same boat. We are all trying to get to the same place. That place of love. That place of success. I wanted this album to take you on a journey through that. That is the main reason I decided to call the album ‘Human’, because at the end of the day that is what we all are. We’re just living our lives.
Sam: That’s great. As well as serving as your return to the limelight, ‘Human’ also saw the creative reuniting of yourself and hit-maker Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins (‘The Boy Is Mine’, ‘What About Us’ etc). Evidently important to you when listening to tracks such as ‘Piano Man’, how did your reuniting with Darkchild come about?
Brandy: We had been trying to work together again for years, but timing and scheduling made it hard to get into the studio with him. When he did eventually hear that I was doing a new project, he wanted to be involved. One of the first songs I heard – that he played to me – was ‘Right Here (Departed)’ and I just totally related to the song. It really spoke to me in a different way than any other song I have ever recorded, as it was what I was going through at the time. You know, just having friends and family by my side and people that I can depend on (during the difficult times). I feel like a lot of people need that and a lot of people have that too. So I thought it was a great song to sing and just express myself with. With Rodney being the person who produced it, I, of course, wanted to go from there because of our history and all the music we have made in the past. It felt like the right thing to do. It felt like home for me, because we work so well together and we have a great chemistry. So, I wanted to see where that chemistry would take us creatively this time round.
Sam: The album has a much more Pop/International sound in comparison to your past efforts. Was this a conscious choice?
Brandy: It was a conscious choice, as I wanted the music to be a lot more universal. Radio is playing anything now; it really doesn’t matter if it’s Urban, if it’s Pop, if it’s Country. Everyone is getting a shot at being on multiple radio stations. I wanted this album to be something everybody could enjoy. I wanted it to be a well-rounded, universal album.
Sam: Which is most definitely is.
Upon its release, the album debuted respectably at #15 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 73, 000 copies in its first week. With the industry being a very different place compared to prior years, what’s your take on the album’s performance? What are your hopes for the album in the long run?
Brandy: I really try not to focus on the sales or chart position anymore, because you never really know (what can happen). I just try to give my best work and make the best music that I can make. That’s why I tend to keep my focus, because if I get caught into all of that, I can get discouraged, I can get depressed, and whatever. You know, this business is so different nowadays. It’s really hard to sell records. Of course, you want to sell records and you want to do well and you want to be at the top of the charts. However, I don’t make that my primary focus. My focus is just to make good music that people can listen to, enjoy and really feel. That is my whole purpose as a musician – to share my gift with other people.
Sam: Most definitely. A lot of your fans are very eager to find out what the album’s next single is (to follow-up ‘Long Distance’). I know there have been some murmurings about ‘Piano Man’ and ‘True’. Could you shed any light on what the next single will be?
Brandy: I really like ‘First N Love’. I really like that song a lot. Of course, I love ‘Piano Man’ and I also love ‘True’. But I don’t know, I think the fans should decide what the next single should be. I think they are leaning towards ‘Piano Man’, more so than any other song. At first, it seemed as if there was push for ‘First N Love’, but it seems as if they are leaning towards ‘Piano Man’ and I want to give them what they want…
Sam: So potentially ‘Piano Man’?
Sam: Also, you have a collaboration with John Legend on his current album (‘Evolver’) called ‘Quickly’. There has been increasing talk about this possibly being a single. Is this a likelihood?
Brandy. I hope so. I keep hearing about it, just like you. I don’t know for sure, but I really hope so. I really love that song and love the message in the song. John Legend is such a great artist, so to sing on a record with him is such a blessing. I can’t wait to actually perform the song with him and do a video – that would be a lot of fun. So I have my fingers crossed on that.
Sam: There has been increasing talk that a re-release of ‘Human’ is in the pipeline. Is there any truth to this?
Brandy: Yes, we (myself and the label) have been talking about a re-release of the album. But I don’t know for sure yet…
Sam…I ask because, there tracks such as Freedom, Drumlife, After The Flood, One Thing etc which have people wondering what will become of them.
Brandy: I don’t really know. The ‘Freedom’ song was recorded a while back, as was ‘Drumlife’ and ‘After The Flood’. They were songs that didn’t make the album, which was kinda disappointing as you can’t put all the good songs on the album – even when you want to. I will say that I really love all of those songs, though.
Sam: You thanked producer Timbaland in the ‘Human’ album ‘Thank You’s’, yet none of his work made the album. Will he be working on your future projects? It’s rumoured he’ll be doing something on your next album.
Brandy: Yes, absolutely. I am going to work with Timbaland on my next album. He is one of my favourite producers; his talent so versatile. He can do anything. What’s more, he really loves me as an artist, which always feels good and makes me feel like I want to do my best and impress. It always makes you want to work harder when the producer you’re working with is a fan, as they always want to give you the best material possible. Timbaland has always had that attitude and I just can’t wait to get back into the studio with him. He’s amazing.
Sam: Awesome. A lot of your fans are keen to know what’s next for you promotion-wise. There was some talk of you going on Oprah, yet many aren’t sure what happened with that. Could you please clear the air on that one?
Brandy: Hmm. With the Oprah the situation, the show wasn’t going to be about the album. I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where it wouldn’t have been good for me in terms of my personal life. I mean I’ve touched on some things in my personal life, but to go into heavy detail (about certain things), I don’t think would have been the best thing for me. So that’s why the fans didn’t see me on Oprah. I would love to do Oprah in the future, though. I love her show; I’ve been on there a couple of times. I want to go on there and sing and share what music is to me as well as how much it means to me (and it wasn’t going to be a show about that this most recent time).
Sam: While ‘Human’ is your priority at the moment, have you started thinking about the direction of your next record? In terms of producers, sound etc, have you started thinking about album #6?
Brandy: Absolutely. I started thinking about album #6 while I was recording album #5 (laughs). I really can’t wait (to start working on it) because I want to work with a lot of different people; like of course Timbaland, Tricky Stewart and The Dream, Stargate and Ne-Yo. There’s so many people I want to work with and I feel like I’m going to have the opportunity to work with all the producers I’ve ever dreamt about collaborating with and I look forward to it. You just never know where creativity is going to take you. So I don’t have a direction yet, but I definitely know who I want to work with.
Sam: I know it’s, perhaps, too early to be speaking about it now, but, in terms of potential release dates / time-frames, is a new album something we can look forward to this year or perhaps later?
Brandy: I just know that it will be sooner rather than later. It’s not going to be (another) 4 years from now. It’s not going to be 2 years from now; it might not even be a year from now. I’m just going to keep going until I can’t go no more. I promise my fans that and I’m going to stick to my promise, because I know they’ve waited for years. They’ve stood by me for so long, so I can’t and won’t put them through that big of a wait again. And that’s a promise (laughs).
Sam (laughs). Despite selling over 25million records, some still consider Brandy to be underrated. What’s your take on this? Do you feel like you should be receiving more recognition than you do?
Brandy: I think it’s all up to me. It’s the quality of the work that I put out. I feel that in my future I’m going to create something where people are not going to be able to deny it, they are not going to be able to say “this is not her best”, or any of that. It’s up to me to work hard for that. I will get the credit that I deserve one day, if I continue to work hard and do what I’m supposed to do. But that’s another thing I try not to think so hard about, because I’m very appreciative of the people that do love me and do see what I have. But yeah, I’m going to keep working hard to win the Grammy’s and everything else that I am supposed to do in my destiny.
Sam: Your vocals, vocal arrangements, harmonies and runs have become somewhat ‘trademark Brandy’, with many of today’s R&B artists, including Keyshia Cole, Rihanna and Chris Brown listing you as being one of their inspirations…
Brandy…that is so sweet…
Sam: (laughs). With that said which R&B artists of today inspire you – both vocally and more generally?
Brandy: I would have to say Beyonce; I really like her style a lot. I think she is one of the greatest singers of our time, one of the greatest performers of our time. I really like her a lot. I really like Rihanna a lot; I think her voice is so unique. She sings songs that really put her vocals out there. Who else do I like? I like of lot of people. Of course, Mary J. Blige and Alicia Keys, they’re great as well – I would also say I’m inspired by them also. The new girl on the scene, Jazmine Sullivan! I think she is unbelievable. I’ve known about her for a very long time – before anyone else knew of her. She’s always been great and I’m so happy to see everything happening for her the way it is.
Sam: If there was anyone – active now or in the past – you could collaborate with, who would it be?
Brandy: My God (laughs). It would have to be Sade. I would love to do a duet with Sade.
Sam: Ok. You recently changed management over to Roc Nation – Jay-Z’s venture with Live Nation. Could you tell us a little about how this came about and what it means moving forward?
Brandy: I really like Roc Nation. Jay Brown (former Def Jam exec and now Roc Nation staple figure) is really a great manager, he’s a great guy, and he has so many dimensions to who he is – as an A&R, as an executive. I think it’s great for my music career, as he’s so musically inclined. He manages, probably, every producer in the game right now. I look forward to seeing what we can create together along with Knockout. I’m still attached to my mother and my brother (who run Knockout). We’re all going to put our heads together and see what can happen in the future.
Sam: For the record, what exactly transpired between yourself and Kelly Rowland? Rumours have been rampant for the longest while about what cooled your friendship. Could you please shed some light on this?
Brandy: Our friendship hasn’t ended. We just don’t hang out as much as we used to. It’s just one of those things where you grow apart and go down different paths, you know what I mean? That’s it. There’s no…
Sam: Drama? (Laughs)
Brandy: No drama (laughs). It’s interesting; no one has asked me that before. There’s no drama. I have so much love for Kelly. We we’re actually born on the same day. So (there’s) no drama. We’re just on different paths.
Sam: Your beautiful daughter Sy’Rai is now 6 years old. How do you juggle being a mother as well as an artist?
Brandy: It’s very hard. To be a mother it takes a lot of quality time. For me, right now – because I’m working so hard with the project, I have to create quality moments that we can both remember. So I have a lot of special moments with just the two of us. I just balance it out. I have a lot of help around me too; I have my mum, my cousin helps me with her too. We balance it out and it seems to work out great. I miss her a lot, that’s for sure, because I’m so used to being with her all the time.
Sam: After an initially iffy break-up, you have gone on record to say all is well with you and Sy’Rai’s father Roy. How would you describe your relationship with Roy today?
Brandy: We’re friends. We are partners in raising our daughter. It’s great to have a relationship where there’s no drama. You hear all over the world about parents who are no longer together having drama; I’m just happy that we don’t have that issue. I encourage every parent out there to make amends with their ex-partners, because it’s really good for the child and, you never know, you could be missing out on a great friendship for you both. That’s how I look at it. It’s worked out with me and Roy to be a situation where we can be great friends and raise our daughter together, which is a beautiful thing. I’m really blessed to have that.
Sam: Very. Are marriage and more children something you envisage for yourself in the future?
Brandy: Absolutely! The clock is ticking (laughs)…
Brandy…I tell myself everyday “It’s not too late, it’s ok, it’s not too late!” I definitely want the marriage and more children…of course! I love being a mum and I love being loved as well, so I look forward to that. I just work hard on bettering myself and continuing to be a better me, so I can be ready for that when it happens. Because I know it’s going to happen…I know it… it just has to! I can’t be single for the rest of my life. (laughs). That would not be a good look…that would be horrible (laughs).
Sam: Which brings me to my next question – are you currently dating anyone?
Brandy: No! That’s the problem (laughs)! I’m not, but trust me I really want to. I’m not going to settle (for anything substandard), I’m going to choose the right person for me and we’re going to go from there. It’s like “God, at least let me get some candidates up in here to choose from!” (laughs)…
Brandy: But it happens to the best of us, doesn’t it?
Sam: It happens to the best if us.
Sam: You recently performed your smash ‘The Boy Is Mine’ with Monica in Atlanta. How did that come about and can we expect more in the way of duets from you two in the future?
Brandy: I reached out to Monica while I was in Atlanta and I invited her to the show. I was telling her that I was basically going to promote on the radio that our duet was going to be a surprise, although everyone had pretty much figured out it was going to be Monica. But anyway, we talked and I asked whether she’d be down to sing ‘The Boy Is Mine’ and she was like “I don’t remember the words!” I’m also bad with remembering some of the older stuff; however I happened to remember ‘The Boy Is Mine’. So we were practising on the phone and going back and forth and I was telling her the words. We did that and (come show-time) she came on stage and did her thing and I did my thing. She actually performed one of her songs on my set and it was just a great night for me. Atlanta was just so much fun and there was so much love in the room. Just to have Monica there to surprise everybody with that was just…unforgettable. I think people really enjoyed seeing us together on stage.
I’ve talked to her plenty of times about doing another song together or maybe even doing an album together. She seems to be all for it. We both just want to make sure we have the right material. We’ll see what happens. But we’re definitely in conversation, we talk very often now and it’s great to have her in my life. I feel we’re going to move forward and do some great things together.
Sam: Kind of a random question here, but do you watch any of your performances on Youtube?
Brandy: Yes, sometimes I do. Especially when I know I’ve done a good job, then I’ll go watch it. But if I feel like I didn’t do a good job, then I won’t watch (laughs!)
Brandy: I know I’m supposed to because it’ll help me not do it again, but it’s almost like I lived it and I know I should not do what I did on the last show again ever (laughs). So I don’t watch the bad stuff.
Sam: ‘Moesha’ was a big part of many of our childhoods – my own included. Will you be embarking on anymore TV projects in the future?
Brandy: Yes. I am actually taking meetings for TV projects now. It’s just about finding the right project, because ‘Moesha’ was very special and made a big impact. It also inspired a lot of people. So whatever I do, I want it to have the same foundation. I don’t want to do something just to be on television. I’m really trying to find the right project to do.
Sam: Do you keep in contact with any of the Moesha cast, such as Countess Vaughn (Kim Parker) or Shar Jackson (Niecee)?
Brandy: I haven’t spoken to them in a long while. I recently met with one of the creators of the show and he gave me an update in how everyone was doing, so hopefully I’ll talk to them in the next week or so.
Sam: Many of your fans would love for clarity on the track ‘Black Pepper’ (from the ‘Afrodisiac’ recording sessions. Will we ever hear it?
Brandy: I can try and see if we can hear the track. Absolutely. But I haven’t heard it since I done it, so I don’t know where it is. I’m sure Timbaland has it. I can check on it for you guys for sure.
Sam: That’d be great. We haven’t seen you here in the UK for a while now. Will we be seeing you soon?
Brandy: I’m on my way! Around March / April.
Sam: We definitely look forward to seeing you. Do you have any tour plans?
Brandy: Tour plans? Yes, I do. I want to go overseas first and say ‘Hi’ to everybody as I haven’t said ‘Hi’ in a long, long time. I want to do some shows over there and maybe come back and plan a tour for everywhere, but right now I just want to get out there and see everybody before I do a tour.
Sam: We’re rounding up now, so we’re going to do a quick word association game. I’m going to throw out a few names and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind.
Brandy: Ok, sure.
Sam: Barack Obama…
Brandy: A hero
Sam: Ciara (UK pronunciation – “Ci- Ah-Ra”)
Sam: Ciara (US pronunciation – “Ci-Eh-Ra”)
Brandy: Young Janet
Sam: and Brandy…
Brandy: A rainbow! (laughs)
Sam: When life sometimes gets a bit too much, and it takes to much effort to keep a smile on your face or keep your spirit up, what do you do to make yourself positive and smiling?
Brandy: I go play with my daughter, pray and write in my journal.
Sam: Also before we go, would it be possible to give us a quick acapella of your new single ‘Long Distance’?
Sam: Thank you very much!
Brandy: No worries. It was great speaking with you.
Brandy’s brilliant new album ‘Human’ is in stores & iTunes now. Do be sure to pick up a copy.
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