After Brandy Norwood gave birth to her daughter, Sy'rai, 10 years ago, she was exhausted and ready to leave the entertainment world behind.
"I was like, 'I'm good, y'all. I'm good on the music industry,' " Brandy said in a recent interview. "I didn't know who I was, but my daughter was a savior for me."
Motherhood may have eventually refocused her, but the music industry requires hit songs. Although she released two more albums after Sy'rai's birth (2004's "Afrodisiac" and 2008's "Human"), neither had a track as durable as "Put It Down," her breathy single featuring Chris Brown.
Now, the 33-year-old R&B singer and actress is in the midst of a major comeback. Her sixth album, last month's "Two Eleven," debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, and finds Brandy collaborating with some of the most sought-after hip-hop producers and writers in the industry.
Before playing Rams Head Live on Saturday, Brandy talked about her comeback, writing with Frank Ocean and more.
"Put It Down" was released before the summer and it's still all over the radio. Was there a moment you realized you had a hit?
When I first heard it in the studio, my reaction was a little over the top. Usually you break down and cry on ballads, but this is not one of those songs. It's a hip-hop, dance, nod-your-head kind of record. I heard it and I just broke down like, "Oh, my God — this is amazing! This is the sound!" [Writer] Sean Garrett and our engineer was looking at me like I was crazy, like, "What's wrong with this girl?"
One of the reasons "Two Eleven" is an exciting record to me is the list of producers: Bangladesh, Mike Will Made It, Tha Bizness. What hip-hop elements were you looking to specifically add to this album?
I didn't really know. I just knew I wanted to work with Bangladesh. I didn't know about Mike Will and Tha Bizness; they were introduced to me through ['Two Eleven' writer and producer] Sean Garrett. I wanted something different for R&B — something edgy, something I had never done before to create shock value. I've been gone for so long.
When I heard the "Put It Down" beat and other Bangaldesh beats, I knew I wanted to work with him. He's different. Versatile. That's what I needed to create that interest in me again.
Frank Ocean had a major hand in writing "Scared of Beautiful." When you heard Ocean's demo, what about the song struck you as something you could make your own?
The melody by itself is just beautiful. Even if you just hum it, it hits you in a place like "Whoa." To hear his voice on top of that, with the lyrics, it was like, "OK, this is a very special song. This is a song about self and insecurities and just facing the better part of yourself." I love that message. I felt like I could do something with it. It spoke to me, and I could really connect with it. I tried it, liked it and was able to play around with my harmonies.
There was a quote before the album came out where you said, "I'm reinventing myself and I feel fearless." How do you think the public viewed you before "Two Eleven" and how do you think that's changed since?
I don't really know how the public views me. I just know how I view myself. Right now, I'm in a very honest place. I'm comfortable in my skin. I love the music I put out. I believe in it, and that's all that matters. I don't think about what people want anymore, in terms of their perceptions. I can only be what I am. For so long, I was concerned by what people thought of me and changed who I was, so I'm happy with who I am. If you love my music, great. If you don't, then there are plenty of other people to listen to.
You've been in the business for a long time. At this point, what do you think is the biggest misconception about you?
I think there's a misconception in general about people in the limelight. People forget you're a human being. You go through struggles within yourself like anyone else. When people judge you or point the finger, they forget that behind the music, behind the face, behind the weaves and makeup, wardrobe, behind all of that, is a person. And even behind that person, there's a child that lives within all of us, that can be hurt and excited. The misconception when you're in the limelight is that you're a superhero.
What's the plan going forward? Will fans have to wait another four years for the next Brandy album?
Fans will not have to wait another four years. I am very aware of their need of music from me. My fans really want me to continue. That want from them is what drives me. I just want to continue to promote "Two Eleven" and do the acting thing simultaneously. I'm definitely going to keep going. I'm never going to stop again.
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