The comeback narrative is well-trodden pop-music territory: Disappear from public consciousness once the hits stop coming, toil away in the studio quietly for an extended period and then surprise everyone with a major splash of new material.
In the rare case you do it right — like say, Justin Timberlake — chart domination can follow. But for countless others, the comeback trail is less forgiving.
When Brandy returned to music from a nearly four-year hiatus in 2012, the R&B singer and actress seemed poised to regain her place among the genre's elite. Her sixth album, "Two Eleven," debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart and reflected a progressive sound that infused the veteran's traditional R&B foundation with hip-hop flourishes. But despite the high chart debut, positive reviews and a radio hit with Chris Brown ("Put It Down"), "Two Eleven" quickly fizzled commercially and spawned only one other single ("Wildest Dreams").
Taking a break from making breakfast in her Los Angeles home earlier this week, the 35-year-old singer born Brandy Norwood said "Two Eleven" accomplished her main goal — to reconnect with fans — regardless of sales figures.
"I was so proud of the work. ... I have no regrets," said Brandy, who headlines the African American Festival on Sunday night. "Of course, I wish it would have reached a lot more people, but it just gives me motivation to keep going and keep trying."
During her hiatus years ago, Brandy searched her soul and asked herself if music was still her passion. The answer was and remains yes, and the singer said she has no doubts about her career now.
"I'm too inspired to stop," she said. "At one point, the break that I took was trying to figure out if I wanted to do it or not, but that's not the kind of break I'll ever take again. I know this is what I'm supposed to do. This is my gift, and I have to give back."
Brandy is working on new music. It is too early in the project's development to discuss details, she said, but Brandy did hint at the direction she is headed. Do not expect the same upbeat sound of the previous album, she said.
"Right now, my spirit is not in the same it was in with 'Two Eleven,'" Brandy said. "I'm a little more melancholy right now, so I want to create music around my mood, that way it will be honest."
When asked the cause of her mood, Brandy remained ambiguous, but it is no secret her personal life has recently experienced a significant change. In April, Brandy and fiancé Ryan Press called off their 16-month engagement. On the phone, she seemed purposefully mum on specifics.
"Sometimes when you center yourself, you get a little bit quiet," Brandy said. "Sometimes when you're too loud, you can't really hear anything, so I'm just sitting back and listening right now."
Family matters most to Brandy, who is a mother to 12-year-old Sy'Rai Iman Smith. Brandy said she can already tell her daughter wants to follow in the family footsteps ("It's in her blood"), but she wants Sy'Rai to have a more-normal life before trying to break into such a tough industry.
"I know what I went through as a kid, growing up in the public eye," she said. "It's tough on anybody who doesn't really have a sense of who they are, and then you're being everything that everybody wants you to be, and you're not that either. I don't want her to go through that if she doesn't have to."
Aside from parenting and new music, Brandy said she is developing her own TV show. She was frustrated she could not share specifics, but said, "it's not going to be out until it's right." In the mean time, she remains a cast member of BET's football-themed drama "The Game," playing Chardonnay Pitts.
Still, music remains her therapy and "the way I can express myself the easiest," Brandy said. For her African American Festival performance, she had one message for fans in Baltimore: "Let's get it in!"
"Come hype, because I feed off a hype crowd," Brandy said. "If the crowd is kind of ehh, it doesn't mean I'm going to be ehh, but it's just harder to create that magic when you don't have the connection with the audience. I just hope they come ready to go, because I'm going to be ready."
If you go
Brandy performs Sunday at the African American Festival at Camden Yards Sports Complex, Lots B and C. 1101 Russell St. The two-day event will feature Mint Condition, Monifah and more on Saturday, and Johnny Gill, Mario and others on Sunday. Festival begins at noon on both days, and Brandy is scheduled to perform at 6:30. Free. Go to africanamericanfestival.net.