Brandy (©Gomillion Leupold)
The R&B veteran mulls her twin careers, her hit duet with Chris Brown and her legacy with Whitney Houston
By Melinda Newman
Special to MSN Music
After releasing two albums that failed to sell well, R&B star Brandy feared that her musical career had slowly bled to a halt. But she was wrong. "Put It Down," the first single from her new album, "Two Eleven," is her biggest hit in a decade. Its success ends the long drought for the singer, who scored several hits after being signed by Atlantic Records when she was only 14.
Throughout her professional life, the 33-year-old has juggled acting and musical careers, including starring in the popular sitcom "Moesha" in the '90s. She now plays Chardonnay on BET series "The Game" and will appear in Tyler Perry's new movie, "The Marriage Counselor."
Brandy talked to MSN about her duet with Chris Brown on "Put It Down," her love for Frank Ocean, why she's not crazy about every song on the new album, and her message to her daughter on "Two Eleven."
MSN Music: "Two Eleven" examines love from every side. Why focus exclusively on that?
Brandy: Love is the language of life. There's nothing else to sing about but love ... I've been through so much with love. I've been able to experience quite a bit: heartbreak, happiness, all of it. Every sort of love you can imagine, I've been through it.
You co-wrote some songs here, but most of the tunes came through outside writers and producers. How did you know when a song was right for you?
It's melody more than the words. The words are the relationships, but the melody is the soul.
Did you hear words that you really responded to but not the melody in some cases here?
Yes. A couple of songs [are] on here that I wish were different. I can't tell you what those songs are. ... This is a team. Sometimes, other people like songs more than you do or vice versa, but altogether, it's a complete package of everything that I wanted it to be.
You recently tweeted: "I can't lie. At one point I thought it was over for me and music, but God had another plan. Thank you." When did you think that it was over? Was it when your last album, "Human," didn't sell well?
I thought it was over a couple of times. Even before "Human." After "Human," I was like, I've already been to two labels, what other label is going to give me another chance after the last two albums did not do as well as anything I've done? So I just didn't see it happening. I was unsure of myself. I didn't really know what direction I wanted to go in. Out of nowhere, I do this performance [at R&B Live in Los Angeles in 2010] and I was able to get the attention of RCA and Chameleon Entertainment.
The evening turned around for you.
Unbelievable. It was a show I was trying to cancel because I was afraid to do it because it was in L.A. and I hadn't been out. [I thought], "People want hits. You haven't a hit in a minute, like in 10 years. Ain't nobody coming to see you, girl, please. Who are you fooling?" That's what I'm telling myself. ... But my spirit is like, "Yo, you need to go do this show and prove to yourself that this is what you're supposed to do." And that's exactly what happened.
Did you know "Put It Down" was a hit when you were recording it?
Oh, I knew it when I got to the second verse, mid-singing a word. I forget which lyric, [but] my body just fell to the floor and I just started crying. [Producer] Sean Garrett was looking at me like "What? Brandy are you good?" I'm crying like "Thank you, Sean." I'm going crazy. I just got that feeling.
What was it like working with Chris Brown, who appears on the track?
I didn't even know he was going to hop on it. When I heard his voice, [when] he rapped, that was out of nowhere, and he was singing as well, so that was just two plusses for me. He's just the sweetest guy ever. ... To help me in that way -- because he was helping me -- I just appreciate him for that. He has so many fans, so that kind of helped reintroduce me to this new generation of people who didn't know anything about me.
Not everyone is so high on Chris these days. Did you have any concern about that?
I'm in no place to judge anybody, you know what I mean? I have my own stuff, things in my past that I'm not proud of. His music is incredible and he sings from an honest place, and that's all, really, what we need to be concerned about. His business is his business. His path. His heart. Let him follow that in peace, please.
"No Such Thing as Too Late" addresses waiting to sleep with a man until you are in love and ready. You have a 10-year old daughter. Are you speaking to her?
I'm speaking to every woman, even women that are my age that are single. It's about integrity and respect for yourself. Love is unconditional, and if you love someone, you'll be patient to make sure it's real. It's about making a man work for who you are, your time, your intimacy. All of it matters. That's how I got my guy. I made him wait and work.
"Scared of Beautiful" was co-written by Frank Ocean. You've been friends for a long time. How did the song come about?
I'm proud to say that I was one of the first people to know that Frank Ocean was Frank Ocean. I knew Frank Ocean was special before Frank Ocean was special. I'm so happy to say that because I'm so proud of him. ... He's a poet, and for him to lend his time and talent to this album that means so much to me was a plus, and the song is one of my favorite songs on the album, if not my favorite.
What do you get out of singing that you don't get out of acting?
Acting is about playing someone else, so it's about making that character real with who you are. For me, that's a challenge because acting doesn't come as natural for me as singing. ... With singing, it's therapeutic for me. It's like writing in a journal. It's expressing myself. It's always in me. It's what I do. Music is who I am.
The album is called "Two Eleven" because that is your birthday. Why not wait and put it out then?
Because I won't have [any] fans if I wait until 2/11 for it to come out [laughs]. "Two Eleven" represents growth, evolving and my bond with Whitney [Houston] as well. She died on my birthday.
You two were very close. How will her death forever change your birthday for you?
Oh, my birthday will never be the same. It will never ever, ever be the same. But I will always celebrate her, even though I celebrate her every day by [singing]. This is what she wants. This is what she told me before she died. She called me a class act, honey. She called me that. I gotta do this. I'm doing this for her and for her legacy. I want to contribute to that.
Melinda Newman is the former West Coast bureau chief for Billboard magazine. She has covered music and entertainment for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, MSN, AOL Music, Hitfix.com, Variety, People Country and other outlets.
Earlier, someone mentioned that Chris Brown is NOT the "sweetest guy in the world." I agree. I haven't seen any real remorse in him, either. Brandy seems to be trying too hard in "Put it Down," whatever that even means. Her face, her look in this video, remind me of Donna Summer, only without the class, of course. I don't begrudge her a hit, I just haven't cared that much for her since her driving resulted in someone's death years ago. I'm not sure she took full responsibility for that, either. For me, a performer's personal choices can taint their image. I don't want my son emulating a woman beater; neither do I want him to learn that just because one's a celebrity, they can--and often do--get away with murder.