The Best of Brandy
h, Brandy, has it really been 10 years, girl? 10 years since I dated Tremayne? That’s how I always remember your first album, because I was up in Milwaukee all the time, spring of ’95, so happy—I thought it was ‘cause I was in love, but maybe it was more ‘cause I got to listen to an R&B station all the time, which living in an Indiana farm town was not a normal occurrence—and I could barely go an hour without hearing “Baby” or “I Wanna Be Down” or “Best Friend” on V100. Which was just fine with me, ‘cause girl, you nailed it on that first album. “Best Friend,” especially, just killed. Still does. I never got how it kinda-sorta flopped at pop radio (#7 R&B, but only #34 pop). Every single off your debut worked, thanks in equal parts to Keith Crouch, who produced all of ‘em superbly, and you and your wise-beyond-your-years voice. You sure didn’t sound 16 back then, even though you were, Brandy.
And then you took three years before your sophomore album, but it didn’t seem to matter. When Never Say Never came out, I was working at that radio station, still in Indiana. We got those cheesy weekly CD comps of new singles, which were my lifeline back then, stuck as I was in the middle of cornfields. Mainly I loved them for the R&B and hip-hop, of course, and damn—“The Boy Is Mine” hit me like a slap that felt like a kiss. That track, constructed by you, Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, and Dallas Austin (by this point you were coproducing your material)—that shit was the bomb. So deceptively simple: just a bassline, some tinkly keyboards and some faux-harpsichord providing the backing for one the greatest verbal catfights ever, between you and Monica. I mean, this is up there with Barbara and Donna, it’s that damned good.
But you had more up your sleeve, didn’t you? Granted, this was an uneven second effort—the rap/sung collabos “Top of the World” (with Mase) and “U Don’t Know Me” (with Shaunta [who?] and Da Brat) don’t quite work, and your only solo #1 on the pop charts, “Have You Ever?,” isn’t that good at all. Not that I expected much from a Diane Warren song produced by David Foster, but at least you got that #1 out of it. But then there was “Almost Doesn’t Count,” so smooth and professional, and especially the ridiculously great “Angel In Disguise,” my second-favorite of your singles and a classic Darkchild record. Another pop stiff (#72?!), but such a classic. This one will get covered in five or ten years time by someone big, and they’ll make it the hit it deserves to be.
You started off 2002 with that crucial third album, Full Moon, and its attendant shock of an opening single, “What About Us?” Industrial-strength R&B? No, this is actually industrial R&B, like I imagined Aaliyah might’ve sounded had she achieved her goal of working with Trent Reznor. I was in a real chocolate city then, down in the 757 of Norfolk, VA, and your declaration of grown-ass womanhood worked, even as it felt like a hard left turn; the stations pumping 24/7 hip-hop loved it. Then you steered back onto the road, musically speaking, with Full Moon’s title track, a lovely, sexy midtempo jam that didn’t seem to click with audiences. I wonder if you’re having the same problem that child actors have, transitioning to adulthood while still keeping your fans. It’s too bad, too, because you’ve been making some of your best music in the past couple of years.
Last year’s Afrodisiac—and what a great title!—is easily your best full-length yet, complete and focused, thanks in large part to Timbaland taking over the producer’s chair. I was surprised when I heard you were working with him, but it worked so, so well. “Who Is She 2 U” is just a delicious taste of the fruits of this collabo, but again, the commercial response was underwhelming. Better was the attention given to your team-up with Kanye West, “Talk About Our Love,” which samples Mandrill. In the midst of falling in love, hard, myself, it spoke to me like crazy, especially since I had my share of haters saying it’d never work. Well, guess what? I’m still in love, still loving the sunshine. And the swirling strings backing you on the chorus, alone, are worth the price of admission, and Kanye drops his 16 bars nicely and concisely.
Of course, I’m taking this trip down your memory lane thanks to your new Best of Brandy, which really is—I mean, you’ve always been a great singles artist. As an added bonus, you threw on four tracks from other sources, though to be honest, I can’t call a cover of Phil Collins’ “Another Day In Paradise”—let alone that it’s a duet with your I’m-sorry-but-he-‘s-not-even-up-to-American Idol-standards little bro Ray J.—a bonus. I definitely call your Waiting to Exhale flush-of-first-love track “Sittin’ Up In My Room” a bonus, however. Babyface was at his best on that ’95 soundtrack, and tailored this song to you. The poppin’ bassline offsets your voice perfectly. Also in ’95, you graced the great Quincy Jones with your pipes for a cover of MJ’s “Off the Wall,” with an assist from Heavy D. You sound beautiful and perfect for this easy cover, Brandy. And as for the remix of “I Wanna Be Down,” featuring Queen Latifah, Yo-Yo, and MC Lyte? It’s a distaff classic, hands down (and to me, forever the femme companion to the all-star remix of “Flava In Ya Ear” with Busta, Biggie, and LL).
I feel like I can chart my last ten years via your last ten on wax. You’ve helped soundtrack highs and lows, especially highs, with your so fresh/so clean stable of killer singles. Now that they’re collected like this, it’s like my own personal time capsule. Here’s to another decade, Brandy. As Aaliyah sang, you’re more than a woman, and the pop/R&B landscape is richer for your presence in it. Thanks.