When Solange Knowles decided to side eye music critics with only a passing interest in contemporary soul in 2013, she singled out one performer in particular. “You should really know about Brandy deep album cuts before you are giving a ‘grade’ or a ‘score’ to any R&B artist,” Solange tweeted.
Brandy Norwood, known mononymously as simply Brandy, has been a household name since the age of 15. But Solange had a point: Plenty of us who’ve grooved to hits like “I Wanna Be Down” and “Full Moon” haven’t delved too deeply into her discography. With Brandy headlining Pride in Concert on Saturday in Loring Park, the playlist below offers an opportunity to appreciate her catalog beyond the hits.
A little background: Brandy’s multiplatinum 1994 self-titled debut quickly established her as part of a new wave of teen R&B starlets alongside Aaliyah and Monica. She sang with the confidence and charisma of a woman twice her age on songs like “Always on My Mind,” but in 1996, Brandy pivoted to acting, taking the title role in the UPN sitcom Moesha and becoming a pop culture icon with her own line of Barbie dolls.
Multimedia stardom slowed down Brandy’s musical productivity; she only released one album during her six seasons on Moesha, 1998’s Never Say Never. But it was her best-selling album, featuring the chart-topping singles “The Boy is Mine” and “Have You Ever?” and helping to turn her producer Rodney Jerkins into a ubiquitous hitmaker in his own right. The album’s singles campaign didn’t go entirely according to plan, though. While Brandy’s label was promoting a flashy video for her Ma$e collaboration, radio stations opted to instead play the album track “Angel In Disguise,” a slinky, polyrhythmic song that sounded like Jerkins doing his own glossier take on Timbaland’s funky, eccentric hits for Aaliyah.
Brandy finally got in the studio with Timbaland himself for her fourth album, 2004’s Afrodisiac. Two of the project’s deep cuts featured Coldplay samples, putting Brandy and Timbaland at the forefront of R&B and hip-hop’s embrace of the British soft rockers—which was, believe it or not, considered edgy and forward-thinking at the time. The album also featured great work from Outkast’s production team Organized Noize and then-rising star Kanye West, who gave Brandy’s unique silky yet raspy vocal tone one of its best showcases a year later on his Late Registration track “Bring Me Down.”
In the past decade, Brandy has recorded more sporadically while also devoting her time to TV projects and a 2015 Broadway stint starring in Chicago. 2008’s Human was Brandy’s lowest charting album since her debut, but it proved to be a prescient incubator for producers and songwriters, giving future hitmakers Bruno Mars, Frank Ocean, RedOne, and Hit-Boy some of their first major label credits. Brandy’s sixth and most recent album, 2012’s Two Eleven, was dedicated to her mentor Whitney Houston, who died that year on February 11, which is also Brandy’s birthday. It also ably updated her sound for the quickly shifting trends of modern R&B, while displaying the powerful pipes that earned Brandy the nickname “The Vocal Bible.”
And now, the playlist:
With: Jamecia Bennett, Jujubee, the Vigilantease Collective
Where: Loring Park
When: 6 p.m. Sat. June 23
Tickets: $25: more info here