Photo by Kat Morgan
Since releasing her debut album in 1994 at the age of 15, Brandy Norwood has built an astonishingly successful career in the worlds of music and TV. Her back catalog has collectively sold over 10 million copies in the U.S., thanks to ubiquitious hits like 1998’s "The Boy Is Mine" and 2002’s "What About Us?," and her smash TV series "Moesha" ran for six seasons in the late ’90s and early ’00s.
Brandy’s impact on music can be heard in everyone from Rihanna to Miguel to Frank Ocean. (Ocean even worked with Brandy on 2012’s Two Eleven, her most recent album.) Since the release of Two Eleven, Brandy has remained in the spotlight with a lead role in last year’s Broadway production of Chicago, and a highly entertaining social media presence.
Brandy kicked off 2016 with a new BET sitcom, "Zoe Ever After," and a bluesy, stellar comeback single, "Beggin & Pleadin." Brimming with some of the flintiest, most expressive vocals of her career, "Beggin" is something we’ve never heard from Brandy before, a swaggering kiss-off filtered through the experience of a recent, highly-publicized breakup.
Pitchfork: Is "Beggin & Pleadin" off a forthcoming album?
Brandy: It’s part of an upcoming movement. Do they even call the things albums anymore? I don’t know. It’s a movement to me. Honestly, I’m on a mission to just do what I feel I should do. I’m going with my feeling. But the time is now. I’m writing, I have a lot of ideas, I’m in the studio. We’re good.
Pitchfork: It’s a very powerful, self-empowering song. What was it like in the studio the day you recorded it?
B: It was emotional. It was also challenging because I’m not really a soprano. I can fake it sometimes if I have a good lozenge or two, but it was a very challenging vocal. I pulled it from the bottom of my core, and that was an experience for me. It was very emotional but I managed to just push through. If that was the last vocal for me ever, I would be proud and OK with that. That’s what it sounds like to me. I’m thankful for that experience. I’m working and practicing for the live version, ’cause it’s like, ‘OK, I’m squeaking!’ But I’m so proud of it.
Pitchfork: Would you consider this song a good indicator of what to expect from your music going forward?
B: Absolutely. I want to continue to do music that challenges me. I want to do fearless music. I don’t want to do music for a format, I don’t want to do music for a particular radio sound—I want to do music that I feel inside of myself and not feel afraid to do it. And that’s what I’m doing. That’s what that record represents to me. Do what you feel, and if you feel it, then everybody’s gonna feel it. I don’t think I’ve truly been in this place before musically in a very long time.
Pitchfork: What does that feel like to you?
B: It feels like freedom. I just feel like I’m my own thing, my own artist. And I’m owning my expression. You notice the people who really own their expression and really believe in the music they’re doing and what they feel. They touch and they reach everybody. I just want to touch and I want to reach and share. But I don’t want to share nothing I don’t like or don’t believe in. I’m too seasoned for that and I’m too old for it, actually. So I finally got that, thank God.
Pitchfork: Who have you been working with lately?
B: I want to stick with people that I love. I really love Stacy Barthe as a writer, I think she really gets me. If I was to just sit down and write a song all by myself, I would want to mimic Stacy, because she and I speak the same language. I mean, I’m open. I’m open to whatever makes me feel great. But I have my people that I really like right now and I’m just gonna continue to go with what’s working.
Pitchfork: I really loved your guest spot on Ty Dolla $ign’s "LA" last year. How’d you guys connect?
B: Thank you! I love that song. I’m from L.A., too, and I love Ty and Kendrick and James—James Fauntleroy is one of my favorite singers. I totally didn’t mind him upstaging me a bit on the song because I love it so much. I was like, "James, if you put one more harmony on one of these… c’mon James." But he’s a brilliant, brilliant writer. All around brilliance on that record with those guys, so I’m thankful to Ty for the opportunity. I met him a while back and we were supposed to work together. He said he loved my voice and would love to work with me. Sometimes you think that’s industry talk, but he really called and was like "Yo, I’m ready!"
Pitchfork: What do you think of the way R&B has morphed and changed over the years? Do you think it’s going in an interesting direction?
B: Yeah, I do. I think a lot of changes are being made. It’s a lot of fearless artists out there who are keeping it alive and keeping it going. But again, for me, I don’t want to put a title on the stuff I’m doing. It’s music to me. It’s what feels good. I might want to do a different type of record tomorrow and it may not be specifically a R&B record. I love R&B—it’s my foundation, it will always be in my voice, it will always be in my spirit, so I’m going to do my part in keeping it moving forward, but I also just love music as well, so I want to stay as versatile as possible. I don’t want to just be put in a box.
Pitchfork: Is there anything else we should know about your music or about the future?
B: Music is here, music is now, it’s coming. And "Zoe Ever After," my new television show that I’m super proud of. To act and sing again at the same time is priceless.