Album Review: Brandy – ‘Two Eleven’

After a four-year hiatus, Brandy has finally delivered her sixth studio album, Two Eleven, on October 16. The album’s production credits include contributions from Breyon Prescott, Bangladesh, Hit Boy, The Bizness, Jim Beans, Rico Love, Mario Winans, Kevin McCall and Warren Campbell. Additionally, the album includes tracks penned by Rico Love, Sean Garrett, Frank Ocean, Chris Brown, and Mario Winans.

The standard version of the album has 14 tracks, including an intro and outro. After the intro, the first song is”Wildest Dreams,” which emote the thought of “never in a million years would I believe this could happen to me” idea of how great things come to those who keep moving forward.

The track “So Sick” is about when you are invested in someone who you become love-sick. “Slower,” which was written by Chris Brown, is a very sensual track that explains how slow and steady will always win the race. Furthermore,”No Such Thing As Too Late” explains how patience is essential to experience true love.

“Let Me Go” is all about how you have become spoiled by love and don’t want to be apart from someone you love because they know you get in certain moods. “Without You” exclaims how you can’t even simply function without the one you care for there in your presence.

“Put It Down,” the album’s lead single featuring Chris Brown, is a playful, yet sensual track that describes the qualities of man who are appreciated. “Hardly Breathing” is about being hurt and heartbreak in the past. “Do You Know What You Have” touches on the topic of someone not knowing when they have someone or something that is one in a million.

“Scared of Beautiful,” written by Frank Ocean, explains the struggle of self-acceptance with either being good or bad throughout life in various aspects. “Wish Your Love Away,” written by Mario Winans, brings back the feeling of a 90’s ballad with brief instrumental parts originally featured in “The Boy Is Mine.” The track is all about letting an ex-lover know it is over. “Paint This House” is about breaking in a new home with some good old baby-making fun.

Overall, Two Eleven is a solid effort from Brandy. She single-handedly made it known that she is back and ready to take over good music. With the perfect collection of tracks, Two Eleven

Brandy has single-handedly made it crystal clear that she is back within her core of making good music which is rhythm and blues. Two Eleven is certainly worth the money, as it has a collection of songs that may make you dance, reflect, or even cry. It’s clear that Brandy really put her all into this album.

Standout tracks: Slower, Scared of Beautiful, and Wish Your Love Away

Buy Two Eleven on iTunes
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Concert Review: Keyshia Cole Pulls a Lauryn Hill at The Fillmore Charlotte

As people waited in long lines to flood their favorite retailers for Black Friday sales, I traveled from Columbia, SC to Charlotte, NC to see Keyshia Cole at The Fillmore Charlotte.

I arrived to the AvidXchange Music Factory venue at 6:27 p.m. Unlike lines at retailers Friday, where the wait is unavoidable and uncomfortable, I was perfectly at ease being the 20th concert-goer in line.

Ten minutes later, more attendees followed behind to patiently wait for doors to open at 7 p.m.

Undressed and shivering in 37 degree weather, I struck up conversation about ticket cost with Keyshia Cole admirers. “We won our tickets off Streetz 103.3,” one couple said.

Another fan said, “I bought mine off Groupon for $39. I love you Keyshia but I wasn’t spending more than $50.” I agreed since I got my ticket at the same deal.

Doors opened three minutes after 7 p.m. After getting patted down and having my ticket scanned by The Fillmore door staff, I bypassed other fans and jetted to the front of the stage to wait for the show.

Some fans claimed their spot at the head of the stage barricade too. Other fans found empty floor space to stand comfortably before those at the bar filled in the gaps.

At 7:17 p.m., MMG’s DJ MC got settled with his laptop and other stereo equipment on the smoky stage. He came fully equipped to have the crowd lit with his mega mix and fly DJing skills.

As fog occupied the stage, nostalgia filled rest of the room. DJ MC had fans right where he wanted them – in a carefree zone. Music lovers used their outside voice to recite explicit lyrics and sing classic R&B and hip-hop songs including “I Get Money” by 50 Cent, UCB’s “Sexy Lady” and “Nice and Slow” by Usher.

The VIP clique didn’t let their lack of essential amenities (i.e. chairs or tables) get in the away of their party. The wall worked perfectly for grinding.

DJ MC had help getting the crowd excited from 92.7 The Block hosts Chewy Torres and Sunshine Anderson – yes, “Heard it All Before” Sunshine Anderson, too.

By 9:02 p.m., fans were chanting, “We want Keyshia.”

Ten minutes later, DJ MC was breaking down his equipment to make room for GO DJ HI C, Keyshia’s official DJ.

I don’t know if the crowd was aggravated and ready for Keyshia but the energy shifted downward when he got on stage.

It felt like we changed the radio dial to a new station but got the same syndicated countdown – just with a harder thumb. GO DJ HI C’s blaring speaker bass creeped into my torso as if I had just painfully swallowed it.

A few recycled songs in, GO DJ HI C announced at 9:24 p.m., “I just got a text. My boss is about to hit the stage.”

Eager to record Keyshia’s opening note, I pulled out my iPhone to capture every minute. With 69 percent battery life, I tapped on the Facebook icon to start a live stream.

With no background singers in sight or any Fillmore staff prepping the stage for Keyshia’s arrival, it was evident GO DJ HI C’s receipt had no validity.

“This is ridiculous,” mumbled a female patron behind me. “I hope she shows up because she bailed before.”

As the DJ played more music and strolled through his cellphone, another female fan offered commentary. “If I wanted to listen to music for two hours I would have went to a club.”

It was 9:40 p.m. and the crowd began to get restless. Four-letter words started to be heard in the now tight quarters — most were directed to GO DJ HI C.

He attempted to ease the last nerve of fans. “Ya’ll chill,” he roared in the mic. “I wouldn’t be here if she wasn’t coming out. She’s not coming out until she can hear you guys in her dressing room.”

GO DJ HI C also tried to hype the crowd for Keyshia’s entrance. “I need the left side to say ‘Keyshia’ and the right to say ‘Cole,’” as he pointed to each side of the room.

Some were interested in crowd participation but others weren’t. I was apart of the latter group.

The DJ returned to the mic at 9:43 p.m., and began an introduction for a Grammy nominated artist.

Cell phones brighten the dark venue momentarily but quickly dimmed when attendees realized it wasn’t the headliner gracing the stage — it was Sunshine Anderson.

Used to distract fans from Keyshia’s CP time, the singer-turned radio personality tipped on stage in open-toe heels, donning a simple black top with un-curve friendly black tights.

With support of a backtrack, the North Carolina native noticeably lipped the lyrics to “Lunch or Dinner” from her 2001 debut, Your Woman.

Sunshine bought Keyshia more time to hit the stage as she started to actually sing her signature song “Heard It All Before.” It was obvious she didn’t warm up her voice. Her vocal execution reflected especially towards the collapsed bridge.

Despite Sunshine not possessing vocal conviction, she had the heart to fight through it.

The unimpressed concert-goers softly clapped to see Sunshine off the stage.

Two minutes before 10 p.m. a gentleman rocking a pink backpack sashayed on stage. Before exiting, he left two styrofoam cups on a stage podium.

“When you see him, that means Keyshia’s on her way,” shouted GO DJ HI C across the room.

Exactly seven minutes after 10 p.m., GO DJ HI C took the mic again and finally grabbed the audience’s attention. “Ladies and gentlemen, Keyshia Cole.”

With help from her security, the woman of the last two hours, walked up the side steps of the stage.

Dressed in a suede trench coat with matching heeled boots and ripped jeans, the Just Like You songstress kicked off the delayed show singing “I Should Have Cheated” off her first album, The Way It Is.

Keyshia quickly asked the audio engineer to adjust her inner ear before capping the song with an extended high note.

Joined by her three male dancers, the Oakland-bred singer moved swiftly through her medley of hits including “Enough of No Love,” “Shoulda Let You Go,” “I Changed My Mind” and “You.”

After wrapping up her remix to Chris Brown’s “Loyal,” Keyshia took off her winter coat to show off her shimmering silk shirt. Without officially apologizing for her tardiness, she mentioned being thankful for her fans as a means for damage control.

It didn’t seem to work, and she knew it. “Okay. Let’s go into the next song then,” she told GO DJ HI C.

She belted her biggest hits “I Remember,” and “Love” before she engaged in personal conversation with the crowd.

From requesting the crowds opinion on if she should back to Love and Hip-Hop: Hollywood to explaining why she opted to skip Thanksgiving dinner with her newly found dad, Virgil Hunter, Keyshia sincerely asked for fans to send her a prayer up the main line.

Thirty minutes into her set, Keyshia wanted fans to tell her what to perform next. Most songs fans mentioned like “Vault” and “Emotional” from her 11: 11 Reset album were off limits.

“This isn’t the tour guys,” she replied with a smile. “The tour doesn’t start until next year. But I cannot wait to perform those songs though.”

While she didn’t perform demanded cuts from her new album, she gave us “Incapable” along with a similar dance routine from the single’s accompanying visual.

Following three more songs, Keyshia ended the 45-minute set with her Grammy nominated record, “Let It Go.”

Before leaving the stage, she directed fans to meet her at Stats Restaurant and Bar for the official after-party.

Honestly, I feel like I wasted a trip to Charlotte. I didn’t leave with a wow experience. I expected her to sing more material from her silently released album. Yet, my wish didn’t come to fruition.

Keyshia treated her Fillmore performance like an afterthought. It appeared to me that she got a calendar reminder while she caught Black Friday sales on Fashion Nova’s website. After realizing her spot date, she called her style team and caught a red-eye flight to Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Keyshia’s lateness was inexcusable and warranted a more sincere apology. Instead she rushed through her sloppy set list to get to the after-party.

Her running behind schedule wouldn’t have been terribly bad if she had a legit special guest. And I’m sorry, Sunshine Anderson doesn’t count.

Collectively, the two hours of DJing, the talent show performance from Sunshine Anderson and Keyshia Cole’s tardiness calls for a total refund. But I’m sure Live Nation is incapable of issuing it to us.

Top 4 Deep Cuts from Brandy’s ‘Two Eleven’ Album

 

The “Vocal Bible” nickname has been bestowed upon Brandy for her vocal acrobatics and inexplicable natural ability to sing. However, Brandy Norwood is much more than her voice. In fact, her most redeeming quality is her nuanced storytelling as an artist. Every album that has been graced with those hypnotic eyes of hers has been complete from top to bottom, both vocally and thematically.

While some may argue that Never Say Never and Full Moon are artistic perfection, Two Eleven is too, but with a twist. The beauty of Two Eleven is the multi-edge edge sword of sound that it wields. The album is noticeably handled by hip-hop producers, but thanks to its host of R&B writers, the songs on the album are able to catch the spirit of the R&B genre today — a whole five years ahead of schedule.

If you take a listen to “Hardly Breathing,” do you not hear shades of Dawn Richard? Or maybe if you paid close enough attention to the vocal layering on “Wish Your Love Away,” you would hear the same on Tamar’s latest album. You can even compare “Put It Down” to K. Michelle’s “Either Way.” Aside from boasting the same feature, the candor and aggression in the lyrical content is almost uncanny. This album is for the Sabrina Claudio’s just as much as it is for the Sevyn Streeter’s and even the reaches the artistic bubble of a more established artist like Tamia. In short, Two Eleven, as a whole, is THAT album.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best deep cuts from the five-year-old body of work. Check  it out:

“Paint This House”

Brandy’s smoky vocals take center stage, backed by her airy background vocals and hauntingly pulsing production from Rico Love, Eric Goudy III and Pierre Moody. On the song, Brandy is in the mood for love-making and some “room redecorating” with her new lover. “And I want these stairs, those walls/Kitchen counters, and those chairs/To remind you of how good it feels/And all of these floors and ceilings/And every hallway, yeah/Not and inch will go untouched/Let’s paint this house with our love,” she sings. With lyrics so obviously sexual, Ms. Norwood brings her signature tender tone to song, creating a sensual jam for any bedroom-thumping situation.

“Slower”

Following a similar narrative as “Paint This House,” Brandy decides to take control this time when it comes to the moment of love-making and passion. “My baby got a lot to learn/Come here let mama bring you up to speed/A couple of changes/A couple of things I want to go over/Couple of hours is all I need/So let’s get it started,” she sings. The genius house production from Dave Taylor both compliments and juxtaposes Brandy’s vocals and lyrics extremely well.

“Without You”

Brandy’s voice takes full flight on this apologetic anthem. “Boy somewhere along the line I lost my way/And I made you pay for the mistakes he made/And I’m sorry baby, cause it shouldn’t be that way/Oh Boy, I really need you, I need you in my life/Cause oh boy I’m nothing, oh no I’m nothing without you,” she sings. Seeing the grave error in bringing baggage from the past into a current relationship, Brandy showcases her vocal power and grit to win her man back. And although we’d love just a piano behind her, the kick-snare and cymbal give this almost-but-not-quite-a-single the touch of bounce that it needs.

“Wish Your Love Away”

Brandy is trying to get over the one that should have been the one on this somber ballad. “I wish that there was no more sleepless nights for me/You can look inside my heart and see/How I’m feelin, baby/Or maybe you just don’t give a damn/Could I be foolish to give a damn, baby?/’Cause I’m to the point where I wish/Boy, I wish that I didn’t love you,” she sings. The track is just so sonically vivid-imagine rain softly falling on your windowpane as this song plays in the background-that it didn’t even need her vocals to be impactful. But, that’s not to say that her vocals aren’t appreciated, especially at the end of the song where the music fades out to just her immaculate vocal layering. Brandy’s resonance both in voice and artistry is perfectly encapsulated by this tune, and hints at how this album will undoubtedly stand the test of time.

What’s your favorite song from “Two Eleven?” Let us know in the comment section below.

Album Review: Ledisi – ‘Let Love Rule’

As a New Orléans native, Ledisi naturally allows her jazz influenced sound to emanate through her richly flavored voice, while her use of true instrumentation reflects beautifully in her music.  She is one of few artists who can effortlessly cover selections from legends like Chaka Khan and The Clark Sisters. Achieving perfect precision with her own art takes more effort — at least for her latest album, Let Love Rule.

“This wasn’t a quickie. This album was one of the hardest I’ve ever worked on,” she revealed to Billboard.com about her two-year recording process. “We were looking for songs that could stand the test of time. It was about great songwriting. I’ve come back to what I love about R&B and also what I love about today’s music.”

Executive produced by Ledisi and longtime collaborator Rex Rideout, Let Love Rule features 15 tracks and exhibits the similar burden of relationship headaches as her 2014 album, The Truth.

With Let Love Rule, Ledisi adds more delicious relationship nuggets to her seven-piece catalog. She does this by creating a cohesive record that sounds current, needed and still Ledisi.

Before parting ways, Ledisi says “Hello” to her lover’s true self once he’s revealed. “Before you say goodbye to our forever / I just gotta let you know that I see you / So hello, to the man behind the words I thought I heard all before / But you were hiding in the lie so you decided it was time to let go,” she sings.

On “Here,” she requests her lover’s full participation in their love saga. “So if you’re going stay, I need you to be here / To show me that you care / Let me know you’re here,” belts Ledisi on the Jeff “Gitty” Gitelman-produced cut.

Ledisi’s love for her man is like a bleach stain on dark clothes, it’s not going anywhere. She makes this claim abundantly clear on “Us 4ever” featuring BJ the Chicago Kid. Over the nod worthy instrumental the she sings, “We love, we fight, we argue, then we make it right / You leave, I go, then we’re back together / Our love so strong, who’s right, who’s wrong? / What we built, won’t break / I guess it’s us 4ever.”

While Ledisi discusses love’s ugly moments, she shares the beautiful moments, too. Love elevates her on the DJ Camper-produced “High” and love makes everything alright on “All The Way,” which is a powerful piano-based ballad. “Love me, with all of your heart / Will you love me / When things get too hard, and I need you more / Make sure you’re sure, that you’ll love me all the way,” she sings.

Ledisi generously touches on the social injustice movement Black Lives Matter with “Shot Down,” a Caribbean-flavored song. “Education is a loaded gun, shot down before I had a chance to run / the system says we matter but the Black Lives only matters certain days,” coos Ledisi. She appreciates the power of patience the Kirk Franklin produced track “If You Don’t Mind.”

The R&B songstress does a spectacular job of giving fans more ear orgasms with her captivating vocal performances, especially on “All the Way” and “Forgiveness.

Unlike The Truth, which has no features, Let Love Rule includes appearances from John Legend and BJ the Chicago Kid. The latter was the only appreciated contributor, although his vocal presence deserved more time to shine. “Give You More” with Legend finds Ledisi losing her distinctive vocals, while her co-star steals her thunder.  

Although the album consists of 15 tracks, 11 are actual songs while the other four are non-exciting and unnecessary interludes from inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant and journalist Soledad O’Brien. There were definitely good intentions for their input, but their rest stops before the next track were merely constant interruptions.

Lastly, if it were not for the remarkable production, the title track would be a complete dud. It fails to underscore its purpose as a presumed standout track with less than memorable lyrics and a tiresome chorus.

Respectively, Let Love Rule is still one of the best R&B albums released this year. Make sure to grab a copy off shelves or add it digitally to your playlist now.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Standout Tracks: “Here,” “Forgiveness” and “All the Way”

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