When Brandy shared the artwork for “Freedom Rings” on Instagram last September, it immediately sparked excitement for a new era. The caption under her post was vague, which left fans and critics wondering what the R&B legend had in store for them.
“The light at the end of so many tunnels. This is my undeniable truth. #FreedomRings #be7,” Brandy wrote on Instagram.
Some people assumed she was teasing her long-awaited seventh album, while others figured it was the title of a song. The latter prediction proved to be correct.
On September 23, 2019, Brandy unleashed “Freedom Rings,” a triumphant story about declaring her independence. The bluesy record arrived three months after “Love Again,” her heartwarming duet with Daniel Caesar, which eventually became a surprise hit. “Love Again” was her first number one song on the Billboard Adult R&B Airplay chart. It was also nominated for Best R&B Performance at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, Brandy’s first nod in 15 years.
Even though “Freedom Rings” was a gift to fans to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Brandy’s self-titled debut album, there were still questions about it being an official single or a teaser track.
This time around there is more certainty, as Brandy makes her official return with her new single “Baby Mama” featuring Chance the Rapper. While the term “baby mama” often has a negative connotation, Brandy turns it into something empowering.
Arriving just in time for Mother’s Day, “Baby Mama” is an ode to motherhood. “Whole world looking at me single mama / This song ain’t just for me, it’s for every mama / Every day I breathe it’s for my little mama / I’m every woman and a baby mama,” Brandy sings on the chorus.
In honor of her new single release, Brandy has partnered with ex-NFL player Warrick Dunn’s charity Homes for the Holidays for a fundraiser via her YouTube channel.
Homes for the Holidays works with affordable housing providers to reduce the financial burden on single parent homeowners by fully furnishing their new house, providing down payment assistance, and stocking the pantry with food and other household necessities.
“I love being a mother. It’s a beautiful experience to feel that unconditional love I have for my daughter,” Brandy tells Rated R&B over the phone. “I’m pretty sure that every mother feels like that about their child. I wanted to celebrate how I feel about my daughter and how I feel about my motherhood. I think it’s a beautiful thing to be a mother.”
Brandy usually keeps features to a minimum. However, she couldn’t resist working with Chance the Rapper on her new anthem. “With Chance [the Rapper] being the family guy that he is and the mother lover that he is, I just thought it would be a brilliant way for us to collaborate,” Brandy explains to Rated R&B. “I love what he did on the song. He completely snapped. I was so blown away by his verse. It was just the perfect song for us to connect with.”
Produced by Hit-Boy (Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Rihanna), “Baby Mama” is the lead single from Brandy’s upcoming seventh album. The highly anticipated project is slated to arrive later this year and will be Brandy’s first proper album since 2012’s Two Eleven.
In Rated R&B’s interview with Brandy, she details her process of creating her new album, her interpretation of success at this stage of her career, how she has embraced being called “The Vocal Bible” and more.
“Baby Mama” is an anthem for all moms, as you just mentioned. Your daughter Sy’rai recently shared her song called “At Your Best.” Will we get a mother-daughter duet in the future?
Yes, there is a mother-daughter duet on my upcoming album. We have a song called “High Heels” that I am excited for everybody to hear. She’s a beautiful talent. She’s coming into her own and I’m just here to support her in every way possible.
Your fans have been begging and pleading for your seventh album for quite some time. What was your vision for this album going in and did it evolve during the recording process?
I wanted to reconnect with music and find my sound — that unique sound that I’ve been searching for. Starting the project with DJ Camper and working with amazing writers, I started to feel inspired. I started to write more and really tell some of the experiences that I’ve been through over the last few years. I wanted this album to be honest and as authentic as it could be. I wanted it to be true to who I am as an artist. It took me a minute but I feel like I found that niche.
In a past interview, you mentioned that some of your music wasn’t reaching the masses because you were “singing the wrong songs.” What steps did you take this time around to ensure that you had the right songs?
I never really had written a lot of the songs in my career. I’ve been so blessed to have worked with great writers and producers in the past. I think that every artist gets to the point where they want to find their own way to express themselves. For me, this is my first time really expressing myself from my own perspective. I feel like I was able to accomplish that. I feel like I’m true to me and that’s what matters the most.
It’s been about eight years since your last album. The good news is you recently confirmed that it is done. Do you feel any pressure releasing this album given the time gap since your last project?
It’s definitely pressure. It’s a little bit of fear but I feel strong and confident enough now to push past those things. I’m in a great place. I’m in a space where I have my own label and I’m working with a company that really believes in my work and is putting everything behind my project. I feel great about where I am but there are jitters. I definitely feel it. I’m very sensitive when it comes to my art. I think I’m only nervous because I care so much about connecting, relating and wanting to share.
Does the nervousness stem from the idea of you being more vulnerable through your music or is it the idea of reaching a certain number of people?
I’m not worried about [numbers] at all. It is the vulnerability because I bare it all in my music. I share my ups and my downs. Music has become therapeutic for me, so when you’re letting it all out, you can kind of get nervous because people judge. I have tough skin, though. I’ve been at this for a minute. I’m pretty strong.
You are known as The Vocal Bible, which could add more pressure. So many artists look up to you — not just your voice but your overall catalog. How do you embrace that title through your music, while being a reference point for artists today and beyond?
If I were to focus on my thoughts on that, I probably would be a nervous wreck all the time. I remember when I first heard the title “The Vocal Bible.” I didn’t understand why people were calling me that. It kind of put me into a little bit of a depression because it’s like “how am I going to live up to that?” People coming up to me asking what they should do vocally — that’s a lot in and of itself. I do appreciate the love and respect that comes with that title. I try to focus on where I am and what’s true to me, knowing that I am being as honest as I can be in my music. I love the music that I am hearing. When you love and believe in your stuff, I think that settles your nerves in a way.
You mostly worked with DJ Camper on your upcoming album. When it comes to making music, do you find more comfort in keeping your creative circle small?
Yes, that’s the formula — for me to connect with that one producer. I don’t work with a whole lot of people because I like the sound to be cohesive and sonically familiar. When you work with that team you’ve confided in and spent all your time with, you get a project where every song sounds like it belongs on the album.
Once your album is released to the world, what do you hope people take from it?
I want them to feel like they were blessed with really good music that not only speaks to my heart but speaks to their heart. I want this to be an album for people to listen to all the way through. I hope that I can inspire everyone to not give up on their dreams. Whatever they feel that’s holding them back, they can push through that situation.
You’ve accomplished so much throughout your music career from selling over 40 million records worldwide to earning many prestigious awards. As one of the best-selling female artists of all time, how do you define success at this point in your career?
That’s a good question. Let me think…I honestly believe because I never gave up, because I am still here singing some of the best songs that I feel are in my heart to sing right now, I think that’s success. The fact that I can get up every day and look forward to my music and connecting and being a vessel to uplift and inspire people…the fact that I can still do that and get this amazing opportunity to do it all over again, that’s success to me. It’s like I already won because I never quit.
So many times I wanted to stop and I didn’t. I think that’s what success is: It’s continuing to push forward and set the example. Keep moving forward and to keep going no matter what. No matter how times have changed, no matter how much this business has changed, no matter how many artists are out, I have my own unique contribution to music. As long as I stay true to that, that is successful to me.
Although we’re in the streaming world, radio is still an important platform for many artists. When we spoke to Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men, he expressed his concern about R&B veterans not getting fair access to the urban radio format unless they have a record with someone new or current. Have you noticed a shift at radio and is this something you’re considering as you select singles from your next album?
I can definitely see that there’s a huge difference now than it was then. Everybody wants to know who you have featured on your album. I’ve never been the kind of artist to just work with everybody just because it will be more popular. I have to do music and collaborate with other artists because I feel their passion.
It goes back to “Love Again” with Daniel Caesar. Yes, he’s an amazing artist and he streams well, but if it was a song I wasn’t feeling and if Daniel wasn’t an artist that I connected with, I wouldn’t do a song with him just to get on radio or just to be popular. That’s not what it’s about. When you get to this point in your life, what you do for this world should be from a place of service. It shouldn’t be for popularity or shouldn’t be popping. That’s not fulfilling.
I do agree with Shawn. There has been a shift and people do care more about who you have featured, especially if you’ve been in the game for a while. It’s like, “Who’s new on your project for the young generation?” If you’re going to play that game, play it sort of how I played it with “Baby Mama” with Chance [the Rapper].
Chance is an amazing artist. He happens to be new and young and fresh but it works with what I’m doing. I didn’t change my topic. I’m still talking about being a mother. I’m still representing where I am in my life and Chance is someone that could add to that. If he wasn’t an artist that could add to what my message was, I wouldn’t have worked with him in that way. I’m pretty sure it’s vice-versa with him wanting to work with me. It’s like, you don’t just pull anybody out of the bag.
Ro James recently teased his upcoming song “Plan B,” which you’re featured on. How did you get involved?
Ro James has been so supportive over the years. He’s been to many of my studio sessions just hearing the new music and giving his opinion, so it’s only right he came by one of the sessions and played me “Plan B.” It was kind of already done. He was like, “What can you do on it?” I was like, “Let me just sing around you, add some harmonies and put a bunch of ghost vocals on the song.” And that’s what happened. I absolutely love “Plan B.” I love what he allowed me to do. It’s a beautiful song. DJ Camper produced it. Whatever [Ro James is] doing with that song, I’m right there with him supporting it.
Another song that was teased happened last year. You, Fantasia and Jazmine Sullivan were supposed to bless the R&B world with a collaboration. However, it didn’t get released. What can you tell us about that record if anything?
So sorry that didn’t work out. I wanted for us to have the right song. We didn’t want to waste a collaboration and it’s not the right song. I’ve experienced that before where people expect this collaboration and we don’t deliver with the song. We all thought it was best to wait until the right song comes along.
One last question: Will “Freedom Rings” make the album?
I’m still on the fence about that. You want it on the album?