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Brandy Norwood is known as “The Vocal Bible” due to her distinctive timbre and intricate, layered riffs and runs. And her work — particularly on her groundbreaking fourth album, Afrodisiac, a forerunner of alternative R&B — has been cited and praised by Solange, Rihanna, Miguel, Kelly Rowland, Erykah Badu, and many others. But her influence goes even deeper than that. In fact, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante has said that Brandy was a huge inspiration behind his guitar work on RHCP’s Album of the Year Grammy nominee, the double-disc Stadium Arcadium.
“She's doing something different; she's doing so many vocals that there's never a space. Whenever one voice stops, another one does something in its place — there's very little space and there are so many vocal parts that are breathy, you don't know what you're listening to. There's so much going on, you can't hear them with your conscious: You have to hear her voice with your subconscious. Even as a backup vocalist with a keen ear, I can't hear where one part's starting and one's ending, because they're all overplaying all over the place. Some of them have a watery sound, then metallic; she really creates a lot of dimension with her vocals, and Timbaland's production does stuff that's very avant-garde, very abstract and yet, in this context of pop music, I'm impressed with that. Noise in a pop context is such a beautiful thing to see,” Frusciante told Spin in 2006.
“I've always wanted to meet [John]. I was so shocked to hear that,” Brandy tells Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume. “Actually, I saw Chris Rock [who inducted RHCP into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2012] — we were both in New York and we have the same voice doctor, so I was walking in, he was walking out. He was like, ‘Do you know my friend? John from the Red Hot Chili Peppers loves you to death!’ And that was the first person that I heard that from, that he liked my music or my voice or whatever. I was blown away. So I would love to meet [John] one day and work with him. That would be so cool.”
When we tell her that we might be able to get word out to the Chili Peppers’ camp, since Frusciante recently rejoined the group after a 10-year absence and they’re currently working on their comeback reunion album, Brandy doubles down on the idea. “You can hook that up, girl. Please do. I would love that!”
For now, though, Brandy has her own comeback in the works: collaborating with another A-lister, Chance the Rapper, on her banging single, “Baby Mama,” her first new music in eight years. It turns out Chance is yet another one of Brandy’s longtime admirers. “He reached out to me about the very first song that I ever put out, “I Wanna Be Down,’” Brandy says. “He wanted to sample something from that song, and we talked on FaceTime and I just really loved his energy. He's always shown so much love and always paid homage to my previous music, and I told him, ‘Look, I'm going to need you for this up-and coming song that I have.’ And he loved the song. He did such a phenomenal job.”
As for her own lengthy musical absence, Brandy explains, “It took me a while, because I wasn't pleased with everything that was going on in my music connection. I didn't feel like I was really connecting to the kind of music that I wanted to do. And so even though it's been a long time, I feel comfortable now putting something new out, because I believe in the music that I've been doing.”
Brandy confesses that the longer she waited to release new music, the more jittery she became. “I was overthinking; it happens when you've been gone for a long time and you feel like, ‘This might be my last project, this might be the only chance that I have.’ So I was very nervous about not putting out the right kind of music. It happens to every artist, where you feel like you've gotten some type of block or you feel like you're not connecting the way you should. And I had to pull myself out of that.” She says she’s “definitely still nervous” as “Baby Mama” finally drops, but she has “a confidence also that's intertwining with my nerves. So that's why I can still feel good about talking about the new song. I feel confident, but I feel nervous, because there is a humility there for me, and I care about my music. I care about what people feel about it. I want them to feel it as much as I do.”
Norwood is of course honored that everyone from Chance to Frusciante are Brandy fans. “They all have something unique and different that they've brought to this game and they are not fearful at all,” she says. “They're not afraid to be themselves and be authentic. And for me, that's what I've been doing. I've been waiting until that special time where I could just be completely myself, and this is the time.” But as for whether this is the right time for her renaissance, with all of these stars crediting her as an influence, the singer remains humble.
“It's not about the credit,” she stresses. “It's nice when people appreciate my work. It's nice when people say nice things about the things that I've done. But I'm going to always be the kind of artist that puts a thousand percent into what I do. I'm going to always be careful with the music that I put out there — not careful in the sense of safe, but careful in the sense of caring about what it is that I'm putting out to the world. And that's what matters to me. The credit, if I get it, fine. If not, fine. My job is to touch the people who hear my music, and that's it.”
Brandy has been through a lot to get to where she is. Before she got her big break on the pioneering sitcom Moesha (“an iconic character on television, this black girl with braids that spoke about so many issues”) she was brutally bullied while growing up in Carson, Calif. “I was hiding in the teacher's parking lot when I was in junior high school. But don't feel bad for me, girl. I made it out of there. I guess God answered my prayers, because I couldn't take it anymore,” she says.
The singer’s much fonder teenhood memory, if now an understandably bittersweet one, is when she attended prom with “genuine soul” Kobe Bryant. “That was one of the best nights, I think, of my entire life,” she says, getting too choked up to offer more details. “I am just so blown away by what happened to him and what happened to his daughter. I actually talked to someone today about it, and it threw me off and I got very emotional.”
Brandy was also involved in a fatal car crash in 2006, which she describes as “one of the toughest times of my life,” but thanks to her family — including her “good brother,” fellow music star Ray J — she has survived. Honestly, I've been through so much in my life, and I'm not a perfect person. I've had my share of bad times, and things that I wish I could take back that are on the internet, situations that I wish I never were in,” she admits. “But I can say that I've learned a lot, and I have to thank my parents and my foundation, because I've always had a solid foundation and I could always come back to that. When things seem to get out of order, it's important to have family, and it's important to have people that you know in your heart loves you, that will tell you when you're getting off on the wrong foot or you're not the best version of yourself. I've had some great people in my life to hold me accountable, but it hasn't always been great.”
On the subject of family, Brandy’s 18-year-old daughter Sy'rai is the only other guest star, besides Chance the Rapper, that will feature on Brandy’s upcoming album B7, out this summer. But Brandy is very open to working with others in the future. Her dream collaborator is Sade, and she adds, “All these people that like my voice, I'm like, ‘Well, hit me up! I would love to do some music with you guys.’”
Brandy then adds: “I would love to work with a lot more people, but I think you should work on that Red Hot Chili Peppers collaboration. I'm going to really hold you to that.”
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The above interview is taken from a portion of Brandy’s appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Full audio of this conversation is available on demand via the SiriusXM app.