If you were to ask an industry newbie what they aspired to achieve as an entertainer, the list probably includes a lot of what’s already a reality for Brandy Norwood. Her irresistible and eponymous 1994 debut, Brandy, went multi-platinum and introduced pop and R&B audiences to a Mississippi native with a sweet face and sultry voice in the process of becoming a star. From the 90s forward, Brandy’s effervescent ‘girl-next-door’ persona translated into hit singles (“I Wanna Be Down,” “Have You Ever,” “What About Us,” “Who Is She 2 U,” “Put It Down,” to name only a few), million-selling albums (Never Say Never, Full Moon, Afrodisiac, sitcoms and TV/film roles (“Thea,” “Moesha,” “Double Platinum,” “Zoe Ever After,” I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor) and becoming the first African-American woman to portray Cinderella (ABC, 1997) and the lead role (along with Lana Jordan) in Chicago The Musical (2017).
Even with personal and professional turmoil—a contrived image-conscious ‘marriage’ to the father of her daughter Sy’rai, a broken engagement from executive Ryan Press and a 2006 auto collision that was settled out of court without criminal charges, yet cost the life of another driver—Norwood has earned numerous honors and awards, retaining first-name-only recognition and a fervently-devoted fan base, which should enjoy her latest release, the stealthily-released and achingly expressive B7.
Helmed with the Grammy-Award nominated songwriter and producer, Daharyl “DJ” Camper (Tamar Braxton, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey and NeYo), Brandy basically delves into her experiences as, well, a grown-ass woman, in front of and away from the spotlight. At 41, she’s far from a relic but is certainly seasoned in life’s ups and downs, and with the well-honed chops to convey them: Camper’s tracks, though coherent, have a gossamer, airy feel to them, swirling under Norwood’s vocals like a musical embodiment of mist: “Lucid Dreams,” for example, asserts self-determination and clarity about what she won’t allow herself to endure in the name of love: “One more strike and I’m out, I had to figure it out/before I lose, lose me to you.”
The soothing cadence of one of the first singles, “Borderline,” acknowledges vulnerability with a new love, even as she warns him that she isn’t one to roll over and be played: “I’m so dangerous Baby, I need you to see….and my feelings don’t die.” Part of Brandy’s enduring appeal is her skillful utilization of her multi-octave soprano and rich, throaty undertones, applying vocal nuances with surgical precision. From the pulsating “Rather Be,” the upbeat Sy’rai-featured groove, “High Heels,” and the saucy “I Am More,” which recalls the wistfulness of Mary J. Blige’s “I Can Love You,” but with extra backbone in telling her boo to choose or lose: “I can’t be the other woman, mistress or a sidepiece/I need more cuz’ I am more, than the love you have with her.”
To sum it up, B-Rocka—unlike too many of her teen-to-adult singing peers— has the sustained skillset to meet her now good-and-grown fans where they are now, from reconciliable differences (her also-included Grammy-nominated Daniel Ceasar duet, “Love Again”), managing single parenthood (“Baby Mama,” featuring Chance The Rapper), being crazy in new love (“No Tomorrow”) and even unpacking the layers of her past relationships (“Bye Bipolar”). The only quibble to be had is a minor one, which is the faulty sequencing of featuring the more substantial tracks nearly halfway in, as the softer “flex my pipes” moments make for a languorous start. But maybe that was the entire point: Brandy’s confident enough to take you the long way around because, hey…..you’ve hung around all this time, right? And B7’s definitely worth the wait. Highly Recommended.
By Melody Charles