Brandy wants to bring R&B back. Yesterday afternoon, RCA and Chameleon Records invited select media to preview 11 tracks from Brandy's upcoming sixth album, Two Eleven, dropping October 16th. It's Brandy at her most realized: romantically shaky, vocally sharp and musically sound, thanks to an honors corral of producers and songwriters spanning Sean Garrett, Bangladesh, Frank Ocean, Mario Winans, Hit-Boy, Ester Dean, Harmony and more.
Over the course of her decades-long career, Brandy has become a woman before our eyes, outgrowing the baby-lamb naiveté of 1994's Brandy and assuming the role of self-actualized woman (2002's Full Moon). But it was with 2004's Afrodisiac that she faltered in her steps, openly wallowing in a bitter divorce, before rising above the dancing flames on '08's Human. On Two Eleven, she juggles heartache and romantic solace, a nod to past delusions filtered through the hindsight of 33-year-old reticence.
Chameleon CEO Breyon Prescott emceed the session. "I saw music going someplace else," he said. "I was like, the only way Brandy should come back is bringing R&B music back. I see everyone doing dance music, and I was like, we can't do this," said Prescott, who acknowledged side work on Dr. Dre's mythical Detox, promising its imminent release.
"We gotta stick to the core, which is R&B. I got to bring you back to 2012 with hard beats, but the melodies are soft, and the content of the songs are going to be Brandy."
Throughout Two Eleven, a nod to her birthday and the date of mentor Whitney Houston's death, Brandy is as quick to pledge allegiance to lovers as she is to scorn them. On the upcoming Sean Garrett-penned single "Wildest Dreams," the follow-up to lead track "Put It Down" (featuring Chris Brown), the emotional rug is pulled from under her: "Never in my wildest dreams did I think someone could care 'bout me/ Not just the way you love me, but you know I'm emotional (sometimes)," she croons over a thwacking beat courtesy of Tha Bizness.
Producer Bangladesh helms the wobbly, club-geared "Let Me Go," which features an interpolation of Lykke Li's "Tonight," as well as the oiled slow jam "So Sick," written by Garrett, where the singer shoves off a violating lover ("How far do you think I'll let you push me before I cross the line?"). Mike WiLL Made It, known for ratchet anthems including Meek Mill's "Tupac Back" and Gucci Mane's "Too Sexy," shows his softer side with "Do You Know," where Brandy cuts down her man for failing to return her affections.
Elsewhere, Brandy acknowledges that her own emotions have betrayed her on "Wish Your Love Away," written and produced by Mario Winans. Over a piping pan flute and serrated drums, she bemoans a man who played her for a fool – "Remember that you told me you were with it, and all them other bitches you could do without?" – but she can't shake the spell.
Rico Love and Jim Jonsin lace the pecking mid-tempo ballad "Hardly Breathing," where she suffers as her lover walks away, while Hit-Boy blesses the smoldering ballad "White Flag," an admission of emotional defeat.
Two Eleven, still a work-in-progress set to include 15 tracks, also features the Frank Ocean-written "Scared of Beautiful," which will become a duet pending the Odd Future singer's vocal addition. Over double-time instrumentation, Brandy stops seeking reciprocity and focuses inward. "I wonder why there's no mirrors on these walls no more/ You can't tell me why you're so terrified of beautiful," she sings. She's looking only to herself – no man to safety-net her feelings – and she is ready to face her reflection.
- Mario Winans