When I got the chance to interview Brandy about her new album, B7, it was completely impossible for my mind to separate 35-year-old me talking to the singer via Zoom from 13-year-old me riding in the car with my mom holding on to a single of “I Wanna Be Down.” Though I’d met the singer before, something about the ease of our conversation caused me to have to remind myself every seven minutes or so that I was talking to the Brandy Norwood. And by the end of our call, I simply had to ask her if she knew she was that girl back in the day the way every other Black girl did.
“I knew I was something,” Brandy said contemplatively. “I knew I was doing a lot. I think in hindsight I can look back and see I did a lot of great things. I was able to be very impactful and when people tell me things now I feel it. Like, oh wow, I really was able to touch a lot of people and that means so much to me.”
Brandy’s very existence as a Brown-skinned girl in the mainstream entertainment industry– with braids no less, which we all wanted at one point or another — was such a huge step in the right direction in terms of visibility, even if Brandy didn’t know how significant her presence was in the ’90s.
“At the time you’re young, you know. Moesha’s stronger than me. I don’t even know who Brandy is at that time. I’m living my life through a character. I don’t know exactly who I am. But when I look back I’m able to see wow, you know, I was able to help a lot of Black girls and women in general, families in general.”
It’s because of that impact that every few weeks you’ll see a thread pop up on Twitter with people asking why streaming services haven’t licensed Moesha on their platforms yet. It’s why Brandy’s daughter Sy’rai, at 18, still resonates with the show, 24 years after it first aired.
“Looking through my daughter’s eyes, for her to say, ‘Mama, I love Moesha,’ to have my dolls on her mantle — that is like whoa,” Brandy said. “So I can look back in hindsight like, ‘Thank you God for using me as a vessel and at the time I didn’t really know I was being a vessel. I just thought I was being popular. I was just hot — popping.”
I jokingly ask Brandy if she can imagine what life would’ve been like if social media was around when she was a teen and after a brief pause we both laugh and agree on the answer. “Things happen as they should.”
It was interesting Brandy made that remark, as that wasn’t the first time the sentiment of things happening as they should and the principle of alignment rang true in her life. Having a number of significant firsts at such a young age, I asked Brandy if any stood out to her in particular and she confirmed that the barriers we most loved watching her break were equally big for her.
“Cinderella was huge for me. That was different because I felt like it was a parallel for me,” the 41-year-old shared. “Becoming the first Black princess was just, it was surreal. I was like what’s really happening? What’s going on? And then for Whitney to become the first Black fairy godmother and then for me to work with my idol. Three years before that I’m in the nosebleed section of her concert trying to talk my way down to meet her, and three years later there’s no way you could ever tell me I’m going to be working with her, becoming a princess, singing in the studio with her, like I never would’ve believed that so it’s like two dreams were happening at the same time.”
Twenty-three years after the release of Cinderella, Brandy’s love for Whitney Houston remains as strong as ever as she pays homage to her idol on her new album with the song “Saving All My Love,” named after Whitney’s 1985 track of the same name.
“I’m as solid as a Roc without the boat,” Brandy sings. “Kinda like The goat (Whitney Houston).”
Having been dubbed the “vocal bible,” I don’t think many would hesitate to call Brandy, in all of her Black girl magic, the GOAT of our generation.
Brandy’s seventh album, B7, drops Friday, July 31.