Brandy: Old School Star, New School Icon

Mack Mendenhall

Of all the female R&B singers who have left their mark on music history, Brandy is set apart due to her incredible staying power. Unlike other artists, she’s been successful in multiple decades and eras of music. Brandy has remained a confident, classy presence both as a teenage star and an industry veteran. She reflects stylistic aspects of soul legends before her time while also serving as an inspiration for newcomers to the R&B game. And it’s her unique, velvety tone and sophisticated vocal techniques that earned her the title of “The Vocal Bible” and established her as a blueprint for the many singers following in her footsteps.

Brandy began her solo career in 1994 with the release of her self-titled, funk-soul debut album, Brandy. Hit singles like “I Wanna Be Down,” “Baby,” “Brokenhearted,” “Best Friend,” charted on the Hot 100 and gave Brandy her first taste of success. Alongside contemporaries such as Aaliyah, Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, and TLC, the young singer’s early music reflected the neo-soul movement of R&B in the mid-90s.

Early on in her career, Brandy found a mentor in Whitney Houston, who was peaking in her own career. Not only did Whitney include her on the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack, but she chose Brandy to star in Disney’s 1997 remake of Cinderella, which Houston also co-produced. She and Whitney made history as the first black women to play Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother onscreen.

However, 1998 was her breakthrough. Brandy teamed up with another young R&B star at the time, Monica. The pair faced off on the fiery duet, “The Boy Is Mine,” which became the best-selling song in the U.S. that year. “The Boy Is Mine” also scored Brandy and Monica their first number one hits and Grammy Awards. Brandy included on the song on her sophomore album, Never Say Never.

In the 2000s, Brandy received critical acclaim for her third and fourth albums, Full Moon (2002) and Afrodisiac (2004). Full Moon drew inspiration from electro, UK garage, and funktronica genres, while Afrodisiac found Brandy and producer Timbaland experimenting with hip hop, neo-soul, and indie rock elements. Her first greatest hits album, The Best of Brandy, was released in 2005, followed by the less successful albums Human in 2008 and Two Eleven in 2012. Two Eleven references Brandy’s birthday, February 11, as well as the date her mentor Whitney Houston died eight months before the album’s release.

After Two Eleven, Brandy took an eight-year hiatus from music before dropping her seventh studio album, b7, in July of 2020. Included on b7 is her popular duet “Love Again” with alternative R&B singer Daniel Caesar. She co-wrote all fifteen of the album’s songs, making the effort one of her most lyrically transparent and authentic projects. And as always, Brandy’s voice is the centerpiece. Her unmistakable raspy mezzo-soprano shows off its impressive agility, range, and emotional intensity throughout the album.

b7 marks yet another era for Brandy’s timeless career. The seasoned artist is already regarded as an R&B legend by many, but Brandy continues to push the limits of her artistic growth and musical content with every release, rivaling the experimental creativity of new R&B stars who grew up on her music.

Listen below to Brandy’s latest release, b7.