After four years away from the music game, multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning R&B/pop singer, songwriter, and actress Brandy has come roaring back with the fearless and inspired Two Eleven — a thoroughly modern R&B album that Rolling Stone has called “Brandy at her most realized: romantically shaky, vocally sharp, and musically sound.” Billboard has hailed it as a “strong return to Brandy’s multi-layered impassioned vocals.” With its unforgettable melodies, glorious harmonies, edgy beats, and Brandy’s sultry voice front-and-center, Two Eleven sounds like an artist reborn. “It’s an honest album,” she says. “It’s relatable. It’s sexy and vulnerable. I really let my true self come through on every song. It has so many different colors, but at the same time, it represents the artist I am now.”
The Mississippi-born daughter of a gospel singer father, Brandy became one of the most successful multi-media stars of the ’90s, thanks to her constant presence on both the pop and R&B charts, as well star turns on the hit sitcom Moesha and the classic made-for-TV movie phenomenon Cinderella, which attracted more than 60 million viewers and broke new ground with its multi-cultural cast. Since emerging with her 3x-platinum self-titled debut album in 1994 (released when Brandy was 15), this trail-blazing pioneer has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide (including the 5x-platinum selling Never Say Never) and is ranked one of the best-selling female artists in American music history by the RIAA. She has earned scores of awards, including a Grammy, an AMA, two Soul Train Music Awards, two NAACP Image Awards, three Billboard Awards, four MTV Awards, six Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, two Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, and three BMI Awards.
Yet with all of her success, Brandy wasn’t sure she’d ever make music again after the release of her last album Human in 2008. “I didn’t really know what type of music I wanted to do or if anyone would even give me the opportunity,” she says candidly. “You start to doubt whether this is still the path that you’re supposed to be on.”
That struggle is what makes Brandy’s return with Two Eleven all the more satisfying. “It definitely feels like a comeback to me because I know I’ve been gone,” she says. “The fans will say, ‘You never left.’ No, I left. I’ve been down. I’ve struggled. I’ve failed. I’ve been through so much, so just making this album is a comeback for me.”
Brandy was coaxed into recording again after meeting Breyon Prescott — the CEO of Chameleon Entertainment whose A&R and production credits include Jamie Foxx, Angie Stone, and Kanye West — in May 2010 after she performed an intimate concert at the Key Club in West Hollywood, belting out her own hits like “Almost Doesn’t Count” as well as a smoldering cover of Etta James’ “At Last.” “Breyon told me I needed to get back to my R&B roots, but needed a fresh, new sound,” Brandy recalls. “He said my core fans really wanted an R&B album from me and I didn’t give them that the last time. So that became the center of what we were trying to accomplish with this album. Breyon has an incredible ear for music. He was able to bring together all these amazing people to help me achieve that vision.”
Drawn to working with Brandy (who has been cited as an inspiration by everyone from John Legend and Kelly Rowland to Kanye West and Rihanna), a host of all-star producers signed on for Two Eleven, including Bangladesh, Timbaland, Mario Winans, Tha Bizness, Danja, Harmony, Jim Jonsin, and Switch, as well as hit-making songwriters Sean Garrett and Rico Love, plus Chris Brown (who guests on Brandy’s hit single “Put It Down” and is a co-writer on “Slower”) and acclaimed solo artist Frank Ocean, who contributes the deeply ruminative “Scared of Beautiful.” “I don’t know a word in the dictionary to describe Frank Ocean’s talent,” Brandy says. “His melodic gift, his writing ability — he’s a poet. And for him to write a song like that for me was truly a blessing. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album.”
Brandy is also particularly grateful to Sean Garrett, an in-demand songwriter with 15 Number One singles to his name, who co-wrote Two Eleven’s current single “Wildest Dreams,” as well as “So Sick,” “Let Me Go,” “Put It Down,” and “Do You Know What You Have.” “Sean is so versatile; he can write anything,” Brandy says. “I immediately felt like I could trust him.” Brandy first met Garrett in 2006 when she guested on Diddy’s Press Play album, for which he was a vocal producer. “Years went by then all of a sudden, he texted me,” Brandy says. “I never gave Sean Garrett my number, so I don’t know how he got it, but he was like, ‘We have to work. I have hits for you.’ What I love about Sean is that he was open to my creativity. As talented and accomplished as he is, it felt like he was inspired by me. And when you have that type of connection with someone, you want to impress them. Then the songs get better and better.”
When Brandy first heard Garrett’s “Put It Down” (which climbed to No. 5 with a bullet on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop songs chart), she knew it was special. “You’re not supposed to be falling down on the floor in the vocal booth, crying because you like a song so much, but that’s exactly what I did,” Brandy says. “In the middle of singing the second verse, I just fell to the floor. Sean thought I fainted, but I was like, ‘Thank you Sean Garrett. You’re helping me believe in music again.’”
Other album highlights include the Mario Winans-produced “Wish Your Love Away,” which Brandy feels could have fit in on Never Say Never, and the Harmony-produced “Without You,” which Brandy co-wrote. “It sounds like a throwback R&B record, yet still new and fresh,” Brandy says. “It’s about how you feel when you’re in love with someone, but you have your flaws and you’re afraid they’ll leave. We’ve all been there. You feel like you cannot be without this person. Love makes you feel like that. It’s the closest thing to magic that we have in life, which is why sing about it. There’s a lot of pain in my voice because of what I’ve been through, so I know how to channel heartbreak.” Yet Two Eleven isn’t all about tears. “Wildest Dreams” finds Brandy exulting in falling in love after giving up hope that she’d ever find it again.
That hopeful theme dovetails nicely with Brandy’s excitement about reconnecting with music and delivering what she considers her strongest work to date. “I want people to feel like they’re dreaming when they hear this album,” she says. “I want to blow people’s minds. I want to touch people’s hearts. I want to change people’s lives. I know that’s a lot to ask for, but that’s what I want.”
When it came time to choose a title, Brandy didn’t have a doubt in her mind. Two Eleven refers to February 11th, which is not only Brandy’s birthday, it is also the date that her idol and mentor, Whitney Houston, passed away in 2012. “As an artist, Whitney was everything to me,” Brandy says of Houston, with whom Brandy remained close until her tragic death. “Whitney’s voice did something to my spirit. When I discovered I could sing, I said to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do with my talent.’ The fact that she passed on my birthday just solidified the bond we share even more. Now I feel an even greater responsibility to do what I was born to do. Because before she died, she said to me, ‘All you have to do to be successful is be you. You are a class act.’ So I knew ‘Two Eleven’ was it. It represents my purpose as well as the person who helped me find my purpose.”