Does Brandy’s Self-Titled Debut Album Stand the Test of Time?
1994 was a glorious year for music, especially hip-hop and R&B. All throughout those 365 days, an innumerable amount of future superstars would release their respective debut albums. It seemed as if every week a new artist was dropping a strong body of work out of thin air.
One of those upstarts was Brandy Norwood, a singing-acting double threat from Carson, Calif. On Sept. 27, 1994, she would release her self-titled debut album. Largely produced by Keith Crouch, the album spawned multiple top 10 hits and was one of the more commercially successful debuts of '94, moving upwards of four million units in the U.S. alone.
Today marks 20 years since this landmark debut hit the shelves so we checked to see if 'Brandy' stands the test of time.
'Brandy' begins with the Keith Crouch-produced 'Movin' On.' The singer wastes no time letting listeners know that she's not the typical girl to get her priorities or morals tainted, singing "I can have anything I want / Anything I can dream of I've been told since the day I was born / So I make sure every day / That I don't let nothing hold me back / Got to be on track" with conviction. An audio mission statement of sorts, it's fitting that 'Movin On' is placed as the first song your hear on the LP, as it lays the foundation for her trademark wholesome girl-next-door aura.
'Baby,' the second single released off 'Brandy,' features the songstress delivering lyrics over a mid-tempo Keith Crouch production. She fawns over the apple of her eye with lyrics like "I guess it's time to say, baby, baby / How you make me feel when you come to mind / I can't keep my cool baby, baby / I can't hold it inside / I can't wait each day just to see you walk / Tryin' to move in close to get to where you are / I'm not trying to be rude baby, baby / Nothing ventured nothing gained / Oh I'm telling you," and when matched with Brandy's feisty swagger on the track, the song is all but flawless. The album's most successful hit, it peaked at No. 1 and No. 4 on the R&B and pop charts, respectively, and netted her a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. This all adds up to a smash hit and one of the defining R&B cuts of the mid '90s.
"Whenever I'm down, I call on you, my friend / A helping hand you lend, in my time of need." Those opening lines kick off the Keith Crouch-produced 'Best Friend.' Dedicated to her little brother, Ray J, Brandy pledges her loyalty to her sibling with lines like "Friends may come and friends may go / But you should know that, that I've got your back, it's automatic / So, never hesitate to call / 'Cause I'm your sister and always for ya', you know," and immediately captures the ear of the listener with her strong vocal performance. Released as the third single from the album nearly a year after its release and peaking at No. 7 on Billboard's R&B chart, this catchy jam has gone on to be considered one of the debut's more refined cuts.
The lead single 'I Wanna Be Down' is nothing short of a classic for '90s enthusiasts. Opening the track, purring "I would like to get know if I could be / The kind of girl that you could be down for / 'Cause when I look at you, I feel something tell me / That you're the type of guy that I should make a move on," Brandy proceeds to let the guy of her dreams know that she's down to play on his team no matter the stipulations. Co-written by Keith Crouch and Kipper Jones and produced by Crouch, the track was successful in introducing Brandy to the world and a hit on radio (peaking at No. 1 and No. 6 on the R&B and pop charts, respectively) as well as music video countdowns. Released in early September, by the end of the month, everyone and their mother was wondering how could they be down.
Casual fans are likely more familiar with the radio version featuring Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men, but the album version of 'Brokenhearted' is no chump either. Featuring strong lyrics "I'm young, but I'm wise enough to know that you don't fall in love overnight / That's why i thought if I took my time, that everything in love would be right," Brandy puts her vocal pipes on display, as well as her range, making this tune a personal favorite of The Boombox staff.
Brandy follows-up 'Brokenhearted' with another ballad in the form of 'I'm Yours.' Co-produced by Arvel McClinton and Damon Thomas, the song sees the chanteuse reassuring her doubtful lover that his spot in her heart is more than secure.
Things get upbeat with the aptly-titled 'Sunny Day.' Produced by Something for the People, Brandy contemplates "what's a sunny day" without her main squeeze over the beats thumping, boom-bap-inspired drums. Featuring a catchy bridge and addictive hook, this number absolutely goes and gets The Boombox thumbs-up.
Brandy continues her impressive streak of quality offerings with the infectious 'As Long As You're Here.' Something for the People show up again on the boards and the track finds Brandy in favor of giving her relationship a second chance. What we do know is we definitely will be giving this selection another shot sooner than later -- yes, it's that good.
Next up on the album is the Kenneth Crouch-produced 'Always On My Mind.' Showing affection to her significant other via simplistic, yet indelible refrains such as "No matter how far and now matter how wide / I promise, baby, that I'll stay by your side / 'Cause in my mind, I see you / And I just can't seem to shake ya / Your sweetness to me is worth my thinking of," Brandy delivers yet another memorable selection to her cache of heaters.
A then-fresh faced Robin Thicke lends his writing talents to the slow burner, 'Love Is On My Side.' Produced by Damon Thomas, this is one of the more mature efforts content-wise, but comes off a bit too saccharine and lacks the instant likeability of other selections on the LP. Nonetheless, the track is pretty solid and gets the benefit of the doubt, narrowly escaping the skip button.
'Brandy' closes out with the power ballad, 'Give Me You.' Produced by Something for the People, the track comes off slightly dated, even by 1994 standards, but manages not to completely miss the mark. On the lower end of the spectrum as far as standout songs from the album, this number would be right at home in a '80s contemporary R&B mix, but feels slightly misplaced in comparison to the previous tracks on the project.
Unlike many albums released by teenagers before 1994, 'Brandy' is more than strong enough to hang with the grownups. Substituting teenybopper cliches for superb songwriting and production, the LP is innocent enough not to overstep her boundaries, avoiding the more suggestive lyrics. The effort is also mature enough not to get the side-eye from adults who may prefer a little depth in their content. Brandy balances those two worlds flawlessly, crafting infectious jams that could be appreciated in the club as well as at a high school social. Songs like 'Baby' and 'I Wanna Be Down' have helped define the mid-'90s for many and play as strong today as they did back then. But the album doesn't rely on its classic singles to sell its greatness, with dope sleeper cuts like 'Sunny Day,' 'Always On My Mind' and 'As Long As You're Here' still liable to make you nod your head or even hit a vintage two-step routine upon listening. The artist's performance on the album is more than respectable, but producers Keith Crouch and Something for the People may be the real MVPs here, creating a bevy of refined soundscapes and addictive melodies for the young songstress to flex her growing vocals over. The songwriters also get a nod, providing Brandy with universal, true-to-life lyrics that give each song their own identity. While she's more suited to mid-tempo fare and leaves a little to be desired when the proceedings slow down, as a whole, 'Brandy' holds a special place in the hearts of many and can be considered a certified classic from where we stand. Happy 20th birthday to one of the landmark albums from one of the greatest years in the history of music. Thanks for the memories.