You can't blame Brandy for being a little nervous stepping back into the recording studio. Four years have elapsed since the release of her fourth album, "Afrodisiac." And it has been just two years since her headline-making car accident in which another driver died.
"Once you get into a zone, it's hard to come out," says Brandy, who will not face criminal charges but still faces a wrongful-death lawsuit that goes to trial in April. "What I experienced in the past couple of years was tough, but I had to face it and find the strength to move forward. Connecting back with music has definitely helped me through everything. Once I got back in the studio, the butterflies went away."
Music's uplifting power provided the thematic undercurrent for "Human," due Dec. 9 from Koch/Epic. The project reunites Brandy with songwriter/producer Rodney Jerkins, who first worked with the singer on her 1998 multiplatinum sophomore set, "Never Say Never." Jerkins, the executive producer of "Human," also produced the first two singles: the uptempo "Right Here (Departed)" and "Long Distance," a ballad co-produced with Bruno Mars.
"We have great musical chemistry," Jerkins says. " 'Departed' was the first song we did together after reuniting. And that says a lot: Most of the time you don't find the single until you're at the end of a project."
Through additional collaborations with Brian Kennedy (whose credits include Rihanna's "Disturbia"), Toby Gad (Beyoncé's "If I Was a Boy"), James Fauntleroy (Jordin Sparks' "No Air") and RedOne (Lady Gaga's "Just Dance"), Brandy reflects on the joys and pitfalls involved with just being human. She also co-wrote several songs, including "Fall" with Epic labelmate Natasha Bedingfield.
The lyrics drew inspiration from a daily journal Brandy began keeping. "Getting in touch with how I felt made me want to sing about it," Brandy says. "This entire album is about life and what we all experience—that we're not alone and sometimes need to be uplifted."
Brandy rose to prominence at 15 with her 1994 self-titled debut for Atlantic. Her final album for the label was "Afrodisiac," which has sold 417,000 units in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Between recording, she also starred in the popular '90s TV show "Moesha," which still runs in syndication.
Koch/Epic initiated an online buzz campaign in July to reactivate Brandy's existing fan base and introduce her to a new generation of listeners. "Long Distance," whose Chris Robinson-directed video will premiere at the end of November, sits at No. 42 this week on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. "Right Here (Departed)" peaked at No. 22 on that chart after a strong run on BET's "106 & Park" video countdown.
Down the road is a tour and more acting. "That's another part of me that has to be fulfilled," says Brandy, who serves as a spokeswoman for Sketchers and is featured in the company's print campaign. "I really want to get back to that, creating a character who people would love to see every week."
Anxious now to reconnect musically, Brandy says it's actually an audience of one that keeps her going—her 6-year-old daughter. "Playing my songs back for her and hearing her respond—that's what lets me know I'm on the right track and motivates me to continue what I'm doing."