Brandy, 'Brandy' at 20: Classic Track-by-Track Review
In 1994, the biggest worry in Brandy's small world was an unrequited crush. For those of us coming of age in the mid-'90s, life was similarly low-strung. Silly boys and stupid cliques ran our conscience. But these were things that were achingly tragic to a teenager. Four months after Aaliyah's first offering, Age Ain't Nothing But A Number, a beginner's manual for cool kids, Brandy released her self-titled debut on September 27, 1994. Levelheaded and hardly edgy in comparison, a then 15-year-old Brandy stuck to wholesome innocence. She sang about feelings of butterflies and breakups and seemed confident in her purity. That was cool in its own way.
Twenty years later, the album's biggest singles ("Baby," "I Wanna Be Down") now sound like capsules of that hip-hop pop-soul era. As sappy as some of it was, there was maturity to it too, as if tokens of wisdom fell into a batch of diary entries. It's the sound of a young girl, wearing synthetic braids and oversized clothes, wanting so bad to be grown. Throughout the album, Brandy's vocals and her low, flexible tone revealed its gospel roots and helped strengthen the weaker content.
Of her six albums, Brandy is the second biggest seller behind 1998's Never Say Never, with over four million copies sold in the U.S. The album peaked at No. 20 on the Billboard 200. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, here we break down the 14-track classic track-by-track.
1. "Movin' On"
Brandy immediately establishes herself as the good girl whose idea of edge is probably staying out 30 minutes past curfew. She's okay being viewed as a holier-than-thou outsider, if it means staying true to her values: "I could be a typical kind of girl wasting my time/ But that ain't my style," she sings. "See I would rather be occupied/ Always trying to keep my mind pointed to a higher plane." (YES to the funk horns.)
That opening track glides smoothly into a series of radio hits starting with "Baby," which peaked at No. 4 on the Hot 100. Brandy has no problem letting her butterflies roam free. Here, she lets a cutie know she's eyeing him by singing, "You're so fine you blow my mind," flipping the classic line from "Mickey." Rahsaan Patterson sings background, and Brandy sounds assured while capturing that puppy-love stage: "Words just ain't enough, baby, baby/ But that's all I can use to state my intentions."
3. "Best Friend"
Brandy's relationship with her younger brother Ray J is well known. This lighthearted track, which climbed to No. 3 on the Hot 100, served as a super lovable ode to sibling bonds. Don't mind that it's heavy on cheese ("Friends are there through thick and thin”). Bonus points for its adorable music video featuring Brandy and Ray J goofing off.
4. "I Wanna Be Down"
The crush theme that runs throughout this album? This is where it all started, a song about wanting a non-platonic relationship. The easiest way for Brandy to broadcast her infatuation is with slang: "I would like to get to know if I could be/ The kind of girl that you could be down for." Peaking at No. 6 on the Hot 100, "I Wanna Be Down" shows Brandy willing to be assertive and make the first move.
5. "I Dedicate (Part I)"
This interlude trilogy is essentially a melodic reading of thank-you notes. Brandy dedicates it to her dad, Ray J, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder, among others. It's every bit cheesy but still a sweet sentiment.
The popular version of this single features Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men. The album rendition has more of a thump to it, though it's still stripped down and minimalist. This is a teenager singing about how life goes on post-breakup. But the lyrics are so grown, they could've easily been sung by artists like Tamia or Deborah Cox: "No more empty conversation/ Next time I will be totally sure/ Don't want the pain of falling in and out of love/ It's more than my poor heart can endure." End of the world!
7. "I'm Yours"
This is one of a few ballads on the album that take away from its cool factor. As Brandy growls and does her now familiar runs, there's no denying her vocal skills. The lyrics, however ("You fill my heart with love, my tears with joy"), are what you'd hear in any standard love song.
8. "Sunny Day"
Consider this track the chipper mid-tempo mood booster before the album starts mellowing out. A freshly lonely Brandy reflects on the good times of a past relationship ("What's a sunny day without you?") and wanting to reignite that spark. It's nothing deep; But everyone's experienced that initial feeling of doubt and missing someone right after a split.
9. "As Long as You're Here"
Following a string of surefire hits, it's clear that we're getting to the cool-down. Brandy pleads "on bended knee" over a slow tempo, trying to fix what's broken. "I don't wanna say goodbye forever," she sings. "Let's just work together." If only it were that simple. Weird: The backup vocals kind of sound like Total.
10. "Always on My Mind"
There's a little more of an old school jam session feel to this song, where Brandy clutters her mind again with thoughts of a crush. Although some lines come off like a guy kicking tired game ("The sight of you knocks me off my feet" and "Let me introduce my heart to you"), Brandy's voice sweetens the deal and makes it more like a gentle plea for love.
11. "I Dedicate (Part II)"
This instrumental that's just under a minute long proves how mandatory interludes were back then, even if they were a throwaway.
12. "Love Is on My Side"
Brandy has officially gone from the lunchroom first kiss to the auditorium stage. This simple ballad finds her exercising her vocal chords while singing, "Love is something we take advantage of." It's a very prom-song and runs a bit long, at over five minutes. Robin Thicke is among the singers harmonizing on backup.
13. "Give Me You"
It's fitting that the final full song on Brandy's debut takes us to church. Backed by a modest choir and finger snaps, she calls on listeners to have a little faith in a higher power: "I have a friend/ He'll always be around/ And He'll never leave you/ He will never let you down."
14. "I Dedicate (Part III)"
Brandy's half-defiant, half-sentimental debut closes with the third chapter of her dedications. It's an album that's frontloaded with the best songs up top, but overall Brandy gave us a sweet, uncomplicated soundtrack to our youth.