Exclusive: Brandy Breaks Down the Songs of Her Self-Titled Debut 20 Years Later

Brandy, 1994.
Courtesy of Atlantic Records

Cover for Brandy's 1994 self-titled debut album.

Brandy gives Billboard a song-by-song breakdown of her first album, released Sept. 27, 1994.

Like many of her fans 20 years later, Brandy can still remember the first time she heard her debut single “I Wanna Be Down” on the radio in the late summer of 1994.

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“I remember being at Taco Bell, in the drive-thru, and hearing it on the radio, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m on the radio!’” Brandy, now 35, recalls to Billboard. “Remember how DJs, they talk in the beginning and the song is playing a little bit? And then they’d say, ‘Here’s Brandy with a  new song.’ It was like, ‘Thank you God, this is everything for me.’ And I was with my friends at Taco Bell. It felt like it belonged there.”
The single helped introduce the then-15-year-old’s self-titled debut Brandy (released Sept. 27, 1994) and herald its singer as the latest fresh face of R&B at a time when youth was just starting to rule the airwaves. Fellow 15-year-old Aaliyah’s Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number had just been released months prior, a 14-year-old upstart named Usher had just released his own self-titled debut in late August, pre-teen vocal trio Immature scored a top hit 10 with ballad “Never Lie” and a 13-year-old named Monica was waiting in the wings to release her debut Miss Thang the following summer.
But there was something special about Brandy, from its throwback, funk-soul production (led by then-21-year-old writer-producer Keith Crouch and R&B group Somethin’ For The People, best known for slow jam “My Love is The Shhh”) to the smoky, evocative vocals coming from its lead performer. Though Brandy grew up idolizing mezzo sopranos Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, and even tried to score a record contract with Atlantic’s A&R director Darryl Williams at the age of 12 by auditioning with their songs, it took her a few years to embrace the subtle power of her own alto range.

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“I remember always wanting to sing higher than I could. I accepted the fact that I was an alto and did what I could and tried to perfect that as much as I could,” she says. “I practiced everyday. I imagined each corner of my room being a little piece of an audience. It was just great to be that inspired and have that drive.”
Brandy took that newfound confidence into a second audition for Atlantic’s Williams, and the results sealed her fate.

“I went back to Darryl when I was 14 and I sang ‘Greatest Love Of All’ and ‘Vision Of Love’ for him and Sylvia Rhone,” Brandy says. “Of course, it was about 19 keys down from what Whitney and Mariah were singing, but I gave it my all and they signed me. And the rest was a moment. My dream.”
Brandy’s wide-eyed innocence and songs of first crushes and heartbreak connected almost instantly, and proved to be a major breakthrough for the singer. The album yielded her four top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including three top 10s (“I Wanna Be Down,” “Brokenhearted” and “Baby”), and two No. 1s on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart. The album itself was certified double platinum and spent 89 weeks on the Billboard 200, and helped Brandy net two Grammy nominations the following year, including a nod for Best New Artist.
Brandy has released five full-lengths since her debut, and is in the early process of recording Album No. 7 (“I’m in the reinventing phase right now,” she says), but looking back 20 years later there still ain’t nothing like the first time.