By Allison Stewart, Special to the Tribune
1:42 PM PST, January 17, 2013
It's OK if you call it a comeback: Until recently, Brandy Norwood, teen R&B sensation and former star of the beloved '90s sitcom "Moesha," had been having a rough couple of years. There was the death of her mentor Whitney Houston, a fatal car accident (Norwood's car struck another on a Los Angeles freeway; the driver died), a painful breakup and album sales that consistently disappointed.
But Brandy's new album, "Two Eleven," debuted in the Billboard top five, she got engaged over the holidays to record industry executive Ryan Press and she appears in both the upcoming Tyler Perry film "Temptation" and the BET show "The Game."
In a recent phone interview, the singer, 33, who plays the Venue at Horseshoe Casino on Saturday night in a show to benefit the anti-violence group Project HOOD, discussed her engagement, her struggle with depression and her semisecret life as rapper Bran'Nu, who appeared on a '09 Timbaland disc and was never really heard from again. Here is an edited transcript of the conversation.
Q: Congratulations on your engagement. Was it a surprise?
A: Oh, yeah. You have your moments where you think it's going to happen, but the imagination does the real moment no justice. Even if you're expecting it, you're still surprised.
Q: Between this and the album doing well — I don't want to call it a comeback, but are you calling it a comeback?
A: I don't feel disrespected if you call it a comeback. I know I've been gone for a while. I was trying to get myself together and figure my way. Now I'm in a place where I feel connected to my fan base again and really feeling these amazing emotions of doing what I was born to do and doing it full time. It's a great feeling.
I do call it a comeback, I'm gonna be honest with you. … When you feel like you don't have your purpose intact, you can get off balance. But it wasn't about proving myself to one particular person, it was about proving it to me. Once you prove it to yourself, proving it to everyone else is easy.
Q: What made you doubt yourself?
A: I think different struggles in your life, not knowing how to deal with certain things that have happened in my life. Painful moments in your life can cause you to go into a state of depression where you don't believe that you deserve anything good in your life.
You forget what you were created for. I was not only created to sing and share but also to be a mom and a friend and a daughter.
All these people in your life, to have (lost) that connection with everyone around me, including my fans, it was tough. But after a while I just got tired of feeling like that.
Q: Did you feel as if this album was your last chance?
A: I did. What you believe is what you manifest, so it's kind of dangerous to believe something like that. But for me it was a good belief, because I was able to push myself to give 150 million percent. … When you feel like these are the last songs you're gonna sing, you want to make them the best songs you've ever sung.
Q: You had talked about possibly rapping on this album. Did you think the better of it?
A: It seems like I'm the only one who believes in my rap (abilities). I'm not as confident in my sharing that side of me with everybody. I tried it; people responded the way they responded. I don't think people really want to hear me rap. They just want to hear me sing.
Q: Do you feel like people expect you to be nice, polite Brandy who was on "Moesha"? How much can you break out of that box?
A: I think I'm already out of the box of being this perfect little angel. I mean, if you Google me, there's a whole bunch of stuff that comes up.
Q: Did you get a lot of push-back from fans about your collaboration with Chris Brown on the "Two Eleven" hit "Put It Down"?
A: People pretty much accept it, what we did. When something is good, of course, people have to have their opinions about it and judgments, but they start to accept it. …
There's things we've all done that we haven't been proud of, or things that if we could turn back the hands of time, we would probably do a little bit different. I'm in no position to judge anyone, and neither is anybody else. … Even though a person has a past or whatever, that shouldn't hinder you from working with people that can make a great song. That's just silly. Especially when the person is really trying to change and get better.
Q: "Two Eleven" refers to both your birthday and the day Whitney Houston died. What do you think of when you think of her now?
A: I definitely think of good times. I think of things she's taught me, shared with me. She was a phenomenal lady that shared so much of her life, her talent and her time. She went through her own struggles and trying to pull out of that. There's so many layers, so much inspiration to her life, so much people can learn from her. … She is the bar, you know? There will never be another.
Q: Who comes close to her these days?
A: I don't think anyone comes close to Whitney. That's a disrespectful thought. I'm not saying you're being (disrespectful), I'm saying for me (to say it). …
Artists like Frank Ocean or Bruno Mars, they don't come around every day. … That's the type of artist that Whitney was. But to compare her voice? I can't do that. I would have to put myself on a timeout if I did that.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Venue at Horseshoe Casino, 777 Casino Center Drive, Hammond
Price: $45 (21+); 800-745-3000 or ticketmaster.com
Copyright © 2013, Chicago Tribune