It was all in a day's work for iVillage when we were invited to spend four days with Brandy at the Half Moon Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica, to celebrate the launch of her new album, Afrodisiac. But honestly, hanging with a celeb is like playing Russian roulette. Will she be cool? Will she be on time? Will she answer the tough questions? Or will four days with Brandy feel like being trapped in a Divas Live special? For a "work" trip to Jamaica, this was a risk we'd have to take.
Only 25, Brandy has powered through life at a breakneck pace. Since she sold four million copies of her debut album at 15, she's starred in her own TV show (Moesha), dropped two more albums, garnered five Grammy nominations, costarred with Whitney Houston in Cinderella, dated Boyz II Men crooner Wanya Morris, attended the high school prom with L.A. Lakers star Kobe Bryant, married and divorced record producer Robert Smith and appeared in one of MTV's first reality shows, Diary Presents Brandy: Special Delivery, which documented her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter (with Smith), Sy'rai.
Brandy has come a long way from the days when she was a chubby-cheeked child star with those trademark braids. Today, her almond-shaped eyes are her most prominent feature. She's taller than you would expect -- her long, slender legs look pelican-like, especially in the superhigh heels and supershort skirts she tends to sport. And her manners are polished. In fact, when we sit down to chat over dinner at the Sugar Mill, Brandy offers to hold the tape recorder on her lap so it captures every word. Two minutes into our interview, it feels like hanging with an old pal instead of prying into the life of a megastar.
After spending four days with Brandy, we must say it was one of the more fun games of celeb roulette. Cool? Absolutely. On time? Pretty much. Those tough questions? From her rumored feud with Kobe's wife, Vanessa (the "ring flashing" incident really happened!), to Brandy's divorce (she wishes she never got married), she tackled 'em all with a smile. Here's what she had to say...
iVillage: Afrodisiac definitely has love as its theme. Are you looking for love? Would you remarry?
Brandy: I would love to be married for the first time, to be honest. I felt like my last relationship wasn't truly a marriage because I wasn't really in love. I didn't feel passion; I just felt secure, basically. I would love to be married again, and I'm in love right now. I love being in love [laughs].
iVillage: Tell us about your boyfriend [L.A. Clippers star Quentin Richardson].
Brandy: His name's Q and he's so cute and so nice to me. And he loves my daughter, which is a plus.
iVillage: What's Sy'rai like?
Brandy: I'm so in love with her. She's here with me this week -- swimming, playing and doing all the things a one-and-a-half-year-old does.
Motherhood is fun and challenging at the same time. You have a being who's so demanding and wants to do what she wants to do. She doesn't want to do what I want her to do [laughs]. But I love her to death. It's a love that I can't describe.
iVillage: Your ex, Robert, worked on your new album. When you split, did you make a conscious effort to take the music in a different direction?
Brandy: Not at all. We're great friends and I still think he's a great producer. I'm still a fan of his. We have a daughter together -- we have to be friends. So, no, I didn't take it in another direction. And he actually introduced me to Timbaland [who primarily produced the album].
iVillage: You and Kanye West sing a track together, "Talk about Our Love." How did that work?
Brandy: One of the executive producers of my album is one of Kanye's managers, so that's how we hooked up. I'm Kanye's favorite singer -- I don't know if it's true, but it's what he told me [laughs] -- and he said he always wanted to work with me. Having followed his successes, I've always wanted to work with him. When we got together it was like, Oh, my God! This is great chemistry. It's magical. Kanye's passionate about the song, and so am I, so it worked out great.
iVillage: What's your favorite track?
Brandy: "Afrodisiac" is one of my favorites because it talks about love and how I feel about the man I'm with. I sound very happy when I'm singing it, and it makes me feel good when I listen to it.
iVillage: Was it inspired by Q?
Brandy: Some of it was, but some was also inspired by previous situations that I've been in. Creating this album was very therapeutic for me because I was able to express how I feel about the changes I've experienced in my life. We all go through ups and downs. You talk about it, get it off your chest, and you feel better. I'm lucky to be able to share it, so people can relate to my experiences and see similarities in their own lives.
iVillage: What do you think about other female acts today? Anyone you especially like or dislike?
Brandy: I like 'em all because I think they're all being themselves. Ashanti is special in her own right. Beyoncé is fabulous -- she has that whole diva thing going on. Alicia Keys is very soulful. They're all different, and I'm different, so I'm able to have my own path and have my own effect on my audience.
iVillage: What do you think about the three-woman tour that Beyoncé, Alicia and Missy Elliott are doing? Would you consider something like that?
Brandy: I think it's fabulous. I wish that my album came out around the same time as Alicia's so I could be on that tour. I'm a big fan of all of them, especially Beyoncé.
iVillage: With young women, the media tends to stir up rivalries. Do you find that happening to you?
Brandy: Yes, they did that to me a lot with Monica and Aaliyah. There were huge rumors about Monica and me fighting when she first came onto the scene. We hadn't even met [laughs]. It happens all the time. I don't see it as a problem, though, because people like competition -- that's what makes the world what it is. Like I said, I'm a big fan of a lot of the people out there right now, but I just want to bring something different to the table. I want to bring back feeling to music like Alicia Keys is doing. Alicia brought that old-school passion back to music, and I want to keep that up. I want to help her do that.
iVillage: On another rivalry note, I've read stories about you feuding with Kobe Bryant's wife, Vanessa. One tabloid reported a heated exchange at a Lakers game, where Vanessa flashed her diamond ring at you and told you to back off.
Brandy: Oh, my God [laughs]! Let me tell you what happened. I've never broken this story -- do you mind if I tell it?
iVillage: Go for it.
Brandy: Vanessa was sitting in front of me. I'm a row behind her, and there's a fan behind me. Throughout the game, the fan was saying nasty things about Kobe. So I turned around and told the guy, "You know what, you can't say bad things about Kobe because his wife, Vanessa, is sitting right in front of me." I tried to quiet him down. Then he said something else about Kobe's case. So Vanessa turned around and went off on him. She couldn't take it anymore. He had done it four times in the night. So I was trying to calm her down, saying, "Don't let this guy bother you. Let me see your ring. Flash your ring. Whenever anybody talks about the situation with Kobe, just flash your ring." I think because the guy was sitting behind me, it looked as if she was arguing and fighting with me. The whole thing was crazy. But you heard the story first, and it's the honest-to-God truth.
iVillage: It did sound a little far-fetched that you two would be cat fighting courtside.
Brandy: Yeah. It was a Clippers/Lakers game. Kobe plays for the Lakers and my boyfriend's on the Clippers, so I was at the game watching him and she was watching Kobe. There would be no reason for me to fight with her.
iVillage: You had one of the first reality TV shows. Would you ever do that again? And do you think it hurt your marriage?
Brandy: I don't think I would do it again. I don't know -- maybe I would. I don't think it hurt my marriage. I think that [my marriage] just wasn't meant to be from the very beginning. When I look back on it now, I think: I was with this person because I just wanted to be secure. I didn't have anything to offer, so I didn't need to be there.
iVillage: For a young woman, you've had such a full life -- child star, musician, actress, wife, single mom. For women in general, this period in life is a time of change. But you've had many quick changes, big changes...
Brandy: So quick. But I feel like I'm in control of my life now, more than I've ever been. I'm taking on so much responsibility and owning all of my feelings. That's the best part of being me right now. I really like who I am. I do. I feel so good.
iVillage: How long till the next album?
Brandy: It depends. Something has to go on in my life where I feel creative enough to really do my fans a favor -- to really give them great music. I don't want to put out "okay" music or put out an album just to make an album. Music makes people feel good, so if I'm not contributing to that, then I don't need to do it.
iVillage: What's next?
Brandy: Touring, videos and at the same time I'm doing all of this, being a great mom, a great girlfriend, a great artist to my fans and a great person to myself.