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‘Never Say Never’: How Brandy Found Her Voice With Her Second Album

‘Never Say Never’: How Brandy Found Her Voice With Her Second Album


The intro to Brandy’s second studio album, 1998’s Never Say Never, is simply Brandy chasing the tail of her title. Never say never say never say never… it’s almost a mantra to herself. It might have been calming to the young, brilliant star whose second album had a long, nervous gestation.

Listen to ‘Never Say Never’ here.

“If I can’t feel it, I won’t sing it”

Brandy is rightly seen as a pioneer of 90s female R&B. Along with others (notably Aaliyah and TLC), she built on the innovations of Janet Jackson, complicating smooth vibes with darker intonations, and Mary J Blige, who embraced hip-hop sounds and energy. Brandy’s self-titled debut album, released in 1994, when she was just 15, was full of ingénue spark – a real sense of exploration underpinned its street jams. “I did not really know much, all I wanted to do was sing,” Brandy has said of her debut. “You can easily understand that it is a person who sings genuinely, without any real experience.”

As youthful as Brandy was, she was grounded. Following her debut, and barring a few soundtrack contributions, she used the next few years to prioritise her education and build her acting career. But these given reasons were hiding a deeper truth. Later, she admitted to “sophomore album jitters” which meant she kept avoiding her label and making excuses whenever they contacted her.

“I’m not the little girl I was when I made my first record”

Part of the problem was that she felt any material presented to her was either pedestrian, inappropriate or going over old ground. It is a long four years between the ages of 15 and 19, and Brandy felt this keenly. “Many of the songs I heard were not ‘me’,” she revealed in 1999. “And if I can’t feel it, I won’t sing it.” Brandy also knew that her voice had strengthened and become more expressive. “I’m not the little girl I was when I made my first record,” she said, citing both the physical maturation of her voice and the new emotional experiences that she knew had changed her.

Enter producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins. Jerkins was only a couple of years older than Brandy, and he keenly felt her sense of change as she stood at a crossroads. Jerkins was a relative newcomer himself, but had impressed in the short time he had been producing: Mary J Blige’s Share My World album and Joe’s 1997 hit Don’t Wanna Be A Player pointed to his future fame. Brandy and Jerkins gelled quickly, Jerkins bringing along his brother, Fred, and songwriter LaShawn Daniels, and the team began working on Never Say Never.

“I found one of the best producers in the world to help me find my new sound”

A dam must have burst within Brandy, for within five days the team had come up with five songs which would form the nucleus of Never Say Never, including Happy and Learn The Hard Way. The Jerkins family crew expanded: Fred gave up his day job to work full-time on the album, while sister Sybil also contributed her writing talents. Morgan Jenkins, Sybil’s six-year-old son, also met Brandy and recalls the time very fondly. “I remember the first day that I met her,” he said 20 years later. “She was eating Taco Bell in front of the recording equipment and wrapped her arms around me as if she had known for me for years.”

Jerkins found his collaboration with Brandy a real chance to develop an end-to-end, deep and broad approach to the album. “I wanted to make records where you fell in love with and heard the journey of the artists from beginning to end,” he said. “The intro is just as important as the song, the outro is just as important.” This suited Brandy well, reflecting her wish to incorporate her maturity into a whole sound and concept rather than being seen solely as a singer. Brandy gets a co-producer credit on half of the tracks, fairly representing her hands-on role; producer David Foster also contributed to three tracks, including Have You Ever? and One Voice.

“We went up to bat for that song. It was going against the grain”

Never Say Never’s massive single, The Boy Is Mine, was inspired by the 1982 Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney hit, The Girl Is Mine. Brandy had been inspired by watching The Jerry Springer Show and the incessant love triangles featured on it. Originally planned as a solo song, Brandy and Jerkins soon felt that it would work better as a duet. Monica was Brandy’s choice for partner.

It’s sad that whenever two women get together, the default position is that they will be rivals, with the media primarily interested in stoking division and difference rather than emphasising sisterhood (Brandy and Monica called the press out for this, issuing a joint statement in 1998 that called the “ongoing negativity totally unfair”). Getting to the heart of Brandy and Monica’s actual feelings for one another is tough, as prejudice, hype and differing stories all cloud the picture; but it does seem their relationship was spiky, particularly as time went on. Recording together in the studio didn’t work, so both recorded their vocals separately; this led to a delicate mixing balance, where each was hypersensitive to the other’s dominance. The video shoot was, according to Jerkins, fraught with tension; and when Monica called her second album The Boy Is Mine, Brandy was deeply unimpressed.

“‘Never Say Never’ changed the course of my life”

However, the drama couldn’t overshadow the song’s awesomeness, and The Boy Is Mine became one of the defining songs of the 90s. “We went up to bat for that song,” Fred Jerkins said in 2018. “It was going against the grain. The industry was really sample-driven at the time, and The Boy Is Mine wasn’t.” It went to No.1 in the US and was a huge UK hit, too, setting the scene for Never Say Never’s release in summer 1998.

Issued on 9 June, Never Say Never brought together fire and passion, but also wisdom and thoughtfulness. And perhaps the gap between albums was not only jitters, but Brandy’s natural creative rhythm: she would again make her fans wait four years until her next release, 2002’s Full Moon. There would be difficulties to come for Brandy, but Never Say Never would be something she looked back on with pride – the album that cemented her place among the best 90s female singers. “Never Say Never changed the course of my life,” Brandy has said. “I found one of the best producers in the world to help me find my new sound. I was so free to try things vocally and the Darkchild team gave me their best work and sweet support.”

Find out where Brandy ranks among our best 90s female singers.

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