ALBUM THROWBACK: BRANDY | NEVER SAY NEVER (1998)
Every artist has that one album that is career-defining. It’s the album that takes them to another level of creativity that showcases their true star power. In the case of R&B superstar Brandy, it was her sophomore album, "Never Say Never." The album was released on June 9th, 1998, which came four years after her self-titled debut. During the 90s, Brandy was the R&B ‘it girl,’ with mainstream appeal. She was the epitome of the “girl next door,” showcased on our television screens every week as she starred on the hit UPN (now CW) sitcom, "Moesha." Also, Whitney Houston selected her co-star as the first black Cinderella for Disney, which premiered on ABC in 1997 to 60 million viewers. With the emphasis on Brandy's filmography, fans and critics were more than ready for a full-length return to music.
Jerkins, along with his production and songwriting team consisting of brother Fred Jerkins III, and LaShawn Daniels, gave Brandy a timeless mix of R&B ballads, up-tempo and mid-tempo tracks. He was the mastermind behind Never Say Never’s hit lead single, “The Boy Is Mine,” found Brandy vocally duelling her alleged younger nemesis Monica. Playing on the rumours in the press about the two songstresses disliking each other, Jerkins thought it would be cool to put those stories to a song. Ironically, the single appeared on Monica's sophomore album of the same name. That project was released in July, forcing an inevitable charting competition between the two. It all paid off with “The Boy Is Mine,” spending 13 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and winning both ladies a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group. In addition to "Never Say Never" having commercial appeal with “The Boy Is Mine,” the album is strong in its R&B roots. “Angel In Disguise” is arguably one of the best opening tracks on a 90s R&B album. With backing vocals from R&B veteran Joe, the song tells a story of Brandy playing tug of war with her love with him, pulling back emotionally. Its mid-tempo production leaves any listener drenched in all the feelings as Brandy stands her ground in the game of love.
The second single, "Top Of The World," was modelled after Bad Boy's trademarked hip-hop soul revamp from '97. On the groove featuring Ma$e, Brandy reflects on the media's unwavering nosiness with her famous lifestyle, snipping back "I'm just trying to be me"—a line coyly sampled in Lil' Kim's 2000 single "No Matter What They Say." The faster-tempo tracks meant for the clubs and afternoon radio proved Brandy still had a spunky step in her music. One of "Never Say Never’s" signature tracks, “Almost Doesn’t Count,” which was released as a single, has some of the album’s most mature lyrics as it describes a lover who can’t get right in the relationship. Although when you think of a Brandy ballad, “Have You Ever” is the obvious one that comes to mind. If there’s a list of the best 90's R&B songs about unrequited love, “Have You Ever” is definitely in the top 10. Released as "Never Say Never’s" third single, “Have You Ever,” reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song finds Brandy having more than just a crush on a guy. She’s downright in love and wants to know why he won’t love her back. If you were in middle or high school at the time, “Have You Ever” was probably the song you kept on repeat to help you cope with the feelings you had about your first crush. Even casual Brandy fans have come to appreciate the singer's signature vocal tone and run. This is mainly heard on the tracks “Tomorrow,” “Truthfully,” and the power ballad “One Voice.” The latter even became the UNICEF theme song for its 50th anniversary.
Looking back at Never Say Never, one could argue that Brandy remodelled the construct of a teen-star-pushing-20. One whose ability to control the narrative of their coming of age through careful examination, innovative spirit, and the purpose of coexisting while still growing into their artistic existence. Never Say Never is connected to Brandy’s legacy in ways her other albums are not. It took her music, career and image to the next level while also paving the way for her 2002 follow-up, "Full Moon." If released today, "Never Say Never" would serve as plenty of caption quotes on Instagram and, most importantly, continue the progression of R&B.