Afrodisiac (Brandy album)
Afrodisiac is the fourth studio album by American singer Brandy, released on June 28, 2004 by Atlantic Records. The album was recorded primarily in Los Angeles between spring 2003 and early 2004, following several major changes in Brandy's personal and professional life. After giving birth to her daughter and the demise of her relationship with the father, Brandy's team was given an overhaul, including changes in production, management, and A&R. The album marked a departure from her previous work, with Brandy collaborating with producer Timbaland and songwriter Candice Nelson, on the majority of the album's composition.
|Studio album by Brandy|
|Released||June 28, 2004|
|Singles from Afrodisiac|
With many of their new relationships being the result of broken ones, Brandy and Timbaland were inspired to experiment with a number of sounds and influences to create a unique, individualized sound that was distinct from other R&B music. The result was an organic, mellow contemporary R&B album that experimented with the New York-based illbient style, which infuses eccentric hip-hop breakbeats, ambient soundscapes, and the unorthodox sampling of indie rock and various film scores. Brandy also continued to experiment with her singing, opting to use more technical applications of counterpoint and multi-track recording toward her vocal arrangements. An autobiographical album, the songs feature intimate lyrics which discuss the singer's personal struggles with codependency, monogamy, misplaced loyalty, and professional anxiety.
Upon release, the critical response to Afrodisiac was highly positive, eventually garnering critical acclaim for its mature lyrics, Brandy's vocalizing, and its overall experimental sound. The album has been called a predecessor to alternative R&B, having been cited as an influence by artists such as Rihanna and Solange. Afrodisiac was nominated for several awards including nominations at the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards and the 47th Annual Grammy Awards. The album debuted at number three on the US Billboard 200, eventually earning a gold certification by the RIAA. Internationally, Afrodisiac scored minor success, appearing on the top 40 album charts in the UK, Canada, and Japan. The album spawned three singles — "Talk About Our Love", "Who Is She 2 U" and "Afrodisiac".
In February 2002 Brandy released her third studio album Full Moon, it was preceded by the release of the lead single "What About Us?" which became a worldwide top-ten hit, however the album's title track failed to chart or sell noticeably outside the United States and the United Kingdom, where it managed to enter the Top 20 chart. During the production of the Full Moon album, Norwood became involved romantically with producer Robert "Big Bert" Smith. The couple began a relationship during the summer of 2001, but their relationship did not become known until February 2002, the same month Norwood revealed that she was expecting her first child. However, a year after the birth of their daughter Sy'rai Iman Smith on June 16, 2002, Norwood and Smith officially announced their separation. It was not until 2004 that Smith revealed that the pair had never been legally wed, but that they had only portrayed the notion of nuptials to preserve Norwood's public image. By the following year, Norwood had begun a relationship with NBA guard Quentin Richardson. The couple soon became engaged in July 2004 but Norwood eventually ended their 15-month engagement in October 2005.
Following the birth of her daughter Sy'rai in June 2002, Norwood soon entered recording studios to begin work on her then-untitled fourth album with producer Mike City and companion Robert "Big Bert" Smith. As the singer envisioned the longplayer to sound "much rawer" and more "street" than its 2002 predecessor Full Moon, Smith quckily emerged as the album's executive producer and A&R, replacing longtime contributor and mentor Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins, who Norwood felt was not going in the same direction creatively after all. About parting ways with Jerkins whose Darkchild team took production credits on her last two albums, Norwood commented that "Darkchild created a sound with me and gave it to everybody. I didn't like that [...] I needed to change my sound and I wanted to explore my versatility, my creativity and my art." The couple eventually finished a number of demo recordings and at least four full songs until late November 2002, including "Ryde or Die" and Sy'rai-inspired "Sunshine;" and although Smith expected the album to drop by spring 2003 at one time or another, Norwood and Big Bert ended their relationship in mid-2003, resulting in the album's delay and several personnel changes.
Norwood eventually decided to scrap most of the project, and instead enlisted Timbaland, with whom the couple had previously worked on Kiley Dean's unreleased Simple Girl album, as the album's main contributor. Impressed by Timaland's input, Norwood rediscovered the musical affection, she had missed on Full Moon and its technical priority. "I made the change because I needed to evolve. I needed to explore my talent and versatility and see if I had another side to me, another sound," she said about collaborating. "I wanted to do my own thing, and I've always wanted to work with Timbaland [...] and see how my voice would sound over his tracks. It was an edgier Brandy, a sassier sound, but still with a lot of heart and a lot of passion." With the help of Timbaland protégés such as Candice Nelson, Steve "Static" Garrett, and co-producer Walter Millsap III the pair worked on what was tentatively titled B-Rocka — a nickname actually given to her by Jerkins — and originally planned for a Christmas 2003 release. Their first collaboration, 1990s tribute "Turn It Up", was leaked onto the internet in autumn 2003, and soon released as a promotional buzz track.
Having concluded additional recording sessions with Warryn Campbell, Theron Feemster and Organized Noise, in November 2003, Atlantic Records announced that Norwood was putting the finishing touches on her still-untitled album, at that time scheduled for a release on March 2, 2004, and she would shoot a music video for the "hyper, bass-heavy" banger "Black Pepper" during the second week of December. However, plans for the single fell through as the Timbaland-produced track was scrapped in favor of a new record: "Talk About Our Love", produced by rapper Kanye West. Both the single and album cut "Where You Wanna Be" were eleventh-hour additions to the album, commissioned by West's manager Geroid Roberson, one of the executive producers on Afrodisiac, who encouraged Norwood to attempt further studio sessions with West. "Kanye put the finishing touches on the record," Norwood commented on her decision to work with West. "The two tracks we did were just what I needed to tie the whole thing together."
Music and lyricsEdit
"It's about passion. It's romantic, and that's where I am in my life right now," Norwood noted during promotional touring in 2004, a time when she was engaged to New York Knicks guard Quentin Richardson. "I'm not trying to be edgy, sassy, romantic, vulnerable or whatever emotions come across," she said. "I really am all that."
While not a concept record, Afrodisiac features several consistent motifs throughout. It contains several lyrical references to 1990s hip hop and R&B culture figures, including Brandy herself, Timbaland and longtime partner Missy Elliott, her peers Aaliyah and Monica, American music video program Video Soul and its host Donnie Simpson, hip-hop group Kid n' Play and their 1990 film House Party, sketch comedy television series In Living Color, and Tony! Toni! Toné!'s 1996 studio album House of Music . Throughout the album, English rock band Coldplay is used in both lyrical and musical concepts. In a 2013 interview, songwriter Candice Nelson discussed the themes present on the album. On the Coldplay references, Nelson mentions discovering that coincidentally, she, Timbaland, and Brandy had all been privately listening to Coldplay's 2000 album Parachutes. She says, "I had just bought the Coldplay album. It was Parachutes, and it was the only thing I had been listening to at that point. It was crazy because when Tim played us what he had been creating, the tracks had these Coldplay references. It just unfolded in our minds." Brandy would later comment, saying, "When I was sad, I would be listening to Coldplay." The general theme of anxiety runs through majority of the songs, with a lyrical focus on being critical of close personal and long-term professional relationships. She references her relationship with ex Robert Smith ("Who I Am", "I Tried", "Focus"), then-fiancé Quentin Richardson ("Where You Wanna Be", "Say You Will"), friends ("Sadiddy"), family ("Necessary"), career ("Should I Go"), and herself ("Come As You Are", "Finally"). The line "'Cause I don't wanna sound familiar, want a guaranteed single, not an album filler", from "Turn It Up" levels indirect criticism at creative differences with former main producer Rodney Jerkins and Atlantic Records staff. On ending track "Should I Go", which interpolates Coldplay's "Clocks", Norwood openly talks about contemplating stepping away from the music business, admitting that she's trying to figure out where she fits in today.
Although Norwood received a sole writing credit on album cut "Finally" only, she noted Afrodisiac the most honest effort of her career yet based on its deeply autobiographical content, commenting: "Everything I do has something to do with what I've gone through in my life [and] I definitely wanted to incorporate that in my art. It makes it more real when you add what's been going on in your life in your music. I've grown and I've gone through some things in my life, and I celebrate that, I honor that." Songwriter Candice Nelson speaks further, saying, "[throughout this album] my thought was 'what's going on in her mind?' I wanted to observe her more than talk to her. First of all, I was starstruck, so I wanted to just watch her, and write from that. She was kind of shocked by what I would write. [Then] I was amazed, because she would take what I wrote and make this rainbow of sounds. She's so brilliant." Soundwise, her collaborator Timbaland spoke of their work on the album in his 2015 memoir The Emperor of Sound. In the book, he says, "I always wanted to work with Brandy. She sings like a hummingbird." He goes on to say, "She really trusted me and wanted to do whatever I wanted to do. I make something and then play it for her, and she'd go crazy. Then she'd go arrange her vocals and play it for me, and I'd go crazy. That's how we worked."
Opening track "Who I Am", the album's only contribution by Warryn "Baby Dubb" Campbell, was an eleventh-hour addition to the album's final track listing. Built around a pirouetting keyboard melody, the song discusses Norwood's rocky relationship with producer Robert "Big Bert" Smith as well as her public image in open letter form. Second track "Afrodisiac", the album's title track and second international single, was generally well received by critics, and enjoyed moderate success throughout Asia and Europe. Depicting a woman's aphrodisiac affection with a man, it combines elements of pop and dance music, incorporating elements of fellow Timbaland-production "Are You That Somebody?" as performed by Aaliyah. Norwood has declared the song her favorite cut on the record. Alongside "Afrodisiac", third track "Who Is She 2 U" was one of the first songs Norwood worked on with Timbaland and his crew. Based around true events, the song describes a woman who is suspicious about her mate's awkward behavior around a seemingly unfamiliar woman. The dramatic up-tempo incorporates chamber pop string melodies and go-go drum programming. An unofficial but prominent duet version of the track featuring vocals by fellow R&B singer Usher was released on various mixtapes in late 2004.
Lead single "Talk About Our Love", the result of additional recording sessions with rapper Kanye West and violinist Miri Ben-Ari, was not composed until late into the production of the album and describes the pressures of other people meddling into relationships. Iron Maiden-sampling "I Tried" is a downbeat midtempo track and ode to British heavy metal band Iron Maiden. It talks about the singer listening to Coldplay's song "Sparks" as she regrets playing the fool for an unfaithful ex-lover. Considered to be released as a single at times, it drew comparisons to Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River" in style and music. "Where You Wanna Be", another West production, features a bridge by rapper T.I. and deals with a woman's lover not getting his priorities in order as she is requesting him to make a decision between his friends, his career choices, and her. Norwood chronicles her ups and downs on mid-tempo track "Focus", the album's seventh track, on which she struggles not to let an old habit back in her life. The "ambient soul" song, which Norwood calls her favorite on the album, consists of stuttering synths and instrumentation from heavy bass and an electric guitar. Eight track "Saddidy" is built around a hand-clap-laden synth beat and one of the few up-tempo tracks on the album. It talks about the singer not being seddity rather than menacing.
Ninth track "Turn It Up" is one of several songs that reference Aaliyah. A 1990s tribute cut that combines elements of old school hip hop with Timbaland's beatboxing instrumentals, the song was the first full-length release preceding the album as a promotional buzz track in fall 2003. Although the song was not released commercially, it appeared on several charts, reaching number two on the German Black Charts. The tenth song, "Necessary", written by Cee Lo Green, discusses Brandy's desire for her hard work to matter to loved ones, and features a syncopated, skipping beat. Eleventh track, the soulful and minimalistic "Say You Will" saw a woman ready to settle down, and urging her mate to join her in a domestic life. "How I Feel", a serene, smoky ballad, featured Norwood warning her mate that his busy life was slowly pushing her away. The song was blend of the adult-oriented urban pop of her former albums, and the more ambient, bluesy work she was dabbling with. "Should I Go", based upon Coldplay's song "Clocks", is built on percussive beats, syncopated handclaps and a piano riff. Lyrically, Norwood as the protagonist openly talks about contemplating stepping away from the music business, admitting that she's trying to figure out where she fits in today.
Promotion for Afrodisiac first began with a massive media event in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where the album was previewed to a hand-picked list of journalists at a press launch held in the Royal Pavilion of the Half Moon Hotel. Promotional touring for the album started on May 23, 2004 with a series major national television appearances, highlighted by performances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on July 13, 2004; NBC's Today show as part of their outdoor Toyota Concert Series on July 16, 2004 and ABC's The View on July 19, 2004. Norwood also performed on both CBS's The Late Late Show and the syndicated On-Air with Ryan Seacrest on July 14, 2004. Outside the United States, Norwood made appearances on Top of The Pops and Anke Late Night, where she performed a rendition of Whitney Houston's "One Moment in Time" in the form of a coffee commercial.
Additionally, Norwood was seen in a host of special programming airing on music television networks BET, MTV, VH1, and Fuse. The album's arrival in stores was celebrated with an appearance as a presenter on the 2004 BET Awards, preceded by a special live performance on 106 & Park. On July 1, 2004, Norwood headed to New York for appearances on MTV's TRL and Fuse's Daily Download. In addition, tracks from Afrodisiac were streamed over one million times via MTV.com's The Leak in the week preceding the album's release.
Online, Norwood was introduced as the LAUNCHcast Artist of the Month for July 2004. The promotion included exclusive interviews and performances as well as contests to win live video chats with Norwood. The "Talk About Our Love" online campaign kicked off with an AOL First Listen premiere, and Norwood was AOL's "Artist of the Month" for June 2004. Her Sessions@AOL performance debuted on the service in July 2004.
|Los Angeles Times|||
|Yahoo! Music UK|||
Afrodisiac became her most well received album at the time, averaging a 73 out of a 100 among averaged reviews on Metacritic, which uses a normalized rating system. Andy Kellman of AllMusic gave the album four out of five stars and praised it as "Brandy's fourth consecutive durable showing, [...] stocked with a number of spectacular — and emotionally resonant — singles that wind up making for her most accomplished set yet." David Browne of Entertainment Weekly gave the album an A- rating, calling it "Brandy's meatiest album to date", and ranked it sixth on his personal year-end top ten list. He found special approval for Timbaland, "who produced most of the disc, turns up the bass, the volume, and the tension whenever he can, bolstering her less-than-commanding, down-pillow-soft voice." Rolling Stone writer James Hunter, like both Kellman and Browne, compared the album to "Janet Jackson at her best: She's a pop star, but she's making the most of her big studio budgets and is following her muse." He described the set as "mainstream soul with eccentric details and shadings" and gave the album four stars out of five.
Vibe writer Laura Checkoway gave Afrodisiac 3.5 out of 5 stars and noted it as "a far cry from the pleasing pubescent fluff of her formative years," and although she felt that "Brandy's sultry alto drowns on some songs," she acknowledged, that "while Brandy's musical liaison with Timbaland is what some people might call a match made in heaven, it's her crazy, sexy, cool revival that's the true bliss of this fourth coming." Steve Jones from USA Today gave the album a three out of four stars rating, and commented: "Timbaland provides her with plenty of funk-infused beats to groove to [and] while a few of the tracks are a bit pedestrian, Brandy is still seductive more often that not." Ben Sisario, who wrote for Blender and gave the album three out of five stars, summed the album as "an episode of her growing-pains TV show Moesha: This week, our honey-voiced heroine sheds her girlishness, sexing up to become 'a woman, a passionate woman'," referring to its lyrical makeover. He called non-Timbaland productions like "Talk About Our Love" and "Say You Will" the highlights of the album. In 2012, amid the released of Norwood's sixth album Two Eleven, Noah Berlatsky of The Atlantic called Afrdoisiac "the best album of Brandy's career and one of the greatest R&B albums of the last 25 years."
Afrodisiac was named the fourth best album of 2004 by Slant Magazine. The publication's editor Sal Cinquemani called it "a devastating yet confident break-up album [and] extraordinarily personal, often heart-wrenching R&B record." David Browne from Entertainment Weekly ranked the album sixth on his "Best of 2004 Music" top ten list and remarked that "Brandy remains the queen of the R&B murmur but the producers, especially the ever-inventive Timbaland, compensate with dramatic, rumbly, off-kilter beats and tones that add gravitas to this rueful ex-teen star. Everything — the rhythms, the mopey songs, Brandy's delivery — simmers, but ferociously." The album finished eighth on Nekesa Mumbi Moody's 10 best albums list for Associated Press. She wrote that Afrodisiac "was surely [Brandy's] best. From the tell-all, autobiographical themes to the hypnotic beats, this album captures your attention from the first note and refuses to be ignored." Alex Macpherson and David Drake from Stylus Magazine ranked it 12th and 16th on their individual list of the "Top 40 Albums of 2004" respectively. Rolling Stone listed Afrodisiac within their "Top 50 Records of 2004" list, and dubbed it "not only her best but also the year's outstanding R&B disc." In 2010, Afrodisaic was named the 115th best album of the 2000s decade by Slant Magazine.
For the album, Norwood earned her fourth consecutive Grammy Award nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album at the 47th Grammy Awards. At the 2005 Soul Train Music Awards, Afrodisiac was nominated for Best R&B/Soul Album, Female but lost to Alicia Keys' The Diary of Alicia Keys (2004). "Talk About Our Love" received a Best Collaboration nod at the 2004 MOBO Awards. Its accompanying music video was nominated for a MTV Video Music Award for Best R&B Video at the 2004 award ceremony.
Afrodisiac debuted at number three on the US Billboard 200 behind Lloyd Banks' solo debut The Hunger for More and Usher's Confessions album, and at number four on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, selling more than 131,700 copies in its first week. Though sales soon declined and the album fell short off the upper half of the Billboard 200 in its eighth week, it was eventually certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for more than 500,000 copies shipped to stores, including 417,000 sold copies. In international music markets, Afrodisiac failed to reach the top thirty on the majority of the charts it appeared on except China, Japan and Switzerland where it managed to debut within the top ten and number twenty-six, respectively. In the United Kingdom, the album was awarded a silver certification by the British Phonographic Industry on September 24, 2004 based on a sales total of 60,000 copies.
Excluding pre-released buzz track "Turn It Up", Afrodisiac produced three official singles. "Talk About Our Love" was released as the album's leading single commercially on March 28, 2004. The song was critically appreciated but achieved mediocre success around the globe, reaching the top ten of the UK Singles Chart and the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Singles Sales charts. In Eurasia and Australia, the album's title track served as the album's second single. Released to greater success than "Talk About Our Love" in almost all the countries it was released to, the track reached number eleven in the United Kingdom and made it to top thirty in France and Ireland. In North America, "Who Is She 2 U" was released as the album's second and final single. Suffering from low airplay, the song never made it out of the lower half of the Billboard Hot 100 and emerged as one of Norwood's lowest-charting singles yet. In March 2005, the song also received limited release in Europe to promote the release of Norwood's first single collection The Best of Brandy (2005), but it failed to chart or sell noticeably, reaching number fifty on the UK Singles Chart only. Plans for a fourth single, including contender "I Tried", failed to materialize.
Impact and aftermathEdit
Despite its critical success, the album was largely seen as a commercial disappointment compared to Norwood's previous studio albums, due to the less-than-expected performance of its singles and the album. Both Brandy and Timbaland later expressed frustration with the album, citing label interference with the creative process, politics, and mismanagement for the album's performance. After failing to properly secure a joint-headlining tour with Usher, Brandy asked for and received an unconditional release from Atlantic Records at the end of 2004, citing her wish "to move on" as the main reason for her decision. Completing her contract with the label, a compilation album titled The Best of Brandy was released in March 2005. Released without any promotional single, it reached the top 30 in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, where the collection was appreciated by contemporary critics who noted the creativity of Norwood's back catalogue. Andy Kellman of AllMusic expressed, "This set, unlike so many other anthologies from her contemporaries, hardly confirms dwindling creativity or popularity." Thereupon she reportedly began shopping a new record deal under the auspices of Knockout Entertainment, her brother's vanity label.
Although not initially receiving public and commercial praise until years after its release, the album is widely revered by critics, musicians, audiences. Serving as an inspiration for other artists, Afrodisiac has been credited as one of a precursors to the PBR&B subgenre. In a 2014 music and fashion conversation with NPR, singer and model Solange discussed the album, saying "Brandy is really the foundation of a lot of this very innovative, progressive, experimental R&B. Brandy really influenced a lot of that. Frank Ocean will say it. Miguel will say it." Barbadian singer Rihanna revealed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that her 2007 multi-platinum album, Good Girl Gone Bad, was primarily influenced by Afrodisiac. In the interview she stated, "Brandy's album really helped to inspire, because that album I listen to all day, all night when I was in the studio [...] I really admired that every song was a great song." Rock musician John Frusciante, viruoso guitarist of the popular rock group Red Hot Chili Peppers, mentioned that Norwood and the album were the “main inspiration” behind the guitar work on the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s 2006 Grammy winning album, Stadium Arcadium. In 2008, singer Beyoncé Knowles chose the album cut "Focus" for her personal music playlist on iTunes, citing her love of the lyrics, and Brandy's voice and vocal arrangements. Hip-Hop producer Hit-Boy has often lauded the album as an influence on his work via his social media outlets. R&B singer Nivea interpolated the song "I Tried" on her 2010 single "Love Hurts".
|1.||"Who I Am"||
|3.||"Who Is She 2 U"||4:43|
|4.||"Talk About Our Love" (featuring Kanye West)||
|6.||"Where You Wanna Be" (featuring T.I.)||
|9.||"Turn It Up"||
|11.||"Say You Will"||Theron Feemster||3:50|
|12.||"Come As You Are"||
|14.||"How I Feel"||
|15.||"Should I Go"||
|Limited reissue bonus tracks|
|17.||"Like It Was Yesterday"||Michael Flowers||Mike City||3:53|
- "Who Is She 2 U" contains a sample of Jacqueline Hilliard's "Instant Love" (1968)
- "Talk About Our Love" contains a sample of Mandrill's "Gilly Hines" (1978) from the album New Worlds
- "I Tried" contains a sample of Iron Maiden's "The Clansman" (1998), and Coldplay's "Sparks" (2000)
- "Where You Wanna Be" contains a sample of Janis Ian's "Jesse" (1974)
- "Finally" contains a sample of Hans Zimmer's "Rock House Jail" from The Rock soundtrack (1996)
- "Should I Go" contains a sample of Coldplay's "Clocks" (2002)
- "Nodding Off" contains a sample of Sunny Deol & Amrita Singh's "Ek Din Jab Hum Jawaan Hongay" (1983)
Credits are taken from the album's liner notes.
Instruments and performances
- Background vocals – Jo Ann Campbell, Steve "Static" Garrett, Tim Mosley, Kenisha Pratt, Kenneth Pratt
- Bass guitar – Shorty B., Keenan "Kee Note" Holloway, Thaddeus T. Tribbett
- Conduction – Bruce Fowler, Nick Glennie-Smith, Larry Gold, Don Harper, DeMonica Plummer
- Guitar – Mike Hartnett, Glenn S. Jeffrey, Eric Walls
- Keyboards – Parris Bowens, Ervin Pope, Dave Robbins
- Percussion – George "Spanky" McCurdy
- Violin – Miri Ben-Ari
- A&R – Kyambo Joshua & Geroid Roberson
- Executive producers – Kyambo Joshua, Craig Kallman, Brandy Norwood, Gee Roberson
Technical and production
- Engineering – Bruce Buechner, Sean Davis, Jimmy Douglass, Blake English, Jun Ishizeki, Cha Cha Jones, Eugene Toale
- Engineering assistants – Demacio Castellon, Ricky Chao, Jermeal Hicks, Halsey Quemere
- Mixing – Jimmy Douglass, Dave Lopez, Manny Marroquin, Peter Mokran, Tim Mosley
- Mastering – Brian Gardner, Chris Gehringer
- Vocal production – Brandy Norwood, Kenny Hicks
Visuals and imagery
- Art direction – Liz Barrett
- Design – Julian Peploe
- Photography – Roger Ericson
Certifications and salesEdit
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Silver||60,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||Gold||500,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
|Switzerland||Standard edition||June 25, 2004||Atlantic Records, Warner Music|
|Germany||June 28, 2004|
|United Kingdom||Atlantic Records|
|France||June 29, 2004||East West Records|
|France||Limited reissue||October 18, 2004||East West Records|
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