Album review: Brandy - Two eleven

Album review: Brandy | Album review

Brandy has (on numerous) occasions stated that she had lost her way, lost faith in herself and found herself difficult to pigeon hole. But if Two eleven is anything to go by Brandy's compass and sense of self awareness is in pretty good shape. Two eleven marks Brandy's first album since Never say never where Brandy's sound is assured and isn't trying to be anything but just be.

Every album seemed to be a stepping stone or chronicle in Brandy's career or life which saw her trying to adjust to some type of conform. Full moon was Brandy's album re-affirming her transition into adulthood and an entry into a sound scape becoming peppered with more electronic focused sounds. Afrodisiac was Brandy's foray into flaunting her sexuality and maintaining a grip on the edgier ledges of urban radio. Human was Brandy facing every demon she had met over the duration of her career and finding her true self outside of R&B completely. But Two eleven isn't over-arced by any theme or affected by releases around it. It's just Brandy. It takes a while to get that this is the heart of Two eleven. But you do eventually get it.

Two eleven marks the first album of Brandy's which is produced by a handful of producers as opposed to one primary contributor and the odd production by a select few here and there. But despite this there is a unification across all of the songs, held together by Brandy's voice acting as music in itself. Brandy's vocals have made her a genre unto herself over the years. And despite never contributing much to the lyrics or production of her own songs, there is always a consistency to her music and sound which is never compromised. It is a fair assumption to say that every producer who contributes to Two eleven is steering in the same direction, except for one. Bangladesh. Ever since Lil' Wayne's "A milli" blew up around the world, female acts have stepped in to cash in on his hip hop credentials in a bid to rack up some hood kudos. The problem with Bangladesh is that he's become a one trick pony when it comes to his productions for the ladies and he always dumbs them down in the process. Unfortunately for Brandy, she fails to resist the stupidity of Bangladesh's productions. And team this with Sean Garrett's ratchet ass lyrics and you have not one but 3 of what have to be Brandy's worst songs. "Put it down", "Let me go" and "What you need" are essentially the same song. The title of the song played back and looped in various pitches, 808's, some fart like sound effect on the beat of each signature and chicken head lyrics. Nobody wants to hear Brandy singing to some wife beating child about how she wants him to put it down on her, how she's going to be in the kitchen in her n***as favourite position or how her mother would be on Twitter cussing out her drug pushing boyfriend. These songs are so beneath Brandy and feel like a desperate attempt to just do what other chicks in the game have done. I'd expect nonsense of this degree from The Forehead (aka Rihanna) and The Amazonian android empress from the kingdom of lost wigs (aka Beyoncé). But not Brandy, who was light years ahead of these bitches before they even had their first album out. Bangladesh's contributions bring the album down in a big way and are a regressive step for an album which otherwise pushes Brandy's R&B movement forward.

Outside of Bangladesh's wreckage productions, everything else is on good form. Sexuality and sensuality hasn't always come naturally to Brandy when she's tried to project it in the form of songs - often sounding forced and difficult to deem as 'sexy'. But for the first time, she truly sells it here. The girl who hid behind lavish productions on "When you touch me" and an abundance of vocal layers on "Focus" now fronts her songs with a hard line and a seasoned sexual prowess. Brandy does not give a single f**k about what radio is spinning and throws bitches back to classic R&B with "Wildest dreams". After the disappointing turns Sean Garrett made lyrically for the Bangladesh productions, it's nice to see the guy still has some form of handle on how to write a good song. Despite the song not being about sex in any form, the music and Brandy's croons ooze sensuality. It's not the way most would open an album, but it sets much of the tone for what to expect on this album, which is predominantly and wholly R&B. Sex jam "Slower" is surprisingly produced by one half of Major Lazer - Switch. A secret as well kept as Diplo booking studio time with Usher for "Climax", he similarly manages to give give Brandy a stunner of a song which gives her sound a whole new twist, whilst keeping it classic and unmistakably Brandy. "Slower" is somewhat ironic - that for all of the talk of Brandy wanting her lover to slow down, that "Slower" is the shortest song on the album clocking in at under 3 minutes and has the highest BPM count out of all of the songs. Purposefully done or unintentional? It's a shame Brandy didn't tap Switch to produce more songs. He would have given Brandy hot up-tempo jams for the clubs and shit all over Bangladesh's lacklustre efforts. Usher works with Diplo an dgets a euphoric slow grinder, Brandy works with Switch and gets an R&B p***y popper and Beyoncé works with them both and get recycled noise. Says a lot about her musical integrity really. "Paint this house" is Brandy at her sexiest. The song is saucy, sensual, beautiful and dirty all at once. Whether the song is taken as a sex fest in paint and dust sheets, or Brandy wanting her man to bukkake her on a flight of stairs, the sensuality in the music is other worldly and the concurrent message of the song being commitment is what elevates this song from plain filth, as it would had a skank like Rihanna gotten the song. Every time I listen to it, I just want to drop my pants and writhe around on the floor of an un-decorated house.

The other songs play with the concept of R&B and marry the pop / country like aspects of songs which featured on Human and fuses them with Brandy's rich vocals. The songs feel natural and never contrived in any form. Never is there a sense that Brandy has reached or dipped into a style which doesn't suit her. "Without you" is essentially the ballad of the album. Stripped down to weathered drums and a piano, Brandy sings her absolute heart out, with very little in the way of vocal layers or harmonies. That rich tone we were calling for having heard Brandy singing in her bathroom on YouTube, she gives it to us here. "Hardly breathing" is top 10 radio. Catchy, poignant and super slick. The song features very little in the way of tricks, spins and turns - but the coldness and sparseness of the song paints a vivid picture which is coloured by Brandy's vocals. "Do you know what you have?" is a weird one. Made up of synths which if sped up wouldn't sound out of place in a house song or Calvin Harris production, couple with a set of drums and a bassline which are uniformly hip hop. If n***a's want a jam to rock their head to into the car, this is the one. When that chorus hits, yo' neck will start swangin' n***a. SWANGIN'! "Can you hear me now?" pushes Brandy completely into the dark electro vibe which Danja and Timbaland had popularized during the era's of Loose and FutureSex/LoveSounds, which Danja then went full throttle with for Britney's Blackout. The beat on the song is hot, but for the whole 4 and a half minutes the song runs nothing about it ever changes or evolves. And Brandy's vocal contributions feel so sparse that she doesn't really matter on the song. With no true hook, badly paced hooks, an instrumental passage which features none of Danja 'n Lago's studio chopping and wizardry  the song never really takes off and sound unfinished. The whole thing also sounds like a Kelly Rowland left over.

Vocally it's a no brainer that Brandy sounds amazing on this album. What shocked me about this album and almost disappointed me at first was that the vocal arrangements felt stripped down in comparison to Afrodisiac, where on EVERY single song Brandy was lacing, layering and harmonizing like the life of her child depended on it. I loved it, because it just gave me another reason to listen to the songs, and wonder how the f**k Brandy does what she does. But by stripping this down you get to focus much more on Brandy as a vocalist and less as a vocal arranger, which is where much of the focus lay with Brandy's vocals on her 2004 release. Two eleven features all of the intricate vocal arrangements Brandy has cultivated unto herself over the years, but there's less of a focus on them. They add colour and dimension to the songs in a way only Brandy could. But where-as Afrodisiac had songs sounding like they were sung by 2 or 3 Brandy's and in some cases removed a main vocal outright as Brandy's vocal layers intertwined and overlapped in a vocal sparring session; Two eleven puts Brandy's main vocal on each track centre and forward and as a result, Brandy sounds much more assured. Even on the Bangladesh productions, Brandy sounds great, weaving in and out of his beats and staying on top of it in a way no other vocalist could. For me, it's an adjustment. But I like that Brandy feels so much more confident in her ability to just sing a song from start to finish that she doesn't feel the need to feature so many vocal layers. There is a vocal integrity and rawness which comes from Brandy's vocals on this album, much in the same way as they did on Human.

It took me a while to get to grips with this album, because Bangladesh left such a sour taste in my mouth with "Put it down" that I found it difficult to savour the sweetness of the other songs. But once I listened to the rest of the album and took it all in, I could finally make up my mind about this album. Which is that it could have been a pretty great album, had Bangladesh not completely let the side down. His ratchet nonsense takes up space which could have been left for producers like Switch to try something new with Brandy, Danja to contribute something better and worthier of being laced by Brandy or Eric Hudson to finally get a track on a Brandy album after showing his worth and then some with the unreleased "Back and forth" and "Love me the most". Bangladesh's contributions have me skip in ways I've NEVER skipped on a Brandy album before, which is what makes it difficult for me to score this album too highly. Because as iffy an album as Human was, no song on that album neared the depths of nonsense where songs such as "Put it down", "What you need" and "Let me go" reside.

Two eleven is a slow burner which leaves me going back and forth. And even as I post this I feel that there's the chance I could come back to this review and bump the score down to a 6 just as much as I could take it up to an 8. The tracks won't jump out at you as they do on Afrodisiac, which sonically slapped you in the face due to Timbaland's fresh left field and unconventional production style. But the songs on this set which are good are f**king great songs. Bangladesh songs aside, Brandy is to be commended for putting together an album full of musical integrity which revives a sound and style that very few artists have managed to stick to for the majority of an album without bastardizing it with a Eurobeat song.

Album highlights:
■ Wildest dreams
■ Slower
■ No such thing as too late
■ Without you
■ Hardly breathing
■ Do you know what you have
■ Wish your love away
■ Paint this house ★ J's fave


  1. Great album, and I agree, 'Put it Down' made me very uninterested in this album. Just seeing the words 'featuring Chris Brown' still makes me livid.

    Honestly, everything other than 'So Sick' and 'Wildest Dreams' that was even partly written by Garrett or Bangladesh is pure crap; which makes the album feel like it's split between good songs and shit that just came to Garrett and Bangladesh's minds five minutes before recording. With all the skipping of songs I was doing, it may as well have been an EP/Mini-album.

  2. As much as I enjoy this album, as I do with any Brandy album, I have to admit that I prefer Human. Yes, the definition and shattered hard are generic and True is a bit boring, but I connect with Human in a way that I just... didn't with Two Eleven. The emotion and rawness that Brandy sings with on Human resonates with me in a big way. That album does shit that therapy, Dr. Phil and Oprah combined could never bahahaha.
    But in terms of this album, I agree wholeheartedly with everything you had to say (as usual). The Bangladesh productions are derivative and the weakest cuts on the album, the only one that I find to be a decent song is so sick. Also, I'm on the fence about Scared of Beautiful; the melody is off to me, and just doesn't match the music imo. The lyrics are a bit cliche, but as the song builds to it's climax and Brandy starts with the ad libs everything seems to click more. Everything else on the album is great imo, I don't have a favorite song just yet. I keep swinging between Wildest Dreams and Without You. I'm just a bit disappointed in Brandy, because this album had the potential to be a top contender for R&B album of the year, but Bangladesh's contributions really put a damper on this album. As of right now, I still think Melanie Fiona, Miguel, and Frank Ocean had stronger albums than Brandy, with Frank Ocean's being the best of the four.

  3. Bangladesh left a stain on this album. A big fat doo-doo stain.

    Every primary contributor to Brandy's album up until this point has always given Brandy stellar work and then this n***a comes along...

    Regardless of how Brandy dogged Rodney Jerkins like a tin of Alpo, he gave her some great songs for 'Human'. I still play the shit out of "Right here (Departed)" and "Warm it up (with love)". And even the weaker songs he gave her for that album were far from terrible. Where as "Put it down" and "What you need" are just shit. I can't even stand "So sick" - the one song of Bangladoo-doo people are giving allowances for. The song just doesn't click for me. I could have taken "Let me go" as the one hood banger, because there are elements of that song I do like. But everything else is just no.


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