Brandy didn't ask for much when making her new album, Full Moon. The 23-year-old just wanted space to expand her sound, to go through a little metamorphosis.
"From the door, all she wanted to do was be reinvented," said Rodney Jerkins, who produced most of the LP. "That's what she kept saying. So it kind of pushed me to that level, 'OK, I gotta come up with something sick.' "
The first step in molding the new Brandy started with adding a moniker. It's not producer Pete Rock that Jerkins is shouting out at the beginning of her first single, "What About Us" it's actually the singer's new alias.
"I gave Brandy a nickname called 'B Rocka,' " Jerkins explained. "I really gave it to her on the last project, but never really put it out there. She didn't wanna be called Brandy. She felt like everybody had called her Brandy all the time. People used to call me the 'Beat Rocka,' so I just called her B Rocka. I'm like 'B Rocka, y'all!' "
For Brandy's agenda of transformation, Jerkins proved to be the perfect fit.
"One thing that I love about working with Rodney is that he really understands me musically," Brandy said. "He allows me to do whatever I want in the studio. He allows me to have an opinion and really tell him how I feel very honestly, and I appreciate that."
They worked together on the futuristically funked-out "All in Me," in which Brandy pleads with her loverman to have faith in her, promising him that she'll provide whatever he needs.
"Every time I go in the studio, I change stuff around," Jerkins said of making the track. "I do a track, [lay] all the vocals and do the whole track over. That's how 'All in Me' got created. If you listen, there's something different about it 'cause it feels like a ballad and at the same time it feels like it can be an uptempo [cut].
"In the middle of the song we go into this two-step groove. I went over to London and was hearing all this two-step music and was like, 'This is hot over here.' It wasn't even out [in the U.S.], then a couple of month later Craig David came out and [the sound] blew up. I wanted to incorporate that somehow without overdoing it, so I put that in the middle of the song."
"It's Not Worth It" finds Brandy trying to hold her relationship together after it has deteriorated to shambles. If the strings and piano sound like some of Jerkins' vintage production, it's because it's been in the vault for years.
" 'It's Not Worth It' was actually done a long time ago," Jerkins said. "I remember when I did it, I called Brandy and said, 'Please listen to this' over the phone. She said, 'Please save that for my album.' I didn't know when she was [going to record] her album, but I saved it. Two years later we knocked it out, I made it better. I got a live orchestra, I got Michael [Jackson's] voice on there to sweeten it up."
Like Brandy's appearance on M.J.'s Invincible, his guest spot on Full Moon was far from planned.
"It's not a sample off a record," Jerkins said of Jackson's ad-libbed vocals. "It's from being in the studio with him and him playing around and then taking a piece like, 'Yo, I can take that and make a song.' I built the whole song around that one little piece of vocal that he did. We got Michael joints laying around."
On the ballad "When You Touch Me," Brandy hits some high notes and plays Superwoman again, planning a rendezvous with her man. "I'm coming to see you/ I'm wearing the dress that you like .../ I'm losing all self-control/ Feels like I'm letting go/ And I'm loving every minute."
"Her voice is much warmer now," Jerkins said. "She has way more range than she did on the last album. She's crafting her vocals better now, like she said, she's using her voice like an instrument now. It's not about riffing, it's about crafting the melodies right. She's doing stuff that [she's] never done before."