The '90s icon talks getting back in the business after eight years and making music with her daughter.

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brandy B7 album
Credit: Gilbert Carrasquillo, Getty Images

Brandy was a powerhouse constant in the entertainment industry for nearly two straight decades before ever slowing down. In 1994, at the age of 15, she put out her self-titled debut album; two years later, she became the relatable teen lead of the sitcom Moesha; and in 1997, she starred alongside Whitney Houston in the film often referred to as "Brandy's Cinderella." In the following years, she went on to make five more studio albums, but she ran into label troubles in 2012 that blocked her from releasing new music. Though the now-41-year-old star never fully went away (she's performed in Broadway's Chicago, had a recurring role on CW's The Game, and started her own record label since), she came back this July with her seventh studio album, B7. However, releasing her own music after almost a decade didn't come without a fight.

"I went through a lot of mental challenges with having to put out music after eight years, because you start to doubt, you start to question things," Brandy (born Brandy Norwood) tells HelloGiggles, speaking over the phone in November. She says she had to re-establish who she wanted to be as an artist and get to a place where she felt "creatively respected and supported" after being under the control of another label for so long. (B7 was released through her own label, Brand Nu, Inc. and eOne Urban.) "It took a lot of journaling, a lot of talking to my family, a lot of talking to who I talk to that's higher than me, to get me in my right place," she explains.

To release the album, Brandy says she had to ignore her fears and listen to her "true voice"—the one which told her: "If you put 100% into your music, then you better get out there and share it, because there are people out here that love you, that are waiting for your music, that have been riding with you for such a long time." She adds that ultimately, with a tone of tough love, this voice also told her: "pull it together and put your album out."

The voice was right—the people wanted to hear her music. In early August, B7 hit No. 1 on the Current R&B, the Current R&B/Hip Hop and the Independent Chart, while debuting at No. 4 on the Billboard Top Albums chart. An impressive feat, especially seeing as the album came out in the midst of a global pandemic. Brandy, who'd worked on B7 for around three years, says she was worried the album would feel out of place or poorly timed in 2020.

"But I realized that music is healing and it doesn't necessarily have to speak to the times," she says. "Sometimes, people just want to escape, and I feel like this album is a very healing album."

The artist also believes that B7 can offer something to enjoy and be hopeful about in trying times, making it "perfect for the holidays" despite its summer release. With a focus on healing and helping others this holiday season, Brandy has teamed up with TJMaxx, Marshalls, and Home Goods for the brands' #CarolForACause Instagram Reels campaign, which benefits Feeding America. Alongside other participating musicians like Meghan Trainor and Pentatonix, Brandy will record herself singing a carol and urge others to do the same for a good cause. For every fan who records a carol of their own on Instagram Reels using #carolforacause, the retailers will donate $10—the equivalent of 100 meals—to Feeding America, up to $1,000,000.

"I just love being a part of things like this to give back to people, to let people know that we are all family," Brandy says. "It just makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I have purpose."

The musician will be spending the holidays at home in Los Angeles with her own family this year, and it's safe to assume she'll be singing plenty of carols with them—especially her daughter Sy'rai. The 17-year-old is featured on B7 on the song "High Heels," which promotes self-love despite personal doubts and outside voices. For Brandy, collaborating with Sy'rai was a highlight of the album.

"The fact that she can sing and the fact that we have a musical bond, that's just a gift that I can't even really put into words," the star says. "So to work with her in the studio, it's a blast. I'm blown away just being a mom and also being an artist and just watching her in there cutting up in a good way."

Brandy says she'd love to continue making music with her daughter and likely will, but as Sy'rai ventures into the music industry (she debuted a cover of Aaliyah's "At Your Best" on YouTube in April), her main advice for the teen is to take her time. "I think when you're on social media and you see all of these artists coming out, like they had overnight success, you get anxious as an artist, especially when you know that you have beautiful material to offer the world," Brandy says.

Though she thinks her daughter is ready to put herself out there now, she says she's cautioned Sy'rai to develop more as an artist before diving into the business. That way, "it will be harder for fame or anything or anyone to come at her in any kind of way, to take her away from herself and take her ideas or visions from her," Brandy says. "I just want to make sure that she is pretty solid in who she is first, so she can handle all those things."

"I can handle them for her," she adds jokingly, "but I would rather her know exactly who she is and what she wants and how she wants it done—and that takes a little bit of time."

The "I Wanna Be Down" singer also has words of encouragement for her fellow mothers, especially single moms like herself who've experienced stigma for their situations. Brandy feared this backlash in 2002 when she became unexpectedly pregnant with Sy'rai out of wedlock; to preserve her image, she lied publicly on The Oprah Winfrey Show, telling the talk show host that she had just gotten married to then-partner Robert Smith, even though she hadn't. In 2008, Brandy told Us Magazine, "I lied because of the fear of what people would think and the pressure to be a good role model." She's since apologized to Oprah, and today, the singer takes pride in being a single mother. On B7, she even has a song "Baby Mama", which proclaims, "This song ain't just for me, it's for every mama."

"Single moms don't really get the credit that they deserve, because 'baby mama' has such a negative connotation to it," Brandy explains. "So I wanted to encourage the single moms out there... who are not about the drama, who are really about getting out here and doing whatever is best and whatever they can for the little people who look up to them, to set a positive example."

Brandy adds that the love she has for her daughter has also replaced any need she had for a man by her side. "Cause she's really my life partner," the singer says about Sy'rai. "She's like, 'Mom you need a husband.' I'm like, 'No, I just need you.'"