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Brandy and Ray J: A Family Business – An Open Letter to Brandy’s Mother

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You may not recognize the name, but my fellow Reality TV monks, who find inner peace in the plight of fallen stars, know her well. Sonja Norwood is Brandy's mother and manager. I assume you know Brandy, the R&B singer and star of that long running, second-tier sitcom, Moesha, and now another tally on the never-ending checklist of celebrities who have no problem granting us full access to their disenchanting lives.

I still can't put my finger on their motives for doing this. Is it just a paycheck in troubled times or simply a sign of adapting to a shift in the climate of television entertainment? Hollywood wants what's hot, but whatever the initiative, Brandy and her brother Ray J, a reality "dating show" star in his own right, air their boring laundry in an extravaganza called Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business on VH1.

Here's the thing: Brandy is at something of a crossroads in her career after a disappointing comeback album, for which she shamelessly lays blame at the feet of celebrated record producer, Rodney Jerkins (until he gives her a reality check of her own), and she's searching for a new angle. She discusses a possible sitcom with her brother, not a bad idea given her past success and Ray's popularity among the opposite sex, that is, of course, assuming that American pop culture still has the chops for such rustic television.

She also "guarantees herself success on her new project," a bold forecast but not inconceivable for a seasoned, multi-platinum pop star with a Grammy on her mantle. The only problem is that, thanks to legendary hip-hop producer Timbaland who, for reasons unknown, decided to let Brand New (Brandy's self proclaimed rap alter-ego) "spit" on his album, she's convinced that she should forgo her strength as a unique and powerful vocalist and give rap a shot.

I refuse to believe that "Timbo," who does have a tendency to go pop but has still been all around the rap game, is blind to what is obvious as soon as Brand New begins either of the two verses that make up her entire catalog. She is quite below average, even admitting herself that it's a "hobby," and after watching her fumble to catch the beat during her sound check, a skill which is taught in Rap 101 and mastered by any MC worthy of amplifying his/her voice, and amateurishly blaming it on an earlier disagreement with Mom, he MUST have figured it out.

Anyhow, regardless of her unrefined skills, a crude performance, which was hardly captivating but error free thanks to an accommodating beat box by Timbaland, only served to bolster her dream, much to the chagrin of her manager and mother, Sonja Norwood.

Everyone wants to be a rapper, from athletes like Shaq (probably the only successful crossover) or Deion Sanders to deadbeats with nothing to do, like Britney Spears' baby daddy, or the kid who played Bud Bundy and any other has-been who finds hip-hop to be some scheme to get rich quick and an easy road to success as a recording artist. I usually find comfort in the almost certain failure of these projects, but this time I must intervene. I just cannot allow this girl to make that mistake without at least trying to avert the calamity. No way!

Below is my letter to Mrs. Norwood, the ex-district manger for H&R Block turned music business attack dog. I feel that her attention to this is absolutely vital to her daughter's career:

Dear Mrs. Norwood,

I am writing this letter to you in reference to Brand New, Brandy's hip hop alter-ego. I'm afraid I share your apprehension toward this bold career decision.

As a lifelong member of the music community trapped in the limbo of obscurity, with many other talented artists across the globe who, for whatever reason, were never given the opportunities that a young Brandy came upon, I must agree with you. In fact, it is extremely blatant that right now, at this critical junction in her career, this is a pitfall and a sure case of "pie in the sky."

Brandy is a wonderfully unique singer who rode her powerful vocal chords all the way to the top and collected a bunch of fans on the way. They are patiently waiting for another classic from her. They know nothing of Brand New, who, to be painfully frank, is a below average rapper. Furthermore, may I add , the fact that she truly believes she can gain mass appeal in a music genre that she considers to be a "hobby" is somewhat offensive to myself and the entire culture of hip hop and even music as a whole.

Again, I do like Brandy, the R&B icon. If she indeed carries a burning desire to enter the glorious, champagne-popping, big-rims-buying, gold-teeth-wearing, gun-carrying, pimp/hoe world of rap music, may I suggest the way for her to make a significant contribution, rather than just get her kicks. Many successful R&B divas have set up camp in the rap scene by singing choruses. Ashanti is an example that comes to mind. She is legendary for her choruses and was actually part of a well known crew at that time ( meaning she was included and respected for her role in hip hop). Mary J. Blige is another example. Her smash hit, "You're All I Need," a collaboration which features her unmistakable pipes and the rapping expertise of WuTang's Method Man, is a wildly popular rap classic that has stood the test of time.

Think about it, why try to fit a square peg into a round hole? Rather than struggle through a recording session with Brandy learning on the job and praying that her fans will understand, something they never do, why not play to everyone's strengths? Why not match the classic Brandy tones with a seasoned MC and let two professionals with proven track records collaborate on a beautiful piece of music.

Please be firm, Sonja. Put away the nurturing mother hat and be the objective, sensible manager who knows what's right. You have a fine understanding of this business, and you know the sharks will smell blood the moment Brand New makes a move.

Thank you for allowing me a voice. I only want what's best for the family business.

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  • prjay

    I think it’s just sad touching and pathetic; I really love the R&B Brandy… I don’t know if anything about her mom or brother and I suppose everyone can speak for themselves just as Brandy’s work speaks for itself as her manager,mom I’m sure there have been great contributions as well as sacrifices; however, the cannotations are uncanny the truth is undeniable what we see here should never be displayed publicly in a reality show… it would be best they kept these things to themselves if it were me I would depart….

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/profplume/ ProfPlume

    I agree.

    Besides her mother opening expressing her concerns over her new obsession, it is clear that her cousin, Sonja’s protege and second in command regarding the business, is not at all supportive either.

    When Brandy brings it up at the meetings, there is an awkward silence. She even had to remark about her cousin’s lack of effort concerning her recording time…etc, while he is 100% focused on Ray J’s project collaborating with Rodney Jergens.

    Brandy, being the cash cow for that family for a long time, should be told the truth up front. Instead, it is a case of “The Emporer’s New Clothes” and yes, very sad, prjay