Human (Brandy album)

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Human
Studio album by Brandy
Released December 5, 2008
(see release history)
Recorded 2008
Genre
Length 50:01
Label Epic
Producer
Brandy chronology
The Best of Brandy
(2005)
Human
(2008)
Two Eleven
(2012)
Singles from Human
  1. "Right Here (Departed)"
    Released: September 9, 2008
  2. "Long Distance"
    Released: November 11, 2008

Human is the fifth studio album by American recording artist Brandy, first released in France in December 2008 and by March 2009 in most international music markets.[3] Distributed by Koch Records and Sony Music, the album marked Norwood's debut on the Epic Records label, following her split with Atlantic Records in 2005,[4] and her reunion with long-time contributor and mentor Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins, who wrote and executive produced most of the album with his songwriting collective.[5]

Generally well received by critics, Human debuted at number fifteen on the US Billboard 200 with opening week sales of 73,000 copies, becoming Brandy's lowest-charting debut since her first album fourteen years prior.[6] With a domestic sales total of 214,000 copies, it widely failed to revive the success of its predecessors.[7] While leading single "Right Here (Departed)" scored Norwood her biggest chart success since 2002's "Full Moon," the album failed to impact elsewhere, resulting into lackluster sales in general and the release of just one other single, "Long Distance."[8]

In mid-2009 during the recording sessions for Norwood's second album with Epic Records, Brandy ended her management contract with Roc Nation. This was followed by the termination of her contract with Epic, after singer-songwriter Amanda Ghost was appointed the new president of the label.[9] Disappointed by its performance, Norwood later expressed her dislike of the album itself.[10]

Background[edit]

Brandy Norwood released her fourth studio album Afrodisiac in June 2004, amidst the well-publicized termination of her short-lived business relationship with record executive and entertainment manager Benny Medina.[11] Norwood ended her contract with his Los Angeles-based Handprint Entertainment after less than a year of representation following controversies surrounding Medina's handling of the lead single "Talk About Our Love", and failed negotiations of a purported co-headlining tour with fellow R&B singer Usher.[11] Despite the negative publicity, Afrodisiac emerged as Norwood's most critically acclaimed album by then, but became a moderate seller on most music markets.[12] The album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 albums chart but while it went on to sell more than 416,000 copies in the United States, it generally failed to chart or sell noticeably elsewhere.[13] Kanye West-produced "Talk About Our Love" reached number six on the UK Singles Chart but later singles such as "Afrodisiac" and "Who Is She 2 U" failed to score successfully on the popular music charts and promotion for the album soon ended.[14]

At the end of 2004, after eleven years with the company, Norwood asked for and received an unconditional release from her original label Atlantic Records.[15] By the time her contract expired, several of her longtime patrons such as music producer Darryl Williams and industry executive Sylvia Rhone had left the company and Norwood felt mismanaged by her new team of which she found was "looking more towards the hip-hop artists" on the label and "didn’t know what to do with [her]."[14] Completing her contract with Atlantic Records, a compilation album compiling her first four studio albums with the company, entitled The Best of Brandy, was released in March 2005.[13] Thereupon, Norwood reportedly started shopping for a new record deal under Knockout Entertainment, her brother's Ray J's vanity label, which would co-venture her subsequent releases, including her fifth album, which she started recording independently.[16]

Recording and conception[edit]

Norwood began recording the album in 2005.[17] Breaking away from her usual formula which saw her setting up projects with former main producers such as Keith Crouch, Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins and Timbaland, she entered the studio with several songwriters and producers to record new music, including Louis Winding and Frederik Tao from Danish production team Maximum Risk.[17] The duo produced several songs for Norwood, including both "Honey" and "Sweet Nothings", all of which were penned by frequent collaborator Kenisha Pratt.[18][19] Over the following months, Norwood continued recording contract-free with a vast of producers such as Rockwilder and production duo Tim & Bob who finished several demos with her.[20][21] Norwood's new management also arranged further recording sessions with fellow client Bryan Michael Cox and his production partners Adonis Shropshire and WyldCard at the Track Record Studios in North Hollywood.[22] Supposed to produce her whole album at the time,[22] they worked on a number of ballads and midtempo songs reminiscent of their other productions, including a song called "Cry".[23] In June 2006, Cox announced that he would serve as the album's executive producer,[5] but direction changes resulting from additional sessions left his songs unused.[23]

In December 2006, Norwood was involved in a fatal automobile accident on Los Angeles' San Diego (405) Freeway.[24] The accident claimed the life of the 38-year-old driver of a Toyota that was struck by Norwood's Range Rover.[24] Norwood was neither arrested nor charged with vehicular manslaughter due to insufficient evidence.[24] Nevertheless, multiple lawsuits were filed against Norwood, all of which were ultimately settled out of court by her civil attorney.[25][26] Posing an extraordinary hardship for Brandy and her family, Norwood stepped down from her role as a judge on the second season of the amateur talent contest America's Got Talent and went into hiatus.[27] Expanding on dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy, Norwood explained, "I just wanted people to know that this wasn't news. It's not something that should be talked about like it's gossip. You don't like me? Fine. But don't use this situation to try to hurt me, because the guilt of being involved is enough. It's something that I'll never truly, truly get over."[28] While the accident put a halt on the album's production, Norwood soon resumed recording which she found to be therapeutical: "I had to face it and find the strength to move forward. Connecting back with music has definitely helped me through everything. Once I got back in the studio, the butterflies went away."[29]

With most of the album being revamped,[23] other musicians joined the project, including Midi Mafia, RedOne, Toby Gad, Frank Ocean, and Brian Kennedy,[30] the latter of which was consulted to replace Cox as the album's executive producer.[31] Together, they crafted a bunch of new songs, including "Freedom", "One Thing" and "Today" which Norwood later described as sounding "more true to the sound" that she had initially envisioned for the album.[17] However, in early 2008, her A&R manager, Brandon Creed, presented Norwood several demo tracks that were produced by Rodney Jerkins, including "Right Here (Departed)".[32] Her former main producer on previous albums such as Never Say Never (1998) and Full Moon (2002), Jerkins hadn't worked with Norwood since 2002, due to conflicting schedules and a disagreement on her decision to work with Timbaland on Afrodisiac in 2003.[33] Again, the album was reconstructed, with Jerkins taking over executive duties.[5] On her decision to collaborate with Jerkins, Norwood commented: "With Rodney being the person who produced [the first single], I, of course, wanted to go from there because of our history and all the music we have made in the past. It felt like the right thing to do [...] I wanted to see where that chemistry would take us creatively this time round."[5] With Jerkins on board, providing the bulk of Human, the sound of the album shifted drastically, with Norwood and her team abandoning most R&B records in favour of his international pop sounds.[5]

Norwood inked a new record deal with Epic Records in April 2008 and intended to finish the album by September of the same year.[34] Although the record company announced the US release of the album for November 11, a call by Timbaland, who requested Norwood to record additional music with him and protegés J-Roc and James Fauntleroy, caused another month-long delay of Human.[35] His tracks did however also not make the final cut on the album track listing as he was unable to contribute trademark backing vocals to his songs.[36] In addition to Timbaland, Norwood worked with producers Rico Love,[30] Blac Elvis,[30] Rob Knox,[37] The Clutch,[38] and songwriters Chasity Nwagbara,[30] Kara DioGuardi,[39] and Greg Curtis on Human,[40] although their songs remain yet unreleased on any format. Further studio collaborations with Kerry "Krucial" Brothers, Missy Elliott, Yung Berg, and Tonex, by contrast, failed to materialize due to scheduling conflicts.[41][42][43]

Content[edit]

Introduced by the words of Brandy's description of a human being on "Human Intro," the album opens with Jerkins-crafted "The Definition," one of the few uptempo recordings on the album.[44] Penned by Atlanta writer Crystal Johnson, the song depicts Brandy rhapsodizing about love.[44] It received generally mixed reviews, with The Boston Globe emphasizing it the most essential track on Human.[44] "Warm It Up (With Love)," another Darkchild production, was created around a piano sample and released to strong positive reactions.[45] Highlighted by AllMusic and Slant Magazine,[45] Newsday writer Glenn Gamboa noted it as "guiding principle" on the album.[46] Lead single "Right Here (Departed)" was not recorded until late into the production of Human and the first song Brandy recorded with Jerkins following their musical reunification in early June 2008.[47] Written by The Writing Camp and recorded with therapeutical background, the track chronicles a woman's talks about mutual support with loved ones.[2][35] It reached number-one on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart, number 22 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and the top ten of the French Singles Chart, becoming Brandy's biggest chart success in years.[48] Fifth track "Piano Man" was recorded as an ode to the kind of creative relationship cultivated by a vocalist and his or her producer or DJ.[2][49]

Norwood collaborated with several singers on the record. Natasha Bedingfield (left) co-wrote and recorded vocals for "Fall" while Esthero (right) penned the album's title track "Human".

"Long Distance," a ballad about the difficulties of a long-distance relationship, was released to positive reactions by critics, with The New York Times calling it an "hymnlike single that distantly echoes Janet Jackson’s "Again."[50] Eighth track "Camouflage," one out of two songs on the album that were penned by songwriter Claude Kelly, garnered strong reviews in general, with Newsday declaring it a "worthy cousin to Beyoncé's 'Irreplaceable' that [is] more about esteem-raising and self-improvement than a search for a sassy put-down."[46] "Torn Down," a joint production by Midi Mafia and Dapo Torimiro, was one of the few prominent Human features on the setlist of Brandy's promotional 2009 concert tour, Human World Tour. Incorporating elements of country music, critics noted it a "resolute, crisp mix of static synths, acoustic guitar, and hand claps."[44] Brandy wrote the album's title track with help from producer Toby Gad and Canadian singer Esthero. A "silky R&B anthem" as described by Newsday,[46] the adult contemporary ballad deals with forgiveness.[2] "Shattered Heart" is a downbeat track, that incorporates elements of Middle Eastern music and changes its tempo after three minutes. It has been described as the only "Timbo-esque" record on Human.[51]

The album's twelfth track, a piano-driven ballad entitled "True," was contributed by RedOne and Claude Kelly and initially written for Michael Jackson.[52] The song was re-arranged and partially re-written to fit Norwood's persona.[52] It was released to positive reviews by critics, who noted it one of the stronger tracks on Human.[44] "A Capella (Something's Missing)," produced by Soundz, is a near-a cappella song on which Brandy provides "a polyphonic cyberchorus" with multiple tracks of her own voice.[53] Humming the bassline and providing the rhythm, the instrumentation on the track consists of a sole electric guitar.[50] Hand-clap-laden uptempo recording "1st & Love," the album's fourteenth track, depicts a woman's euphoria with a new-found love at first sight and was discussed as the third single at times.[54] Final track "Fall," another piano ballad, was co-written by label mate Natasha Bedingfield. As reported Brandy and Bedingfield were forced to delay their first joint recording session from Atlanta, Georgia to Los Angeles, California as singer Chris Brown and his entourage crashed into the studio, where they blasted Brown's songs and horsed around.[55]

Release and promotion[edit]

Norwood revealed the title of the album as well as the name of several new songs in a press statement from August 15, 2008.[56] Named after its title track, which she co-wrote, Norwood stated, "it’s called Human because that’s what I am and at the end of the day we all are only human. The album speaks for itself."[57] Further elaborating on the title, the statement uttered that the title was "a real life mirror of Brandy as a woman, an artist, a musician and a performer, communicating what it means to be fully Human: strong yet vulnerable, candid and triumphant, in love with life and in touch with the things of the spirit."[56] During a promotional tour in support of the album, Norwood stopped by BET’s 106 & Park to perform a five-piece mini-concert that featured the first two singles from the album in addition to "What About Us?", "Full Moon" (2002) and "Almost Doesn't Count" (1999).[58] In addition, she launched the worldwide release of the album on Good Morning America with an interview and a performance of "Right Here (Departed)".[59] Throughout December, Norwood appeared on other television shows such as The Tyra Banks Show and CW11′s Morning Show[disambiguation needed].[59] In support of the album, Brandy was also featured on a November cover of American weekly Jet.[60]

In collaboration with Sony Music and RCA Records, Human was first released in France through Epic Records on December 5, 2008.[61] On December 8, it was released in Australia and the United Kingdom,[62] and the following day, it was released in North America, where it was distributed by Koch Records.[63] The deluxe version was released simultaneously with the standard edition through digital media stores; in addition to the original track listing, it features five additional songs, including bonus tracks "Gonna Find My Love" and "Locket (Locked In Love)" and remixes of "Right Here (Departed)" and "Long Distance", the latter of which feature contribution by English DJ Moto Blanco and Jamaican American rapper Sean Kingston.[63] Elsewhere, Human was not released until February 2009.[64] In Japan, Sony Music Japan released the deluxe edition along with a 3-track bonus DVD, including music videos and the making of "Right Here (Departed)".[65]

Singles[edit]

"Right Here (Departed)" was released on September 9, 2008, as the album's lead single. While it charted moderately successful in the US, where it reached number 34 on the Billboard Hot 100, elsewhere, the track became Norwood's highest-charting single in years, reaching the top ten of the French Singles Chart, and top twenty on the Japan Hot 100. In addition, "Right Here (Departed)" became Norwood's first entry to top the Billboard's Hot Dance Club Play chart.[66] An accompanying music video was directed by Little X and filmed in Los Angeles, California in August 2008.[67] it reached number one on BET's 106 & Park countdown and was voted number 69 on BET: Notarized Top 100 videos of 2008.[68]

Second and final US single "Long Distance" was released on November 11, 2008. The track managed to peak at number 38 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart but failed to enter the Hot 100; it however became the album's second consecutive number-one hit on the Hot Dance Club Play chart.[69] Upon its television debut, Chris Robinson-directed music video came in at number nine on the 106 & Park countdown on December 22, 2008, and peaked at the top position in January 2009.[68] Upon album release, "The Definition" and "True" reached number sixteen and eighteen on the Billboard Bubbling Under R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart, respectively, based on downloads only. While Norwood considered both, "Piano Man" and "1st & Love", as potential third single candidates,[70] plans for another single from Human failed to materialize.[9]

Tour[edit]

After a small promotional tour in the fall of 2008, which saw her perform at music festivals, Norwood embarked on a tour of individual concert shows in February 2009 to promote the album.[71] As well as singing songs from Human, Norwood also performed songs from her previous albums Brandy, Never Say Never, Full Moon and Afrodisiac, a set that was largely inspired by her Brandy: Just Human BET concert special, broadcast on December 5, 2008 on the network.[72] The tour began in Athens, Ohio on February 7, 2009, and concluded in Okmulgee, Oklahoma on June 19, 2009; some concerts were part of annual events such as the Milwaukee Pridefest and the San Jose Pride.[73][74] Selected venues featured supporting appearances by Colby O'Donis, Ray J, Bell X1, and Samsaya.[72]

Setlist[edit]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic 67/100[75]
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3.5/5 stars[45]
Blender 3/5 stars[76]
Digital Spy 3/5 stars[77]
Entertainment Weekly B[78]
The Guardian 4/5 stars[53]
musicOMH 3/5 stars[79]
Los Angeles Times 1.5/4 stars[80]
The New York Times (favorable)[50]
RWD 4/5 stars[81]
Slant 3/5 stars[51]

While Human became Norwood's first effort not to be nominated for a Grammy Award in any category, it received generally favorable reviews from music critics, averaging a 67 out of a 100 among averaged reviews on Metacritic.[75][82] Sarah Rodman of The Boston Globe complimented the album as appropriately rich and varied: "It's better than good enough. It's a light, breezy listen that shows off Brandy's resilience, humility, joy, and vibrancy."[44] She especially highlighted Jerkins' input on the album: "Jerkins manages to bring out the expressive best in her pleasantly raspy vocalizing."[44] The Guardian writer Alex Macpherson noted Human "a thoughtful, intimate work on which Norwood sings movingly about fragility and fear," giving it four and a half stars out of five,[53] while Andy Kellman of AllMusic called the album Norwood's "most platitudinal" and "least enjoyable release in her catalog," adding: "Brandy is clearly in a comfort zone that enables her to open up more than ever [...] Human is nothing if not a serious album. But it could very well be her most useful one."[45] He gave the album three and half stars out of five.[45] Billboard magazine said that "while Human is missing the sassy Brandy we know and love from such tracks like 'I Wanna Be Down' and 'Talk About Our Love,' we can still appreciate the much-needed solace of setting personal turmoil to memorable music."[83]

Jon Dolan, writing for Blender, gave the album three out of five stars and commended Norwood's decision to re-team with Jerkins: "Now she’s gone back to girlie hip-hop Eden; four songs were written by Jerkins, author of her best late-’90s hits. Fluttery jams about long distance longing and time-suspending slow dances are balanced by grown-up moments of deeply felt, if slightly weird, balladic fortitude."[76] Jon Pareles from The New York Times felt that the sentiments of the songs, whether self-affirming or heartbroken, were back to generic ones: "Song titles like 'Torn Down' and 'Shattered Heart' show how much Brandy is trying to get serious, taking on an adult world where happily ever after is elusive. But she still comes across as a fledgling, a personality still being formed, eagerly tagging along after her role models."[50] In his review for Entertainment Weekly, Henry Goldblatt noted "the huskiness that defined Brandy's prior work has been replaced by wispier and higher tones. The result is pleasant but far less ambitious than her last CD, 2004's Afrodisiac."[78] Mikael Wood's review for Los Angeles Times was less emphatic. He gave the album one and a half stars out of four, and said: "Unfortunately, it's also hard to make it through the thing. Brandy's strong suit has never been her thoughtfulness; appropriately for someone with her Hollywood history, she's long been one of R&B's emptiest vessels, a gorgeous voice used by a series of gifted producers to communicate their own unique ideas."[80]

Commercial performance[edit]

The week after its domestic release, Human debuted at number five on the US Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and at number fifteen on the official Billboard 200 chart, with moderately successful first week sales of 73,000 copies — about half as much as her previous effort album Afrodisiac. As it failed to climb any higher, the album became Norwood's second-lowest charting effort in the US behind her self-titled debut album (1994) which had reached the number 20 position fourteen years prior.[6] In addition, it reached number six on the Billboard Top Digital Albums chart.[84] Altogether, the album sold 214,000 copies in the US.[7] While lead single "Right Here (Departed)" became Norwood's highest-charting single success in years throughout Europe, Human widely underperformed overseas, failing to enter most national music charts.[66] It however, reached the top fifty of the Belgian Albums Chart, and made it to the top 200 of the French Albums Chart.[66]

Promotion on the album ended soon after its December release and Norwood subsequently started work on a second album with Epic Records. Amongst those to record with Brandy were songwriting and production partners Tricky Stewart, The-Dream, Stargate, Ne-Yo, and Brian Kennedy.[71] Expressing her dissatisfaction with Human's chart performance, she told Blues & Soul magazine she was "a little disappointed about that" but added: "At the same time, I’m also pleased that Sony has given me another chance to do another project that I feel they’re totally behind. In hindsight I do feel the last album was a little political. So a lotta changes have been made since Human – and hopefully they’re changes for the better! Because, having got all the deep stuff off my chest, I’m now able to really tap into the fun part of music again [...] it’s exactly the type of album that I need to be makiing right now!”[71]

In mid-2009, Epic ended their contract with Norwood following the appointment of Amanda Ghost, making Human her only album with the label.[9] A Los Angeles Times article later revealed Norwood's discontent with the success of the project the following year when asked about the commercial failure of Human: "It was lacking my belief in it. It lacked my vision. Pretty much bottom line, if you don’t believe in something it’s not going to go," she said. "So do I believe that Human was as creative as Never Say Never and Full Moon? No, I do not. You definitely want to put something out that’s like that. I felt at the same time I could have had much better songs and a much better set-up."[85] A statement she made during a 2010 interview with Out magazine turned out more harsh: "To hell with that album! [...] Where I felt creatively it could’ve gone and the space I was in creatively, I needed everybody around me to be in that same space. It would’ve been a different album, but with the same inspiration and same blessing for other people. It would’ve been hotter music and a hotter look."[10] Blaming herself for the album’s commercial results, Norwood dismissed the album as “too pop.”[86] The debut season of her 2010 VH1 reality series Brandy and Ray J: A Family Business further revealed that the album's underperformance resulted into another argument between her and executive producer Rodney Jerkins, whose commitment to the project Brandy felt not as "creative and forthcoming" as on previous albums and that he purposefully did not put his best work in the album.[87] Jerkins had distanced himself from the project following its official release, declaring his dissatisfaction with the involvement of other producers on the album.[88]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "Human Intro"       0:19
2. "The Definition"   3:43
3. "Warm It Up (With Love)"  
  • Jerkins
  • Marvin "Tony" Hemmings
  • Jordan Omley
  • Jerkins
  • Omley[b]
4:03
4. "Right Here (Departed)"  
  • Jerkins
  • Daniels[b]
3:38
5. "Piano Man"  
  • Jerkins
  • Hemmings
  • Omley
  • Jerkins
  • Omley[b]
3:59
6. "Long Distance Interlude"       0:59
7. "Long Distance"  
  • Mars
  • Jerkins
  • Lawrence[b]
  • James Fauntleroy[b]
3:51
8. "Camouflage"  
4:04
9. "Torn Down"  
3:53
10. "Human"  
  • Gad
  • Norwood[b]
3:53
11. "Shattered Heart"  
  • Jerkins
  • Johnson
  • Daniels
  • Jerkins
  • Daniels[b]
3:53
12. "True"  
RedOne 3:47
13. "A Capella (Something's Missing)"  
Soundz 3:34
14. "1st & Love"  
3:20
15. "Fall"   4:21

Credits and personnel[edit]

Musicians[edit]

Production[edit]

Charts[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Chart (2008) Peak
position
French Albums Chart[66] 129
US Billboard 200[89] 15
US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums[89] 5
Chart (2009) Peak
position
Belgian Albums Chart (Flanders)[66] 81
Belgian Albums Chart (Wallonia)[66] 50

Release history[edit]

Region Date Label
France[61] December 5, 2008 Epic
Australia[62] December 8, 2008
United Kingdom[90]
Canada[4] December 9, 2008 Epic, Knockout, Koch
United States[4]
Japan[65] February 18, 2009 Epic, Sony Music Japan
Belgium[4] February 23, 2009 Epic, Sony Music
Japan (limited CD/DVD edition)[65] March 22, 2009 Epic, Sony Music Japan
Germany March 27, 2009 Sony Music
Austria
Switzerland

References[edit]

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