|Studio album by|
|Released||July 31, 2020|
|Singles from B7|
B7 is the seventh studio album by American singer Brandy Norwood. It was released on July 31, 2020, through her own label, Brand Nu, Inc and eOne Music. B7 is her first studio album since 2012's Two Eleven. The album features lead single "Baby Mama" featuring Chance the Rapper, and "Borderline". Norwood's Grammy-nominated collaboration with Canadian singer-songwriter Daniel Caesar, "Love Again", is also included on the album.
Background and concept
B7 is Norwood's first independent release on her own record label Brand Nu, Inc. in partnership with eOne. During an interview with the HuffPost' Taryn Finley, Norwood said she was letting her "authentic experiences inform her music". Despite feeling vulnerable and in relation to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Norwood said "It all aligned... I didn't plan it like this, but it just happened to fall in the same space so I'm happy about that." Finely asked Norwood to elaborate on why the time was right for new music, Norwood said "Well, I felt like I'm in a great place in my music. I feel very strong about my music, confident about where I am with it. I believe in it, and I just felt like this was the time." Describing the album as authentic and her most personal to date, Norwood said that fans could expect her "entire heart" on the album, with themes of "love and heartache and coming into [her] own and finding [her] own self love".
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Norwood revealed the album had been three years in the making, "I feel like it started about three years ago. I was balancing television and studio time. I put everything I could into this project. It was so freeing for me, because I did get a chance to really dig in and write from my heart of hearts. I was able to really get a lot of things off of my chest, really use music as a way to escape and heal."
Speaking about the process of making the album, Norwood was clear about the dedication she put into the project, "I've dedicated the last couple of years of my life to new music, my new project. It's taken me a while, but I'm so happy about the focus and work ethic I've put into this project." This concept was expanded upon during Norwood's interview with Apple Music, where she stated: "I felt like I wanted to just be as honest as possible with this new project. I wanted to approach this project like if this was my last chance, if this was my last shot at creating music, what would this project be about? What would it sound like? Would I just bare it all? Would I tell my story as deep as I could tell it? And I wanted to, of course, stay true to R&B but at the same time go outside of the box." Similarly, when talking to Entertainment Weekly, Norwood said that she treated the album like it was her last. "I went into this album thinking, 'If this were my last project, if this were the last time I would ever sing…what would I do?' I used that [mindset] as a way to give my all. You can hear my entire heart on this. It took a while because I didn't want to rush."
On why Norwood chose Darhyl "Hey DJ" Camper, Jr. to helm the project, she shared, "His tracks were so different, but still connected to me in a way where it didn’t feel so different from what I’ve done. It was almost like a continuation. When I would hear his music it was like, 'This is what Never Say Never would sound like in the future.'"
Music and lyrics
Norwood co-wrote and co-produced fourteen of the fifteen songs on the album and worked with the likes of LaShawn Daniels, Kim "Kaydence" Krysiuk and Darhyl Camper, touching on a number of themes including self-love, tumultuous romantic relationships, mental health and single motherhood. Krysiuk contributed to half of the album's songs, and commented on the process of developing the songs alongside Norwood: "When we wrote these records, we didn't follow a 'formula' or song structure [...] we followed a feeling [...] That alone really gave us the room to express our emotions without being confined to an industry standard." Part way through the making of the album Daniels, an early career mentor for Norwood, passed away.
During an interview with British newspaper The Guardian, Norwood said of the situation that "music [was her] therapy" and she "[wouldn't] know what life would be without it." Elaborating on being able to work with Daniels on the project she said "it's a little scary because I had to finish it without him [...] I just wonder: would he be proud of what I was able to put together?" In the interview, it was also confirmed that Norwood had co-written every song on the album, wanting to stop "placating egos", "chasing commercial expectations" and not have her experiences "distilled into other people's words."
B7 opens with the "warm and sincere" track "Saving All My Love" which opens with the line "Sorry for my tardy," addressing the eight year period since Norwood’s previous album Two Eleven (2012). Interpreted by some critics as an "apology," it has Norwood explaining her absence from music following the break-up of her relationship with music executive Ryan Press. Norwood can be heard to refer to her mentor, Whitney Houston as the "goat" — a common acronym attributed to singer Houston, meaning ″the greatest of all time.″ The album's third track "Rather Be" was co-written with Victoria Monét and sees Norwood return to the distinctive smooth, sultry balladry of previous albums. Norwood can be heard to be warmly wearing her heart on her sleeve as her love interest plays hard-to-get.
"Borderline" sees Norwood confront her own insecurities and weaknesses within relationships, with her professing to be "the most jealous girl" and ultimately illustrating the darker, emotional loneliness that can take over a romantic relationship.. Of the song, Norwood stated that "if another artist were to have that song, were to sing that song, I would wish that song was my song." In an interview with the New York Post, Norwood shared the story behind the single, "I loved someone that was not available to be loved by me, and so that drove me crazy," adding, "I wanted to use my music as a way to start more conversations about mental health and how that’s something that we all need to work on every day."
On "I Am More", Norwood references rapper Eminem's lyrics from The Notorious B.I.G.'s posthumous single, "Dead Wrong" (1999). Additionally on "High Heels", Norwood duets with her daughter Sy'rai and also raps one of the verses. Norwood previously introduced her rapping skills under the alter-ego Bran'Nu. The album closes with "Bye BiPolar" —- a piano-led ballad which utilises a metaphor that Norwood has been using for her own love life, discussing the way that her mental health struggles have been exacerbated by toxic relationships. Lyrically, in freeing herself from them, the singer discusses how her own mental health has improved. Norwood told the New York Post: "I have not been diagnosed as bipolar [...] but I’ve had moments where trauma has caused me to not be myself, and I felt at a point that I could’ve experienced moments of that." Mental illness is a recurring lyrical theme on the album as is heard in "Unconditional Oceans" which addresses her past of "self-sabotaging" behaviour, and "Lucid Dreams" where Norwood openly confesses to having "wanted to die". B7 ends on "Bye BiPolar"'s bold lyric — "Never add your last name to mine. I'm saying never", acting as a reference to Norwood's 1998 album Never Say Never while also marking Norwood's personal growth and transition since then.
The album's cover art and title were unveiled on May 7, 2020. The cover pays homage to one of Norwood's idol Whitney Houston's looks from the 1992 film The Bodyguard. In the image, Norwood is pictured face forward towards the camera with "beads cascading down her forehead". Glennisha Morgan from KISS 95.1 FM commented that the cover featured Norwood's signature braids, and the choice of gold beads complimented the gold eye shadow in the cover photo. In writing for Essence, Jennifer Ford called the album's cover nostalgic, and noted that although Norwood had "countless memorable braid moments", the micro braids chosen for the B7 "may be the greatest of all time". The look was designed and styled by celebrity hairstylist Kim Kimble. Meanwhile Morgan also pointed out that font and typeface of the font used on the album was as the same as Norwood's first three albums: Brandy (1994), Never Say Never (1998) and Full Moon (2002). Comparisons were also drawn to singer-songwriter Syreeta Wright, who often wore her hair in braids too. The cover art received positive comments from 107.5 FM in an article called Yasss! Brandy Drops Cover For New Album 'B7', where the station declared that they "loved" the cover. Idolator's Mike Wass agreed, saying that the "orange-and-gold-hued cover art" shows that Norwood was "back and she really means business this time around".
Promotion and singles
In March 2020, it was announced that Norwood would release the album's lead single "Baby Mama" featuring American recording artist Chance The Rapper on the American talk show The Talk. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the single was postponed and instead released on May 1, 2020. Prior to the single's release, Norwood later appeared on Good Morning America on May 7, 2020, to perform the song live during the 2020 Spring Concert Series, where she would announce her seventh album and reveal the album cover, respectively.
On July 21, the album was released for digital download/streaming pre-order which included an instant download of "Baby Mama", "Love Again" (with Daniel Caesar) and a new song, "Rather Be". The latter was produced by Darhyl "Hey DJ" Camper.
|Album of the Year||75/100|
At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, B7 has an average score of 72 based on 5 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews." Album of the Year collected 6 reviews and calculated an average of 75 out of 100. Aggregator AnyDecentMusic? gave the album 7.1 out of 10, based on their assessment of the critical consensus.
Teodor Zetko, writing for Exclaim!, found that with B7 "Brandy has returned to her roots and the aesthetics that helped popularize her [...]. Authenticity is present on this album; she confidently steers her own ship by taking a new approach by writing every song on the album to create something personal [...] She was the moment in the '90s, and now she is the moment in 2020." Chicago Defender journalist Kimberly M. Dobine felt that "This album is a vibe, very reminiscent of what we have come to expect from Brandy, yet so distinctly different then what we are used to [...] I believe this is the Brandy that she’s always wanted to be and always wanted us to experience [...] It’s cohesive, and the most honest reflection of who she is as an artist today. She is back and better than ever." In an interview with Norwood published July 31, 2020 Brittany Spanos for Rolling Stone referred to the album as, "... Brandy Norwood at her purest: an eclectic mix of modern and classic R&B sounds strung together by her distinctive, powerful voice." Clash editor Robin Murray called the album "a triumph. A record worth savouring, it sits alongside NewGen R&B talent [...] while retaining that classic touch." However, Murray also picked out "Borderline", stating the track is "no more than nice – pleasing on the ear, tugging at the heartstrings, but fail[s] to match the gravitational pull of the record’s true highlights."
Michigan Chronicle critic Ashley Stevenson wrote that "throughout the album, Brandy toys with techno undertones without losing her iconic sultriness bending her voice to each track, even doing some rapping. Although the album is met with mild moments of mediocrity, it never lacks enticement." Similarly, Mike Weiss from Idolator wrote that "this project shows new facets of her wonderful instrument as she muses on matters of the heart over multi-layered, often mid-tempo production. In short, B7 is a mood. This is the kind of album that needs to be listened to from beginning to end (a couple of times), in order to fully appreciate the very personal journey that Brandy takes us on." In her review for The Observer, Kadish Morris was critical with Norwood's rapping effort on songs such as "High Heels" but praised the album's "familiar acrobatic vocals and sublime harmonies."
Jennifer Gonsalves, from MEA WorldWide wrote, "Brandy delivers flawless vocals, smooth vibes and effortless storytelling on comeback release and proves her crown is hers alone". Will Lavin from NME gave a positive review, stating that although the album "could probably benefit from an injection of tempo from time to time [...] it mostly thrives, thanks to her unwavering resilience, the unique texture of her vocals and the stellar production courtesy of DJ Camper, Lonnie Smalls II and the late LaShawn Daniels." Lavin added the new album had been worth the wait, "because it has helped one of R&B’s most revered talents find her smile again." Joel Campbell from The Voice called the album a "first masterpiece as an independent artist", whilst Danielle Brissett for Rated RnB praised the project for the "Sonorous harmonies, potent backgrounds and ad-libs, and an influential delivery that true connoisseurs can detect.
Stephen Kearse for Pitchfork gave a mixed response to the record, feeling that Norwood sounded "poised and warm but lack[ed] some spark". Kearse added "There’s a strong sense of distance to B7, as if Brandy is recounting stories secondhand despite them ostensibly being her own. She’s described the record [...] as "freeing," but she generally feels more withdrawn than liberated."
According to the Official Charts Company, B7 debuted at number 2 on the UK Official Hip Hop and R&B Albums Chart Top 40 after one week of release,  marking Norwood’s highest debut on any of the UK charts since Full Moon debuted at #1 on the UK Hip Hop and R&B Albums Chart in March 2002. Additionally, the album also entered the UK Official Top 50 Independent Chart at number 7.
|1.||"Saving All My Love"||4:42|
|4.||"All My Life, Pt. 1"||–||0:40|
|9.||"All My Life, Pt. 2"||–||0:40|
|10.||"I Am More"||3:15|
|11.||"High Heels" (with Sy'rai)||2:38|
|12.||"Baby Mama" (featuring Chance the Rapper)||3:14|
|13.||"All My Life, Pt. 3"||–||0:39|
|14.||"Love Again" (with Daniel Caesar)||3:34|
- ^[a] denotes additional production by
- ^[b] denotes vocal producer
- ^[c] denotes co-producer
- Track 14 "Love Again" was released as the lead single from Daniel Caesar's second studio album Case Study 01 (2019)
Credits and personnel
Credits adapted from album booklet and liner.
- 11 Street Recording (Atlanta, Georgia)
- Brandon's Way Recording Studio Los Angeles, California)
- Conway Recording Studios (Los Angeles, California)
- Encore Recording (Burbank, California)
- NRG Recording Studios (North Hollywood, California)
- Paramount Recording Studio (Los Angeles, California)
- Platinum Sound Recording (New York City, New York)
- Westlake Recording Studios (West Hollywood)
- Benard Alexander – production co-ordinator
- Andy Barnes – engineer
- Riley Bell – mixing
- Todd Bergman – engineer
- Derek Blanks – art direction, photography, packaging design
- Paul Boutin – recording
- Matthew Burnett – producer, drums (programming)
- Darhyl Camper, Jr. – producer, executive producer, additional producer (keys and programming), co-producer
- Chance the Rapper – featured vocals ("Baby Mama")
- LaShawn Daniels – producer, executive producer, vocal producer/arranger
- Antonio "Tony" Dixon – additional vocal producer, engineer
- Morning Estrada – recording
- Jordan Evans – producer – producer, drums (programming), recording
- Frank Gatson, Jr. – creative direction
- Chauncey Alexander "Hit-Boy" Hollis – producer
- Jaycen Joshua – mixing, mastering
- Kimberly Kimble|Kim Kimble – hair
- Tim McClain – engineer
- Giovanna Melchiorre – PR, marketing
- Brandy Norwood – lead vocals, producer, executive producer, mixing
- Willie Norwood Sr. – vocal coach, music consultant
- Cory Rooney – producer, co-executive producer
- Christopher Ruff – production co-ordinator
- Alonzo "Lonnie" Smalls II – producer
- Sy'rai Smith – co-lead artist("High Heels"), background vocals
- Courtney Snowden – production manager
- Tasha Stoute – PR, marketing
- Ashley Sean Thomas – wardrobe
- Joshua "YXSH" Thomas – producer
- Gabriela Torell – make-up
- Earl "Ejay" Washington – engineer