Happy 20th Anniversary to Brandy’s second studio album Never Say Never, originally released June 9, 1998.
Released one month ahead of the June 1998 drop date for Brandy's second album Never Say Never was its initiating single, “The Boy Is Mine.” Conceived as a two-way split between herself and her peer Monica, the slick slice of black pop showcased the pair trading cool, but caustic barbs at each other in relation to a romantic liaison with the same man. The song also doubled as the title piece to Monica's sophomore album which premiered two months later. The ensuing sensation the track created—commercially and culturally—still astounds twenty years removed from its reveal. Separate from the phenomenon that was “The Boy Is Mine” was the respective impact of Brandy’s sophomore LP itself.
Never Say Never followed Brandy (1994), the eponymous debut on the Atlantic label that established the vocalist—and emergent actress—as a preeminent presence in the R&B marketplace. Animated by its compelling streak of singles showcasing Brandy's versatile contralto, Brandy hit the platinum mark four times over in the United States alone. As an entire body of work, the self-titled collection's smooth, hip-hop soul vibe was fetchingly fitted to Brandy's voice and left listeners craving more. Demand for the singer's second offering was high.
The Never Say Never sessions began in the latter half of 1997 with the pressure for Brandy to repeat (and exceed) the critical and commercial performance of her first record. Despite this tension, Brandy kept a level head and carefully vetted the collaborative suggestions from Atlantic Records. Such was the label's counsel that Brandy intersected with the industry-decorated Canadian arranger, producer and writer David Foster.
Wisely sensing that Foster could lend a certain level of pop crossover credibility to the project, Brandy agreed to put down tracks with him. Foster helmed three compositions for the set: “Have You Ever?,” “One Voice” and “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.” The latter track was a spirited, if ultimately faithful cover of the 1991 power ballad smash by Bryan Adams.
The remainder of Never Say Never was overseen by an enterprising young man that was assuredly on the way up. Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins had been the man behind the boards on song pieces for the likes of Vanessa Williams, Mary J. Blige and Joe and it was hoped that he and Brandy would find creative chemistry together.
As it happened, the assembly for Never Say Never allowed Brandy and Jerkins to discover their respective muses in each other and commence one of the most enduring, if tempestuous singer/producer partnerships in popular music history. In addition to his own individual production and writing skills, Jerkins had a close knit pool of colleagues—Harvey Mason Jr., LaShawn Daniels and Fred Jerkins III—to assist him in Never Say Never's construction, while fielding supplemental writing or production contributions from others as needed.
Encouraged by Jerkins to share her feelings and participate in the record making process, Brandy wrote and produced on the LP where she could. The rest of the material contained on Never Say Never reflects various Darkchild staff—or writers/producers commissioned by them—tailoring it all to her life experiences. It makes for a long player that is disarmingly astute in tackling identity (“Top of the World,” “U Don't Know Me (Like U Used To)”) and romantic turbulence (“Angel in Disguise,” “Almost Doesn't Count”). By infusing her own pathos into these typically chewed over subjects, the album is a somewhat intimate affair.
Sonically, the semi-confessional scripts are braced by a crisp, digitized take on the soul and black pop indicative of Brandy's sound that brought her into the public consciousness. Swapping out the looser, jazz-like feel of her debut, Brandy instead successfully interfaces with a bright, rhythmic blend of beat and melody equally suitable for midtempo ballads (“Learn the Hard Way”) and uptempo jams (“Happy”).
With its 16 tracks radiating a clear and concise confidence, Never Say Never was sent out into the world on June 9, 1998. Critically and commercially, the effort was a monumental victory for Brandy with seven of its singles, post-“The Boy Is Mine,” carrying the record—domestically and internationally—into the spring of 2000. The collection was also a Grammy favorite with nominations in two calendar years, 1999 and 2000; she won one in 1999.
Accolades aside, Never Say Never is representative of an overall watershed moment for Brandy's legacy in that the album trademarked her exuberant, but mature aestheticism and transformed it into a source of inspiration for much of the modern R&B that came in its wake. It was quite a feat for the little girl who originally held fast to the dream of becoming a Whitney Houston-esque songbird in her own right. But as the saying goes, “never say never.”