“She was the first girl on the scene. She came out before Monica and I did, and she was our inspiration,” Brandy tells The Juice of Aaliyah. It was different with Aaliyah and Brandy. Femme camaraderie trumped competition. Besides being side by side on the Billboard charts, with Monica, the R&B divas stuck together, supporting one another in each other’s personal and professional life.
In time for the tenth year anniversary of Aaliyah’s passing, Brandy took time to talk to Billboard.com’s The Juice on her dear friendship with Aaliyah and the impact the singer continues to have on her.
The Juice: Tell me about the time you first met Aaliyah Brandy:
I met Aaliyah when I was about 15 [yrs old]. It was I think at a rehearsal for the Soul Train Awards and someone introduced us. I was so excited to meet her because she was the first girl on the scene. She came out before Monica and I did, she was our inspiration. At the time, record companies did not believe in kid acts and it was just inspiring to see someone that was winning and winning being themselves. When I met her I embraced her, I was so happy to meet her. I told her how much I loved her. She said the same thing about me and we connected. It was a great moment I’ll never forget.
What are some other special moments you shared with her?
We performed at a radio event together. I remember going on before her and I could see her in a section where they kept the artists and she was just bobbing her head, really being supportive. It felt like [there] was no competition, or any of that. She was just very, very supportive. Then when she got on to perform, the entire place was singing her songs word for word, and so I was I. I was trying to sing louder than everybody else so she can hear that I knew her stuff and that I was being just as supportive as she was to me.
There was a moment when I won at, I think, [Soul Train] Lady of Soul [Music Awards]. She sent me flowers saying how proud she was and ‘congratulations.’ I just thought that was so angelic and sweet of her. People say that Aaliyah is angelic and that just made me feel like ‘wow, that’s a moment.’ Other artists supporting another artist when everybody’s trying to put you against each other, which was very special. I was like ‘whoa, that’s really big of her.’
What would you say was the best moment in Aaliyah’s career?
I think she had so many great moments, but I think coming back from a tough time when her first album [was out] and people were saying that she was married. They were giving her really bad flak for that. She come back from something like that and won bigger than she had ever won before, [alongside] Timbaland and Missy. It was an inspiration because [for] some people when you go through a hard time that young you give up and you don’t want to do it anymore. You don’t want to be seen, you don’t want to hear what people have to say about you. But for her to pick herself up, come back, do it all again and be more inspirational and bigger than she was the first time was amazing.
Is there anything she said to you or you learned from her that you apply to your everyday life, whether personal and professional?
How different she was and how she didn’t let anybody tell her what she needed to do or how to do it. It seemed like everything she was doing was coming from her. She moved in silence. She wasn’t boastful. She was humble and unique. She wasn’t afraid to express her individuality. That’s what I learned from her. What you saw was real. It wasn’t anything put on and anything fake about Aaliyah. That’s what I loved about her. I have every one of her albums and know the words to all of her songs. It’s just unfortunate that she’s not here with us physically. She will live on forever.
How different do you think R&B would be if she were still with us?
Honestly, I think she would be one of the biggest influences right now because she wasn’t afraid to be herself. She was so multitalented. I don’t think we experienced everything that she was going to become. [Also] I think a lot of people would be in trouble right now if she were still here.
It definitely would be different because she started it all. She started it all for my generation and she will forever be an inspiration for me. Forever. I’m shaken up just talking about her.
She will forever be an inspiration to me. I love her and want to send love and positive energy out to her family and fans that love her.