July 05, 2004 12:00 PM



Brandy’s exciting fourth disc, Afrodisiac, is the best Aaliyah album that Aaliyah never made. Indeed, it sounds like a follow-up to the stellar self-titled CD released by Aaliyah before her death in a plane crash in 2001. After the lackluster 2002 album Full Moon, Brandy, 25, has clearly been inspired by the spirit of the late R&B-pop star. “Get Babygirl’s attention/She’s more than a woman and we sure do miss her/ I wanna represent her,” she sings on the pumping party jam “Turn It Up,” referring to Aaliyah by her nickname Babygirl over a deeply funky old-school hip-hop groove. Helping Brandy concoct this potent, beat-heady Afrodisiac is producer Timbaland, who helmed nine songs. In Brandy, Timbaland—who produced Aaliyah hits like 1998’s “Are You That Somebody?” and 2000’s “Try Again” and has also been Missy Elliott’s trip—hop trackmaster—has found a new muse for his futuristic, mad-scientist inventions. His ingenious sounds on cuts such as the club banger “Sadiddy,” with its warped jungle drums, and the dramatic, string-intensified “I Tried” (one of two tunes that borrow elements from Coldplay songs), make this the year’s juiciest listen. For her part, Brandy, having split from longtime producer Rodney Jerkins, rises to the occasion with a newfound confidence, showing off the rich, multilayered textures of her voice without ever oversinging. Although she only had a hand in writing one song (the self-fulfillment anthem “Finally”), you wouldn’t know it from the lyrics, which are drawn from Brandy’s personal experience, including her split from husband Robert Smith. “I had to get rid of the weight on my fourth finger, left hand,” she sings on the sumptuous midtempo “Who I Am.” She may be channeling Aaliyah, but Brandy is her own woman.


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