Kandi Burruss: The First Lady

When you grow up in a group, you learn how to appease others, and to sort of take the backseat. Kandi Burruss, a former member of the hit R&B group Xscape, has taken a journey from the backseat to front and center in recent years. In fact, her journey became a historic one as she was crowned ASCAP’s R&B Rhythm & Soul Awards Songwriter of the Year in 2000. Burruss has written for Destiny’s Child, TLC, *NSYNC, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, Faith Evans, Whitney Houston, Pink, Alicia Keys, amongst others.

Kandi Burruss, also known as Kandi, sat down with Singersroom to discuss her journey from Xscape to becoming an award winning songwriter. In our exclusive interview, Kandi also discusses her wish to return to the stage next year with two projects including the anticipated debut of Peach Candy.

Singersroom: As a songwriter you started out with Xscape, how did you get your start in the journey that led to ASCAP Songwriter of the Year.

Kandi Burruss: As far as the group, we asked Jermaine [Dupri] if we could collaborate a little bit. We did collaborate here and there. Jermaine wrote most of our stuff though. But I always wanted to do more. So when our group broke up, Tiny [Tameka ‘Tiny’ Cottle] and I were going to do a project together. I was telling her ‘we need to write all our songs and put them on a demo so when we present it to the label they’ll know that we can write our own stuff so we don’t really need any help’ … you know.

We did that and “No Scrubs” (TLC) was one of the first songs that we did for ourselves and some kind of way LA Reid heard the record and it got played for TLC. That song opened up the door for me to just write for everybody else.

Singersroom: As far as honing your craft in terms of songwriting do you feel like it came to you naturally or did you kind of craft it while in Xscape working with Jermaine Dupri?

Kandi Burruss: To me it kind of came naturally because I was always good with melodies. I used to link up with different producers that I knew and would try and write for their tracks and get practice like that.

Being around in the studio and watching when people were working with us I would pick up things. As far as melodies I was always good on that. I never really needed help putting together melodies.

For instance, when we were around Jermaine, he would take regular words that we would use and then make a song out of it like ‘Just Kickin’ It’. That is when I would take things that me and my homegirls were just talking about and make it a song.

Singersroom: Out of all the songs you have written, which one has the funniest story attached to it?

Kandi Burruss: “Scrubs. (TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’) ” I used to have this notepad with concepts and titles that I wanted to use and ‘scrubs’ was one of the words that was in my book.

At first when ‘Tiny’ and I were going around to meet producers to get tracks, we had heard that track but it had a different song on it when they played it for us. I remember telling him (a producer) “we really like that track and we can write a better song to it” – he looked at me like ‘Whatever,’ he thought the song he had was the jam and I was like okay well can we just get the track and he said okay but he was kind of hesitant about it.

He gave us both a copy of the track and one day I was lying around with my homegirl and we were kind of ‘dogging out’ these dudes that we were dating (laughs). I was driving, like I like to do and write, playing the track and freestyling it, talking about the guy I was dating at the time. When I first took it to Tiny I was like you probably aren’t going to like it, she was like go ahead and sing it.

When it said “Sit on your broke a**” … I had wrote before that “Sit on your fat a**” and she busted out laughing. She was like ‘girl you stupid, ain’t nobody going to let you say that on the radio.’ I was like ‘I don’t care I like it’ … ‘I think it’s funny’. She was like no I like it though. So she put her verse on, the second verse, and we brought it to him and he loved it. I never really thought that it was going to be as big of a record as it was, just from me and my homegirls talking trash in the car.

Singersroom: That’s wild, as far as writing words for songs like you did with “No Scrubs,” are there any words or phrases that you try to avoid or words you definitely keep out of your music at all costs?

Kandi Burruss: I personally hate, for instance on a R&B song, when people say ‘baby’ too much in the song. Like if that’s the title of the song that’s cool, and of course I love “Baby, Baby, Baby,” [Ashanti] that’s hot, but when in a verse you can tell when people ran out of words and they just say “oh baby” (laughs). It just comes out of nowhere and it’s just a filler. I hate when people just stick that word in there to fill in a space.

Kandi BurrussSingersroom: As an artist in your own right, for those who may be unfamiliar, you released a solo album entitled “Hey Kandi” in 2000 featuring the hit “Don’t Think I’m Not.” Is it hard to juggle being a songwriter and an artist?

Kandi Burruss: Definitely, because a lot of times you record a song and you think it’s hot and you think “maybe I can keep this for myself.” Every record I write I feel like I can do this myself but you can’t because you gotta know your lane.

When it comes to the songwriting, I can write any type of music. I can write country, I can write R&B, I can write Pop or whatever but as an artist you aren’t going to be accepted all the time trying to do everything at once. You gotta abide by that audience. For me it’s like every hot record you do, you can’t keep it for yourself because if you don’t give away any hot records why would anybody want to keep using you…especially if you are saving the hot stuff for yourself and giving away mediocre stuff.

Singersroom: That is a good point. As more songwriters and producers continue to take their respective hats off and release their own music like The-Dream, Ryan Leslie and Sean Garrett, do you think them being highlighted so to speak more than before is a good thing for the industry? Especially with the success of projects like “Love/Hate?”

Kandi Burruss: I think it is a good thing. Normally, and I’m not going to say everytime, if a person is a writer, when they’re doing their own project, they’re going to do things from the heart. They’re really going to try to make a creative album and a lot of the records are going to be heartfelt. They might even take it a step further than what they would do for somebody else because you can’t be overly edgy when you’re writing for other people sometimes. When you’re writing for yourself you can go there and just be creative, try new things, do whatever you wanna do. A lot of times if it’s a consistent writer, because I would say all writers aren’t consistent, but it’s obvious like The-Dream is consistent or T-Pain is consistent … 9 times out of 10 he’s going to come up with a hot record or at least it will be something you’d want to ride to.

If they do the whole album for themselves then they get to have fun with it, try different stuff that a lot of people will like. Things you normally wouldn’t get from anybody else. Like I’ll listen to a ‘Dream’ album or I’ll listen to a T-Pain album and it’s different. It’s not the norm. Even when you go back to Babyface. Babyface as a songwriter/producer he’s like the greatest but you also know Babyface – the artist.

Singersroom: Speaking of excellent songwriting, you became the first woman to receive ASCAP’s Songwriter of the Year Award. Did that change your perception on your career and life post Xscape?

Kandi Burruss: Definitely. I didn’t realize how important it was until I got there and I had been to the ASCAP Awards before for certain awards that we received as Xscape [for songs] that I had collaborated on so I didn’t see it as a big deal because it was like one song.

When I got there and got Songwriter of the Year I realized wow, this is something important. You have to have so many top or number one records in that year to be able to even get that award. I was just like ‘wow’ it’s not that easy to get a whole bunch of number ones within one year. For them to tell me that I was the first woman to do it, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that no other woman had done this before me. I was really surprised. That really helped me feel like I really accomplished something outside of my group.

Because you know when you grow up in a group it’s all about the group. I really didn’t know what I was going to do when the group broke up. I was afraid to be honest. I was like “What am I going to do?…the group broke up, oh lord, how I am I going to take care of myself, I ain’t never had a job” (laughs) …. I was thinking about all these things. When I started writing songs for other people I had just as much success if not more as a writer. I really grew up as a woman, realizing I can stand on my own and make things happen for myself.

Singersroom: In terms of songwriting are you currently working on any upcoming projects or any tracks that are currently out on new albums?

Kandi Burruss: I collaborated on the David Banner album that’s out. I worked with Pimp C and Bun B. Karina Pasian on Def Jam; I had a song on her album.

I just did a song for Tiffany Evans and also Ciara. I’ve also been in the studio collaborating with a bunch of different producers like Bryan Cox, we’ve been doing some hot records which I know somebody’s going to end up doing because they are some hot records (laughs). Drummer Boy, Justus League… a lot of people. I’ve just been busy collaborating with a lot of people.

Singersroom: That’s good. It’s always good to stay busy. Are you thinking about releasing a new solo album?

Kandi Burruss: It’s funny because for a while I was like “oh I’m not going to sing I’m just going to keep writing” and the truth is I really miss being on stage. I didn’t really realize how much I missed being on stage until Rasheeda and I started doing our project together and promoting at shows. It was so dope, the response, that I felt from the fans and it was so much fun that I was like ‘I’m gonna do a record as well’ in addition to the project that she and I are doing. I’m definitely going to put something out, hopefully sometime next year.

Singersroom: At Singersroom we have a motto that reads “I Love R&B,” why do you love R&B?

Kandi Burruss: Of course I love listening to R&B. I love people with great vocals. I love just listening to it. It makes you feel good. I love the lyrics. When I’m going through something… to be able to sit and hear a great song where it feels like that person is telling my story… there’s nothing like it to me. Like when you’re really going through something emotional and you have the record from someone that is basically singing your song as if they knew you. It’s nothing like it to me. —— By: Interview By Njai Joszor


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