In 2005, R&B singer Brooke Valentine burst onto the music scene with her hit single “Girlfight.” She was just nineteen years old at the time, but her confidence, attitude and work with big names like Lil Jon and Big Boi catapulted her to stardom.
But a hit single can be a gift as well as a curse, and the money and fame came more quickly than Valentine knew how to handle. That, along with problems with her label and personal struggles, led Valentine to take an extended hiatus from the music business. In that time, she gave birth to a son, London, and took time to focus on family.
Now, Brooke Valentine is back with a new single called “Forever” and a forthcoming album of the same name. The dynamic self-assurance of “Girlfight” is still there, but it’s more refined and intimate. The album is full of songs that are very personal to Valentine, and greatly inspired by her new experiences as a mom. We had the chance to talk with Brooke about her time off, her new album, and what’s different for her this time around.
Check out our interview with Brooke below.
Crushable: Your first album was Chain Letter, and “Girlfight,” the first single, was huge. What was it like to be a new artist with such a big single?
Brooke Valentine: Was that my album? Really? [Laughs.] No, I’m kidding. Woah, I was so young. I didn’t really understand what was taking place. I’m just now getting it, like wow, that was really amazing. The people that I got a chance to work with. Lil Jon and Big Boi, I worked with ODB on that album, so many more with remixes and stuff like that. Just amazing, an amazing time, I’ll never forget it.
So what led you to take time off?
Life. Life happened. I needed to take a break. I was very young when I first started, I was about twelve, thirteen when I first got a deal. So by the time Chain Letter came out I was nineteen, I was making so much money, life was moving really fast for me. And one day, my cousin was murdered, and I realized, what is life? I don’t know. I didn’t know where my money was coming from, how to spend it, how to write a check, didn’t know how to pay my bills, didn’t have a license to drive these cars I had. I had to stop. So, I took the time to get to know myself, get to know life, and within that time I had my son, London. And I just had to live, you know? Just live.
What kind of reactions did you get when you told people that you’d decided to take time off?
They thought I was crazy. Brooke, are you crazy? What are you doing, you’re on top right now, everyone knows your song, you’re doing so well, you should just keep going. But I felt very plastic and unreal, and I was unhappy alone. I needed to get to know myself, so I could be comfortable with myself.
Were you still involved in music during your break, or did you completely separate yourself from that world?
Not a break from music. I never took a break from music, I would say I took a break from the industry as an artist. I was still very much involved with consulting, and helping new artists sharpen their craft, writing, and even sitting in on photoshoots and stuff like that, helping other people. I never left the studio. My son was raised in the studio.
What ultimately motivated you to come back to the industry as an artist?
My son London. His love for music is just, I can’t, it’s hard to explain. You have to see him. He’s like my little A&R. He knows it, he loves it, he jams out, and he was right there when I wrote “Forever.” He inspired that single. His love for music brought me back to music as an artist. You know, I never left music, but as an artist he made me realize that I had a purpose, that I had a message. And it wouldn’t be a good thing for me to just sit on that, I need to explore it.
How would you say your sound has changed?
I wouldn’t say it’s changed, it has evolved. I’m wiser, I know more. I have more of a message versus just, going to the club, it’s a dance song, have a drink, oh, that’s a cute guy. I’ve loved, I know what love is. I’ve lived. And I wouldn’t say it’s more of a message than someone whose record is just a club record, that’s cool. But for me, it’s more for me to talk about. Real life, and real life instances. And by sharing that, so many people are like, wow, Brooke, I’m so glad you said that. I’m so glad you were honest about it and shared it, it has helped me to share my story.
How does being a mom impact your music career?
Oh my goodness. Traveling with a toddler, recording with a toddler, I think for almost every song on the album my son was right there with me. Like right there, I put everyone out of the studio, and just let him come in and sit with me, and he’s inspired me so much. But it is, it’s a lot to think about. Before kids, you just jump on the road, you jump on a plane, you just go, go, go. But now you have a whole other person, a whole other life that you’re in charge of, that you have to take care of. So yes, it’s different. Everything you do, you think about it twice. Because you think, oh, how does this affect my child? Every decision you make.
What has your experience been like the second time around? Do you feel different now, coming back as an artist?
It’s different. That’s why I like to encourage new artists to take it all in, and go for it. That new artist thing is so amazing, when you’re a new artist no one knows what to expect of you, they’re open. And when it’s the second time around, they’re comparing you to the last time. Oh, what is she doing now? What’s going on now? It is a little harder the second time around, but it’s a great challenge. Because you get to show people what you’ve learned.
Do you have a favorite venue or city to perform in?
I will say that I recently went to Biloxi, Mississippi, for the Saving Our Sisters event, where I spoke to some young ladies from the age of nine up. And that was a very emotional trip. They have the highest teen pregnancy rate, and I got a chance to talk with them and perform, but most of all I got a chance to talk with them face to face. And I thought that, over any performance I could ever do, to sit down and actually talk and ask questions and really connect with them. That’s the type of thing that, you know, I’m all about, besides music.
Was there a song on Forever that was particularly difficult for you to write or record?
The song “Insanity” is very emotional and very true. I have a lot of other songs that were my ballads. I cried on some of them, while recording them, reliving the moment. When I go into the booth I put the lights off and I really go there. And I look at the words and I relive it, and it’s really real to me. It’s my words. This whole album is straight from the heart.
What are some of your goals for your future as an artist? What are you looking forward to?
I would say to touch people. To really connect with the audience, really connect and help younger children, help people understand that you can connect real emotions and your real true self with your music. It doesn’t have to be so plastic. And I would encourage people to write. You know, write and speak from the heart. A lot of times, artists get handed songs, and they record them. But it’s not them. And just letting people get to know the real me, which I feel like I lost on Chain Letter. But this time around it’s different, it’s me, it’s the real me, I’m speaking from the heart. When it’s from the heart you can’t go wrong.
For more information on Brooke, check out her Facebook page.