Kandi Burruss talks Kandi Koated LP, songwriting, reality shows & R&B girl groups

Kandi Burruss first rose to prominance as a member of moderately successful ’90s r&b female group Xscape. Best known for debut single Just Kickin’ It (and personal favourite My Little Secret), the So So Def collective also featured on Lil Bow Wow’s debut album ‘Beware of Dog’ alongside Da Bratt on Bounce Wit’ Me. Following the group’s split, Kandi released a solo album entitled ‘Eye Kandi’ lead by well-received single ‘Don’t Think I’m Not’.

Although the album underperformed, the absolute opposite can be said of her multiaward winning songwriting credentials. Kandi along with her pen crafted a string of genuine smash-hits that helped launch hugely successful careers via female-empowering R&B anthems including Pink’s “There You Go” and Destiny’s Child’s first number 1 “Bills, Bills, Bills”, as well as TLC’s record-breaking comeback “No Scrubs”. She introduced slang terms such as “scrub”, “trifilin'” & “bug-a-boo” to the world causing males to question their swagg’ as evidenced by response songs from Sporty Thieves namely the unforgettable ‘No Pigeons’.

Nowadays, Kandi can be viewed on hit US reality show The Real Housewives of Atlanta and released Kandi Koated – her first album since 2001’s Eye Kandi.

SoulCulture spoke with Kandi to discuss her hiatus, the lack of girl groups in R&B, why she’d enter shows like X-Factor and American Idol, the impact her ex-fiance’s murder had on her latest album Kandi Koated and becoming disillusioned with music. Oh and “No Scrubs”, obviously.

SoulCulture: Kandi Koated is your latest album. What inspired the title and what can people expect to hear?

Kandi Burruss: Topics I covered were everything in a relationship from meeting a person, the time you first started feeling each other, falling in love, wanting to get married, getting mad at the guy, then you break up and then hooking back up after you’ve broken up. It covers every aspect of a relationship.

Then at the end of the album I put some anthem records like ‘Fly Above’ which is basically like a universal anthem for anybody that is trying to make something happen in life, and they tired of people hating on them and trying to stop their progress. Then you have Superwoman for women like myself who are single mums or they been raised by a single mum. Just the story of trying to do everything possible for your child, so that song is for you, you’re a superwoman.

And “Leroy Jones”. Leroy Jones is my step-father’s real name. I wanted to write a song about a positive man, a man that doesn’t mind taking responsibility for a child that isn’t even his own, but has the capability to love that child like it was his own. I felt like a person like that really needs to be respected, so I wrote a song about him and every guy out there that’s like him or woman, you know, there are a lot of women out there taking responsibility for kids that aren’t there own.

SoulCulture Why the long gap between this and your first album, Eye Kandi?

Kandi: The first album, I was disappointed with how it did. I didn’t like the way everything was going with the label at the time and I was just disappointed. I had went through the phase of, “Ok, forget it. Maybe I shouldn’t be doing music, maybe I’ll just write for other people and be behind the scenes, make my money and be cool with it.”

There’s a lot of work that it takes to be an artist and if it doesn’t turn out the way you want it to, you’re just like “Damn, what am I doing wrong?” I went through that phase for a good year, then I changed my mind and I was like “Never mind, I’m going to try and get another deal. Shortly after I had made the decision to go and get a deal, I became pregnant with my daughter, so with that it took a lot of time to get readjusted, and by the time I got used to being a mum and working on other stuff years had passed.

I’m like, “Now nobody even cares,” [laughs]. I did get another deal, I had signed with Upfront entertainment – the same company that works with Akon. I was working with them about four years ago, but nothing came out of that situation, so finally I said, “Forget it, I’m just going to put the album out myself.” That’s what I had started working on ’til Warner Bros. decided they wanted to partner up with me.

SoulCulture: Why did you decide to do reality show, Real Housewives of Atlanta?

Kandi: The thing with Housewives of Atlanta is just something that came out of the blue. I was supposed to be doing a show with my ex-group member Tiny. She was trying to put a reality show together that ended up going to NBC. But when they finally got the show, the producer decided he only wanted to use Tiny and Toya for the show.

I was kinda disappointed, but a week after I found out I wasn’t going to be on the show, the people from Real Housewives of Atlanta called and asked to meet me. In my mind I’m thinking “Why would they even want to meet me? I’m not even married.” But they wanted me and I thought it’d be fun, so I thought I’d go for it. It turned out to be a major thing. The show has gotten really good ratings and it turned out to be a pretty good thing for me I’d say.

SoulCulture: If you were a new artist, would you consider going on reality shows like American Idol or X-Factor?

Kandi: I definitely would, because when you do something like American Idol you go from being an unknown to automatically people want to hear something from you, they’re interested in seeing what you want to do next, so I would do it.

SoulCulture: And I know your ex-fiancee passed. What impact did that have on the album?

Kandi: It was a really crazy time for me because the show was still on TV, so I had to watch episodes with him still on there after he was no longer with us. Even though he and I weren’t together, he was definitely a big supporter and was one of the ones like ” You need to put this album out even if you do it yourself.”

He was motivating me to write certain songs, like say for instance, a couple songs on the album were written before he passed, the songs were about him. I just know. I just know that there’s a song I had written when we had just gotten together, so I wanted to keep that on the album. “Haven’t Loved Right” is a song I wrote when he and I broke up.

Other guys were trying to talk to me like that, but it really wasn’t any major connection there. After he passed I felt, even more so, like I haven’t had the same connection or a real serious relationship since he and I broke up. Some of the songs were definitely influenced by he and I’s relationship.

SoulCulture: To many, the ’90s R&B scene is the greatest period ever. What do you feel made it special and how does it compare to now?

Kandi: Back in the days R&B was ruling the charts. Well over here in the States anyway, it was a lot of hits for r&b acts at that time. Back then, there were people that could really, really sing. Whereas now it’s like a lot of auto-tune, you don’t have to be a great singer to come out with a hit record, you know? Whereas back then I feel like there were more real singers. I think the labels used to put more behind their artists, they really used to push them, get time at radio and market them way more than now. Now it’s like they just chase after that one-hit single and that’s it.

SoulCulture: And when Xscape came onto the scene there was an abundance of girl groups. We don’t have any girl groups out now that I can think of.

Kandi: That’s right, there are no girl groups. In fact, I’m developing a girl group right now.

SoulCulture: Why do you think that is? No demand?

Kandi: Well I don’t know but I’ve heard loads of labels think it’s expensive. That’s four women that you’re gonna have a glam squad and a lot of times girl groups don’t last. You put all that time and energy into them and they break up.

SoulCulture: How do you plan on implementing your own experiences into the group that you’re developing?

Kandi: Well, I’m gonna try but I can’t make any promises with this situation. It’s funny, I feel like a lot of girl groups go through the same things. Everybody has the same issues; there’s always going to be one chick that wants to go solo [laughs], there’s always one diva in the group, the girl that thinks she’s hotter than the rest of the group, she sings better than the rest of group of whatever. It’s just always extra cattiness, so this time around I’m just going to see what happens. I don’t know what my expectations are.

SoulCulture: There is a high emphasis placed on beats nowadays. Would you say the importance of songwriting is still there?

Well to me it’s more important than anything. Nowadays, with labels, they don’t wanna sign anybody unless they can partake in some of the publishing. They wanna get some of the publishing off that record and you’ve got to have a songwriter in order to get some of that publishing. And then if you have a great song, there’s so much you can do with it, especially if a person can relate. It’s funny, because now you have a lot of songwriters who are becoming the artists like The-Dream, Keri Hilson and Ne-Yo. People respect them because they are great songwriters.

SoulCulture: Who are you feeling at the moment?

Kandi: Well of course I like those three. Honestly, I like Chris Brown. I hate all the drama that he went through but I like some of his music and how he’s trying to come back. I like Trey Songz, and I love Fantasia and Monica. There’s a lot of great artists coming back now. I feel like there are a few artists that don’t get the attention. I like Kem and a lot of the quote-unquote neo-soul artists – I don’t like to put people in boxes. The underground artists that you just love to see in concert.

SoulCulture: “No Scrubs” was a song written by both you and Tiny, right?

Kandi: Tiny and I were talking about doing a duo group, just she & I, we had started writing a song for our demo tape and No Scrubs was one of those songs that we did for ourselves. “Scrubs” was actually a term we used for underclassmen, like freshman at school, 9th graders in high school were called “scrubs”. It was a lower person, so I took that word and used it for guys that were wack like, “Ah, he such a scrub!”

At a certain point, you know how you just change a slang and use it for your own whatever, how you like to use it, and I just made a song out of it. But I’m always doing that. It’s like on the TV show I called one of the girls “she’s so bouj-hetto” and everybody was acting like it’s a new term, but that’s a slang me, my friends and a lot of the people around the way use. Like, you try to be boujis, but you’re kinda ghetto, so you bouj-hetto. I’m always saying something crazy and sometimes I make a song out of it.

SoulCulture: “Bills, Bills, Bills” hit number one shortly after “No Scrubs”, and you kick-started P!nk’s career. That must have been a crazy period.

Kandi: Ahh man, I was extremely, extremely excited about it because it was like all these things were happening at one time. See the thing about it was my group had broke up, but it wasn’t because I had wanted the group to break up, right? So I was put in a position where I had to figure out what was the next step in my life.

What was I gonna do next? I didn’t know. I was just trying to make things happen, you know, me and Tiny did the thing, but the project never came out. But that was how my writing career jumped off, so for me, it was kinda like confirmation for me that [my] career was not over, so for me it was a lot of emotions.”

SoulCulture: Are there any songs you wish you kept for yourself?

Kandi: No, I never feel like I should have kept a record because every song I write for someone else that’s hot opens the doorway and makes people want to reach out more for me to continue writing for them.

SoulCulture: Last question, what can we expect from Kandi in the future?

Kandi: I’m executively producing a TV show. Right now we’re about to shoot the reel next week. I’ma be shooting another series of Housewives, got a part in a movie and continue produce other artists. The TV show’s called My Secret Society – it’s a reality show. I’m not on it, I’m just executive producing it. The film is. And the movie stuff, you’re just gonna have to hear it.

Read Kandi’s reflections on songwriting for Destiny’s Child’s classic album, The Writing’s On The Wall.

Kandi’s current album, Kandi Koated is out now; iTunes US / Amazon US / Amazon UK