When Kandi Burruss reveals, during a recent telephone interview, that her favorite expletive is "motherfucker," it's almost too cute to bear. As if we really needed another reason to root for the Atlanta native, come to find out she likes to cuss up a storm, too.
"My mouth is bad sometimes," she says, smiling through the phone. "I have to wash it out with soap. Luckily y'all don't get to see that ’cause you can't really say bad language on TV."
It's probably one of the few character wrinkles of Burruss' that wasn't excessively ironed out over the course of Season Two on "The Real Housewives of Atlanta." While NeNe Leakes transgressed from fan fave to villain with a vengeance, newbie Burruss stole the hearts of viewers with her down-to-earth, charmed demeanor and an off-screen plot line that earned an outpouring of sympathy.
Considering all the tribulations and B.S. Burruss has publicly endured in recent months — from the gossip blogs that initially made a mockery of her relationship with former fiancé Ashley "A.J." Jewell to the shocking tragedy that claimed his life before the season finished airing — it almost seems as if her decision to be on the show was cursed from the start.
But the exposure, and all the drama that's come with it, could potentially work wonders for the solo career of the Grammy-winning songwriter and former member of the Atlanta-based girl group Xscape. Not only has she garnered a new fan base, she's renewed old fans' interest. And she's done so by giving them something they never had before — an intimate look at the story behind her music.
Case in point: "Fly Above," the lead single on her new self-released EP of the same name, is a half-baked R&B ditty about one of the most cliché topics in black pop — them haters. But set against the backdrop of Burruss' whirlwind drama, unfolding as it has before the viewing public, the song rises to the level of a cathartic anthem.
"'Fly Above' is [my] theme song because so many people have counted me out and hated on me over the years," says Burruss. "And over and over again, I have to prove myself."
She first sprouted wings after the demise of Xscape, the ’90s female R&B quartet she joined, along with Tameka "Tiny" Cottle, as a 14-year-old attending Tri-Cities High School in East Point. After dropping three platinum albums in eight years, the ’round-the-way girls of Jermaine Dupri's So So Def label split amid finger-pointing and infighting. "When the group was falling apart, certain members were just like, 'Y'all ain't gonna do nothing once I do my thing,'" Burruss recalls.
But she went on to achieve groundbreaking success when she and Cottle co-wrote TLC's No. 1 hit, "No Scrubs" (1999). Burruss followed that up with a string of hit singles and album cuts written for such chart-topping acts as Destiny's Child ("Bills, Bills, Bills," "Bug-a-Boo"), Pink ("There You Go"), N'Sync ("It Makes Me Ill"), Whitney Houston ("Tell Me No") and more. "I break off and start writing songs for everybody, and that caught people off-guard."
But solo success still eluded Burruss. Her debut, Hey Kandi, released in 2000, failed to make a dent. Even though the danceable first single "Don't Think I'm Not" reached No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100, Columbia Records bounced her from the label. Still, the industry couldn't write her off just yet. Her behind-the-scenes writing credits earned her a Grammy for "No Scrubs" and she was the first woman to be honored as Songwriter of the Year by the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Music Awards.
She'd emerged as the new voice of female empowerment, penning plain-spoken, in-your-face anthems that gave ladies the upper hand. In particular, such songs as TLC's "No Scrubs" — inspired by a bootleg boyfriend of Burruss' — and Destiny's Child's "Bills, Bills, Bills" — in which potential male suitors are reminded, as Gwen Guthrie did in 1986, that "Ain't Nothin' Goin' On But the Rent" — cemented her rep for putting the smack down. "I think a lot of those songs are like two homegirls talking trash," she says. "It's just something me and my girls talk about [and] laugh about that I just put into a song."
But knowing she was the pen behind such lyrics ("Can you pay my bills?/Can you pay my telephone bill?/Can you pay my automo-bill?/Then maybe, baby, we can chill") also made it easy to misread Burruss as a gold-digging expletive. Surely, her steady flow of royalty checks might cast aside that aspersion with the quickness, but it took her turn on "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" to demonstrate the truth to those of us not privy to her financial statements.
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