Kandi Burruss is a Grammy-award winning singer and songwriter who burst onto the music scene at the age of 14 when she formed the all-woman R&B group Xscape. Their debut album went platinum, and Burruss has enjoyed a three-decade career in the music industry. Her mother told her never to put all her eggs in one basket, though, so Burruss embarked on a successful career as a business woman and now reality star. Burruss has been on the Real Housewives of Atlanta for 10 seasons now, even meeting her now-husband through the show. As a mother of two, Burruss encourages women not to lose their identity just because they have kids. She started Bedroom by Kandi, a sexual wellness and pleasure line, to encourage healthy conversations about women’s sexuality, especially in the Black community. Here, she looks back at her life at 26.
I don't know if I was totally prepared for what happened to me at 26, and sometimes I wonder if my life was relatable to anyone else my age because of my busy career. Looking back, I would have to tell myself, Kandi, life is about to totally change for you. You're about to become a mom. Just because you're financially able to take care of yourself and someone else, don’t think that it's going to be easy. It is not. And you are going to have to really get a lot of help and support from other people.
When you first have a baby and you’re single, it rocks your world because you have to rethink everything. I already knew that I would need to spend more time at home. I was trying to figure out how I was going to make my schedule work because I was still writing songs for a lot of people, staying late in the studio, and traveling a lot. I was trying to figure out how to better myself in a way that I could still maintain a career, but also be a good mother.
I’d always been a responsible person, so it wasn’t a shift of having to change my entire way of thinking. I assumed, Well, I’m financially stable. I’m good. I can take care of a kid by myself, because my daughter’s father and I weren’t in a relationship. But there’s a lot more to it than being set financially. I knew her father and I weren’t on the same page. Looking back, I wish I would have pushed him to be more involved. Sometimes men are not going to do what they’re supposed to unless you push them. But at 26, I thought I was Superwoman. Forget him, I thought, I’m good by myself. I don’t need any help. If he doesn’t want to do this, screw him. Ultimately, it was okay for me, but I feel like it would have been better for my daughter in the long run if she did have that relationship.
I know I didn’t do the storybook way of starting a family, but I was sure I wanted to be a great mom. I knew I wanted my child to grow up and be amazing. At the same time, I was still trying to figure out my life as a woman, including my dating life. I wondered if I should start dating, and if I did, do I allow the people to meet my daughter?
After having a baby, I had that little pooch and my boobs were little flappy pancakes. I had always been fanatical about working out, plus I’d had that 26-year-old metabolism working for me. People had already told me I wouldn’t meet guys after having a kid, but that was absolutely not true. The kid didn’t stop anyone from wanting to date me, nor did my body, no matter how I felt about it. Women psyche themselves out thinking their body is terrible. Let me tell you that it doesn’t stop any man from wanting it.
Take a lot of pictures. You always want to go back and have those memories.
My family was my support system, and I had good friends who were always there for me. I relied on friends and family a lot so I could do what I needed to do professionally. I had a recording studio built in my house so I could have more of a normal schedule to work at home and not be far away from my daughter. But there were always times I still had to go to work. My daughter learned how to walk in a hotel!
Stay close to your friends. For five years straight, my friends and I had a standing Friday night movie club. We’d go to dinner and share the best hookup stories and talk about anything and everything, and then we’d see a movie. Sometimes we’d invite other friends, but there was a core group that always went. We were really dedicated to it. Occasionally we’d go to a concert instead of a movie, but it was always a consistent date night with friends. It fell apart when people started having kids and the economy crashed, so some of them couldn’t afford to do a weekly dinner and movie, but I still miss it.
I’ve got a million style and beauty regrets from back then — so many fashion faux pas! I had crazy hair colors and hairdos. When I was younger, I didn’t really know how to do makeup. Back in the day everyone used to do that really light white eye powder underneath their eyes. It was terrible. When I see the pictures, I constantly think, You shouldn’t have worn that, but at the end of the day, I feel like you're not really supposed to have regrets. You just have lessons. Live your life to the fullest. When you did it, you liked it, so just be happy about that.
My career was in a transition point at 26. I had to decide if I wanted to go more the artist route or continue songwriting. My way of getting my frustrations out has always been through writing music. I’ve had situations where as a woman people felt like they could tell me what to do, or step over me in the songwriting process or in business. Sometimes they don’t respect you the same as they would a man. They come at you differently in negotiations and conversations. There were a couple of times where I was disrespected and expected to take less because I was a woman.
For example, I was invited to open for the *NSYNC No Strings Attached Tour, but my manager at the time was strongly urging me to stick with the urban market. I’d been writing pop hits — “Don’t Think I’m Not” was big on the crossover charts, and I appeared on the No Strings Attached album — and the label was worried that “Don’t Think I’m Not” wasn’t performing on the urban charts. Plus, my manager had more of a relationship with urban tours. He said he was going to put me on tour with Cash Money and Nelly, but I knew it wasn’t right for me. At the end of the day, you have to listen to your gut and do what you know feels right for you. Even if it goes wrong, you’ll know you made the decision for yourself. There were definitely other times where I was on a roll and having consistent success, and I was more assertive about what I wanted — and I got it.
People focus too much on who’s on top, but you also need to keep those relationships with people on the bottom. Stay on everybody’s radar.
Longevity is hard to maintain in any business, but when you’re on a roller coaster, you’re going to have your ups and downs. Hopefully if you stay on and don’t give up, you’re going to go up again. And you need to respect everyone, because I’ve seen people who were interns become top executives in the business. People focus too much on who’s on top, you also need to keep those relationships with people on the bottom. Stay on everybody’s radar. I have a friend who, once a week, will scroll years back in their texts and randomly ask someone how they’re doing. I’d never thought to do that, but then if you need a favor from someone, they won’t think, “Why is she calling after all of these years?”
You always need to think about money and investing. When I was 19, I was on tour with LL Cool J, and he told me "Always have at least one car and one house that you own. Every time you make some money, put extra towards your principal. I don't care if it's only $500, put an extra $50 towards your principal. If you got a check for $5,000, put $1,000 towards your principal if you can. Try to knock down the principal so you can cut the years off your loan."
I had already bought a house because when I started making money in my teenage years, I was told to buy something that’s going to appreciate. I also really wanted to move out on my own. I was better with money in my younger years than I am now. I knew my bank account balance to the T and exactly how much my bills were every month. I learned early on that you should never have your debit card attached to your actual bank account; you might end up swiping some of your bill money out of the account when you pay for something. Put petty cash on the account with your ATM/debit card, and keep the money for your bills and savings in an entirely different account. You don’t want to overdraft. And I listened to LL: I added up my interest and principal and did my best to pay it off as quickly as possible.
I know most people in their 20s don’t think about it, but when you’re young, life insurance is cheaper. You never know what will happen, and a life insurance policy is just a good thing to have. It’s not the sexiest thing to think about, but trust me, it paid off for one of my friends.
My mantra has always been, “If you could just be with God, you could make it happen.” I never allowed myself to be sad about anything at all for more than a day. I feel the same way now. For instance, if I make a bad business decision that doesn't go the way that I want it to, I’d tell myself to pull it together, because I learned at a very young age that nobody else really cares. Meaning: It doesn’t matter what you’re going through because your bills still have to be paid, other people are still living their lives, and things are still happening around you. You can’t take too much time off feeling sorry for yourself; the rest of the world is still happening like normal. You’re the only one stuck in that negative place.
You have to think: How do I fix this? What steps do I need to start over? What do I need to do to turn this whole situation around — or do I need a new situation entirely? I need to do something because it’s not going to make things better for me, my family, anybody, so snap out of it.
I’d also tell my 26-year-old self to travel a little bit more and plan your life better. Do better about journaling. Take a lot of pictures. You always want to go back and have those memories. And finally: Get more sleep!
As told to Lauren Le Vine.
In its early days, reality TV was an easily mocked amusement that “serious” people talked about in hushed tones. Today, it’s an Emmy-awarded genre in its own right, and perhaps the most important and relevant form of entertainment in a world where we document and distribute every moment of our lives in high definition. But now, against the backdrop of anxiety-inducing headlines and societal upheaval, the previously low-stakes genre provides welcome relief (See: Hyori's Bed & Breakfast ), cultural commentary (see: Survivor ) and an examination into how the country got here (see: Vanderpump Rules). In 2020, there’s truly no escape from reality, whether it is playing out on our screens or outside our door.