Whether she’s in the studio writing hit songs, streaming candid sex talks on the Kandi Koated Nights web show, or answering for the antics of her co-stars on Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta, Kandi Burruss is a mom first. The 34-year-old Grammy Award winner is a self-made millionaire, having written and produced songs for the likes of Destiny’s Child, Usher, N’Sync, Pink, Alicia Keys, Whitney Houston, Fantasia and many more.
As a child star with the girl group Xscape, Burruss was performing for national audiences at just 15-years-old. The group recorded three major label albums between 1993 and 1998, with five Top 10 hit singles and several noteworthy tracks to their credit. Despite her success, or perhaps because of it, Kandi is very particular about her young daughter Riley‘s exposure to the world.
As Kandi nears the December 14, 2010 release date of her second solo album Kandi Koated, UrbLife.com put Kandi in the Parent Trap hot seat for input on balancing motherhood with such a busy life. From pre-teen sex talks and school bullying, to the mourning process and early career guidance, Kandi is as focused in her parental tactics as she is on her business.
Read on, as the level-headed songstress offers insight to her success in mother-daughter relations.
Your daughter Riley is 8-years-old now. In a day where you’re a recording artist, you’re on TV and everyone has access to the internet, how do you communicate with her about the accessible media?
Kandi: First off, I monitor the sites she goes on. She knows what she can and can’t do. It’s funny because she’s very conservative and I’m like, “Where did I get this conservative child from?” because I don’t consider myself conservative. [laughs] She is like, “Oh mother, you can’t do that. Don’t do that, your pants are hanging too low, you need to pull your shirt up” – she’s always telling me what to do.
I trust my daughter, but at the same time she’s not allowed to be on Facebook or Twitter. Certain things are too much for her age on the internet, and at the same time it makes your kids too accessible to other people. But I’ll let her go on the children’s websites, if she goes on YouTube she can see music videos like Willow Smith’s ["Whip Your Hair"].
Kandi at age 15, performing with Xscape on BET’s Teen Summit. This was 1991, the year they signed with Jermaine Dupri (and yes, there were 5 members then…)
There have been a lot of headlines in the news lately about bullying. Has she had any problems with kids picking at her?
Kandi: I’m getting on her about not being the bully! [laughs] My daughter has a very strong personality and she’s a leader. She’s the one in her clique that all of the little kids are trying to follow and do what she does. I had an incident recently where she said she got in trouble because her friends were screaming at some other little girl for “biting her style.” I said “You don’t have any style!” and she said, “She was biting my style so my friends started screaming at her, she started crying and told the teacher on us.”
I had to tell her, “Everything that’s in stores, anybody can go get it. Just because someone has the same shirt as you, you don’t own it.” Of course you’re going to have moments where kids say things that may hurt her feelings, but for the most part I have to tell her to stop doing things that hurt the other kids’ feelings.
Have you spoken with her about boys? When do you think it will be a good time to do that?
Kandi: This is a learning process for me too, she’s my first and only child. I know recently she came to talk to me about how a little boy had a crush on her and he bought her a cookie. I heard her and her friend talking about someone else having a boyfriend and they’re only in the third grade. It kind of bothers me, but I know it’s coming up because of the thoughts that were in my head at a young age. I try to talk openly with my daughter, so any time she has something she wants to ask she can.
This may sound bad, but I plan to have a real conversation with my daughter about sex by the time she’s in the fifth grade. In middle school they’re already having sex, and I don’t want her to learn about what’s really going on from the kids. I need her to know from me. I might get a lot of people who’ll have an issue or a problem having the discussion with their kids about sex. They have a really unrealistic view of life.
I’m a realist, and I know what’s going on because I spent a lot of time with my little cousins and other kids. I’d talk to them openly about sex, and I’m the cool aunt they can talk to. Kids are having sex in middle school, so I want to have that conversation with her in elementary school. Right now my daughter is still turned off to it all, she saw someone hold my hand recently and didn’t like it. [laughs] I told her, “It’s okay, you’ll do that when you get older,” but I know it can go from her not liking someone holding my hand to [her] doing it all in the span of two years.
What I tell my cousins is, “You think you’re in love with him now, but by the time you’re in high school he’s not even going to be around anymore and there will be someone else you’ll be in love with. So try to keep your numbers down.” I always talk about the list. Let’s say a girl gives up her virginity in the 10th grade, they break up, but they go to the same school. The boy is mad and he goes telling her business, she starts dating someone new and he automatically thinks she’ll have sex with him because she did it with the first guy. If that doesn’t work out she starts seeing a third guy in the same school and she’s considered a hoe. Do you want that on your resume?
I try to break it down realistically for girls. I know people always want to say, “You shouldn’t have sex,” but realistically if you start in high school, by the time you’re 30 if you’re not married, do you know how many guys that could be that you’ve had? You don’t want to be that chick that has a million guys on her list… you don’t know if these are going to be long term relationships. You can average one boyfriend a year possibly, but do you know how many different people that can be?
Once they get to high school I have that talk, but once my daughter gets to fifth grade I’ll have the initial talk, because I don’t want anyone else talking to her and having her get curious.
Xscape “Who Can I Run To”, 1995
Toya [Antionia Carter] has been working on getting her daughter [with Lil Wayne] Reginae into music. Has Riley expressed the desire to get into music?
Kandi: Yes she’s already singing and working on writing songs. I’m about to put her into learning an instrument. I support it because I lot of potential in her and I see a lot of myself in her. I pray she can do everything I can, but better than me. I can see her being a hit making songwriter, at 8-years-old she’s already making songs with a melody behind them.
I can hear her potential, so I’m definitely going to support it and control it as long as I can. I’m going to make sure she knows everything she needs to go to that next level. For now she wants to be in a group, and I told her, “You’re too young to be in a group.” She wants to be in talent shows, and that’s fine.
You guys had quite a bit of an emotional trauma when A.J. [Ashley Jewell] passed. How do you help a child through mourning and loss?
Kandi: That was hard, it hit her worse than it hit me. He and I broke up, but he was still coming around, checking on Riley. She cried so hard when I told her he passed. He was the dad she didn’t have, because her father really isn’t in her life, so for her it was like losing a dad. She went through an emotional period for a minute, but she’s okay now – though she still thinks of him, brings him up and talks about him. Anytime she wants to talk about it, we talk, and we still keep in touch with his daughters.
Riley singing “Jesus Take the Wheel”, age 7
What’s the best advice your daughter has ever given you?
Kandi: My daughter said that when I bring someone into my life she wants to meet them when they’re just my friend. I know a lot of people say you shouldn’t bring people around your kids, but we have a very open relationship, and I’ve vowed to never date someone she doesn’t really like or that can’t have a good relationship with my child. So she said before I even get too serious about a person she wants to meet them to see if they’re cool.
She says she can tell if someone is genuinely nice to children and they like them, or they’re just being nice to her to get in good with me. She doesn’t want to have someone around us that’s just trying to get in good with me. She wants someone who genuinely likes the both of us.
“Leave U” official video, from the Kandi Koated album