Words by Zondra Hughes
Images by Rob Ector for Steed Media Service
Hair: Derek J
Makeup: Lakeisha Quinn
Styling: Shun Melson
Powerful vocal chords and unrelenting determination have opened many doors for Kandi Burruss; but her thousand-watt smile is her secret weapon.
With a smile like that, Burruss easily hawks an adult toy line and hosts a sex talk show all while boldly resisting being labeled as a kinky girl.
“I feel like a lot of people don’t like to talk about sex, especially black women, they think, ‘she’s just freaky, she shouldn’t say that,’ Burruss states. “Just because you talk about sex doesn’t mean you’re any freakier than the next person, you’re just a realist. I feel like I’m a realist and I can talk about anything.”
Nothing about Kandi Burruss can be pigeonholed or contained — not her looks, her career, her business portfolio or her destiny.
Behind those sultry feline eyes lies kick-ass charisma, making Burruss a total package that transcends the magazine rack and leaps from the small screen.
The potent vocalist and songwriter is also a Renaissance woman who parlayed her fame from the ‘90s R&B girl group Xscape into her own Kandi-Land empire composed of properties, a clothing store, a pleasure products line, a production company, and a new reality show on Bravo, “The Kandi Factory.”
“On ‘The Kandi Factory,’ I get to take your average everyday person who may have a dream to become an artist and give them a total makeover,” Burruss beams. “Me and my team of [industry] professionals are going to transform this person by giving them a new song, a new look, a new style, hair, makeup, choreography, everything it takes to be an artist.”
Much like the lucky guests plucked to appear on her new show, Kandi Burruss is a woman who chases her dreams — with the intention of catching each and every one of them.
Owning a diversified portfolio and multiples streams of revenue is key to sustainability in these economic times, Burruss says.
“A lot of my peers, some … are rich, and the next thing they’re broke,” Burruss states. “I knew that you had to have multiple streams of income to become a millionaire or to stay a millionaire. So that was my thought process; what type of business would I have outside of music?”
To wit, Burruss’ Kandi Koated Entertainment company has been in continuous operation for a little over a decade. “I’ve expanded from music to television projects to personal pleasure products, I’m a business owner, and I also have a new spades app for iTunes, it’s called Kandi Koated Spades.”
As for her foray into technology, Burruss casually explains, “There are so many African Americans who buy video games and so many apps, and only [approximately] five African American-owned companies that actually make the games and build apps. So I partnered up with Konsole Kingz in Atlanta and they helped me to do my spades app, which is great. I like to play spades.”
Opening her fashion boutique, Tags, was a no-brainer Burruss tells rolling out. “Any normal person wants to look good, but I wanted to make my store affordable, where you could buy a hot outfit, look good, and you don’t have to worry about breaking your bank,” Burruss states. “And I think we’ve accomplished that with Tags.”
The boutique recently celebrated its second anniversary, although some folks had their doubts that the store would survive, she recalls. “It’s funny, when I first opened the store, a lot of people said crazy stuff, like, ‘oh she’s going to go out of business,’ ”Burruss says with a knowing grin. “And I just said, ‘they don’t know me because I do not lose.’ ”
Burruss feels that she cannot afford to lose because there’s too much at stake if she doesn’t try something new, or take risks.
“It’s very important to take risks, because I hear so many people say, ‘I would love to do this,’ or, ‘I have dreams of doing that …’ And they never take the step to do it. Fear has no business being in your head if you want to take things in your life and your career to another level of success.”
Fearlessness has its rewards, as evidenced by her thriving personal pleasure company, Bedroom Kandi.
“It was something that I did for fun that I really thought was necessary … we need a little way to spice up the relationships and spice up the bedroom,” she states.
Burruss goes from Bedroom Kandi to the steamy weekly webisode, “Kandi Coated Nights,” where the sweet-faced diva leaves no stone unturned when it comes to sex and relationships — taboos be damned.
“I’ve been doing the show for a year-and-a-half and we talk about sex and relationships, mostly about sex,” Burruss coos. “We have a comedian or a celebrity guest that comes and hangs out with us each week, regular people email us their stories about the topics, and we have a good time.”
Despite a splattering of conservative criticism, Burruss doesn’t waver on her decision to create an open dialogue about sex.
In Burruss’ view, not talking about sex has its disadvantages.
“Some people want us to be so hush-hush when it comes to sex, and we all have sex, so what’s the big deal? Maybe, if we talked about it more we wouldn’t have so many issues … like when people feel that have to live in secret, because they have alternate lifestyles and they don’t want people to know. Or with children, I’ve been noticing a lot of kids are having sex in middle school and they’re not able to have that conversation with their parents, or talk about the issue of teen pregnancy. Maybe if they were having this discussion at home with their parents, these things won’t be going on,” she says.
Kandi’s Success Factor
Kandi Burruss had that entrepreneurial spirit early on in life.
“I have never worked a normal job,” Burruss reveals. “I got in the music industry and signed my first deal when I was 16. My stepfather didn’t want me to work, he just wanted me to go to school. So when I got into the music industry that was my job.”
A career of nontraditional work sharpened Burruss’ skill to see around corners and identify upcoming trends and find new ways to capitalize on her talent and connections.
“How can I go from being in the music industry or being on television, or whatever I’m doing, where do I go from that? To me, I’m constantly trying to think of things so I can maintain my lifestyle, and to take care of my family in the way they are accustomed to being taken care of. What keeps me motivated is providing the best life possible for my daughter, my mother and myself. That puts me in that grind mode; I want to keep my security.”
Thinking outside of the box to secure a quality lifestyle is what any queen bee would do, Burruss explains. She argues that women especially should strive to be the queen bee, and not a worker bee.
“There’s only one queen bee; there are thousands of worker bees. They have a team, they go out and gather the honey, and they do what they are told what to do all the time.” Burruss says. “I don’t want to be a worker bee. People work that nine-to-five job that they don’t really like or they don’t want to do. But they’re used to getting that check every two weeks and they don’t know what they would do if that check didn’t come.”
Burruss says women should work on their dreams.
“I don’t know if I’ll get a check next week, or next month, but if I go real hard within so many months, I should see something. Sometimes you have to step out on faith and just go for it, [otherwise] you’ll be stuck in the worker bee syndrome forever.”
There are millions of eyes on Kandi Burruss, but the most important set of eyes belong to her daughter, Riley.
Burruss knows that she’s being monitored, and at the end of the day she wants her work, and her life, to be something Riley would be proud to emulate.
“It’s very important for me to be a role model for my daughter, Riley. I am a poster child for what she can look to be.”
Thoughtfully, Burruss adds, “I want my daughter to be better than me. I want her to do everything I can do, but to do it better than me. I don’t want her to feel embarrassed or ashamed. I want my daughter to be the best and I want to give her something to aim for.”