Da Brat burst onto the music scene in the 1990s with a fast-paced rap style. She held her own in the male-dominated genre of hip-hop with lyrics touching on drugs and violence. Her brazen style appealed both to hip-hop and pop fans.
Da Brat, real name Shawntae Harris, was born on April 14, 1974, and grew up in Chicago, Illinois. She was raised in two households, by her mother and grandmother part of the time and by her father and his mother part of the time. Her parents never married. At her mother’s house, Da Brat, who was known as “Shawnie,” wore long skirts and attended a strict Pentecostal church four times a week, where she played drums and sang in the choir. When Da Brat began listening to rap music by artists like Monie Love and LL Cool J, she would mask the cassette covers with the names of gospel groups.
But at Da Brat’s father’s place, where they called her “Boo-Boo,” she told Sonia Murray in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I could cuss when I wanted to, listen to whatever I wanted to and beat up whoever my cousins told me to.” Da Brat attended Kenwood Academy, where she ran track and played basketball. She has stated that she got her rap name because she is “a spoiled only child,” according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article.
In 1992, Da Brat got her big opportunity when she won a local rap contest sponsored by Yo MTV Raps. For her grand prize, she was able to meet young duo Kris Kross, who were the hottest rap act on the charts at the time thanks to their popular single “Jump.” They introduced her to their producer, Jermaine Dupri, who signed her to his So So Def label. “She rapped with so much confidence,” he later commented to Murray, “and she wasn’t scared to say whatever.”
Dupri cultivated Da Brat’s image as a female Snoop Doggy Dogg, and she became one of the first female “reality-based” rappers, complete with foul lyrics and braggadocio. The term “gangsta rap” was used previously, but artists began to shy away from that term as their music started to cross over to the pop charts. However, Da Brat incorporated more of a funk and rhythm-and-blues feel, owing to the sounds of 1970s groups like Parliament-Funkadelic. And she affected a style more similar to Kris Kross, complete with baggy, backward pants, loose shirts, and hair braids. This came at a time when most female rap stars such as Salt-N-Pepa and Yo-Yo were focusing more on their feminine side, both in dress and lyrics.
Da Brat’s debut, Funkdafied, came out in 1994 and entered the rap album charts at number one. The single of the same title went platinum, making her the first female rap artist to sell a million copies of a debut single. The “Funkdafied” single also broke a record by holding the top spot on the Billboard rap singles chart
Born Shawntae Harris on April 14, 1974, in Chicago, IL.
Won local contest sponsored by Yo MTV Raps, 1992; signed with label So So Def and released debut, Funkdafied, 1994.
Addresses: Record company; —So So Def Recordings, Inc., 685 Lambert Dr., Atlanta, GA 30324-4125.
for eleven weeks. Paul Evans in Rolling Stone liked the album, calling it a “brassy charmer.” It featured both pop crossovers as well as more hardcore tunes. And, in another commonality with Snoop, Da Brat also included a song broadcasting her affection for marijuana: “Fire It Up.”
In October of 1996, Da Brat issued her second album, Anuthatantrum. While Dupri held the creative reins on her first project, she stepped up to give more input on this release. However, it sold only half as well as her previous effort, and reviews were mediocre. Early the next year, she collaborated with T-Boz from TLC on the single “Ghetto Love.” She has also cut tracks with the likes of Mariah Carey (on remixes of “Always Be My Baby” and “Heartbreaker”), Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott (on “Sock It to Me”), and Lil’ Kim (on the Grammy-nominated “Not Tonight”).
Meanwhile, some observers were wondering what female rappers meant for feminism. Speaking of artists like Da Brat, Lil’ Kim, and Foxy Brown, Joan Morgan wrote in Essence, “These girls possess undeniable talent, but longevity for rappers depends a lot on safe, commercial appeal. Diva hoes don’t get called to star in sitcoms or play that ail-American hero in mega-action films. And none of them own record companies.”
Just a couple of months after that article ran, though, Da Brat announced she had been running her own label, Mob Town, in her hometown of Chicago along with her boyfriend. “We already got a couple of acts, Children of the Ghetto and Twenty II,” she remarked in the Voice. “We’re trying to bring them out and let the people know Chicago’s got talent.” She explained that she felt other Windy City artists did not do enough to give other local up-and-coming acts a hand, and she wanted to give something back to the community. She later also started a label called Throwin’ Tantrums.
Continuing to work with Dupri, Da Brat in 1998 teamed with him to release the single “The Party Continues,” which featured Dupri’s writing and production skills as well as his rap talents. Also that year, Da Brat appeared on his full-length debut, Life in 1472, which featured performances by Carey, Nas, and Jay-Z as well. Early the next year the pair issued another single, “It’s Nothing,” also featuring R.O.C., which was the first single from the soundtrack to the Eddie Murphy claymation series The P.J.’s.
Despite the ongoing projects, artists like Da Brat, Elliott, and Lil’ Kim found it harder to break into major stardom like Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa had done earlier. But Da Brat remarked in USA Today in June of 1999, “We are making more noise than we ever have before. Slowly but surely we are getting ready to take over. A few of us have our own labels, and we are working with artists and showing people how to do it. We are paving the way for other people.” And the status of women in rap and hip-hop got a huge boost with the success of Lauryn Hill’s five Grammy wins in 1999.
Unfortunately, Da Brat made headlines in the spring of 2000 not for her music but for a much-publicized incident that landed her in court. That March, she was accused of striking a woman in the head at an Atlanta nightclub with a blunt object after an argument. The woman reportedly required stitches. Because of the severity of the injuries, Da Brat’s charge was upgraded from misdemeanor battery to felony aggravated battery. The rapper continued to maintain her innocence. Her court date was set for April 13 in Atlanta Municipal Court, just two days after the scheduled release of her third album.
Later the same week, someone opened fire on a limousine leaving Da Brat’s upscale apartment complex, Post Chastain, near Atlanta’s Buckhead district, where she had lived for five years after moving from Chicago. Five people, including the limo driver, were wounded in the attack, which police characterized as a possible retaliation related to the earlier incident involving Da Brat. However, it was later concluded that the shooting was drug-related and in no way connected with Da Brat or the injured woman from the bar. Da Brat, who said she was in Cancun, Mexico, making a video when the shooting occurred, moved out of the complex shortly afterward.
Meanwhile, Da Brat’s third album, Unrestricted, was released in April. Murray wrote that the work was “much broader lyrically” than earlier efforts, and more sexually oriented. In fact, the album title is an homage to the X-rated singer Millie Jackson’s work, “Totally Unrestricted,” and Jackson herself is even featured on the introduction. Britt Robson in the Washington Post remarked that on Da Brat’s new release, “the tomboy has morphed into a still-naughty seductress, exchanging her baggy jeans for a black rubber bodysuit while wielding her quicksilver-paced, expletive-laced lyrics on more sexually suggestive material.”
Unrestricted landed squarely at number one on the R&B/hip-hop chart when it was unveiled and clung to Billboard’s top ten album list. The single and video, “What ‘Chu Like,” featured a steamy duet with Tyrese, while other cuts ranged from Rasta rapping (”Back Up”) to a more slinky sound (”Breeve On Em”). Her next single, “That’s What I’m Looking For,” which included performers Dupri and Elliott, also made it to the top ten of the pop, R&B, and rap charts.
Telling Rolling Stone’s Jancee Dunn of her reaction when Unrestricted hit number one, Da Brat related, “Oh man, I almost did back flips and cartwheels. I got some Cristal and drank the $250 champagne…. I’m really proud of this album, because I wrote all of the verses myself.” In the meantime, like many musical artists, Da Brat was branching out into television and film as well. She had a guest spot in the season premiere of the series V.I.P with Pamela Anderson Lee in the fall of 2000, and other acting offers were reportedly pouring in as well. In addition, Da Brat signed a contract with the Wilhelmina modeling agency in 2000.
Funkdafied, So So Def, 1994.
Anuthatantrum, So So Def, 1996.
Unrestricted, So So Def, 2000.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 20, 1998, p. B2; March 11, 2000, p. G5; March 13, 2000, p. A1; March 14, 2000, p. C1; March 14, 2000, p. C5; March 18, 2000, p. D3; March 31, 2000, p. C1; April 10, 2000, pp. G1, G3; April 14, 2000, p. D3; April 20, 2000, p. D1; June 1, 2000, p. D6.
Billboard, October 5, 1996, p. 92; August 24, 1996, p. 19; February 8, 1997, pp. 63, 76; March 27, 1999, p. 24.
Entertainment Weekly, November 22, 1996, p. 138.
Essence, March 1997, p. 76.
Los Angeles Times, January 12, 1997, p. 72.
Rolling Stone, December 29, 1994, p. 182; May 11, 2000, p. 132; June 22, 2000, p. 41.
USA Today, July 28, 1994, p. 1D; June 25, 1999, p. 6E; April 11, 2000, p. 6D.
Voice, May 26, 1997.
Washington Post, April 30, 2000, p. G10.
“Da Brat,” All Music Guide, http://allmusic.com (September 1, 2000).
“Da Brat,” Rolling Stone, http://www.rollingstone.com (September 8, 2000).
“Da Brat,” Sonicnet, http://www.sonicnet.com (September 1, 2000).
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