Brown, Foxy 1979–
Foxy Brown 1979–
Dirty Words Earned Dirty Looks
At the age of 16, rapper Foxy Brown was a star. She sold over one million copies of her first record, Ill Na Na. With her second album, Chyna Doll, Brown did what only one other female rapper, superstar Lauren Hill, had done: She premiered in the No. 1 position on The Billboard 200 list of the best-selling albums in the United States. However, she also received criticism for her sexually explicit lyrics and her image as an obscenity-throwing, vulgar, underdressed sexpot. Brown, whose real name is Inga Marchand, allegedly attacked the editor of Vibe magazine on a New York street. She was lumped together with other bad-girl rappers like Lil Kim and Da Brat, and got very little respect on the street. “I was gonna be a sex symbol,” Brown told Essence. “That was my gimmick. I thought being a sex symbol was what I had to do to make it work.” Although her bad-girl image increased her record sales, it devastated her mother and family. In 1999, she vowed to revamp her image.
Middle-Class Ghetto Princess
Although her lyrics paint the portrait of a hardened ghetto goddess, Brown was raised with her two older brothers in the middle-class neighborhood of Park Slope in Brooklyn. Brown’s parents divorced when she was four, and she didn’t see much of her dad after that. The family then moved in with Brown’s grandfather. Her mother cared for her aging father, and taught elementary school. Brown attended high school at Brooklyn College Academy. The family attended Baptist church, and were very close-knit. In an interview with Essence, Brown said, “In our family, we said I love you’ every night… That’s the love we had.”
Brown’s mother wasn’t surprised that her daughter would end up on stage. She told Essence, “Inga used to dress up in my high heels and put my pearls on.” Brown’s teachers commended her for her high grades and hard work, but told her mother that she was a chatterbox. Brown’s wild side emerged at an early age. While working part time at a local beauty salon, she would come home with gold sprayed in her hair. Brown started rapping in the school lunchroom, reciting the rhymes of Heavy D and Queen Latifah, among others. She went on to gain attention as a talented MC at city rap competitions. Brown’s mother thought her daughter was simply a fast talker. “I didn’t know that Inga
At a Glance…
Born Inga Marchand on September 9, 1979, raised in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY.
Career: Rapper for Def Jam Recordings, 1996-; appeared with Total, Lil Kim, and DaBrat on the song “No One Else,” 1995; rapped on the song “I ShotYa,” with L.L. Cool J, 1995; recorded her debut solo album Ill Na Na, 1996; appeared on the song “You’re Makin’ Me High,” with Toni Braxton, 1996; appeared with Case on the song “Touch Me, Tease Me,” 1996; released thealbum Chyna Girl 1998; founded Ill1 Na Na Entertainment, 1999.
Addresses: Office— Def Jam Recordings, 160 Varick St., 12th Floor, NewYork, NY 10013.
could rap,” she told Essence, “I didn’t even know what rap was. I just knew that Inga was talking real fast, but she’d always talked fast, so it wasn’t anything new.”
Tough as Foxy Brown
In 1995, soon-to-be-megastar rapper and producer Jay-Z discovered Brown and used her on The Nutty Professor soundtrack. She then appeared on LL Cool J’s song “I Shot Ya,” and Toni Braxton’s “You’re Makin’ Me High.” Rolling Stone magazine said she had a rhyming style “as badass as the boys while putting a femme touch on it.” After being involved in a major-label bidding war, Brown signed with Def Jam Records. She took the name Foxy Brown from the blaxploitation film of the same name. The film starred her hero, the sexy, no-nonsense actress Pam Grier.
Brown released her first album, Ill Na Na, in 1996. Although many interpreted the title as lewd, Brown really got it by adding 111, meaning good, to Na Na, her childhood nickname. Rolling Stone said the album showed that Brown had “the powerful voice and expert rhyme skills that belie her age.” The article also noted that her “come hither looks, exposed flesh, and abundantly sexual lyrics” were inappropriate for some listeners. At the tender age of 16, Brown was a platinum-selling rapper, and a star with a notorious reputation. Because her music career kept her too busy to attend class, Brown finished high school by taking correspondence courses. Her second album, Chyna Doll, was released in 1998 and featured sexually explicit lyrics. Entertainment Weekly called the album “as glossy and hard as Foxy Brown’s exquisitely manicured nails.”
Dirty Words Earned Dirty Looks
Although her lewd persona sold records, it didn’t earn Brown much respect. In public places, she was routinely groped by men, and women would roll their eyes in disgust when they saw her. Brown and other female rappers were seen by some as lacking knowledge about the true meaning of sex, feminism, and power. Essence contributor Joan Morgan described these female rappers as “creatures of their own design who exercise the same creative rights as their male counterparts—coupling highly materialistic, violent and lewd personas with deliciously infectious rhythms and rhymes.” Shortly before the release of Chyna Doll, Brown appeared on the cover of Vibe in a bikini, while grabbing her breast and crotch. Her mother was devastated. Although Brown said that the photo was used against her wishes, the resulting controversy helped to fuel sales of Chyna Doll. Angered by the use of the photograph, Brown allegedly attacked the editor of Vibe on a New York City sidewalk. Many record stores wouldn’t display the poster for Chyna Doll because it featured another revealing photograph.
Faced with the disapproval of her mother, Brown vowed to clean up her act. In 1999, she told the media she’d be “sexy but classy” and that she’d “gradually” tone down her lyrics. However, she seemed torn between pleasing her mother and pleasing her fans. Brown was quoted as saying in Essence, “I want women to be proud of me as a whole—grandmothers, mothers—and I want to change the way I am perceived.” Moments later, in the same interview, she remarked, “I’m not even going to say that I’m going to change my lyrics, because I’ll be going against everything I stand for. And I won’t have any of the fans that loved me and supported me through the first four years of my career. My two-plus million fans would be like, “This isn’t Foxy.’”
Brown did make some attempts to branch out and revamp her image. She hired an African American female publicist, who wanted to promote a more sophisticated Foxy Brown, and teamed up with a stylist who dressed her in designer business suits rather than lingerie and bikinis. She also got a job modeling jeans for Calvin Klein. Brown also sought credibility as a business woman. At the age of 20, she started her own record label, 111 Na Na Entertainment. Brown told Rolling Stone, “I just want to be accepted, not for a female or male, just accepted, period. For being me.”
Ill Na Na, Def Jam, 1996.
Chyna Girl, Def Jam, 1998.
Entertainment Weekly, February 5, 1999, p.69.
Essence, March 1997, p. 76; August 1999, p.72.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from “Foxy Brown,” RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com (February 24, 2000); and “Foxy Brown,” UBL.com - Music’s Homepage, http://www.ubl.com (February 24, 2000).
Hip hop singer
Hip hop/rap artist Foxy Brown’s distinctive style combines the street sounds and lyrics of rap with rhythm-and-blues tinged hip-hop, along with a persona borrowed from actress Pam Grier’s portrayal of the strong, black, tomboyish film character Foxy Brown in in the film of the same name. Her career reached fruition at the young age of 17 when she made her first musical appearance on LL Cool J’s remix of “Who Shot Ya” on Mr. Smith. Subsequent appearances included being featured on Jay-Z’s hit “Ain’t No Nigga,” Silk’s remix of “Hooked On You, Total’s remix of “No One Else,” Case’s “Touch Me Tease Me,” and several songs on Nas’s releases. Brown released her platinum debut album, III Na Na, in 1996 at the age of 18 to critical acclaim within the rap and hip-hop community, and released Chyna Doll in 1999. The Village Voice’s Evelyn McDonnell wrote, “The actress discovered at the soda fountain is now the 19-year old daughter of a single mother schoolteacher in Park Slope (Brooklyn). Ladies and Gentlemen, Foxy Brown.”
Part Filipino, Foxy Brown was born Inga Fung March-and on September 6, 1979 and was raised in the Prospect Park section of Brooklyn by a single mother who worked as a teacher. She demonstrated talent, initiative, and ambition at an early age. During the winter of 1994, at the age of 15, she was picked from a Brooklyn talent show audience to freestyle rap on stage. Soon after, she was featured rhyming over the track of “I Shot Ya” on LL Cool J’s album Mr. Smith, and collaborated with the Track Masters production team, which included Tone and Poke. She also contributed musically to the single “I’ll Be,” which also featured Jay Z, on the Mr. Smith release. In 1997, she was included in the blues Smokin’ Grooves tour along with Cypress Hill, Erykah Badu, George Clinton, The Roots, Brand New Heavies, Pharcyde, and Outkast in House. Brown eventually pulled out of the tour after missing several dates, but soon collaborated with Mia X, Master P, and Dru Hill on “Big Bad Mamma” from The Party Don’t Stop. She also contributed a guest appearance to Puff Daddy’s release No Way Out on the singles “Fried” and “Release Some Tension”.
Brown was included in a group of rap and hip-hop musicians called The Firm, which included Nas Escobar, AZ, and Nature (Nature replaced Cormega). The group released a CD titled Nas Escobar, Foxy Brown, AZ, and Nature Present The Firm; The Album on Uni/Interscope in November of 1997. The release entered the Billboard Hot 200 Albums at number one in November, and featured guest appearances by Dr. Dre, Pretty Boy (Gavin, Foxy Brown’s brother), Miss Jones, Half-A-Mil, Noriega, and Canibus. Brown was featured a month later in the rap magazine The Source. She also appeared
For the Record…
Born Inga Fung Marchand on September 6, 1979; raised in the Prospect Park section of Brooklyn in; mother worked as a teacher; brother Gavin a musician named “Pretty Boy.”
picked from a Brooklyn Talent show audience to freestyle rap on stage at the age of 15, 1994; featured rhyming over the track of “I Shot Ya” on LL Cool’s album Mr. Smit; collaborated with the Track Masters production team, which included Tone and Poke; contributed musically to the single I’ll Be” which also featured Jay Z, on the Mr. Smith release; collaborated with Mia X, Master P, and Dm Hill on “Big Bad Mamma” from The Party Don’t Stop; contributed a guest appearance to Puff Daddy’s release No Way Out on the singles “Fried” and “Release Some Tension;” part of a group of rap and hip-hop musicians called The Firm, which included Nas Escobar, AZ, and Nature (Nature replaced Cormega); The Firm released a CD titled Nas Escobar, Foxy Brown, AZ, and Nature Present The Firm; The Album, Uni/Interscope, November of 1997; appeared on the Def Jam’s Greatest Hits, 1997, on the singles “Touch Me, Tease Me,” “Get Me Home,” and “The Promise;” released debut CD I’ll Na Na, Def Jam Records 1996 and; released Chyna Doll, Def Jam Records, 1999.
Awards: Platinum status for I’ll NaNa, 1996.
Addresses:Record company —Def Jam Records, 652 Broadway, New York, NY 10012 (212) 229-5200.
on the Def Jam’s Greatest Hits release in 1997, on the singles “Touch Me, Tease Me, Get Me Home,” and “The Promise”. The soundtrack to the Warner Brothers release Jackie Brown in 1997 also featured a guest appearance by Brown.
Brown’s debut release, III Na Na, went platinum soon after its release in 1997. McDonnell wrote, “Scandal can be a starlet’s best friend. Flashing flesh helped the so-so Na Na grab press and go platinum…. In her eyes, Brown wasn’t doing anything Mae West and Madonna hadn’t done before. Grier jiggled and kicked butt; Foxy wanted to do the same.” Brown’s idols Roxanne Shante and Salt-n-Pepa had also combined sex appeal with rap music, but Brown’s debut at the age of 17 happened to coincide with a trend in hip-hop and rap toward a tomboyish female approach.” McDonnell continued, “Wrapped in furs, constantly deferring to male patrons, and luxury-obsessed, she wasn’t doing much for any of your favorite socialist feminist animal rights-activist causes.” Brown, young and unapologetically exuberant, used both the criticism and sex appeal to her advantage, propelling her album forward in the process. She also railed against the sexual double standards for men and women in her music, pointing out that men are lauded for being promiscuous and flashy. Part of Brown’s appeal is to be true to her own instincts. McDonnell further wrote, “Brown reminds me of Tupac (Shakur). She has the same Hamlet-like combo of Thanatos and Eros, recklessness and introspection.”
Brown released her sophomore CD, Chyna Doll, at the age of 20 in 1999. She wrote the lyrics for all of the tracks and produced three of them herself. On the autobiographical single “My Life,” Brown said she never wanted to be born, she wished her father had used a prophylactic, and she wished she hadn’t sought her father’s love by dating “thugs.” She wrote, “My life, do you feel what I feel” My life, a black girl’s ordeal”. Brown sings about her personal experience and flatly sing-speaks the chorus. McDonnell described “My Life” as “black-and-white 8mm compared to the melismatic octave-cartwheeling Technicolor we’ve come to expect.” Brown knows how to tell a compelling story through music, and is equally adept at creating a compelling public persona. Chyna Dolts “My Life” also addresses a broken friendship with rap artist Li’L Kim, a friendship that Brown concedes in the song was lost due to overblown pride. The two womenwere close friends before they became famous, and even charted their early course to fame together.
Brown has collaborated with or performed alongside a wide array of rap and hip-hop musicians over the course of only a few years, and her career began to flourish in earnest after her debut release. Brown’s combination of artful and gripping storytelling, spotlight-grabbing glamour, natural beauty, gritty realism, and urban sound buttressed her early success, and her discernible vulnerability and youthful boasting further endeared her to fans. Pam Grier met Foxy Brown in 1998 and the two women became friends. The mythical heroine of the silver screen after whom Brown named herself turned out to be the ideal moniker for Brown, as Brown is just as headstrong, courageous, and larger-than-life as the original Foxy Brown. Although Brown shuns the tough, tomboy style of many other female hip-hop and rap artists, her inner strength and choice of stage names reveal the ultimate tomboy: an independent woman with talent, who alone decides what she will or won’t exploit.
Nas Escobar, Foxy Brown, AZ, and Nature Present The Firm; The Album, Uni/Interscope, 1997.
III Na Na, Def Jam, 1996.
Chyna Doll, Def Jam, 1999.
The Source, December 1997.
Vibe, May 1996.
The Village Voice, February 9, 1999.
—B. Kimberly Taylor