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Interview Fri Feb 17 2012

Da Brat Returns to Chicago with the Legends of Hip Hop Tour, Saturday


For 20 years now, Da Brat has cemented her status as one of the most noted women in hip hop; as the first female rapper to ever go platinum (1994's Funkdafied), this Grammy-nominated artist has definitely earned a place in music history. After riding in the fast lane with three follow-up albums, along with several television and movie roles, Da Brat (aka Shawntae Harris) hit a speed bump in 2007 with a prison term that threatened to end it all. Now, the Chicago native, part of the Legends of Hip Hop tour, is back in the driver's seat; here, she talks about her life, lessons learned, and of course, loving hip hop.

Gapers Block: You've been in the game for a while now. Take us back to the girl growing up on Chicago's west side — when did you know you could rap?

Da Brat: I knew when I was in junior high school when I was battling all the guys and was just wearing them out. And then when I started to see MC Lyte, [Queen] Latifah and Monie Love, I said to myself, "Oh — this is what I'm going to do."

GB:Of course, everyone knows you got your start with producer Jermaine Dupri--how did that relationship come about?

Da Brat: Well, I got my start as a kid in Chi-Town; my first demo record was "Clean Up Woman," a song done by R. Kelly. I was in talent shows all over Chicago — including the Regal Theater — and was doing my thing and then things changed in October 1992 when Kriss Kross came to Chicago. I met them and they told me they really liked me and the way I rapped. I kept in touch with them and then they, along with TLC, C&C Music Factory and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch came to do "The Oprah Winfrey Show." I was able to go to that show because someone gave me tickets and that's when I met Jermaine Dupri — but he hadn't heard me rap yet. I was shocked when he told me Kriss Kross had told him all about me and then he just said, "Come to Atlanta." I didn't know how I was going to get there; I mean, he didn't say he would buy the ticket or anything! But, thanks to my godsister who worked for TWA, I made it to Atlanta and the rest is history.

GB: You made headlines with your recent incarceration; now that experience is behind you, are there any lessons you learned?

Da Brat: There are so many lessons. You need to think before you react so quickly because your temper will get you in trouble. Also, being away was hard because I couldn't go out and do the things I wanted--like go to the studio--and I was mad about all the times I didn't go when I was home. I just learned to not take things for granted. You don't want to be in there, especially if you have a life — and you're an artist — and that's all stripped away from you.

GB: When you were away, did you ever think "Did I throw this all away?" Did you think you'd fall victim to the "out of sight, out of mind" ideology?

Da Brat: Well, you're only as big as your last hit, but when I went in, I didn't think the [rap] game was fair to females, anyway. When I was getting ready to get out, I thought, "Wow, there really are no female MCs now — there used to be a whole gang of us!" I thought, "Okay, how will I make it now?"

GB: Well, just by looking at social media commentary and the blogs, it looks like you were indeed missed.

Da Brat: That's a great feeling — not to just miss everybody, but for everybody to miss you is amazing. And the mail and all the pictures I got from my fans really made me feel like there are a whole lot of people who do love me.

GB: Let's talk about the current era of hip hop, which is, of course, very different from when you came on the scene in the early '90s. In a recent interview, you spoke very passionately about the state of the female MC — that it's what's sorely missing from and needed in the music industry. What do you think happened?

Da Brat: Before I went away, I was making some bangers, but it was almost like the record labels didn't believe in the female MC. I don't even really know what happened. It was like it just crashed.

GB: Regarding the state of women in hip hop, have you spoken with any of your industry peers — MC Lyte, Lil' Kim, Eve, Queen Latifah, et al?

Da Brat: I've talked to almost everybody. I spoke with Missy [Elliott] and she's ready; she told me, "Come on, let's get out here! Let's do this!" And there is no reason why we can't.

GB: Even after three decades, in many cases, hip hop is still viewed as a boys' club — how do you feel about that?

Da Brat: I hate that it's still viewed that way, but that's almost the case with anything when it comes to women until we make our own way and take a stand.

GB: As far as music goes, you released a mixtape, "Life After Death." Are you working on any more music?

Da Brat: I'm working on album and a mixtape at the same time. The super great songs and original tracks are for the album, but the sample stuff and fun stuff will go on the mixtape.

GB: Let's talk abut the big concert coming to Chicago — the Legends of Hip Hop. You're part of a heavy hitting lineup that includes Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, EPMD, MC Lyte and Whodini — how does it feel to be a part of this tour, in your hometown, no doubt?

Da Brat: When I was called about participating on the tour, I immediately said, "Hell yeah!" I love all the artists on this tour and really, it's a wonderful thing to be called a legend. I am very excited about it; I'm coming home to perform at the Arie Crown Theater for the first time since 1992, which is when and where it all first started for me.

GB: Speaking of lineups, what do you think about collaborating on a joint with your fellow Chi-Town hip hop peers?

Da Brat: I would love that! Twista is already on my mixtape and Shawnna and I are cool, but I would just love that! I know Kanye is doing his thing but if it could be me, him, Lupe [Fiasco] and whoever else wants to get down, I would love it! It could be a big Chi-Town party!

GB: Besides the concert, are you looking forward to anything else during your Chicago visit?

Da Brat: I'm looking forward to spending time with my immediate family, especially my grandmother, who hasn't been doing well. I don't get a chance to party when I come to Chicago because when I'm there, it's all about getting my cup overflowed with that family love. So, it'll be all about family — that, plus an Italian beef from Portillo's!

GB: You've confirmed it — almost everyone who moves away misses Chicago's food scene.

Da Brat: Chicago has the best food. No one can mess with Chicago when it comes down to food.

GB: I also understand you've written a book — can you tell us about that?

Da Brat: I joined an authors' club when I was in prison. I started writing a book that at first was titled "Insubordination," but I had to change it because it wasn't about that anymore. I'm almost done writing it, but I'm at a stopping point because I'm trying to focus on my music.

GB: What will the book be about?

Da Brat: It's about how I got into music, how I was involved with the church choir and played seven different instruments. There are lots of things people don't know about me; they think I'm just some ill-mannered, potty-mouthed rapper. There's so much more to me. I'm many other wonderful things but of course, people like to only focus on the negative stuff.

GB: What's next for Da Brat?

Da Brat: Well, I really want to get this music out, but also, I'm getting tagged to do reality shows. I cannot portray a negative person anymore; I mean, I just got out of prison — how foolish would I be to be seen on TV throwing bottles, getting drunk and fighting? I'm not that person anymore. I'm going to do a TV show, but I'm just trying to figure out exactly what I want it to be about. I want it to be something really creative — and positive — that shows all sides of Brat.

Catch Da Brat, among others, at Legends of Hip Hop: Tribute to Heavy D at the Arie Crown Theater, 2301 Lake Shore Dr., Saturday, February 18, at 8pm. Tickets are $49.50-$69.50 (plus fees).

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BKW / February 17, 2012 3:02 PM

Looks like DaBrat is getting her business back in order--good stuff.

lexikonmusic / February 20, 2012 10:54 PM

Very interesting conversation.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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