Pop quiz: Who was the first solo female rapper to have an album go platinum? Missy Elliott? Lil' Kim? Nicki Minaj?
No one would blame you for guessing any of those iconic rappers. You'd be wrong, though. Chicago rapper Da Brat set that benchmark with her 1994 debut album "Funkdafied," which sold 62,000 copies in its first week before going platinum later that year. The album, which turns 20 on Saturday, should be celebrated as a big moment in the history of Chicago rap.
In ’94, the city wasn't overflowing with mainstream rap acts like it is today. It was a huge deal to have ANYONE proudly claiming Chicago on a national platform with lines like, "coming straight from the 6-0-6-4-4." Twista was three years away from his breakthrough record "Adrenaline Rush," and Common was roughly four months away from releasing his critically acclaimed "Resurrection." Kanye West hadn't even become a high school graduate, much less a college dropout.
Born in Joliet and raised in the West Side’s Austin neighborhood, Da Brat (nee Shawntae Harris) won a local rap contest (sponsored by “Yo! MTV Raps”) that earned her the opportunity to meet popular Atlanta rappers and backwards clothing enthusiasts Kris Kross. Stop laughing; they were big at the time. Through the duo she met producer and label head Jermaine Dupri (Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey), whose So So Def Records released “Funkdafied” June 28, 1994. The success of the album and its title track led to Brat collaborating with everyone from the Notorious B.I.G to Missy Elliott, including an appearance alongside Elliott, Lil' Kim, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes and Angie Martinez on the 1997 hit "Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix)."
Subsequent albums lacked the mainstream impact of her debut, however, and Brat mostly fell out of the public eye (a role in Carey’s critically savaged movie “Glitter” notwithstanding). She served three years in jail following a 2007 incident in which she struck a waitress in the head with a liquor bottle at an Atlanta nightclub. Recently, though, Brat has started to put her spin on current hits like Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" and Chris Brown's "Loyal," demonstrating her intensity and wordplay for a new generation.
Will young Chicago female rappers like Tink, Dreezy, Katie Got Bandz, Sasha Go Hard and FM Supreme be the next to turn hype into major success? Here’s hoping. Regardless, they’re walking a path that artists like Da Brat (and, to a lesser extent, Shawnna and Psalm One) helped pave. We should honor that.
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