Da Brat's latest effort, Limelite, Luv & Niteclubz, has none of the drama that surrounded Lil Kim's La Bella Mafia. No one's taking bets on whether this album will or won't come out, a la Foxy Brown.
Nor has the Chicago native appeared nude on any magazine covers with a veil over her face, or been on the radio talking about a male rapper's disloyalty to her. Instead, after a three-year hiatus from the hip-hop scene, her re-entry is modest: She has a radio-friendly song, "In Love Wit Chu," quietly in rotation. It's not on the level of her thunderous, platinum hit "Funkdafied" that added her to the tiny female rap landscape almost a decade ago. But it does continue her happy "What'chu Like" vibe from 2000's Unrestricted.
Make no mistake, though. Da Brat, aka Shawntae Harris, has seen her share of drama, whether it was rumors about her dating NBA All-Star Allen Iverson, accusations of an alleged pistol-whipping incident in now-defunct Atlanta club Chili Pepper, or questions about her sexuality. Since those days, though, Brat has changed. In the intervening two or three years, she has kept a much lower profile. She hasn't been as highly visible -- guesting on records and appearing in videos -- as she was during the four years before her last album. When she does attend high-profile events, she seems to be in her own world. Partly, it's because enjoying life is one of her main goals. And her buddy Mariah Carey, who also makes a guest appearance on the album, is just one of the people who helps out her cause.
"Yeah, people do find it strange, but I really don't know why," Brat says of her friendship with the pop diva. "It's so much fun being around her. We both are like eternally 12 years old. We will just hop on her helicopter or hop on her G5 private jet and fly to Disney World just to ride one ride at least. Or we might be hungry and just want to fly to New York to go to that Mr. Chow's instead of the one in L.A. It's fun to be able to do stuff like that."
Having fun instead of making headlines is one facet of the new Brat, but she also knows when to get serious, especially when it comes to making decisions about her career. Ever since her debut on Funkdafied in 1994, she's been signed to Jermaine Dupri's So So Def label. When So So Def's relationship with Columbia soured last year, her faith in Dupri, to whom she is fiercely loyal, never wavered. "Without JD, Brat would not be who she is," she says. "I would not have been the first female solo rapper to go platinum with Funkdafied. It was because of JD's smarts and what he knew 'cause when I first got in the game, I ain't know nothing. It was how he worked it and how So So Def blew the whole situation up. The relationship is unbreakable. Can't nobody dog him to me and vice versa; he ain't gon let nobody do that for me." That friendship has allowed Da Brat to work at her own pace. She says that Dupri, now senior VP at Arista since 2003, has never pressured her to put an album out.
"I hadn't even planned to do one just now," she says. "I was with Mariah and I gave her a copy of the song 'In Love Wit Chu', and when [Programming Director] Damian Young from L.A. Power 106 [got it], he leaked it, it started blowing up. Then another radio station got it. It just start going across everywhere so we had to recall it 'cause it was just me on it and then we put Cherish [a Chi-town raised, ATL-based quartet] on it and then it was off the hook." At that point, it was time for Brat to work on an album, for which she already had about 10 songs finished.
Paying homage to other female rappers is important to Da Brat, and her MC of choice is MC Lyte, even if the tribute to her is very subtle on "Who Am I." Most people will probably not know that the "Well, well, well, I'll be damned" in the song comes from "Cha Cha Cha," one of Lyte's coldest cuts. Da Brat's re-working of "Boom! I Got Your Boyfriend" by Miami Bass raptress MC Luscious is much more direct, a little along the lines of Me'Shell NdegeOcello's "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)," only Da Brat's version is even more audacious.
"Every female rapper that's a real rapper had another female rapper that they looked up to coming up in the game," she explains. "The hottest people to me was Lyte and Latifah. I liked Salt 'n Pepa, but they were on some more sexy [stuff] and I was more of a tomboy and MC Lyte did it for me. She made me feel like I'm just like her."
Repping Chicago, even though Atlanta put Brat on the map, is always a priority. She and fellow Arista artist Cee-Lo combine for the blazing "Chuch." The Chicago slang word is something popularized by players and pimps. The term basically describes something that is fly. It's a way of letting someone know that they are doing something really impressive, similar to what "gangsta" has come to mean. "If you see me when I come around (that's chuch)," sings Cee-Lo in the chorus. "Breaking all these ho's down (that's chuch)/ Got some Cadillac and Bentleys (that's chuch)/ Money to the ceiling (that's chuch)."
Over the last three years, Da Brat has been busy with more than just her own life and music. She has learned the hard way that being accepted as a businesswoman is a pressing, if difficult, goal. Yet she is determined to make it happen, especially since she knows she won't be doing videos forever. In addition to sifting through film projects and exploring options in the clothing industry, Brat heads Thowin' Tantrums Entertainment. So far the road has been rocky. A few years ago, she signed an artist named 22 and helped him get a deal at Warner Bros. When the power shifted there, though, he was dropped from the roster.
"I had to let 22 go," she admits, "'cause he was signed to me for a couple of years and I hadn't done nothin' wit him. I started feeling bad like maybe he can do better without me. So I gave him the opportunity and I let him go. Most people wouldn't even do that. I let him go to see if he could get it on his own." Currently signed to her label is Baby Girl, a new duo she describes as mini-versions of herself and Mariah Carey.
Brat is also in the studio learning production, another new and demanding skill. "It takes a whole lot. It's almost like going to school for something brand new," she says. "It's like being in kindergarten through like eighth grade. You got to learn that. JD and Puffy and all 'em didn't just make that and learn that stuff in no two weeks or no month. You have to be devoted to it. You have to have a passion for it." As for her specific efforts, she says, "It gets better and better. Practice makes perfect and you just got to practice and work hard at whatever you do."