With her brash, in-your-face style and tart-tongued lyrics, Da Brat burst onto the rap scene in 1994 with her debut album, "Funkdafied. " The male-dominated industry was impacted immediately, as the charismatic and carefree girl from Chicago went on to become the first female solo rapper to go platinum. "Funkdafied" entered the Billboard Rap Album chart at No. 1, selling more than 62,000 copies in its first week alone. The title track from the album also went platinum, and stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Rap singles chart for a record-breaking eleven weeks. Though artists who achieve rapid success usually fall by the wayside when their next album drops, Da Brat stayed on top of the rap heap to become the best-selling female solo rapper to date.
Born in Chicago on April 14, 1974, Da Brat, a.k.a. Shawntae Harris, began her musical career at her local church. But Shawntae didn't sing in the choir: she played drums instead, an experience which she credits as the source of her rhythm. In 1992, Da Brat got her shot at fame by winning a local MC contest, hosted by Ed Lover of "Yo MTV Raps" fame. The grand prize was an opportunity to meet teen rappers Kris Kross, then basking in the glow of their hit debut album, "Totally Krossed Out." This led to meeting top producer Jermaine Dupri in Atlanta, the man responsible for discovering the rap duo. Impressed with Da Brat's talent, Dupri got her into the studio to record with Mac Daddy and Daddy Mac on the title cut to their second album, "Da Bomb." Then Brat got the chance to show off her own stuff, recording the smash hit "Funkdafied." Success didn't phase the young, business-savvy Brat, who rapped about her experiences in the recording industry on her sophomore effort, "Anuthatatrum" (1997). Two more albums followed, "Unrestrictred" (2000) and "Limelite, Luv & Nightclubz" (2003), both of which sold well.
But Da Brat was not to be satisfied with just a music career, and made the transition into movies, though not with the same impact as her explosion onto the music scene. She made her first appearance onscreen with a cameo as herself in "Kazaam" (1996), the unsuccessful kid's flick starring basketball superstar, Shaquille O'Neal. Brat's first supporting role was in "Full Court Press" (1997), a coming-of-age story about two teenaged basketball players, starring Hill Harper and Charles Scott. The film was screened at the First Look film series, the monthly screening program held at New York City's Tribeca Film Center, a facility founded in 1989 by Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal. Unfortunately, the film never made it into theaters or video stores.
Not to be deterred, Brat upped her profile with a starring role in "Glitter" (2001), the quasi-biopic of best friend Mariah Carey. Though "Glitter" made it to theaters, the much-maligned star vehicle was universally panned critics, though most of the derision was aimed at Carey. Sadly, the results at the box office weren't any more encouraging. Da Brat got her next role as Sabrina in the prison drama "Civil Brand" (2003), directed by Emmy-award winning director and producer Neema Barnette. Civil Brand made the festival rounds, including the 2002 Urban World Film Festival and the American Spectrum (non-competing) program at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. The film was released by Lions Gate on August 29, 2003.
Like some rappers, however, Da Brat's life started to mimic her art: in March of 2000, she was involved in an altercation involving a female onlooker outside an Atlanta nightclub. The rapper pistol whipped the bystander after Brat's entourage insisted that the woman move away from the VIP line. In exchange for a guilty plea, Brat received a $1000 fine and eight hours of community service. A week after the incident, however, a pair of masked gunmen burst into Brat's apartment complex in the metro neighborhood of Buckhead, Atlanta, and fired several rounds into a limousine, injuring five. Though Brat was considered to be the target early on in the investigation, police later determined she was not. Perhaps fueled by publicity from the incidents, "Unrestricted" became her biggest hit to date, debuting on top of the R&B chart at No. 5 on the Billboard 200.