Who you know from ’94 that came outta Illinois with the G-funk swagger and the braids to match? Matter fact, who you know that ended up the first woman in history to go Platinum as a solo MC? Da Brat did all that with Funkdafied: a prime half-hour of Jermaine Dupri in the key of gangsta lean, Brat breezing through the West Coast flavor with a bark and bite that demanded her respect. She repeatedly calls out for her competition because she knew she had none, casting aside the stigma of a woman-identified MC as an unsafe bet with a Gold ceiling. Da Brat came here to kick shit: a Midwest head doing California standards, without biting or rehashing! With a simple call of Brat-tat-tat-tat! — baggy fit, scalp swaying to the rhythm — Brat could start a party, roll a blunt and buss a head with the best of her idols.
How does a Shawntae Harris from the West Side of Chicago end up taking off with Jermaine Dupri? After a childhood cycling through band instruments, and a background drumming in the church choir, fate would take Harris to a Yo! MTV Raps-sponsored talent show with a $50 cash prize and a chance to meet Kriss Kross. Once Harris stole the show, Kriss Kross invited her to an Oprah taping and introduced her to Dupri. It took a matter of weeks for Dupri to buy in, and Da Brat made her debut on the Kriss Kross single “Da Bomb.” By the time Funkdafied dropped, Brat came into full definition as a brash, no-nonsense G with the LBC to thank. She fashioned herself in the energy of a female Snoop — she confirmed this two years ago — but didn’t walk directly in his light to carry her persona. No, the swagger belonged to Brat: the namesake itself aiming to invert the only-child negativity, bring power to the woman in control of her destiny. The plats and the shades made her look the part, but a lifelong love for music drove her from Kenwood Academy to So So Def.
Twenty-five years later, Funkdafied still stands tall in the G-funk canon as a record that’s lean, mean, and a nonstop delight to listen to. Where many of her contemporaries’ albums weathered far worse with age, given the gratuitous nature of the subgenre, Da Brat and Jermaine Dupri gave us nine records that play the game without giving themselves the opportunity to grow stale or outlandish. Brat hits all the talking points a true G should: the party anthem, the weed ode, and enough sonic threats to reinforce how little room for error there is when contemplating whether or not to test the aforementioned gangsta. She fixates on the funk and never loses the groove; there’s a palpable weight to every time she commands the listener’s attention. Like MC Lyte broke the barrier and the bank before her, Brat knuckled up against underestimators and detractors from all angles. When no one thought Funkdafied would do well commercially, it became the first Platinum hip-hop album by a solo woman-identified MC. Count the ways she reiterates the rhetorical question of who can fuck with her; she knows this might be her only shot to represent for the women like her, and all who come after.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.