The Evolution of Shawntae Harris
by Vince Rogers
The Evolution of Shawntae Harris: The Transformation of Da Brat from Lady Lyricist to Sex Symbol and the Sexual Politics of the Male Dominated Hip Hop Industry
Da Brat nee Shawntae Harris emerged on Hip Hop’s landscape in 1994 under the auspices of “Super Producer” Jermaine Dupri. Da Brat is arguably the first female rapper acknowledged as a lyricist on par with her male counterparts. She experienced critical and commercial success solely on the merits of her skill as an emcee and not because of her sexuality.
The absence of an erotic appeal has led to speculation about her sexuality. Those female lyricists who have chosen not to trade on their sexuality, such as MC Lyte and Queen Latifah before her and Missy Elliot after, have also been subject to such speculation. Consequently each of these artists has attempted in their own way to enhance the feminine sexuality component of their personas, to increase their commercial viability.
In response to the early commercial success of Da Brat, other producers such as Sean Combs and Russell Simmons introduced their own hardcore female rappers shortly after Da Brat’s appearance. However they made a conscious effort to accentuate their sexuality as much as their lyrical acumen. Consequently, in response to these artists commercial success, Da Brat has attempted to repackage herself to cater to more traditional expectations of female sexuality.
The Evolution of Shawntae Harris: The Transformation of Da Brat from Lady Lyricist to Sex Symbol and the Sexual Politics of the Male Dominated Hip Hop Industry
Hip Hop is a rapidly developing art form in which audiences, styles, careers and entire movements come and go in the space of a few years. This evolutionary reality is what makes the music continue to be vital and attracts new listeners. On the other hand, it is this same quality that challenges artists to stay relevant, in order to maintain their career’s longevity. While there are some examples of emcees that have successfully transmogrified themselves to keep up with the times, such as LL Cool J, Snoop and Busta Rhymes, most rappers tend to be out of favor when their particular genre is no longer the flavor.
This phenomenon is even more prevalent among female artist, who have been typically presented as corollary or residual artists within every successive hip hop movement. From Roxanne Shante to Oaktown’s 357 to Mia-X, within every one of Hip Hop’s various movements and shift changes, some label or producer predictably brings out the next female discovery or girl group to claim the last remnants of market share. Manipulating the old “Sex Sells” formula, women are used as a tool to get money from lusty lads with extra disposable loochie.
This is not to say that female emcees and deejays have not made significant contributions to the art form. There have been female rappers from the very beginning. As far back as 1979, The Sequence a trio of female rappers from Columbia, South Carolina (featuring Angie Brown Stone who would also later make her contribution to Soul music as well) proved that women had what it took to Rock the Mike. MC Lyte would later prove a woman could show and prove as well as any man. Around the same time DJ Spinderella of Salt n Pepa proved that a lady had the mettle to rock the Wheels of Steel. However, Spin would eventually be transformed into an emcee in order to capitalize on the appeal of three women in “Daisy Dukes” upstage instead of two. Women in hip-hop whether talented or not have always been judged by a “good for a girl” standard of excellence. For that reason, upon the emergence of every new Floecist, they have been treated with the sexist condescendence of “That girl can rap” acceptance. The subtext of this is that her skills are acceptable within the sub-category of Female Emcee. This is not to be confused with a Real Emcee, which of course everybody knows is a man.
By the beginning of the 1990s, most female rappers had been pushed to the peripheries and replaced by video Rump Shakers. Apparently the powers that be had decided that women’s role in the industry was to move their body’s not moving units. The last (and arguably the first) legitimate Hip Hop divas, Salt-n-Pepa were transitioning to a Hip Hop version of female R&B group En Vogue. However, SnP’s star would eventually fade due to the demands of motherhood and various internal machinations that have plagued most groups. Just when it appeared that female rappers were all but a footnote in Hip Hop history, the most formidable female rapper since Lyte blew into Atlanta from of all places Chicago, Illinois, which before Common had yet to produce a significant artist male or female.
Da Brat nee Shawntae Harris emerged on Hip Hop’s landscape in 1994 under the auspices of future “Super Producer” Jermaine Dupri. As had been done with many female performers, she was put in a backup role and made her first outings packaged as a second fiddle persona to the popular male duo Kriss Kross. Because of their youthful and rebellious demeanor, it was only fitting that their alter ego would be saddled with the moniker Da Brat. She was first marketed as if she was their impish tomboy of a little sister. In reality, she was already a twenty year old woman at the time of her debut album. It also should be noted that this youthful moniker was probably borne out of Dupri’s sense of history in regards to the longevity of previous female artist’s careers and the disposable novelty status that most had experienced in the past. However, nobody was aware that the desire, tenacity, confidence and acumen young Shawntae possessed was as genuine and fierce as any of her male counterparts. Simply put, she was “the Shit” and she knew it.
By 1993, the young Chris’s had already been crossed out and it was Da Brat’s time to shine. Young Shawntae’s almost decade long quest to be “put on” was finally rewarded and she was given the opportunity to go solo. What resulted was Da Brat’s first full length release, 1994’s Funkdafied. Funkdafied was an unexpectedly superior effort, by no less than a female MC out of the South. Despite the most worthy efforts of Lyte and Queen Latifah before, the record was hailed as the very first Platinum album by a female solo rapper in the history of Hip Hop. This album single-handedly re-established the credibility of the female emcee. Also, along with the previous success of Kriss Kross and TLC and the emergence of OutKast that same year, Brat’s success helped establish Atlanta as the new recording Mecca for artists outside of the music’s prevailing influences of LA chronic and New York states of mind.
From the very first track of Funkdafied, Da Brat announced she had Da Shit Ya Can’t Fuck Wit and she was right. Unlike other female rappers who were usually presented sportin’ spandex or some augmented form of lingerie, the Brat usually appeared in army fatigues or a head rag and flannel shirt, reminiscent of her hardcore male counterparts. It is this uncharacteristic physical persona that would eventually contribute to her comparison to West Coast rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg, but would later help fuel the fire of her rumored homosexuality. Ironically, a couple years earlier Snoop along with production partner Dr. Dre set the standard for all the misogyny in Hip Hop to follow, by announcing to the world that “Bitches Ain’t Shit but Hoes and Tricks.” Nevertheless, Da Brat’s style was somewhat identical to Snoop and there are more than enough references to weed smokin’ to suggest that there is somewhat of an attempt to benefit from his reflected glory. However, Da Brat exuded a toughness and lyrical dexterity that were all her own. Female and male fans alike took notice of her superior flow and command of the mike and the stage, which is why her record became one of the most successful records by any artist in 1994.
In the world of Hip Hop, it is inevitable that when any artist experiences a high level of success, the media, the public and other rivals in the industry attempt to pull that person off their throne. The rap industry is populated mostly by young Black males from backgrounds of scarcity, lack of opportunity and brutal competitiveness. Many of the combatants in this arena find it necessary to “knock” each other off, to compete for their fair share of, if not the whole pie. Also, it is important to remember that rapping is borne out of a long history of toasting, battling and boasting. This “There can be only one” competitiveness becomes even more complex when one of the rivals is a member of the “Fairer Sex.” It comes down to a conflicted sense of sexual mores in which “Mama told me not to hit a girl but, damn she’s hittin’ me – and that Bitch hits hard too.” Inevitably, the male rival resolves this role conflict by attempting to assuage the guilt of “Hitting a girl” by bringing her sexuality into question. It’s okay to hit another man.
It did not help that Brat’s initial persona was so hardcore and uncompromisingly non-erotic compared to societies traditional image of female sexuality. Cursing like a sailor, smoking weed and out dueling men while dressed like a boy, she did not exude the typical image of a “lady” or any other acceptable female rappers from the past for that matter. Nevertheless, the sexuality of L’Trimm, JJ Fad, Finesse and Synquis or Anquette were never called into question, as long as they dressed and talked the part and rapped about “girl stuff” like guy’s cars that go boom and throwin’ their “P”. In reality, only when a female becomes a legitimate rival has their sexuality ever been called into question.
Prior to the commercial breakthrough of Da Brat, the two most successful solo female artists had been MC Lyte born Lana Moorer in Queens, NY and Dana Owens from Newark, New Jersey who was confident enough of her skills to crown herself Queen Latifah. Even their names (few female rappers have added the title MC to their name, as if this can only be a legitimate title worn by men) Queen and MC, signified that they were seeking the same respect, status and distinction as their male rivals. Neither Latifah nor Lyte chose to dress like Pole Dancers, talk about taking somebody’s man or shake their booties. More importantly Lyte and Latifah were possessed of talent equal to any other male rapper of that era. They stood on their merits as emcees, vowing for the Hip Hop Heavyweight Crown toe to toe against their male rivals. Ironically in one of the first and most influential Hip Hop movies Juice, Latifah is cast as the judge of a DJ Battle, deciding who was whack and who was not. Latifah would later repackage herself as a lovable dress wearing torch singer and to a lesser extent Lyte would later eschew her track suits for tight leather dresses and long permed hair. As one of societies last remaining taboos, rumors of homosexuality seem to never completely go away. Despite their attempts to repackage themselves, these women’s sexual orientation has continued to be the subject of much debate in the Hip Hop court of public opinion.
These women’s sexual orientation is obviously irrelevant to their prowess as rappers. What is relevant is the fact that a woman cannot be accepted on her merits in a male dominated industry, unless she submits to an archetypical gender image. The reactions to Lyte, Latifah and Brat could be explained away by the homophobic attitudes of the early AIDS era culture of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. However, it is worth noting that because of her take charge image and overwhelming commercial success, rapper and producer Missy (Melissa) Elliot of Portsmouth, Virginia has also been subject to the same rumors of homosexuality. In this new era of Hip Hop performers who are also entrepreneurs, she has been more successful than many of her male counterparts. Unlike other less creatively gifted artists, she writes her own lyrics and has commandingly helmed her own career. However, despite being in a position where she was accountable to no one, Missy would also bow to the pressures of the male dominated industry and undertake a radical image makeover. Despite her lyrical skills, empowering financial success and strong image, she still bowed to the pressure to trim down, undress and shake her Badunkadunk, or shall we say her money maker. It is indisputable that only those female artists who have had significant sales or superior skills have been saddled with this stigma.
Da Brat’s erotic makeover has been the most radical of all the aforementioned Hip Hop sirens. However, this is not so hard to understand since her image was the most diametrically opposed to societies notions of the female image. She didn’t dress like a girl, dance like a girl and rapped better than most of the guys. Even as a young woman, she exuded a brashness and self assured cockiness that had never been seen in any other female rapper, save for the short lived but overlooked career of Bo$$ the moniker of Lichelle Laws of Detroit, Michigan. Bo$$ was harder (and scarier) than any male Gangsta Rapper of that period. As an aside, Bo$$ was so hard that her undoing became the revelation that she was a very middle class girl, not a Gangsta. Ironically, the first clues did not come from a rival or the press, but from the phone call interludes from her well spoken Mother and Father, spliced throughout her album.
There was nothing disingenuous about Da Brat however. On and off stage she was the same rowdy, cocky, forceful presence. Staying true to her image paid off in the studio also. Her sophomore release, Anuthatantrum was both a critical and commercial success. Part of the reason for the success of the album is that in the years leading up to its release, she continued to display the same genuine hardcore image as her audience had come to expect. Much like Tupac Shakur her off stage antics created as much of a fervor as her ireful lyrics. Also like Shakur, her offstage behavior would ultimately bring her afoul of the law. She would face criminal charges after pistol whipping a woman in an Atlanta nightclub in 2000. While she continued to Keep it real, little did she know some other producers were in their labs creating some other bad creations. The emergence of a new breed of female Hip Hop personality would have a tremendous affect on the Da Brat’s future.
In 1996, the world of Hip Hop and the legacy of the female emcee would undergo yet another shift in perception. In that year, rap moguls Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs and Russell Simmons would unleash the new breed of female emcee - the “Queen Bitch with the Ill Na-Na” personified by Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown. Never before had any other female artists possessed the level of raw sexuality and technical acumen that these women displayed. Lil’ Kim especially, the alter ego of Kimberly Jones of Brooklyn, New York exuded a brazen sexuality that no female artist in any genre of music had ever displayed. The images of both Foxy and Kim were calculated stratagems to exploit the current trends in Hip Hop towards conspicuous consumption and sexual excess. As the culture of Rappers spending thousands of dollars on high priced strippers, dating famous Model Chicks and wearing a King’s ransom of Bling Bling on their fingers and around their necks came into vogue, aggrandizing a female rapper on the sole basis of skill and equality was no longer a part of the culture. As is the case in mainstream Corporate America, women in Hip Hop had become mere tools, trophies and objects claimed and cascaded around by successful men. No longer could a woman just rock, she had to play the role. Ultimately the Lil’ Kim/Foxy Brown school of female emcee would spawn more clones – Trina, Rasheeda, Porsha, Mercedes…than any other lineage of female rappers. Ironically, the only other comparable lineage leads back to the Queen – Latifah and her various disciples of conscious, feminist emcees, such as Lauryn Hill, Jean Grae and Bahamadia.
The emergence of this new school of eroticized women left Da Brat’s career in a bit of an abyss. After Anuthatantrum, it would be four years before she would produce another full length effort. However, because of her talent and unique style her overall creative output was more prolific than most other female rappers have experienced. From 1996-2000 she made a string of very successful guest appearances on hit songs by such artists as Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliot, Lil’ Bow Wow, Brandy and Mariah Carey. She even appeared alongside Rapper/Basketball Player Shaquille O’Neal in the movie Kazaam. However, her strong personality and creative drive were not suited to being relegated to contributing a few verses here and there on other people’s projects. Because of her skills she was able to stay in the game, but because of her image and the industries shift to half nude sex goddesses, she could not capture her fair share of the spotlight. It did not help that she wanted the spotlight all to herself.
As evidenced in the video for What Chu Like the single from her 2000 album Unrestricted, Brat bowed to the pressure to sex up her image. The result was quite impressive to say the least. It was evident that the bratty young girl was now a pretty mature woman with a body to match. She was arguably more voluptuous than any of her sex shooting peers. The transformation appeared to be successful and Unrestricted sold well. However, although fans would buy her new album, apparently the new image wasn’t as easy to sell. The rumors of homosexuality did not subside either.
It was one thing to put on a dress, show some thigh and push up her bra, but another thing altogether to give up her penchant for weed, cursing, and delivering a beat down in the occasional bar fight. It didn’t help that she was rarely seen sporting her new look away from the spotlight either. Despite her softened image, she didn’t put forth the perception that she had become any more vulnerable. The physical reality of her sexuality was there for all to see, but the Pin Up Girl sexual fantasy aspect that Kim, Foxy and Trina exuded was lacking. Pictured on the July 2003 cover of Smooth Magazine caressing her breasts while wearing a bikini, her eyes still seemed to say “Don’t mess with me.” Throughout the rest of the early part of the decade, Brat would appear publicly looking good enough in all manner of Punny Printer Shorts and Boom Boom Shockers. On the cover of her 2003 release Limelight, Luv and Niteclubz, she would attempt to strike her best Lil’ Kim pose, clad in a tight leather bustier, wearing a fur coat leaning against a Bentley. This time around audiences barely bought the image or the record.
Da Brat’s frustration at her declining place in the industry, her conflicted image issues and the weight of rumors about her sexuality caused her to make a series of schizophrenic choices that were deleterious to her career. In 2005, on the cusp of releasing a new CD, Ghetto Love (an odd collection of previously released non-hits), she would inexplicably sign on to appear in a television show The Surreal Life 4 - a show featuring has been celebrities and pop culture oddities. Her appearances on the show, as well as the cover of the disc would show her sporting her old visage, devoid of the oozing sexuality. It appeared that she was ready to settle into her old comfortable image. However, in 2006 she managed to remain in the publicity seeking spotlight by taking up a strange relationship with David Gest, the ex-husband of legendary entertainer Liza Minnelli. It should be noted that during Gest’s marriage to Minnelli, he was also the butt of homosexual rumors. This of course did not help quell the rumors that followed her.
As stated before, Hip Hop is a rapidly evolving art form that reflects cultural trends and builds its future using the past as a foundation. Although she may be uncomfortable being thought of as part of the Old School and too you to be considered a matriarch, Da Brat has definitely influenced a new era of unapologetically strong female artists who have taken control of their careers and images. Notable amongst these women are the aforementioned Missy, Rah Digga and “Eve” Jihan Jeffers of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Eve has managed a near perfect balance of strength, sensuality, confidence and competence. She has managed to be sexy enough to appear vulnerable yet tough enough to be taken seriously by men and women, inside and outside of the industry. With her close cropped hair and imposing countenance, it would appear she would be open to the same musings about her sexuality as other female rappers with strong images have experienced. Eve has managed to escape these rumors by creating a sexy vulnerable persona with a no nonsense impenetrable exterior. Without exposing too much skin or sacrificing the quality of the content of her releases, Eve has managed to show that a woman can be sexy, in control, command respect in the industry and sell well at the same time. She has managed in a very short period of time to parlay her image into a starring role in a hit television series. It seems that Eve has learned from the lessons of all that have come before her.
In 1984, seminal Producer Marley Marl and legendary Radio Disc Jockey Mister Magic would have a chance encounter with, Lolita Gooden of Long Island, NY. The original Long Island Lolita, would take the name Roxanne Shante and record an answer song to the hit record Roxanne, Roxanne by U.T.F.O. The song was recorded in protest to the group cancelling a concert promoted by Marly and Magic. That hit single, Roxanne’s Revenge would signal the beginning of the “Juice Crew All Stars” and launch the career of Hip Hop’s first “Super Producer”, Marley Marl. Although there have been women in Hip Hop from the beginning, this lucrative teaming would also signal the beginning of a long history of producers, A&R’s and impresarios casting female rappers in novelty roles solely to make money off of an event, a trend or their sexuality. Little regard would be given to cultivating their sound or their careers. Shante was a very capable rapper and even know in the streets for her freestyle talents, but from this point on, most female rappers would be cast in the role of a curio or an amusement rather than as a serious rapper. Women would be used over and over to create “Answer Records”, spoofs and records that dissed some male rapper. Even the careers of Salt-n-Pepa, Hip Hop’s first female group to go platinum, started with The Showstopper, an answer to The Show by The Get Fresh Crew. Also like Shante, S-n-P's career illustrates how female artists have had to rely on some male “Power Broker” to put these B-Girls on the A-List.
Rather than come up through the ranks of Street Battles, Shopping their tapes or surviving the Cipher most women in the industry have been the creation of or controlled by some male “Big Willie”. From Salt-n-Pepa and Herby “Love Bug” Azor, Yo-Yo and Ice Cube to Sister Souljah and Public Enemy, regardless of their skills, most female artists have needed the assistance of men to gain entrée’ into the industry. Because they start off in the industry ceding power or relying on others to shape their careers, few female artists have garnered the respect given their male counterparts. The career paths of their male comrades are the stuff of folklore (whether true of not) fighting their way up from the mean streets, battling for and taking their respect. From the start the women in the industry have found it difficult to earn respect, amidst sexist perceptions and old chestnuts, such as sleeping their way to the top. However in an industry where young men with big egos and sexual appetites are the gatekeepers, this exchange does sometimes boil down to basic tit for tat.
This does not mean that women given equal access and opportunity could not make their own way in the industry. However, the fact remains that given the sexism of the industry it is still difficult for women to gain control over their own careers. On her 2003 release Suga Hill, Kim Hill formerly of the group Black Eyed Peas, details how she was subjected to various forms of sexism and racism within the industry and at the hands of her former band mates. One notable exception to this rule is the example of Lauryn Hill of South Orange, NJ, formerly of the multi-platinum selling group the Fugees. A multi-talented force of nature, “L-Boogie” is a gifted and accomplished rapper, singer and actor. This Ms. Hill it seems experienced equal artistic and professional standing within her group and the respect that went along with it. Hill’s success as a member of the Fugees and her phenomenal success as a solo artist have allowed her to be given a very liberal degree of artistic freedom. Of course it is no small matter that between the Fugees album The Score and her solo effort The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, she is responsible for selling over Twenty Five Million discs.
Ultimately, as the industry continued to grow and the stakes became higher, the bottom line would become the all important Bottom Line. As profitability became more important, male and female artists alike who might be more technically proficient, culturally relevant or politically insightful would become part of what came to be known as the “Underground”. Producers and labels would concentrate their efforts on artists with big images, and produce tracks with big beats, hoping the formula would produce big bucks. As far as female emcees were concerned, Skills would become less and less important. In this society predicated on sex and excess it is only natural that Hip Hop also mirrors these values. As Hip Hop passed the test to prove it could be a commercially viable musical genre alongside Rock and Roll and Country, it would become apparent that sex sells and having skills didn’t always assure financial viability. Artists like Da Brat although acknowledged as being a top notch rapper, were forced to give in to male sexual attitudes and change their images to keep up with the times.
As stated before, Hip Hop mirrors the attitudes and concerns of society at large and despite the emergence of “White” rappers such as Eminem; these phenomena for the most part reflect those of the Black (African-American) community. The role of Black women in society and attitudes toward them are complex. In addition to the prejudices and challenges Black women face as Black people, they also face challenges unique to women and have been shaped by the influences of the “Feminist” movement. Black men on the other hand have been more overtly affected by the ills that have befallen Black people while at the same time have been affected by the evolution of Black women that have been caused by Feminism and the changing role of women in the economy. As Black women came to be represented more and more in the workforce, economic and social forces prevented Black men from being providers for their families. As the Sexual Revolution presented Black women with increased sexual freedom and choice, by the early 1990s Black men were being defined by terms such as obsolete and endangered. Around the same time, Hip Hop music became the most powerful medium for Black men to express their passions, angst, and aspirations. More importantly, it would eventually germinate into a Billion Dollar industry that would allow young Black men from the ghetto to own basketball teams, produce Hollywood films, own Million Dollar businesses and become regarded as valuable as Platinum and Gold. The Hip Hop industry would cast young Black men in roles of authority and positions of power they had never experienced before.
Hip Hop music and all its periphery enterprises, have given opportunities to young Black men to own businesses in the Music, Film, Publishing, Sports, Clothing, Video Game, Cellular Phone, Food and Energy Drink industries to name a few. These enterprises have given young Black men wealth they could never have dreamed of. As with other “Outsiders” who found their way into the economic mainstream after coming up from the streets, these young men have mirrored various negative perceptions of what it means to be rich and powerful. In many cases, they engage in and define themselves through extreme material excess and female objectification. Living the examples of famous real life gangsters and even taking their names (Capone, Noriega, Escobar, etc.) these young men treat women like “Skirts” and “Dames” the 1920s version of Hoes and Tricks. As stated before, for the most part they are only imitating the examples they have observed from mainstream society of what it means to live the “Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous.” The problem with this example is that it’s like an alien culture learning the American way of life by watching Scarface. These young men have fallen prey to the pitfalls of the negative forces of capitalism such as misogynistic exploitation and ruinous financial excess without learning the lessons of saving and investing. This type of ruinous behavior has resulted in the name MC Hammer becoming a universal euphemism for losing a fortune.
Despite it’s detractors and caveats, the question of “How long will Rap music last?” has been replaced by the optimistic attitude that the possibilities are endless. Just this year, the once obscure Memphis, Tennessee based group Three-Six Mafia (minus former standout fixture, female rapper Gangsta Boo) won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. The possibilities do indeed seem to be limitless. However, the prospects of women in front of the mike have not been as fruitful as those of their male counterparts. Save for Missy and Latifah (who has since found greater prospects exploiting her image in the film industry) few women have been mentored into the opportunities experienced by the men. This lack of attention to career development (as well as the development of their artistic output) may be due in great part to the absence of any females in positions of power in the industry. Except for Sylvia Rhone, currently the CEO of Motown Records (and Shanti Das, her Executive Vice President) there are few women in positions of power in the recording industry. Apparently the glass ceiling is just as pervasive in the music industry as in other spheres of influence. It is even more so in the world of Hip Hop given its culture of machismo, misogyny and MackDaddyism.
The future prospects of Da Brat as well as female artists in general are unclear, given the volatility and uncertain evolution of the music, the prevalence of a sexist culture, the absence of female mentors and the cultural and economic forces that affect the industry. As long as artists such as Rha Goddess, Ursula Rucker, and Mystic continue to give voice to Women’s issues, positive images will continue to be represented, even if only in the “Underground.” The changes that will take place in the “Mainstream” are more uncertain given the resilience of the prevailing trends toward “Gangsta” styles, “Collar Poppin’” and “Booty Music.” As in other genres of contemporary entertainment “Sex Sells” continues to be the motto. The commodity that has the most currency is the “Dime Piece” with an “Apple Bottom” displayed in objectified postures and positions. They are typically found dancing behind male rappers or out front signifying their sexual prowess and trading on stereotypical images of gold diggers, bitches and hoes. As long as men control these artists’ careers, create their images and the artists give in to the pressures to change to suit men’s tastes, the prospects for earning empowerment and respect are in doubt.
Da Brat and the development of her career illustrate how a woman can earn money, power and respect in the industry by being strong and staying true to herself. It also illustrates how catering to changing tastes and trends and bowing to rumors and expectations can lead to a loss of integrity and direction. As the Hip Hop industry continues to generate enormous amounts of money, record labels will continue to invest in artists that are economically viable. Unfortunately, to satisfy audience’s tastes, female artists and material that are sexually expressive and objectify women will persist as long as those values permeate the culture. An artist should be allowed to create irrespective of their sexual orientation or preference. However, as long as homosexuality continues to be a taboo subject in society, it is doubtful that male or female performers can escape it being used as a weapon to affect their careers and that audiences aren’t influenced by performer’s sexual orientation. Hopefully, Da Brat as well as other female artists can continue to contribute to the variety of the music and represent different images and perspectives from the female point of view, by Keeping it Real and concentrating on the development of their craft and the quality of their music.
The Evolution of Shawntae Harris
The Vibe History of Hip Hop; Light, Alan et al; Three Rivers Press, 1999