As a student at Kenwood Academy in Chicago, Shawntae Harris had an inkling of what life post high school would be. It was music and luckily for her, teachers and peers took notice of the obvious talent. “I went to Kenwood, which is where R. Kelly went to school too, and [one of my teachers] would let me ditch class and come to music class and breathe through my diaphragm,” Harris, now best known by her multi-platinum rap alias Da Brat. “So she taught me how to breathe like a singer should.”
While honing in on your skill is one thing, realizing and showcasing that talent is another. So with dreams of making it big in music, the Chicagoan one day found herself in front of her television watching an episode of the early 1990s sketch comedy series In Living Color. The moment thereafter flicked on the switch to her mental light bulb. “One day I was watching In Living Color and I saw Kris Kross on the T.V. and I was like “Oh my god!” That’s me, that’s where I need to be,” she recalled. So almost a year later, the aspiring rapper saw her chance and seized the moment.
“1992, [Kriss Kross] had a concert in Chicago and said “Can anybody come on stage and rap?” I had my Cross Colours clothes on, I had my “Poetic Justice” braids, I ran on stage Ed Lover and Todd 1 was hosting that thing and I went on stage and rapped and the crowd went crazy,” Da Brat remembered. “I actually did a song that R. Kelly wrote for me, R. Kelly wrote like my first demo record and it was called “Clean Up Woman.” The crowd went crazy.”
With her R. Kelly penned demo a win, Brat’s skills struck an interest with Kris Kross, who relayed their excitement to Jermaine Dupri, head of So So Def Recordings. “They told JD about me, went to the Oprah Winfrey Show from keeping in contact with them, and that’s when I met JD and he was like come to the ATL,” he said. From there, the chance meeting would lead to a deal and eventually land Da Brat the title for first female solo rapper to go platinum, thanks to the 1994 debut LP, Funkdafied.