Let Us Now Celebrate Da Brat

The beautiful thing about music videos back in the day is that, more often than not, they depicted places you wish you were with people that you wish you knew doing things you wish you were doing.  And from a hip hop and R&B perspective, people were still on the come up and were really about the music more so than the business of music. So it wasn’t a big deal for other famous people to show up on your album or at your concert or at least a cameo in your video.  At least, that’s how I play it out in my head. In most hip hop videos today, the people in them just don’t look, well, cool. They don’t look so much like they’re doing what you wish you were doing or are with people that you wish you knew. It all seems so contrived; how many Bentleys can you really look at? I don’t want to see Britney Spears singing the hook on a Mobb Deep joint because it might have “crossover appeal.” I don’t even know what that means anymore. Meanwhile, people in the videos of the 1990’s could make a Jeep Wrangler or even a Geo Tracker look like the best time in the world.

And that’s how I felt about Da Brat’s “Give It To You” video. My college roommate and I threw a party celebrating the fact that he had passed calculus (long story) and I had moved out the ghetto (longer story). We hired a band and sent out classy invitations, but we also served chicken wings and red Kool-Aid for which we refused to measure the sugar–basically, we just kept adding sugar until it wouldn’t dissolve in the water anymore. And though we never explicitly said it, we were probably trying to recreate a lot of the feelings felt in this video. We invited a lot of people who might not normally hang together, particularly in a social context…and it all blended perfectly. I’ve thrown a few events since then, and I think that at my best, I’ve created a reasonable facsimile of the Platonic ideal displayed in videos like this.

And do you see who is in this video? Kriss Kross, Jermaine Dupri, Biggie, Diddy Puff Daddy, Bill Bellamy, Mary J Blige dancing the same as she does today, T-Mo, Khujo, MC Lyte at the beginning, Too Short in the maroon sweatshirt, I think Keith Murray in the blue parka,  T-Boz, and a couple of cats who look familiar but I just can’t place. And when is the last time you saw a rap video with a live band? Well, besides The Roots. Kids, learn an instrument.

When Da Brat came out with “Funkdafied,” it was one of those songs I couldn’t hear enough. Maybe it was the Isley Brothers sample. But I think a big part of it is that Da Brat had a flow that was superior. The way she raps, she’s someone who could accost a record executive as they were at the gas station and rhyme on the spot to get a record deal. You can just see the talent. She stays right in the pocket. To see what I mean, and no disrespect to any other rappers, but imagine, say, I don’t know, Gucci Mane running up to you like, “Yo, I can rap” and then busting out his flow. You would think you were dealing with an emotionally disturbed individual. (Well.) You might put a dollar in his cup and keep going. Da Brat is probably underrated when people start talking about the best emcees and definitely underrated when people start talking about top 5 female emcees.  Some of the legit contenders for that list include MC Lyte, Missy Elliot (probably my personal favorite), Lauryn, Jean Grae (the person on this list you’re least likely to have heard, but….she gives me chills), and Da Brat. Some people would put Lil Kim or Foxxy Brown in contention. But the game ate them. Others might say Queen Latifah, but I think she’s better on screen than on wax. Sure, she’s had some jams, but can you really compare that to her turn in Set It Off as Cleo Sims or in Living Single as Khadijah James? She’s like Will Smith in that way, and that’s never anything but a compliment. Someone else you can put in the argument in a few years is Nicki Minaj. Musically, she could make some better choices…but she can definitely, definitely spit.

Da Brat–Funkdafied

 

As much love as those previous two songs get, people forget about “Fa All Y’all”–and I had forgotten that Raven-Symone was in this video as Brat’s little sister.  This video is cool because if “Give It To You” shows what you wish your Saturday was like, “Fa All Y’all” shows what your Saturday might actually be like on a good weekend: sitting around with friends watching music videos, then going out to a cookout or block party.  Little kids always wanted to do stuff their big cousins and siblings were doing, and that’s what Raven-Simone was on. Looking at the cats older than me is what I tried to get away with wearing Jordans with a teal double breasted suit and a Charlotte Hornets hat to church. I couldn’t get out the house with that (thanks, Dad), but I made the effort. No matter what kids want to do, they really shouldn’t be exposed to grown people stuff…and this video actually depicts Brat telling Olivia Raven-Symone to chill.

I’m going to skip right over “That’s What I’m Looking For.” I’ve got my reasons. I’m a grown man so I don’t have to explain myself to you. We’re just skipping it, aight? Aight.

Which brings me to “Sittin’ On Top of The World”, which sampled Rick James’ “Mary Jane.” You can check that one on your own, but you probably haven’t heard the remix, which, due to its sparseness, really show off Da Brat’s skills. But please be advised, whoever posted this video picked two pics of Da Brat that have her looking like a dang fool to show in the background. Plus I love this sample–“Ike’s Mood” by Issac Hayes. Actually, before I hit you with Da Brat, let’s just take a moment to appreciate the original track. As many times as it’s been sample, I think I lot of people never have heard the song that it was lifted from.

Issac Hayes–Ike’s Mood

Da Brat-Sitting on Top of The World

As good as Da Brat was, she was something more when she was guest starring on someone else’s track, like “No One Else” by Total. Full disclosure–I love Total. We could turn this into a Total retrospective right now and I’d be good with that. I’ve never been convinced that they could actually sing all that well, especially because I saw them all the way off key on Showtime at the Apollo.  But that matters about as much as a fart in the wind to me–their songs were incredible. “No One Else” is no exception. I’m already happy as soon as the beat drops. I’m happy when Pam starts singing. I have everything I need from this song…when out of nowhere, Da Brat just freaks this beat every which way. That’s the thing about her: she never mailed in guest appearances. She never just got on the album to get a check. She really delivered every time.

And I’ll leave you with this, two of the best female emcees, ever (and one of the best emcees of any gender, ever) on one track: that’s right: Da Brat and Missy Elliot. And no, I’m not posting “Ladies Night”, although Left Eye, Missy, Shauntae (I think I can call her by her first name now), and Angie Martinez (!) did work. No, the nod here goes to “Sock It 2 Me:” the beat is nasty, Missy’s virtuosity is on fully display in the video, the video itself is incredibly creative, and Da Brat raps circles around your favorite rapper.  At some point in the future, I’ll have to write about Missy’s greatness. It deserves its own post–but she can sing, dance, rap, and do whatever it is she’s doing when she’s doing that out of this world thing. Missy, if you’re reading this–and I’m pretty sure you’re not–but if you are, please drop some new music. Get with Tim, get with Elgin, get with Gina and Brat and whoever else you want and give us some new heat. The game needs you.

Missy Elliott Featuring Da BratSock It To Me

In summation, Da Brat is overlooked, but she’s also overdue for a comeback. Prison will do that to you, though. Her last album was 2003, although she did do a verse on the “Motivation” remix with Kelly Rowland featuring Lil Wayne in 2011. Here’s hoping Da Brat can stay out of prison and stay in the studio.

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