She is one the most interesting and influential rappers of all time — but Foxy Brown's story is also punctuated by legal issues, health troubles, anger mismanagement and seemingly endless beefs with female rivals. In many ways these have combined to stem the flow of high-profile hits and collaborations with the cream of the hip hop world. Yet the model, actress and rapper can still boast a substantial body of work and millions of records sold, and an incredible journey from from talent show to worldwide fame. She reflected on her mistakes in 2010 to the Trinidad Daily Express. "As a celebrity, you are a constant target," she said. "I've learned to own my destiny. Never again will I let anyone cause me to jeopardize what I've worked so hard all my life for."
Foxy took her stage name from Pam Grier’s character in the 1974 blaxploitation film of the same name. She was born on September 6, 1978. Her mother, a teacher who hailed from Trinidad, named her Inga Fung Marchand and raised her as a single parent in the Park Slope and Prospect Heights area of Brooklyn after splitting from her husband when Brown was four.
Brown claims she didn’t start rapping until she was 14, but by 15 she’d already achieved a huge breakthrough. She entered a local talent competition, grabbed the microphone on stage and performed a freestyle that impressed the production duo Trackmasters. Shortly after they invited her to guest on a remix they were making of LL Cool J’s 1995 single "I Shot Ya," alongside Fat Joe, Keith Murray and Prodigy of Mobb Deep. Exalted company for an unknown rapper.
Def Jam Deal, 'Ill Na Na' Album
Such was the impact of Brown’s breakthrough verse that a slew of other artists and producers contacted her for guest rhymes in early 1996. She collaborated with Toni Braxton on "You’re Makin’ Me High" and with Jay Z for the hit single "Ain’t No Nigga," joining him on his debut album at just 17 years of age. Her overnight success led to inevitable record label interest and she penned a deal with Def Jam in 1996.
Her debut album, Ill Na Na, was released on November in the same year, with most of the production handled by the Trackmasters duo of Poke and Tone, and heavyweight guest shots from Blackstreet, Method Man and Jay Z. Going on to sell over 3 million copies worldwide, it received mixed reviews in some quarters for the limited lyrical content, but Brown’s charisma and verbal aggression certainly carried the day. “Foxy Brown’s seductive, confident presence… makes it her own,” said Entertainment Weekly.
The Firm, Legal Problems and Jail Time
Another guest appearance — on the track "Affirmative Action" on Nas’ second studio album It Was Written — was the catalyst for formation of the rap "super-group" The Firm. The line-up of Nas, Foxy, Nature and AZ were joined by the producer Dr. Dre and Trackmasters for a heavily hyped long player, The Album, released in 1997. But sales were sluggish and critical response tepid, with AllMusic claiming that the “limited scope of content” held it back. It was to be the group’s only release.
By now, Brown’s focus on her career was becoming somewhat lost in her off-mic travails. She was charged in early 1997 with spitting on two hotel workers in North Carolina after requesting an iron and, after missing a court appearance, received a suspended sentence and was ordered to perform community service. Her second album, Chyna Doll, was released in early 1999, with a new production line-up including Swizz Beatz and a then-unknown Kanye West. It didn’t perform as well as her debut (although it still went platinum) and, while promoting it at a show in Trinidad & Tobago on July 3, 1999, she was removed from the stage by police for using obscene language.
In early 2000 she entered rehab seeking treatment for an addiction to painkillers and was arrested once more in March of the same year for driving without a license. More arrests followed in 2002 and 2004 and, in 2007, she was sentenced to 12 months in jail for violating probation after a fight in a New York nail salon with two manicurists. During her incarceration, she also got into another fight and was moved into solitary confinement.
From Female Feuds to Motherhood
These arrests, the continued court appearances and high-profile feuds with perceived rivals such as Lil' Kim, Queen Latifah, Eve, Remy Ma and other artists, all gave the impression of a career and life spiraling out of control. Her third album, Broken Silence, had been released in 2001 and had gone gold, but her sales were still declining. Creatively, however, she did channel some of her anguish in the album, with the NME noting that “Foxy comes back snarling… blasting at all and sundry with her verbals, [but] takes time to be reflective as well.”
Work on the follow-up, Black Roses, was disrupted by label woes and then hearing loss that required surgery. She left Def Jam and signed with Koch, with whom she released a street album, Brooklyn’s Don Diva, in 2008. Since then her recording career has been all rumours and delays. Whether she can be considered unlucky or a victim of her own impulses and anger issues — or all of these things — she has a slim back catalogue for such an undoubtedly talented MC.
In March 2017 Brown surprised the public by reportedly giving birth to a baby girl. The father of the child is not known.
(Profile photo of Foxy Brown by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
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