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Da Brat Talks 'Empire' Role: 'If I Had to Play a Crackhead, I Would've Done It'

Courtesy of FOX
Da Brat on "Empire."

Da Brat won't be the next Empire Records signee, but the seasoned rapper will be making an appearance on Lee Daniels' hit show Empire on Fox for the upcoming season 2 fall finale.

In between churning out her own records and rocking the airwaves on The Ricky Smiley Morning Show, the edgy MC born Shawntae Harris slid into Daniels' direct messages on Twitter, pitched herself for an Empire cameo and rekindled her onscreen career several months later (she previously starred in 2001's Glitter with BFF and frequent collaborator Mariah Carey). 

On Wednesday (Dec. 2), Empire junkies will see Brat rocking khaki-colored scrubs as an inmate leading lady Cookie Lyons knows from her past bid. As Jezzy, Brat will flex on the mic (as seen in the exclusive photo from the episode above) for a concert taking place at the prison Cookie called home for 17 years.

After wrapping her morning gig, Da Brat called Billboard to discuss her upcoming role on Empire, witnessing Taraji P. Henson in action, and possibly reuniting with Mimi on wax. 

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How did you land on Empire?

When the show first started, I had DM’d Lee Daniels, because I know him from meeting him through Mariah [Carey] and we hung out at her New York place on top of the roof by the hot tub in the little Moroccan room, just enjoying each other. He actually ended up putting my song with Lil' Mo on the Precious soundtrack. We hit it off really well back then and I hadn’t spoke to him in a very long time, and I just happened to DM him like, “Yo! I absolutely love this show! Congratulations on a hit show! You deserve it. You should put me on the show and make me one of Cookie’s cellmates or an artist that’s trying to get signed to Empire.” He hit me back in October and said he was just seeing that and he wants me on the show. It was like the best phone call of my life. 

You'll be taking on the role of Jezzy, an inmate from Cookie’s past. Did you look to any shows, maybe Orange is the New Black, to get inspiration for your character?

No, it kinda just came natural. It was so easy when I read the part. Really anything Lee wanted me to do -- if I had to play a crackhead, I would've done it. That’s how much I love that show. I love and respect Lee Daniels. From his first movie Tennessee that Mariah was in, I was there for the whole thing. Anything they needed me to do, I would have killed it, rehearsed it and did the best I could.

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What did you learn from working with Taraji P. Henson? 

Oh my God. Taraji is everything! She is just the epitome of an amazing actress. Her lines! I don’t know how she does it. Those scripts are so thick and she has to memorize the whole thing. She was easy to feed off of and play off of. She made it fun. When she got into character, it was so real. She was really like Cookie and not Taraji. It was crazy. I learned how to be spontaneous from her and ad-lib and do different things. Some of the things that we ad-libbed they liked, because she ad-libs a lot and they trust her judgment. I just had a great time feeding off her, saying my lines.

Do you feel like this is the right moment to delve into more acting, or do you want to make a musical comeback?

I do music all the time. I sign artists on YouTube and bring them to Atlanta and work with them and just surprise them and make their lives great. I love helping people and shocking people. I think the platform for this Empire thing is really, really incredible. Who gets to make a guest appearance in a show on Fox out of the blue? I’m definitely going to put out the music that very same day. I’ve been working on music for years and years. The platforms are just different, so I’ve been waiting in the wings for the right thing.

I do the Rickey Smiley Morning Show every morning now, which is also another blessing, because then I also do the Rickey Smiley for Real show on TV One, so I’m having all little types of platforms to showcase my music, and I’m very happy about that because music is my passion. I’ve also acquired an agent. I’m now being represented by ICM and Dana Sims. So many blessings have happened to me and I’m so grateful. It’s so different when you get a second chance to come back out and do your thing -- you’re more humble, you appreciate it more, you know what not to do this second time around. I’m grateful that I’ve matured and that I’ve gained that wisdom to be a better person, a better actress, a better musician and a better entertainer overall.

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Do you think fans will be able to hear you and Mariah reunite on a record soon? 

Oh man, of course, but she’s so busy and she’s got so much stuff going on. I don’t even think she’s in the studio working on a new album yet, but hopefully so. She’s family, she’s one of my best friends. Jermaine Dupri is always working with her and so is Johnta Austin and Bryan Cox. We’re all family, we work out of the same studio. We see each other every other day. Anytime she needs me, I’m there and vice versa. We’ve just been so busy because she’s just produced a Christmas movie. She’s just doing her thing and I’m proud of her. She’s in a new relationship, she’s happy, she’s got the kids going. She’s just got a whole lot of things happening and so do I. We just try to make sure we stay in touch and give each other love and support. But hell yeah, I definitely want to do a song with one of my best friends again. We made history on some of those songs. She’s sold millions of records, and I was very happy to be a part of [it]. 

What's up next for Da Brat?

I’m gonna put out an album soon. I’m gonna drop a song called “You Already Know” on Dec. 2 produced by Sage the Gemini featuring Eric Bellinger. I’m just so excited because I love these records I’m getting. I’m working with a producer named Sixx from Ne-Yo’s camp and a producer named R. Fisher who I came up with. He does production for me and my crew and he’s amazing. I’m [also] working with Rufus and Jermaine Dupri. So many great things coming my way so just stay tuned and don’t count Brat out -- ever. 


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