By the early 2000s, Foxy Brown's spot in Hip-Hop should've been cemented.
Her 1996 debut Ill Na Na established Foxy as a superstar; she was a bold emcee out of Brooklyn with a love for fashion and a no holds-barred persona. She'd briefly been musical Bonnie to Jay-Z's Clyde circa 1996, and had a tenure as a member of the short-lived (but infamous) supergroup The Firm alongside luminaries like Nas and AZ in 1997. Along the way, she racked up platinum plaques as one of the biggest women in the late 1990s rap game.
But there was definitely drama.
In 1997, Brown was accused of spitting on hotel workers who didn't bring her an iron after she requested it. She was arrested for missing a court appearance; and two years later, she was arrested for yelling obscenities while performing in Trinidad. In 2000, she crashed her Land Rover while driving without a license in Brooklyn. There were rumors of drug abuse and a suicide attempt. And she'd gotten engaged to, then split from, rapper Kurupt.
She'd had to endure rivalries with everyone from Queen Pen to Queen Latifah; as well as a certain other rap icon from Brooklyn to whom she was/is frequently compared. After her sophomore album, Chyna Doll, Foxy reloaded on her third outing. That particular album had fallen victim to the trappings of mainstream hip-hop circa 1998: all shiny, all the time, formulaic flossy rap. And critics slammed Chyna Doll as a boring and uninspired retread of what worked on her debut.
So for her third release, the Def Jam star decided to get back to basics.
She semi follows through on Broken Silence; this is, like all Foxy albums, an album prepped for the charts and the radio. But it is definitely more inspired than Chyna Doll and an important moment in Foxy Brown's career. She was only a teenager when she broke through big in 1996, and on Broken Silence, we get an idea of the woman Inga Marchand has become.
Album opener "Fallin'" is a production from Fox's brother Gavin, and it features him on the hook. Fox lays down her manifesto, even boldly declaring that there's only one woman who can touch her, but, quoting Jay-Z, "she's alright, but she's not real." The string-laden production is elegant and Fox does her thing, lyrically.
"Oh Yeah" remains arguably the best single of her career. She may have been more known for flossy party anthems like "Get You Home" and "I'll Be," but with the Spragga Benz hook and the sample of Toots & The Maytals "54-46 Is the Number", it's the most unflinchingly Brooklyn song the Trinidadian-American emcee dropped at her peak. The single underperformed, however, especially compared to what Foxy Brown was accustomed to, chart-wise. Nonetheless, it remains a standout and an important moment in early 00s hip-hop/dancehall fusion.
The album's producers include Foxy's brother Young Gavin, The Neptunes, Ski, Nokio, Eddie Scorezeasy and DJ Clue. As if recognizing that things had gotten a little too slick on her previous album, the Brooklyn rapper definitely wanted more of a street feel on Broken Silence. Promoted initially as a street single but officially released as the B-side to "Oh Yeah," "B.K. Anthem" is the kind of borough-representing track that would make MC Lyte proud.
"Fort Greene and Hemlock/ The 5th been cocked/ We cried when they killed Lenox pop the glock/ A yo did y'all hear what the fuck I just said/ BK the home of Biggie and Jay/ Where niggas got Will Smith chips/ Get jiggy all day/ Bitches that boost in the city all day..."
- "B.K. Anthem"
None other than Ron Isley guests on the mournful "The Letter," as the soul icon opens things over a pensive piano, before the song begins proper, on which Foxy addresses first her mother; mentioning her regret for being disrespectful, acknowledging her own controversial sex-driven image and pill addiction. The second verse is addressed to her brother Gavin, saluting his role in her career and acknowledging her mistakes in how she'd dealt with him. Quoting 2Pac's "Against All Odds," she then addresses her other brother, Anton. It's one of the album's most affecting tracks and a great moment for Fox as a lyricist and artist.
Kelis and Foxy's "Candy" should be a bigger moment in both artists' repertoires. The Neptunes' bouncy production and winning hook highlight just how great Foxy has always been on poppy tracks; and Kelis (whose former chemistry with Pharrell and Co. is well-documented) has so many stellar hooks in Hip-Hop she could be regarded as the female Nate Dogg. Dave Kelly's distinct riddim's are the backdrop for the popular "Tables Will Turn" with dancehall star Baby Cham, another dancehall/hip-hop hybrid that further etches the album onto Foxy's own heritage.
The album's production strikes the right balance between glittery, courtesy of Nokio and Neptunes sheen; and the more soulful sounds of Ski and Gavin. Throughout Broken Silence, it's evident that Foxy is both creatively focused and driven by what she needs to say. The turmoil of her life was becoming regular grist for the gossip mill; and she would remain a fixture on blogs for at least another decade following this album. But what the album proves is that her artistry was always there, even if the pitfalls of fame and indifference of an industry often obscured the BK product's talents.
"Broken Wings" trades in another late 90s/early 00s cliche: sampling a well-known 80s pop hit. In this case, it's Mr. Mister's song of the same name (famously the foundation for 2Pac's posthumous single "Until the End of Time") and the results are heartfelt if a bit rote.
Released in the mid-summer of 2001, Broken Silence would eventually reach gold status, making it Foxy Brown's lowest-selling release for Def Jam. After the album's underperformance, Foxy would eventually attempt to defect to Bad Boy Records, with Sean "Diddy" Combs set to executive produce her expected fourth album, tentatively-titled Ill Na Na 2, in 2003. But that project was shelved. Foxy's relationship with Def Jam never recovered.
"I felt because I came up and said what I wanted," Foxy would say in 2002. "They didn't like that. If I was a nigga, I'll be like a female Damon Dash. Like him or not, you have to respect him because he is about his business. Now they are respecting me a lot more at 23 than they did at 15."
To date, Broken Silence is the last official album the world has gotten from Foxy Brown. It's a common theme amongst women in Hip-Hop; this industry didn't seem all that interested in fortifying sustainable careers for even it's most iconic female stars. So many legends either stopped recording altogether or took long breaks. Foxy hasn't been completely silent over the past two decades; she dropped her Brooklyn's Don Diva mixtape in 2010 and guested on Nicki Minaj's QUEEN, on the track "Coca Chanel," in 2018. In 2020, The Firm reunited for the Nas track "Full Circle" on his acclaimed album King's Disease.
For the woman born Inga Marchand, hard times meant that she had to take a long pause from being Foxy Brown. And that's understandable. She'd gone through so much before she was even 25 years old. We can surely grant her grace, if now she wants to have some peace to call her own.
“I’ve never stabbed, hurt, killed, stolen, anything,” she told the New York Post in 2011. “But I went to jail for a year. What is that? My pastor said to me the fact that I’m not living under a bridge as a crazy woman, talking to myself, is amazing.”