Roxanne Shanté’s Biopic Shows Hip-Hop History Is Incomplete Without Her Story

In 2015, the film Straight Outta Compton took N.W.A.’s story and projected it on not only film screens, but the mainstream consciousness. For a group of Gangsta Rap pioneers on an independent label, the record-setting film eclipsed the commercial success ever available to Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella during their tenure together.

As Tupac’s biopic All Eyez On Me and several other films march to their theatrical release date, another 1980s Hip-Hop biography is currently making its rounds. Today (January 22) Roxanne, Roxanne is screening for critics, peers, and fanatical film-goers at the Sundance Film Festival. The film tells the story of Roxanne Shanté, one of the pioneering female MCs on wax, and a founding member of Marley Marl’s Juice Crew. Shanté, born Lolita Gooden, made 12″ single Hip-Hop hits such as “Have A Nice Day (Remix)” and “Roxanne’s Revenge.”

Roxanne Shanté Discusses The Challenges She Faced As A Pioneering Woman In Hip-Hop

The latter, a 1984 vinyl release, would launch the Roxanne Wars. Shanté, then a 14 year-old replied to U.T.F.O.’s “Roxanne, Roxanne” hit, with a woman’s voice taking on the Brooklyn, New York trio as a reply. The approach brought some of the excitement of primitive Rap concerts to vinyl, and pushed one of the first female MCs into the culture’s spotlight. In response, U.T.F.O. recruited another MC, The Real Roxanne, to respond to Gooden. By 1987, Eazy-E proteges J.J. Fad, Blowfly, and another pioneer Sparky D had all contributed to the onslaught of records. As The Roxanne Wars came to an end, Shanté would be front-and-center in The Bridge Wars, with her Juice Crew cohorts against Boogie Down Productions.

Roxanne, Roxanne is produced by Forest Whitaker’s Significant Productions and Pharrell Williams’ I Am Other. This same union made 2015’s Dope. “When it comes to a movie, a lot of times they tell you, ‘Well, you know, they add these things for dramatic effect.’ You know, we didn’t have to do that at all,” Shanté told Rolling Stone. She is also an executive producer. Ralph McDaniels, of Video Music Box fame and veteran Hip-Hop journalist/editor Mimi Valdes are also producers.

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While actress Chanté Adams plays the title character, Mahershala Ali (House of Cards, Moonlight) plays Shanté’s abusive love interest. Nia Long portrays “Miss Peggy.” According to Essence, much of the film was shot in Shanté’s hometown of Queens, New York.

Shanté believes the story will be jarring for audiences, as well as herself. “Everything was the truth, so I can’t alter the truth. And whatever happened, what can I do about that–we can’t rewrite history. So, I prefer to see it when everyone else sees it,” she told Rolling Stone.

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A pioneer of the Juice Crew, and among its first MCs to release single, Shanté waited more than five years to release her debut Bad Sister on Cold Chillin’/A&M/Polygram Records in 1989. Working with Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Large Professor, Biz Markie, Mister Cee, Grand Daddy I.U., and others, Shanté would only release one additional LP. In 2006, she last released single “Yes Yes Y’all.” She has since appeared on Vh1 thanks to ego trip’s Ms. Rap Supreme, and other specials.

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#BonusBeat: Ambrosia For Heads‘ original video: Finding The Goat: Why Are Women Excluded From Talks About Hip-Hop’s Greatest MCs:

This video explores the impact and challenges that Roxanne Shanté faced as a female rapper in the 1980s.