Roxanne Shanté Describes How Real “The Roxanne Wars” Got In Concerts (Video)
This weekend, Roxanne, Roxanne is now available on Netflix. The biopic, written and directed by Michael Larnell, covers the life of MC Roxanne Shanté (aka Lolita Shanté Gooden). The Juice Crew rapper co-produced the film and worked with the likes of Pharrell Williams, Forrest Whitaker, and Mimi Valdes to tell her story. It is one that involves some rhymes that changed the course of Rap history, and a lesser-known battle with abuse, sexism, and two battles with breast cancer after a discography that many feel was cheated of its potential.
This week, Roxanne Shanté and the actress who plays her in the film (Chanté Adams) appeared on The Breakfast Club. During the stop, the MC from Queens, New York reveals some Hip-Hop history that goes beyond what is shown in the film.
At 15:00 in her Breakfast Club chat, Shanté discusses what is now known as “The Roxanne Wars.” In 1984, Brooklyn, New York male-Rap trio U.T.F.O. released “Roxanne, Roxanne” about a fictional woman they were courting. Under the name of Roxanne Shanté and at the direction and production of DJ Marley Marl, Lolita Gooden replied with the rugged “Roxanne’s Revenge.” She used U.T.F.O.’s beat and aimed the lyrics back towards them as guys who were not worthy. This concept exists in Rap nearly 35 years later. Marley, who had a WBLS radio post alongside Mr. Magic, played the response record on-air, in addition to a Video Music Box visual. Those within broadcast waves took fast interest in the narrative and the skills of the Rap prodigy. Responses from other MCs followed, but none more famous than the 14-year-old Shanté’s recorded freestyle.
U.T.F.O. and its producers, Full Force, reacted to Shanté. They made a 1985 “The Real Roxanne” record, rapped by Elease Jack, also is historically referred to as “The Original Roxanne.” The Select Records release tried to push the unsanctioned response out of the spotlight. Elease Jack would soon be replaced by Adelaida Martinez (aka The Real Roxanne), who released two albums in addition to singles between 1985 and 1992.
Shanté explains to The Breakfast Club why things happened as they did. “I guess what it was, with that, was the fact that the record company saw how much money the ‘Roxanne’s Revenge’ record was making, so they wanted to create their own Roxanne,” she begins. Elsewhere in the interview, Shanté admits that she made little money compared to others involved. “At the time, I had all this wild, bushy hair. I had a little bit of a tomboy edge to me. So [the label] said, ‘No, that’s not the type of girl that [U.T.F.O.] would go after, they would go after this light-skinned girl with the straight hair. This is “The Real Roxanne.” We don’t know who the other Roxanne is.'”
Regardless whether she was facing Jack or Martinez, Roxanne Shanté says that even as a teenager, she was ready to take the battle to the street and stage. “What I did, because I was a battle-rapper by nature, [I showed up at her concerts] and ‘If she picks up the microphone, I’m gonna get it,’ or pull out [microphone] plugs. So that’s the reason why reason she was having the difficulty [with] performing because I would show up and show out.” Although Select and Pop Art Records, respectively, were selling vinyl, Shanté maintains that the beef was not a manufactured gimmick. “That was real. That wasn’t orchestrated at all.” Even today, there’s an apparent chip on the shoulder of the Juice Crew Queen when says, “When the light-skinned girl (Jack) didn’t work out well enough, they went and got a Spanish girl (Martinez).”
Years later, Roxanne says she is at peace with U.T.F.O., who lost The Educated Rapper (aka Jeffrey Campbell) to cancer in 2017. “Me and Kangol [Kid] are really good friends now. Back then, we weren’t. It was one of those things where it was, ‘Okay, you can get it too.’ We had that type of mentality then.” When Shanté was not disrupting The Real Roxanne’s set, she says it still caused problems for the artist who dropped her 1988 eponymous debut ahead of Shanté’s. “It caused a whirlwind with promoters. Because, when they’d book her [they would be disappointed with who showed up].”
At 20:00 on The Breakfast Club, DJ Envy asks Roxanne Shanté about an early 2000s report she had earned a PhD at the expense of Warner Bros. Records, Cold Chillin’s distributor. At the end of the decade, a Slate magazine investigation (by Ben Sheffner) proved that both claims were false, prompting retractions in publications including The New York Daily News. Although she does not directly address the claims, of the confusion, the MC says, “I take a lot of pride in that, ’cause there’s worse things to be called than a doctor.”
On Sway, Shanté revealed that similar to reports from Biggie Smalls and JAY-Z, she freestyled her would-be songs. Asked if she wrote her bars, Shanté says all songs but one, and it happens to be one of her best known, “Have A Nice Day.” Roxanne says that after returning from an overseas tour, Big Daddy Kane presented her with the lyrics to the song. Reportedly, the gesture was an apparent apology for Kane’s friend KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions dissing the MC while away, on song “The Bridge Is Over.”
While there, Shanté also recalls giving a young Nas one of his first stage appearances—something she points out that he brought up before she ever did.
Roxanne, Roxanne is now available for streaming.