Black Music Month: Roxanne Shante

June is Black Music Month and WERS at Night will recognize black musicians, composers, singers, and songwriters who have made enormous contributions to the music industry. Today, June 21st , 889@Night is highlighting Roxanne Shante.

This female rapper started her career at the age of fourteen in the Queensbridge Projects of Queens, New York. She was born under the name Lolita Shanté Gooden on November 9th, 1969. Shante is recognized as an American hip-hop pioneer and gained notoriety during the Roxanne Wars and with her association to the Juice Crew.

Shanté’s first step in rapping began one fateful day at the age of fourteen. She was walking through her neighborhood and overheard record producer Marley Marl, radio DJ Mr. Magic, and record label producer Tyrone Williams of Cold Chillin’ Records, talk about group UTFO (Untouchable Force Organization). UTFO had just released their hit single, “Roxanne, Roxanne”, about a woman who rejects the member’s catcalls, and canceled their appearance at a show they were promoting. Shanté, always an outgoing and spontaneous woman, jumped at the chance to get back at UTFO by recording an answer-back track to “Roxanne, Roxanne”. The three men were apprehensive at first, but Shante proved her talents with witty rhymes, a sharp tongue, and incredible improvisation skills.

In 1984, Shante’s single, “Roxanne’s Revenge” produced by Marley Marl, was released. Shante wrote and recorded the song in one take over the beat of the original “Roxanne, Roxanne”. In the song, Shanté assumed the role of Roxanne, dissing all three members of UTFO with vulgar language with a confrontational style. It became a huge hit, which sold over a quarter of a million copies in New York.

UTFO sued Shante for using of their original beats on her single, so she re-recorded the original version with slightly different instrumentals produced by Marley Marl and with less profanity. People are most familiar with this version, which appears on the original 12-inch single, with the original on the reverse side.

From 1983 to 1991, Shante became a member of the Juice Crew, a hip-hop collective of Queensbridge, NY based artists during the “golden age” of hip hop in the mid-1980s. The group was founded by Marley Marl, DJ Mr. Magic, and housed by Tyrone William’s record label Cold Chillin’ Records. Aside from Shante, the Juice Crew also introduced Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, and Kool G Rap. They became known for producing many answer records and starting feuds between artists, like DJ Mr. Magic’s rival “Kool DJ Red Alert” and Boogie Down Productions.

By the age of 25, Shanté had retired from the recording industry. She became disillusioned with the way artists were treated, marketed, and “sold out” to entertain. She continued to make occasional guest appearances and live performances, especially on VH1’s reality show, Ms. Rap Supreme. Her cameo appearances on the show were to mentor young female hip-hop artists, in an effort to encourage the girls and dispense rap-battle strategies to the finalists. In the late 1990’s, she appeared in several Sprite commercials.

In 1995, Shanté graduated with a B.A. from Marymount Manhattan College. She instantly became a positive female icon in the rap world for her success. She was proof that a teenage mother who once lived in public housing could receive an education and make a name for herself.

There is still a dispute on whether she attended graduate school and received a Doctorates Degree. Some sources say she added a clause in her first contract with Warner Bros stating that they pay for her graduate school tuition in full.

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons commented on Shante’s accomplishments as a single mother from an impoverished area who became a role model. “Shante’s life is inspiring,” he said. “She was a go-getter who rose from the struggle and went from hustling to teaching. She is a prime example that you can do anything, and everything is possible.”

In 2008, she returned to performing. “Roxanne’s Revenge” was ranked #42 on VH1′s 100 Greatest Hip Hop Songs. Although Shante only released two albums throughout her career, Bad Sister in 1989 and The Bitch Is Back in 1992, her fame and talent rose from the release of her eighteen singles.

Shante, now 43, is still active in her Queensbridge, New York community. She gives away $5,000 college scholarships through a non-profit Hip Hop Association to female rappers who demonstrate their potential each semester.

Shante was a single mother by the age of fourteen, living in the projects. She retired eleven years later as a hip-hop star. Although she never reached the same amount of stardom as her fellow female MCs, she made it from rags to riches and is still renowned for her ability to freestyle entire songs. Her story will be told in the upcoming film The Vapors, a movie about the formation of the Juice Crew.

By Stefanie Guarino

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