Excited to finally hear the story of a female MC from Queensbridge – Lolita Shante Gooden, who later changed her name to, ‘Roxanne Shante’. One of Hip Hop’s lesser well known Rap pioneers, back in the 1980’s she helped shape Hip Hop as we know it today with her track ‘Roxanne’s Revenge’ which sparked an array of responses in rap battles known as ‘Roxanne Wars’.
Set in the Queensbridge Housing Projects of New York city, ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ flashbacks to glimpses of 80’s fashion and music instilling nostalgia of the early days of Hip Hop setting the scene perfectly. The brutal storyline however was a lot darker than I expected. A very honest account of Roxanne’s trials and tribulations in life on her rise to accidental fame. This was less of a tale of the artist, but that of Roxanne as a person. We could feel her frustrations and anger at the unfairness of situations she faced, which gave a raw perspective of her journey. Despite the grittiness, I believe any Hip Hop head would appreciate the narrative as there is no doubt that these events also made her the MC she was. It’s not something to be sugar coated.
At an early age her mother turned to alcoholism after her boyfriend left with her with all of her life savings that was going to be used to escape the projects with, leaving Roxanne with more responsibilities than a child should ever have. Younger sisters to look after, Roxanne had to find a way to earn her own money and become a somewhat an independent woman in the inner-city jungle, from trying to move out on her own away from her tiny apartment to navigating unwanted advances from men. There was a very strong theme of opportunistic men who often wore masks to disguise their true intent, in the end leaving a trail of used and abused women, this only added to the strength of women living in the housing projects and the power of sisterhood, we see a scene where a rival female MC shows some compassion to Roxanne stating they are sisters. Roxanne herself later becomes involved with an older man and their relationship turns abusive which he tries to disguise as a form of love. She faced a great deal of emotional and psychological pressure.
One way Roxanne made her money was by battling on the streets, she had built up a solid reputation for herself through freestyling. We see the historical scene in which whilst doing a laundry run a producer (Marley Marl) asks her to spit a verse over UTFO’s rack, ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ which she does in under 10 minutes, rhyming with a female’s perspective against advances of men. This becomes a huge overnight hit with radio play and launches her career into the then newly emerging Hip Hop scene at aged only 14. Personally, I felt there could have been greater emphasis on her skillset and their origins, as at such a young age to be amongst her peers must have taken a hell of a lot of talent, and perhaps this notion was a little overshadowed by the focus of the events in her life.
Depiction of the shady world of show business on top of a heavily male dominated industry, calls for a strong woman to survive in, let alone a young girl. If anything, it’s made me respect her even more for achieving what she did under such pressure of circumstances at such an early age where she was also learning to find herself. Maybe not as clear as it could have been, Hip Hop was her tool to do so. Her determination to succeed or even to simply survive in the environment using her gift of rhyming, was in was an inspiration.
Ending with a scene where young Nas returns to Roxanne one year after she told him he needed to work on his skills gave me goosebumps! Being the best MC in Queensbridge merited those coming up to battle her, at this point this was Nas. This stuck a cord with me over the theme of tradition, I instantly related it a point in Prodigy’s audiobook where he then stepped to battle Nas who was now the most respected MC of Queensbridge himself years later. This was the cycle of Hip Hop, a sign of wanting to gain respect from the pioneers of the newly emerging art of rap. It was a nice point to end on as it hinted at the continuation of the legacy of Queensbridge MCs.