|Roxanne Shante via Getty Images|
By Mwabi Kaira
Before Cardi B, Nikki Minaj, Remy Ma, Lil Kim, Eve, Foxy Brown, Queen Latifah, Salt & Pepper and every female rapper you can think of, there was Roxanne Shanté. 14-year-old Lolita Shanté Gooden released her debut single Roxanne Speaks Out in 1984 and became rap’s first female star. She released Roxanne Roxanne and The Real Roxanne and both albums hit the Billboard chart. The Queensbridge native had a gift for freestyling and her battles became epic both in the street and on wax; the Roxanne Wars were a yearlong saga that followed Roxanne and her rivals. Roxanne didn’t care who she battled and she commanded respect and made male rappers take notice.
Over 30 years later, Pharrell Williams and Forest Whitaker have taken notice and co-produced the Netflix biopic Roxanne Roxanne. Roxanne Shanté was approached while she was DJing a party in 2016 by two women who had been looking for her so they could produce a movie based on her life as a Hip-Hop pioneer. The biopic stars newcomer Chanté Adams who won the 2017 Sundance Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Performance for her debut performance. Nia Long plays Roxanne’s mother and Mahershala Ali plays the older drug dealer who Roxanne Shanté eventually gets into a relationship with.
|Chante Adams & Mahershala Ali|
Not much has been known about Roxanne Shanté’s life and the film depicts her family life and her mistreatment by managers and other men in the music industry. She was unable to release an album for five years but emerged from these experiences stronger and wiser. “Everyone goes through heartache, and it’s okay to cry and break down, but you’ve just got to get yourself together,” Ms. Shanté, now 48, says. She runs a nonprofit organization for troubled teenagers called Mind Over Matter in Newark, NJ.
|Roxanne & Nia Long|
The 2015 success of Straight Outta Compton and 2017’s The New Edition Story have made it possible for Roxanne Roxanne and it is overdue. It is of the utmost importance that our history is told and doesn’t die with just a small percentage of the world knowing it. Women had a hand at making hip hop a worldwide phenomenon and we get to see it through Roxanne Shanté’s story.
Roxanne Roxanne begins streaming Friday March 23 on Netflix! Will you be watching???