Roxanne Shante is a hip-hop pioneer. She was the first female member of hip-hop collective, the Juice Crew, the first female rapper to have a hit single, and the first to achieve national success. The truly amazing thing is that she did it all before she’d even left her teens. Without her, there’d have been no Lil’ Kim. Salt-N-Pepa would never have happened. Cardi B would never have made it further than “Love & Hip Hop: New York.” Nicki Minaj would still be waitressing. To find out more about one of the first godmothers of hip-hop, keep reading.
1. She’s a pioneer
As grammy.com writes, before female hip-hop artists started selling millions of albums, Shante was in the trenches fighting for her spot and the spot of all the women that would follow in her footsteps. She may not be as famous as Cardi B or as wealthy as Nicki Minaj, but without her, there wouldn’t be any Cardi B or Nicki Minaj at all. But far from being envious of not reaching the same level of fame and fortune as the troops that followed, she loves watching women win. “I like the way women in hip-hop are taking care of their business and becoming bosses,” she’s said. “They’re getting great contracts and going out there and being the faces. I think it’s wonderful.”
2. She was doing laundry when she got her big break
Shante started rapping and writing at the age of nine but it would take her until the grand old age of 14 until she got her big break. It happened when she ran into Tyrone Williams, DJ Mr. Magic, and record producer Marley Marl while she was on her way to do laundry. The trio had just recorded a track called “Roxanne, Roxanne” about a woman who’d spurned their advances. Shante was invited to write a rebuttable. So she changed her name from Lolita to Roxanne, scribbled out some lyrics, and recorded “Roxanne’s Revenge.” It ended up selling 250000 copies just in New York, inspiring an army of other rappers to write their own answer tracks in what would become known as the “Roxanne Wars.”
3. She gave up music to make more money
By the time she was 25, Shante had pretty much withdrawn from the music business. It wasn’t so much that the business had given up on her, it was more a case that she’d given up on it as a source of income. Speaking to The Breakfast Club she explained, “I needed things that were financially lucrative for me, and at that time it wasn’t. I was a battle rapper. I had no intention of making records.”
4. She’s mentored younger artists
Despite largely retiring from making music at 25, Shante never disappeared completely. She’d acted as a mentor to younger rappers for years, and continued to do so during her hiatus. At one point, she even made a guest appearance on VH1’s reality show “Ms. Rap Supreme” to dish out advice and rap-battle strategies to the show’s finalists.
5. She returned to performing in the 2000s
In the late 1990s, Shante kept her profile up with a series of Sprite commercials and the occasional TV appearance, but her music career seemed over. Then, in 2008, VH1 named “Roxanne’s Revenge” to their list of the 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop. Everyone suddenly remembered how great she’d been back in the day, including, apparently, Shante, who returned to the radio the following year with a re-recording of that same song.
6. She’s not above telling a little white lie
In 2008, the Blender repeated several claims that Shante had made during a 2004 documentary called “Beef II.” Among other things, these included the ‘fact’ that Shante had a bachelor’s degree from Marymount Manhattan College and a master’s and Ph.D. in psychology from Cornell University. Warner Music, it was claimed, had helped fund her education through a clause in her record contract. As it turned out, none of the claims were true. Not only had Warner Bros not funded her education, but she was never even signed to them. Neither was there any education to fund: Shante dropped out of Marymount Manhattan College after just a few months. When Slate magazine ran an article revealing the truth. Shante held her hands up and admitted she’d let a few little white lies run away with her.
7. She’s had a film made about her life
In 2017, Shante’s life was dramatized for the biopic “Roxanne Roxanne.” The film, which was co-produced by Forest Whitaker, Pharrell Williams, and Shante herself, starred Chanté Adams as Roxanne, Nia Long as her mother, and Mahershala Ali as her abusive boyfriend. After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, Adams won the award for best breakout performance for her portrayal of the pioneering rapper.
8. She’s got a big heart
Shante may not be as busy making records as she once was, but she’s as active as ever in her local community. Along with her husband, she runs Mind over Matter, a foundation that supports young girls between the ages of 13 and 18 who are at risk of dropping out of school. She also runs an ice cream store that hires at-risk youth and first offenders who might otherwise face unemployment.
9. She had her first child at 15
Shante is now happily married, but her early experiences of domestic life were far from blissful. At the age of 15, she had her first child. Motherhood came easily to her, as she’d already helped raise her younger sisters. She took her son everywhere and credits him with keeping her on the straight and narrow. “After the shows, I could not drink, smoke, or go to after-parties because I had responsibilities. I had a child to take care of,” she’s said. The problems started when her partner became resentful of her career and fame. He became violent, and at one point, things got so bad that she ended up in hospital with broken ribs. The incident proved a turning point, and she finally managed to summon the courage to leave him. At the time, she was just 16 years old.
10. She inspired Nas
It’s a proud moment when one of the greatest and most influential rappers of all time calls you out as an inspiration. Back last year, Nas spoke to HipHopDx about how his early encounters with Shante gave him the push he needed to get serious about rapping. “She heard me doing some rhymes and she was like, ‘Yo, I want you to participate in something. I want you to do some stuff. I want you to work on your craft and when I see you again, have it together,” he said. “I tried to avoid her because I didn’t want to deal with not having my rhyme ready ’cause I wasn’t ready. What she did was spark something in me that really made me want to take it seriously. She is one of the reasons I really thought it was possible, that it could even happen.”