17 December 2008

the roxanne wars

I've contemplated making a post about this mid-'80s hip-hop anomaly for quite some time, and this recent post in my affiliate Kyleigh's Rare And Obscure Music blog made me decide that the time is right.

In 1984, hip-hop group UTFO released a single called "Hanging Out." The B-side was a track called "Roxanne, Roxanne," and the comical and very true-to-life nature of the song made it more popular than the single that it was intended to carry. A music video was shot for the song, and a young woman named Adelaida Martinez was cast in the role of "Roxanne."

The song is about the vocalist's failed attempts to catch the attention of "Roxanne," whom he dismisses as "stuck up" and "a crab." The single wasn't a shot at any actual person named Roxanne; it's just a silly mid-'80s hip-hop record.

Here's the story of the first Roxanne response record, as legend has it: One day, 14-year-old Lolita Shanté Gooden was walking down the street and overheard producer Marley Marl talking to radio deejay Mr. Magic. The two were discussing UTFO and how they'd recently cancelled a performance that Magic's radio station was promoting. (As a radio deejay myself, I completely understand why Magic would have been frustrated by such a maneuver.) Gooden told them that she'd make a record to get back at UTFO, and they accepted her offer. The result was a single called "Roxanne's Revenge," produced by Marley Marl and recorded by Gooden under the name Roxanne Shanté, released in late 1984:

Strong words for such a young girl, but the record was instantly noticed, because controversy always begets popularity. Notice that the beat is lifted directly from UTFO's song. That's because Shanté recorded the song in Marley Marl's bedroom, right over the instrumental cut of UTFO's song on their record. (Due to copyright infringement, the song was re-recorded with a different beat and cleaner lyrics and re-released in early 1985.)

The next player in this game was none other than Adelaida Martinez, who played "Roxanne" in UTFO's original music video. Donning the monkier The Real Roxanne, Martinez worked with UTFO to release a single also called "The Real Roxanne." Rather than directly lashing out at Shanté, The Real Roxanne's single was more of a response to UTFO's original single, told from the fictional Roxanne's perspective:

These three records seemed to open the floodgates for countless other emcees to take shots at either of the Roxannes. Here's one of my favorites, a track by an emcee who called herself Sparky D, entitled "Sparky's Turn (Roxanne You're Through)":

Totally fearless attack on the Roxannes. This is the stuff that emcee battles are made of.

Both Roxannes issued a second battle single (sort of). Here is Roxanne Shanté's, which was called "Queen Of Rox (Shanté Rocks On)":

The Real Roxanne's second single didn't really come from her, but from UTFO. It was called "Roxanne, Roxanne Part 2: Calling Her A Crab," and I can't find a copy of it to post here.

The Roxannes then turned focus to their respective careers. You can read about The Real Roxanne's career in this post in Kayleigh's blog. Roxanne Shanté released a couple of hardcore gangsta rap albums, but nothing too impressive. The Real Roxanne doesn't do music anymore, but the respect that she earned herself lives on in the rap community. Roxanne Shanté is still at it, releasing her latest album just two years ago.

One final note: Check out this very hilarious entry to the Roxanne series by rapper Ralph Rolle, which gives us a whole new spin on the Roxanne story:


Sadie said...

very interesting! I love it. :)

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!