Rap music’s history is full of very public fights between MCs, and much of the music’s tradition revolves around rappers “dissing” —that is, insulting, threatening, or otherwise disrespecting—one another. But even in this bellicose environment, Shanté, formerly known as Roxanne Shanté, stands out as a particularly combative figure. She emerged at the tender age of 14 to answer a party hit that “dissed” women, and her furious reply brought her fame. After a string of singles and an album, she temporarily retired from the music world to spend time with her new family, returning in 1992 to verbally kick the new crop of women rappers and capitalize on her “bitch” image.
Shanté was born Lolita Gooden in 1970, on New York’s Long Island. She was living in the Queensbridge projects there when, in late 1984, she heard the infamous UTFO single “Roxanne, Roxanne” on DJ Mr. Magic’s “Rap Attack” show on New York City’s radio station WHBI-FM. The single—which Vibe magazine called a “misogynist anthem”—was produced by Marlon “Marley Marl” Williams, Lolita’s neighbor; she convinced him to bring her into the studio to record an answer record called “Roxanne’s Revenge.” On the record, the squeaky-voiced “Roxanne” tells the boys to “suck my bush,” among other things. Radio stations soon found requests for “Revenge” equalling those for the UTFO single. UTFO, meanwhile, enlisted one Joanne Martinez to record a counterattack as “The Real Roxanne.” Thus, Vibe observed, “the first girl-rapper feud [was] born.” Other Roxanne pretenders emerged, and many sequels appeared. Young Lolita and her rivals engaged in gladiatorial rap battles in various New York City clubs. When Dana Goodman of Pop Art Records heard a tape of Mr. Magic playing Lolita’s song, he decided it was a surefire hit; “Roxanne’s Revenge” hit the stores shortly thereafter. Rolling Stone called it “a spontaneous storm of sassy rap turmoil aimed at B boys who objectify fly girls” and a “swashbuckling answer record.”
Lolita became Roxanne Shanté, and she and a crew consisting of Marly Marl, Mr. Magic, and others—known collectively as the Juice Crew Allstars—went out on tour. Tyrone Williams served as Shanté’s manager, and the young rapper found herself playing as many as three shows in three different states in one day. She described “tasting success” to Lisa Jones of the Village Voice, explaining, “I would go to the park with my friend Sherron and the fellows wouldn’t want to give me the mike. How dare they? When I got it, I’d start with ’You right there in your mock neck and Lees/ Scratching
For the Record…
Born Lolita Gooden, c. 1970, on Long Island, New York. Married; son Kareem born c. 1987.
Recording and performing artist, 1985—. Recorded debut single “Roxanne’s Revenge,” 1985, Pop Art Records; recorded “Have a Nice Day,” Livin’ Large Records, 1987; released first album, Bad Sister, Livin’ Large, 1990; recorded single “Big Mama” and album The Bitch Is Back, Cold Chillin’, 1992.
Addresses: Record company —Cold Chillin’ Records, 1995 Broadway, Ste. 1800, New York, NY 10023.
your ass like you got fleas.’ The crowd would go crazy ’cause I was so little, with a high-pitched voice.” The record and tour made a lot of money, but Shanté couldn’t hold onto it. In 1986 she became pregnant. She named her son Kareem; after he was born, she told Melody Maker, “everybody was like, that’s it, she’s had a baby, she’s over.” Reports of Shanté’s demise, however, were premature.
In 1987 Marley Marl once again brought Shanté into the studio, this time to record the single “Have a Nice Day” for Cold Chillin’ Records. “Shanté comes back Ali-style,” reported the Village Voice’s Jones; as had become her custom, the rapper began denigrating her female competition, calling herself “the mike’s grandmistress.” She admitted to Jones, “Me and girls never got along. Never, ever, ever got along.” She also confessed that her “very vulgar” onstage language— mostly in her blistering freestyle jams—had provoked some complaints, especially from other moms. “I had somebody’s mother call me up,” she recalled. “Her kid is four and she took her to see me at a stadium in New Jersey. For the past two weeks this kid’s been going around the house saying ’the pussy ain’t free, you gotta give up money.’” The audience, however, “loves it. If they didn’t love it, I wouldn’t use it. When I pick a guy out of the crowd and start dogging him ’cause he said something smart, the crowd goes wild.”
With Marl and the Juice Crew in tow, Shanté returned to the studio to record her first full-length album. The result was 1990’s Bad Sister. Rolling Stone contributor Chuck Eddy said of the release, “Its homemade double-entendre slang gets as nasty as its beat.” Inadequate males and pathetic females both felt Shanté’s considerable scorn this time out. Eddy noted, “Sex is everywhere, but Shanté’s the boss,” adding that unlike her more straitlaced female peers, Shanté “turns ’feminism’ into a game,” a way of getting what she wants rather than scoring ideological points. “Bad Sister’s beats are strong and steady,” wrote Mademoiselle’s Karen Schoemer, “with dainty embellishments of horns and keyboards sampled from older funk records; her voice slides between bratty teenager and worldly, streetwise woman.” Bad Sister yielded two hits, “Live on Stage” and “Feelin’ Kinda Horny.” Also in 1990, Shanté sang with funk purveyor Rick James on his single “Loosy’s Rap.”
Mademoiselle’s Schoemer reported that in addition to raising her child and promoting her album, Shanté— who had moved into a New Jersey house with Kareem— was also pursuing a business degree. The rapper acknowledged that she had fought postpartum weight gain with diet pills—and hinted that the pills also helped her meet her demanding schedule. “These pills gave me so much energy I was going crazy! I painted my whole house green. My coat was green. I bought anything the Gap had that was green. My favorite color was green. Same color as that pill!”
In 1992 Shanté emerged from her green frenzy with the single “Big Mama.” The song stirred fresh controversy because prominent female rappers—including Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Yo-Yo, MC Lyte, and Salt-N-Pepa—were seriously “dissed” in its lyrics. “There is some drama in hearing those fighting words,” Dimitri Ehrlich wrote in Pulse!, “but in the end it’s more the temporary excitement of controversy-baiting than the time-honored skill of rhyme-writing.” When asked about the song by The Source, Shanté asserted, “I made the record out of respect. Either you gonna give it to me or I’m gonna take it. ’Cause that’s what I demand from everybody right now . . . respect.” Beat-Down’s reviewer was rendered positively giddy by Shanté’s bilious barrage, enthusing, “Roxanne is on a serious mission. The music is a jazzy loop that coincides with those strong lyrics. She is most definitely back to f- upshop!!!. . . P.S.: Roxanne, be very careful!!!” But as Shanté herself reminded readers in the Village Voice, “Rap is about using fighting words, instead of fighting. Instead of saying ’Let’s fight,’ people say, ’Let’s battle.’ I bet you rap has saved a lot of lives. Even though there were shootouts afterwards!”
“Big Mama” later appeared in slightly altered form on Shanté’s 1992 album The Bitch Is Back. That release appeared on the new Livin’ Large label, a Cold Chillin’ affiliate. “If you are looking for an unpretentious batch of lyrical dynamite,” pronounced The Source, “The Bitch Is Back will give you what you need.” Request was somewhat less sanguine, maintaining, “Shanté can hold her own on the mike; she’s quick and nimble. But she needs production as hard and tough as she is. When she finds it, she’ll be unstoppable.” The album counterbalances “Big Mama” with some furious digs at men, including “Trick or Treat” and “Brothers Ain’t Shit.” But Shanté made it clear in The Source that, angry raps notwithstanding, she wasn’t angry about her life: “I’m quite ecstatic and totally happy,” she said. “I got married and did a lot of settling down. I raised my son correctly. I mean, I took him on tour for the first couple years of his life, but then after that it was time to stay home. It was time to start pre-school. It was time to take care of the house. It was time to cater to my husband. That’s what I was doing. I was living the life of a regular black woman. That’s what I was doing; that’s my job. And as far as coming back ... I’m here. Just ask Billboard.”
“Roxanne’s Revenge” (single), Pop Art, 1985.
“Have a Nice Day” (single), Cold Chillin’, 1987.
“Payback” (single), Pop Art, 1987.
Bad Sister (includes “Live on Stage” and “Feelin1 Kinda Horny”), Cold Chillin’, 1990.
(Contributor) Rick James, “Loosy’s Rap” (single), 1990.
“Big Mama” (single), Livin’ Large, 1992.
The Bitch Is Back (includes “Big Mama” [remix], “Trick or Treat,” and “Brothers Ain’t Shit”), Livin’ Large, 1992.
Beat-Down, August 1992.
Mademoiselle, April 1990.
Melody Maker, April 1, 1989.
Pulse!, September 1992.
Request, December 1992.
Rolling Stone, February 8, 1990.
Source, August 1992; October 1992.
Vibe, Fall 1992.
Village Voice, January 9, 1988.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Livin’ Large Records promotional material, 1992.
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