Like most wars, this one was started with a single shot. In fact, I highly doubt the original artist had any idea that their song would create such a stir within hip-hop, while at the same time, sparking an interest in female emcees, and laying the ground work for rap battles move to recorded music.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves here. Let’s set the stage by playing a track by U.T.F.O. They released a 12” single in 1984 for the song “Hanging Out.”
It was the B-side to this record that received all of the attention, however. This is the first shot that started what is known as The Roxanne Wars. This is “Roxanne Roxanne” and will be right back with this look at hip-hop’s first bout of recorded warfare.
That was “Roxanne Roxanne” by U.T.F.O. The song recounts what happens when a fictional girl won’t respond to the advances of the guys in the group. They all try to win her affection but she simply isn’t interested in any of them and lets them know this in no uncertain terms. Of course, they act like it’s absolutely preposterous for her not to be won over by their charms, their fame, or their smooth rhymes. As such, they call her “stuck up” and even go so far as to insult her family.
It was a catchy song and not aimed at anyone in particular. It reminds me of another famous B-side that came out one year early in 1983 from a group called Run-DMC. That song was called “Sucker MCs” and it was a battle record where Run attacks any would be opponent on the microphone. He didn’t direct his message at anyone in particular. He just unleashed rhymes to let people know that his group was for real.
U.T.F.O. didn’t direct their record at anyone in particular either. They were just having fun with it and the hip-hop audience responded well to the song. It was a big hit and they would likely draw in a large crowd for the concert they were supposed to be in. For some reason, however, they cancelled their appearance at this particular concert, a seemingly small move that would have huge repercussions.
Hip-hop was a male-dominated genre of music at this point in time. There were no successful female rappers. Since hip-hop had moved from the live atmosphere to recorded music, females on the microphone were conspicuously absent. That was all about to change do to this one innocent record, a cancelled show, and a young girl who just happened to be in the right place, at the right time.
What happened was, legendary producer Marley Marl, radio personality Mr. Magic, and Tyrone Williams from WHBI were angered over the cancellation of the UTFO show. A fourteen year old girl overheard their discussion, and knowing who they were, suggested that she could record a song in response to “Roxanne, Roxanne.”
It sounded like a huge opportunity. After all, what is worse that a woman scorned?
From that moment on Lolita Shanté Gooden would be known as Roxanne Shanté. She was already an avid rhymer and a fierce freestyler. She seized the moment like most freestylers and acted like a woman scorned by what they men had said about her on the record. As legend has it, Shanté recorded the song in one take. It was laced with profanity, had a real street edge to it, and was unlike anything we had heard from a female emcee up to that point.
The song was rerecorded with a new beat and less profanity so it could be released as a single. Both versions of this song came out in 1984 but I want to play you the original right now.
Listen to this song, and we’ll be back to explore how this record sparked an interest in female emcees and paved the way for rap battles on wax. This is “Roxanne’s Revenge” by Roxanne Shanté.
That was “Roxanne’s Revenge” by Roxanne Shanté. That one record proved that there was an audience for female emcees. It helped warm up the game for females on the microphone and set the stage a few years later for the success of acts such as Salt N Pepa, MC Lyte and Queen Latifah.
That record made Roxanne Shanté a bonafide hip-hop star and also established the tradition of the answer record. Tons of people tried to follow in her footsteps by releasing their own response songs to the original U.T.F.O record. It got so convoluted that there were over one hundred such songs. I haven’t heard them all, and quite frankly, I don’t have any desire to. Roxanne Shanté did it first and she made a memorable record, and made her mark on the industry.
Of course, UTFO didn’t like this at all. They manufactured their own Roxanne, much like Shanté and Marley Marl had done. While it made The Real Roxanne a star, the record really paled in comparison to what Shanté had done. But judge that for yourself. This is “The Real Roxanne” and we’ll be back to look at a few of the other answer records in this long battle known as “The Roxanne Wars.” Stay tuned!
That was “The Real Roxanne” but I have a hard time calling her that since she most definitely wasn’t the first Roxanne. Roxanne Shante put a record out a year earlier and kept it pretty real in the process. She was a writer, an avid freestyler, and she adopted the persona of Roxanne in a real and honest way. In my humble opinion, she deserves the title of “The Real Roxanne.”
Several rappers tried to capitalize on the popularity of these Roxanne records. All in all, there were close to 100 singles put out that year in response to either “Roxanne Roxanne” or “Roxanne’s Revenge.” Most of them were pale imitations of the original recordings and completely forgettable after the first listen. You could tell that these artists were blatantly attempting to ride the coattails of someone’s success.
I have a few minutes to play you some of those songs. Let’s start off with this one from someone claiming to be Roxanne’s sister.
That was DW and The Party Crew featuring Roxy (Roxanne’s sister.) I kind of like how siblings stick up for each other. It’s a cute concept and I think it works better than some of the other countless Roxanne Wars shots.
It wasn’t just females responding to these tracks either. Here’s one that from some other fellow that have beef was well.
Enough of that. That was The Invasions “Roxanne’s Dis” and by this point in time, a lot of people had just about had enough of these Roxanne Wars, including these guys.
Sorry, but I couldn’t find an embed link for this song. Download the podcast or stream it with the player below to hear it.
That was The East Coast Crew “The Final Word: No More Roxanne (Please)”
I can definitely understand the sentiment there. I mean, there were so many Roxanne records coming out that it was just preposterous.
I appreciate what the first Roxanne did, Roxanne Shant é. That was nice! That was unique! That was clever!
Unfortunately, everyone tried to copy her success in exactly the same way and started releasing their own response records to either “Roxanne, Roxanne” or “Roxanne’s Revenge.” But it wasn’t original and it got really watered down. And we ended up with one hundred Roxanne Records. It’s ridiculous.
Next month, we will look at another famous battle within hip-hop, The Bridge Wars. It was between the Juice Crew and Boogie Down Productions (BDP.) Strangely enough, Shant é got caught up in this battle as well since she was part of The Juice Crew. But that’s a story for next time.
While The Roxanne Wars were the hip-hop first battle taken to the record, it certainly wasn’t the last. There have been some famous ones between Ice Cube and NWA, Common and Ice Cube, Canibus and LL Cool J, to name a few.
There were some awesome battle records that came out in hip-hop culture. But The Roxanne Wars were the first. Before “Roxanne’s Revenge,” the answer record in hip-hop didn’t exist. You gotta give props to Roxanne Shanté. I love what she did with that record. Not only did it establish the tradition of the answer record in hip-hop, but it also sparked an interest in female emcees.
One record can do a lot.
This has been Chase March. Thanks for tuning in to Know Your History. See you next month for another great episode.