I’ve been a fan of all things Hip-Hop and R&B for as long as I can remember. When I first saw the trailer for ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ I was a little pissed because how did this story slip past me? The story of a young NYC battle rapper becoming a legend at 14. She needs to be celebrated all the time!
Quick side note- but want to know how I know God has a sense of humor?
I recently started a new job and I wanted to decorate my office with some artwork that represents my personality. One of the pieces I hung up was a collection of stamps with the faces of hip hop pioneers (Big, Pac, LL Cool J, Rakim, etc) and Roxanne is on there! The crazy part is I was gifted this artwork two years ago but I never took it out of the original packaging until now. Isn’t that crazy?
Okay, sorry for that tangent. Back to business.
The movie kicks off in Queensbridge, NYC and we finally see a young Shante, adorable as ever. Shout out to Taliyah Whitaker who was also Reggie in She’s Gotta Have It and Shandra in The Incredible Jessica James; Sis stays booked and busy! Shante approaches a group of adults who are outside crowded around this one guy. This grown man steps up and he immediately scoffs when he realizes he’ll be battle rapping a little girl. Shante, not phased by this man and his fragile ego, is ready to shred him to pieces but her main concern is can she use foul language. A question that she turns and asks her mother who is played by Nia Long. I loved that as a child she had enough confidence to know how powerful her skills were yet she had enough respect for her mama before she even tried to embarrass herself in front of all those people. They never showed how that battle ended but I’m pretty sure Shante won and pocketed that $50.
The movie then jumps forwards to 1982 and we see Shante dancing in a small NYC apartment with her 3 little sisters. They don’t seem to have much but they seem happy together. The next day, Shante tells her best friend they’re about to get a new house and she’s just happy her baby sister doesn’t have to play in abandoned lots and on dirty mattresses anymore. Things are looking up for them and then all of a sudden, everything’s gone because of a man. Shocker. *insert sarcasm here* Peggy (Nia Long) is devastated when she learns that her beau stole all the money she had to buy a house for her family and ran off to never return. It was interesting to see Nia Long in this new role and boy does she deserve an award or two for it.
Peggy goes on to be very angry and resentful which then causes a rift between her and Shante who is honestly just being a teenager. Shante has her eyes on bigger dreams but she knows that her mother and sisters come first. She turns to boosting and only battle rapping for $250 or more. One random day, she’s walking to the laundromat and someone from the neighborhood (who just so happens to be Mr. Magic) calls her up to record a verse and everything after that was magic. Shante’s song hit the radio and she was then doing appearances all over the city. Shante was officially Roxanne Shante and life as she once knew it would never be the same. Obviously, with the fame came a lot of bullshit. Bullshit such as shiesty managers pocketing her money, being forced to beef with other female MCs, grown men lusting over her and so much more.
Let’s take a quick detour while discussing grown men lusting over her. I never knew it was possible but this movie had me crushing and hating Mahershala Ali at the same. damn. time.
Ali plays a slick talking, smooth dressing, money man named Cross. Cross makes a few appearances throughout the movie but it was when Shante's career took off that he became a big character in her life. He lurked and he pried and even after her security told him to back off, he convinced Roxanne that he could give her something she's never had before; love. What started off as a "beautiful" relationship (in their eyes, not mine), ultimately ended in rage, verbal and mental abuse and Roxanne not only having a baby but having to pay Cross $10k to get her son back and get out of the situation. He was trash. A monster. Straight disgusting. Word on the [Twitter] streets is that he got murdered a few years back. I'm not wishing death on anyone but karma is a b***h.
Overall, it was a great movie. I feel like it ended quickly and I wanted more. At the beginning of the movie, we're introduced to this young kid who wanted to rap but couldn't get his bars together. By the end of the movie, he was spitting bars and that youngin' ended up being none other than Nas! I would have loved to see what role Shante ended up playing in his career moving forward. I also wanted to know what happened to her music career post "Roxanne's Revenge." I know she retired from the recording industry at 25 but what else did she do? How's her family? How's her son? I guess we'll have to wait for that autobiography.
The one major lesson that I did learn from this movie is that more times than not, black girls have to grow up so fast due to life letting them down. From day one, Shante never got a chance to just be a kid. She was taking care of her little sisters when her mom was dealing with her own struggles. Instead of thanking her, her mom turned around and lashed out at her which drove Shante to move out at 14. She then moved into a friend's apartment who ultimately tried to take advantage of her. When she denied him, he forced her to move out. Refusing to go back to her mother or being homeless, Roxanne was going to let this predator have his way with her in order to keep this safe space she called home. Luckily, he found his senses and Shante went back home. Now, Shante is back to square one but her career is jumping off. School is a thing of the past along with her best friend who kept her grounded and now she's around men that either want her body or her money. How can a 15 year old see through the bullshit when people are selling them hopes and dreams? Then here comes Cross, offering her the one thing she's never received in her life. Shante knew he was controlling and possessive but when the world doesn't love you and this man promises you he will, wouldn't you take the offer too? A few years later, Shante runs into her old manager at a photo shoot, the one that stole her money, and he wants to work with her again. At this point, she's below rock bottom and ultimately writes off Roxanne because that character is the reason she ended up where she was; a teenage mother living with an abusive older boyfriend. She confides in this man and tells him that she's getting her ass beat every single day. What does he do? Nothing. He stays silent and lets her walk away. That was another important lesson. A lot of people couldn't care less about what's going on in your life. If you're not helping them get what they need, you're useless.
There was this quick and subtle moment that happens in the movie but it spoke volumes to me. When the men stole her money and Shante was flipping out, the only person that helped her was the other female MC that they kept putting her up against. In a Breakfast Club interview, Shante shared that the managers and DJs used to keep the female MCs from getting to know each other because they were charging them different prices for their services. If they were friends, they would know that were getting robbed. This was a big moment for me because with women (especially black women), if we see one of our sisters struggling we will help you out because we've been there before. Hell, most of us are living in it day to day.
I know this movie was packaged as a tale about a hip hop hidden figure but ultimately, it's so much more. It's a lesson about overcoming hardship and living out your dreams. It's a lesson about life kicking you down but being strong enough to bounce back. Overall, its a lesson about being a bad ass woman above everything else.