Making moves: ‘Roxanne’s Revenge’ and the rise of the female rapper

Back in the day when rappers used to wear tacky outfits, hip-hop experienced one of its greatest feuds. 1984 marked the year of the first ever rap beef, when the now legendary producer Marley Marl asked an aspiring rapper from Queens to rap over a beat by UTFO called ‘Roxanne Roxanne’.

In ‘Roxanne Roxanne’, The Educated Rapper, The Kangol Kid and Doctor Ice rap about their struggle and failure to woo a girl named Roxanne. Each gives their justification for being the right suitor for her with Doctor Ice scoring a date. At the end of the song, Roxanne stands him up.

Lolita Shanté Gooden, the up-and-comer, was already a notorious rap-battler on the New York scene and her venom came through on ‘Roxanne’s Revenge’: the response track to UTFO was written from the perspective of Roxanne, taking shots at the trio. Under the moniker Roxanne Shanté, she tore apart each member and immediately sparked controversy in the burgeoning rap community.

UTFO shot back with the track ‘The Real Roxanne’. The self-deprecating track, just as successful as its predecessor was a rebuttal that managed to take the sting out of Roxanne Shanté’s barbs.

Roxanne pandemonium had officially arrived. Roxanne Shanté hit back with ‘Bite This’, feeling that the Roxanne used in ‘The Real Roxanne’ was copying her style. Shanté didn’t just stop there ­— she proceeded to invite all rappers to take her on. According to historical rap literature, 100 different Roxanne responses were recorded, and 30 official versions can actually be found.

The Roxanne Wars have left a profound mark on the hip-hop industry. It gave rap its first beef, a feature of the genre that still exists today, whether it be Drake versus Meek Mill or Lil Kim versus Nicki Minaj. More importantly, Roxanne Shanté stood against a cause that was ahead. A cause which is relevant in contemporary social culture: ‘Roxanne’s Revenge’ was a woman saying no to the man. Roxanne used her proficiency in verse to stand up to an industry which was largely patriarchal. She successfully conquered it. Roxanne not only inspired women to rap at the time, she gave women a way into the rap industry.

Today, there’s another emcee with mean bars creating her own history. It wouldn’t be clear immediately, but Cardi B has a lot more in common with Roxanne Shanté than it would seem. Just take the catchiest hook from her song ‘Bodak Yellow’: “I don’t dance now, I make money moves / Say I don’t gotta dance, I make money move / If I see you and I don’t speak, that means I don’t fuck with you / I’m a boss, you a worker, bitch, I make bloody moves.”

Before making it big in the rap scene, Cardi B was a stripper who was just looking to make ends meet. These aren’t shallow bars.

Strip clubs are also a business run by a patriarchy, seeking to sexually exploit women who are paid a bare minimum, while the male owners usually accumulate all the wealth. Many women won’t make it out of the cycle, out of the trap. Cardi B has managed to turn the tables — she’s the boss now.

Cardi B is shattering records, and every single she has released has been in the top 10. She’s not just breaking the records of female artists, but also male artists. At the beginning of January she was in the company of Ashanti and The Beatles, being one of the only artists to have three singles in the Billboard top 10. Her achievements are certainly impressive amongst other female rappers, but she’s transcended gender now. Her accolades shouldn’t be segregated by gender.

Women have a seat at the table, but it’s a segregated table. It seems like they can’t occupy the same niche. When female rappers beef, it’s usually against each other, sometimes under influence of the press. These divisive tactics are a remnant of society which must die. Female emcees are always pitted against other female emcees, take Azealia Banks versus every female rapper or the endless Lil Kim versus Nicki Minaj feud.

Cardi B should be celebrated as the artist she is for her music, not for her gender. While she and Roxanne Shanté have both been pioneers for women, their legacies shouldn’t be separated from that of the male emcees. It’s time for the Roxannes of the world to say no again and make moves — but this time together.

Image: Raven Varona

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