Remember Roxanne?

15:00 May 05, 2020

Musicians often hide messages (or include them pretty obviously) in their lyrics, messages aimed at fellow performers. This is perhaps most widespread among rappers - diss tracks add a lot of extra spice to hip-hop, and they are very popular among fans. Some rappers are especially prolific when it comes to diss tracks. Eminem's latest album is filled with provocative lyrics mentioning everyone from his ex-wife Kim to Machine Gun Kelly (again).

While diss tracks are not exclusive to hip-hop, they are far less widespread in other genres. And the biggest ever exchange happened early in hip-hop history, with the release of a UTFO track called "Roxanne Roxanne".

Roxanne, Roxanne…

UTFO released a single "Hanging Out" which was not very successful. On its B-side, in turn, there was a track about a girl refusing all the advances of the rappers, called "Roxanne, Roxanne", that was moderately successful. Producers Tyrone "Fly Ty" Williams, Marley Marl, and DJ Mr. Magic invited the band to their radio show which they later cancelled - this has angered the three, of course. Their discussion was overheard by Lolita Shanté Gooden, 14 at the time, who proposed to record an answer track to get back at the band. The three agreed - thus "Roxanne's Revenge" was born, a track freestyled by Shanté - who took the alias Roxanne Shanté - recorded in a single take using the beats of the UTFO track. And it was filled with profanities addressed to the needy guy. The track was a huge success, selling more than 250,000 copies in the New York area alone.

And this is where the war began.

The Roxanne Wars

The Roxanne Wars went down in history as perhaps the longest series of answer records ever.

After Roxanne Shanté's response, UTFO shot back a salvo featuring Elease Jack as The Real Roxanne. To this, Roxanne Shanté responded with "Bite This" and "Queen of Rox". The tracks received a lot of airplay, prompting others to get into the game - soon, records emerged featuring Roxanne's brother, sister, parents, even her doctor. Over a year, a total of 30 to 100 tracks were released discussing Roxanne or her extended family - and responses to them.

Finally, it was The East Coast Crew that called for an armistice, releasing the track "The Final Word - No More Roxanne (Please)" in 1985 that ended the war.

Roxanne Shanté

For Roxanne Shanté, it was the start of a long and successful career. Between 1984 and 1996, she released two studio albums and a "Best of" compilation, and over a dozen singles. She went on an extended hiatus by the age of 25, shifting to mentoring young female hip-hop artists. She returned to the stage in 2008 and "Roxanne's Revenge" did, too, becoming #42 on VH1's "100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop". Her story even made it to the silver screen: the movie "Roxanne Roxanne" based on her life story was first shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017, then headed to Netflix in March 2018.

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