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Roxanne Shanté talks new film, faith and giving back

By Final Call News | Last updated: Apr 16, 2018 - 12:39:39 PM

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Pioneering artist Roxanne Shanté, who burst onto the hip hop music scene in 1984 at a young age, visited Mosque Maryam at the National Center, headquarters of the Nation of Islam along with her husband Jabbar on April 1. After sharing a few brief words with the audience, she sat down with Final Call Editorin- Chief Richard B. Muhammad for a videotaped interview and Managing Editor Starla Muhammad in an off-camera interview to discuss, “Roxanne Roxanne,” the biopic film based on her early life in Queens currently available on Netflix and a variety of other topics. Below is a compilation from those interviews. To view the video interview in its entirety, visit The Collective 9 on YouTube.

CHICAGO—“Roxanne Roxanne,” the critically acclaimed biopic chronicling the early life of pioneering rap artist Lolita Shanté Gooden, better known as “Roxanne Shanté,” was recently released on Netflix to much excitement. For true hip hop historians and fans, it was long overdue. Before, Nikki Minaj, Cardi B, Remy Ma, Lil Kim or even legends like MC Lyte, Salt n-Pepa and Queen Latifah, there was Roxanne Shanté.

In the early 1980s when hip hop was as it still is today, a male-dominated industry, a 14-year-old young sister from Queens, New York, burst on the scene, undeterred and unintimidated. 

Roxanne Shante'

Though she had already garnered much respect and a formidable reputation as a “battle rapper” when her “diss-track” Roxanne’s Revenge—an answer to UTFO’s hit song about a girl who shuns the trio’s advances—dropped, it propelled her to stardom in the hip hop arena.

The Netflix film covers roughly three years of her life, from age 14 to 17 and shows the pain, heartache and resilience she experienced. “It shows exactly what I went through as far as being ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ and the things that it took onstage, both onstage and offstage,” she explained.

It was not an easy journey and the film shows the real-life struggles of Shante’, her mother and siblings. Physical and emotional abuse, living in a dangerous area, her mom’s battle with alcohol, poverty and being taken advantage of in the music industry played a part in cultivating her into the strong woman she is today.  The film also reintroduces her to a new generation of young people, something Roxanne Shanté understands.

“What I find is that you actually get back what you give out and I have always made it my business to stay very loving, stay very supporting. I am actually that hip hop artist that when people meet me, and they greet me they don’t want an autograph, they just want a hug.  Literally they just want a hug and a selfie, and I make sure that I send them with a kind word and because I follow the teachings of Elijah Muhammad I’m able to tell them ‘like listen, don’t give up, don’t give in, this is what they expect of us.’”

Hip hip pioneer Roxanne Shante’ recently visited Mosque Maryam in Chicago and shared a few words. The fi lm ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ which chronicles early years of her life is currently on Netflix. Photos: Haroon Rajaee
The wife, mother, artist and youth mentor explained the first time she felt she needed Islam in her life was when her son was four years old. “I had come in contact with an imam (Muslim spiritual leader) and there was something about this man that was different than any other man that I had ever met before,” she explained. The attraction to the faith was beyond the articulation, attire or demeanor of this man, said Roxanne Shanté.

“It was something that I noticed, that I saw in him that I said I would like to actually have that in my son’s life and I did not even know what it was, then I found out it was Islam.” She credits her husband of seven years, Jabbar, for her practicing the faith at a different level today.

She also said that it is important for young people, to see success, not just hear people talk about success. 

“This is a movie about all of us. This is about girls from the ‘hood. This is about girls dating men who are too old for them.  This is about girls who had daddy issues or didn’t have a father growing up in the home. This was about mothers’ catching depression. This was about living in the projects. This was about stealing, being a thief, a hustler—and they needed to see that, to see that turnaround, to understand that it is possible. You need to show them. You can’t just tell a person; you need to show them,” said Roxanne Shanté.

She has also learned a lot about herself during her journey. “I have learned that anything is possible through patience and prayer,” she said.

When asked if she had any advice for young women who want to get into the music industry today, she said the most important thing for them to do is educate themselves.

Left to right: Student Minister Ishmael R. Muhammad, Roxanne Shante’, her husband Jabbar and Student Min. Abdul Muhammad.

Left to right: Final Call Editor-in-Chief Richard B. Muhammad, Roxanne Shante' and Bro. Troy X of the Collective 9.

“You must educate yourself. You have to have some knowledge about what is going on in this industry. You need to know a little bit about contracts. You need to make sure you educate yourself on a little bit of everything. I’m not going to say that you’re going to be able to master everything because no one is able to master everything, but you do need to educate yourself absolutely.”

Not one to slow down, today Roxanne Shanté is a sought-after speaker and 10 years ago she started a nonprofit program, Mind Over Matter that works with at-risk girls ages 9-12.  “We have found that here in Chicago that we need to start with them as early as six years old for anti-violence, anti-gangs and in the process of that we wanted to start them off because we say that we want them to act like queens and we want them to remember that they are royal and they are queens. But, how can we get them to act like queens if they never were princesses?” she asked.

The group’s “Princess Program” aims to help guide young girls with positive outlets that will help change their mindset about life.

“We are responsible for 512 graduates. These young ladies came in as ‘at risk’ for graduating. We have salutatorians, valedictorians and superintendent award winners under our belt, so we have seen a lot of success where we have taken those who people had counted out and actually have made them the greatest to come out of these high schools,” she continued. The program is currently in Newark, New Jersey, but she is working on expanding it nationwide, including in Chicago.

For more information, visit Mind Over Matter on Facebook. Follow Roxanne Shanté on social media on Twitter and Instagram @iamroxanneshante.