Hip Hop & Heartbreak with Roxanne Shanté

Posted by: yetheart, February 8, 2017 1:37 pm
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Roxanne Shanté

On Monday, February 13 at 6:00 p.m., hip-hop legend Roxanne Shanté (born Lolita Shanté Gooden) will join us at Central Library in Jamaica to host Hip Hop—The Pain is Real, a multi-format Broken Heart Week event that promises the full “Roxanne Shanté experience.”

“It will pretty much cover the gamut of broken hearts,” Shanté said. “Now I’m in a wonderful relationship, which enables me to look at my broken hearts of the past. Now finally, I can say, hang on, this is what comes afterwards. Something good can come of it.”

When asked about the Queensbridge Houses, where she grew up, Shanté smiled. “I have a wonderful relationship with my quote-unquote ‘hood,’” she said. A biopic about her life, titled Roxanne Roxanne, was recently accepted to the prestigious Sundance Festival, where it premiered in January 2017. Shanté, as an executive producer, was adamant that the film be shot at the housing estate, creating opportunities for the current residents. “All the extras were from Queensbridge. For a lot of kids, it was actually their summer job, and they got their first paychecks. They sent me pictures of their checks, saying ‘this is what I got out of it.’”

Co-produced by Forest Whitaker, Pharrell Williams, and music video producer (and Queens Library’s Hip Hop Coordinator!) Ralph McDaniels, Roxanne Roxanne tells Shanté’s story from ages 10–16. A battle MC who got her start as part of the Juice Crew, the Queensbridge-based hip-hop collective founded by Marley Marl, Shanté was just 14 when the infamous Roxanne Wars and Bridge Wars started. These two rivalries sparked prolific output from the warring crews, and established the “hip-hop rivalry” tradition that continues to this day. “I had 87 songs made specifically about me, where they said ‘Roxanne Shanté,’” said Shanté. “They say it was the first hip-hop war on wax.”

Shanté was, and remains, a big supporter of public libraries. She wrote several of her rhymes at a library that was once on-site at the Queensbridge Houses, eventually exploring the city to find other quiet refuges to write and learn. “It was very important for us to have an extended vocabulary. We looked up certain things, we did a lot of research, especially when we did songs regarding our history, so we wanted to make sure we had that proper reference. And what’s funny is a lot of people went to the library to write rhymes because it was quiet! You could find that solace, that quiet, that solitude in the library. You’d find a lot of rappers sitting on the floor, in the corners, at the table. And the acoustics at the library were phenomenal.”

Shanté frequently returns to her former Queens neighborhood to participate in senior programs and youth programs, giving back to her community wherever possible. We're honored that she's returning to Queens Library to share her experiences of dealing with heartbreak, grief, and triumph for Broken Heart Week.

This article was written by Tabitha Laffernis and originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Queens Library Magazine.