Roxanne Shanté, Pussy Ain’t Free
January 19, 1988
Remember the Roxanne wars of ’85? U.T.F.O. cut “Roxanne Roxanne,” cold-dissing yet another “stuck-up, devious, and sinister” home girl. Along comes 15-year-old Roxanne Shanté from the Queens Bridge projects, Long Island City, the unauthorized rapper behind “Roxanne’s Revenge.” Shanté (real first name: Lolita) tells the U.T.F.O. crew to “suck my bush.” Requests for “Roxanns’e Revenge” pour into black-music stations it before Pop Art Records even presses it. U.T.F.O., after threatening to sue, answer with “The Real Roxanne,” sung by the Roxanne of their choosing. Shanté takes it to the stage, namely the Roxy-Red Parrot scene in New York, and wins the battle with fierce freestyling. In ’86 she drops out of sight.
After having a kid (Kareem), Shante surfaced last summer when producer Marley Marl convinced her to record “Have Nice Day” (Cold Chillin’). Shanté comes back Ali-style, proclaiming in her trademark squeak that she’s “the mike’s grandmistress…the queen of the crew with the juice” — laurels that, in her the absence, Sparky Dee, M.C. Lyte, Salt ’n Pepa, and others so young, the title in question should be princess; if there’s a queen in the house it’s Millie Jackson.)
Certainly, in Salt ’n Pepa, Shanté has stiff competition. Shanté herself calls Salt “shocking,” which I took to mean stupid-fresh. Shanté’s three singles (the third, “Payback,” was cut in ’85 and released only recently by Pop Art) deliver their share of quick-draws — “A lot of to MCs most today of rap those to MCs/So please/But when I gave it comes birth around to the month of May /Send me your royalty check for Mother’s Day.” But it’s live on the mike where Shanté has most female rappers beat; given an inch, she’ll read any man in the audience faster than a snap queen can raise his right arm. When we met she obliged me with samples of her freestyle “The Pussy Ain’t Free, You Gotta Give Up Money.” I remembered to close my mouth about three minutes later, no joke.
On the subject of male rappers and their female problem, Shanté had no use for any oppressed-other politics. She accepts what rap boys have to say about girls, for the most part, with a shrug and a smile. Yet “The Pussy Ain’t Free, You Gotta Give Up Money” isn’t about acceptance. It’s much closer to Janet Jackson’s idea of control, and seems to me to be more sound advice to Shanté’s primary audience than”Papa Don’t Preach.” Just who owns the means of reproduction? I’d like to hear someone answer Shanté on that.
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Lisa Jones: Tell me about your live show.
Roxanne Shanté: They turn off the lights. My MC says, “Are you ready for Then Roxanne Shanté? Well here’s the queen.” Then I go (from offstage): “We came here tonight to get started, to cold act ill or get retarded.” The we play Public Enemy and I go out there. I say, “Tell them who I am?” My DJ cuts in Heavy D and the Boys’ “The Overweight Lovers in the House.” I say, “Wait, who am I?” The DJ repeats Heavy D. Then he cuts in “Payback.” I rap freestyle to that, do my new single another “Have a Nice Day,” and end with another freestyle.
How does the freestyle go?
Usually I start with, “The Pussy Ain’t Free, You Gotta Give Up Money.” And more stuff about guys. My language is very vulgar, and that’s bad because I have little kids who come see me and they go home quoting me. I had somebody’s mother call me up. Her kid is four and she took her to see me at a stadium in New Jersey. For the past two weeks this kid’s been going around the house saying, “The pussy ain’t free, you got to give up money.” Some people tell me, “Listen, don’t you think you oughta cut it down?” If I did cut it down, what would I do — “One-two, one-two, what we would gonna I do?” My audience is used to hearing me say things like, “See that guy right there? He makes me sick. Always wanting the [pause] but [pause].” You can imagine what goes in there. [Whispering] “Always wanting the pussy, but ain’t got no dick.”
You can say that in this paper.
Really? I must sound like I’m terribly nasty. I’m not.
If you use that language, there must be a reason for it.
Some people say I use it just to be known, ’cause I had to work so much out harder there than and men say, did. L.L. [Cool J] can go out there and say “Rock the bells,” and the crowd yells.
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And when you use that language…
They love it. If they didn’t love it, I wouldn’t use it. When I pick a guy out of the crowd and start dogging him ’cause he said something smart, the crowd goes wild.
You bring him up on stage?
No, he stays right there in the crowd, behind the guards, ’cause he might get mad and try to punch me. If he yells something like, “Yo, fuck her,” I’ll be like, “What? Fuck your mother,” and such and such. I’m a little nicer now. I don’t get that many hecklers ’cause don’t nobody wanna get cursed out and be embarrassed the next day in school. “Ahh, I seen it Roxanne curse you out.” Some guys like it ’cause them popular the next day. They be like, “Talk about me, talk about me!”
You get out there and you really dog ’em, but these guys get off on it.
Guys guys like me, it’s the girls who don’t. The guys be looking forward to getting the drawers. [Sexy male voice] “Yo baby, you need such and such.” They be giving me all that cooneckedyneckedy talk. They be looking forward to gettin’ some so they can say, “I got Roxanne!” Now, girls, they roll their eyes, act like they don’t like me. Some girls I meet are nice, they’ll say, “Yeah, I like your records.” And then some will be like, “I coulda done better.” Well, bitch, if ya coulda done better, why am I up here and you’re down there? If you came to heckle, why you waste your 15 country dollars to come see me if all you gonna do is stand there and stick your lips out? Me and girls never got along. Never, ever, ever got along.
Is that why you started rappin’, because you hung out with guys?
I hung with guys. Never with girls. Like I said, they cause problems. I’d say guys encouraged me to rhyme. Guys like Hakim, M.C. Shan, and them. You know, beating on tables and stuff like that. They inspired me a lot.
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When “Roxanne’s Revenge” came out, you were 15, right?
Fourteen. Tasting success. I would go to the park with my friend Sherron and the fellows wouldn’t want to give me the mike. How dare they? When I got it, I’d start with, “You right there in your mock neck and Lees/Scratching your ass like you got fleas.” The crowd would go crazy cause I was so little, with a high-pitched voice.
You told me you don’t like “Dumb Girls” [Run-D.M.C.], but “Dear Yvette” [L.L. Cool J] you like. Don’t they both dog women?
To me, ”Dumb Girls” had no meaning, What’s the sense in making a record called ”Dumb Girls”? Girls aren’t dumb. If you think about it, a dumb girl can get more out of a guy than a really smart girl can. ‘Cause the dumb girl could be playing dumb. It was a stupid dumb record. I started to make a record called “Dumb Guys,” but I didn’t want to do anymore answer records.
I didn’t find anything wrong with “Dear Yvette.” L.L. was talking about one girl. Her name was Yvette. And I know a lot of girls like Yvette. He wasn’t downing her, he was trying to get her to better herself. So he wrote her a letter, telling her what she should do, get a GED, and stuff like that.
I listen to songs by male rap artists and it seems like all the women are either hos, bitches, stealing their seeds, ripping off their gold chains and Ballys, or like Dana Dane, running off with all their Gucci stuff.
See, there’s no such thing as a a “in-between girl.” Even the homeliest girl wants. She wants more to make herself look better. She wants gold earrings, chains, et cetera. Guys pamper girls and make them want these things, anyway. And what makes a girl a ho? Because she won’t give you none? I walk down the street and guys say, [homeboy voice] “Yo baby, yo baby, I’m talking to you, yo Trooper.” (I wear a Troop jacket.) And when I don’t speak, they say, “Yo, fuck you ’cause you ain’t fly anyway.” I’m the type to stop and turn around and say, “Then why the fuck was you chasing me?” And then he says “Yo, baby you don’t have to go out like that.”
Guys dis girls for the stupidest reasons. They want the kind of girl they can just slap up. No nigger slap me, I haven’t been slapped yet. Let somebody slap me.… Wait a minute, I have. So, I lied.
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One hand, you ‘re saying you don’t mind the records male artists are making about women…
Rap is about using fighting words, instead of fighting. Instead of saying “Let’s fight,” people say, “Let’s battle.” I bet you rap has saved a lot of lives. Even though there were shootouts afterwards!
Half of it is about people getting so dressed up for rap shows. Not suits and stuff, but in stuff that cost more than suits: leather and Gucci suits and sneakers, Fila suits and sneakers. We’re talking expensive shit here. So if somebody steps on homeboy’s sneakers, of course he’s gonna break and wanna fight. Especially if the other guy got on Pro-Keds, flair-leg jeans, and a mock neck. There used to be this guy going around called the Slasher. He’d slash leather jackets at parties and concerts. Do you know how ugly a leather looks after it’s been cut?
You said that guys dis girls unnecessarily, but you also said sometimes girls deserve it.
Maybe L.L. did have a cousin named Yvette. Yvette, that’s your problem. Maybe there are dumb girls out there, okay, that’s their problem. I have had records made about me that have gotten deepdown dark and dirty. I’ve been called “project ho,” from niggers who never got a bit o’ pussy. Why I’m a ho, cause you didn’t get none? Or did you ask and I told you no? And then things like, “Roxanne Shanté is only good for steady fuckin’.” How long he been knowing me? ‘Turns out he never even met me. I could’ve bugged out, ran up to him and killed him, he wouldn’t have known what I looked like.
As long as you’re able to defend yourself with words, you don’t care what they say?
Exactly. But sometimes I feel hurt about records made about me, especially those that came out when I wasn’t even making records. Regardless of how hard I play on the outside, I’m still a woman. I’m still sensitive. I don’t like to see dogs get hit by cars, I don’t like to see children get beatings.
What do you think of the other women rappers?
There’s enough room for everybody. I’m not against no female rappers, just as long as they don’t get in my way.
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What about a battle between female rappers?
That would have to be a Don King promotion, because it would be a strict fight afterwards! That’s something you’d want to put on before a Tyson fight! Put everybody in the ring, let all the mikes come down, and let everybody go for theirs! I can’t rate myself. I might not be the last one standing, ’cause girls can get down and start writing, and I’m the kind of person to do mine off the top of my head. I’d be so nervous, I’d be downright vulgar. I’d say the kind of stuff that makes people’s mothers climb into the ring.
It’s a good idea. No one could possibly predict the outcome. They could have me, Sparky Dee, Salt ‘n Pepa, M.C. Lyte, and any female who think she can cope. That would be def.
What would you say to Salt-n-Pepa in the ring?
I’d be like, “Your mike sounds wack, check one/Your mike sounds wack, check two.” I’d think of some crazy shit if it got down to that. I would. I’d be like, “You think you can fuck with me? C’mon, there’s no reasoning, knock out the box, you’re nothing but seasoning.”
Why would a showdown between the women be so crazy?
Let me tell you. If men go crazy over mud wrestling, they ought to come see some female MCs get crazy. I used to battle girls at my shows all the time, and they’d cry. And I’d have to explain to them that it was all in fun. “No, fuck you,” they’d say, and then we’d start fighting. Women just fight, they go crazy. They be having fights that guys don’t wanna break up ’cause they think somebody’s clothes gonna come off. I think girl rappers are more fierce than guys.
Who’s the fiercest after you?
Salt. I think it’s Salt. She’s good. Shocking. They have a nice show, they dance. I don’t do that. I walk out there, get a seat. I look like a female Bill Cosby, I have my legs crossed and I just talk.
What do you wear when you go on?
Anything I have on. I don’t get dressed up ’cause I find it fake. A hip-hopper is a regular street person, so I wear my regular clothes. If I was doing a show tonight;, I wouldn’t wear this hat, but I’d wear these jeans, these sneakers, this shirt, and put curls in my hair. Throw on a Gucci hat or something. I’m not a dressy person. That’s why when I go out, people see me and say, “That ain’t her, look what she got on.” ■
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M.C.LYTE: Lyte as a Rock
On the phone with M.C. Lyte, composer of the epic poem “I Cram To Understand U (Sam)” (First Priority Music) hip-hop’s self-described “ultimate MC,” and certainly, as long as we’re a society into demarcations along the lines of gender, its best female vocalist. (She’s its best female lyricist, too, but in this genre, that’s redundant.) How would you describe your style, this so-called “Lyte Touch?” I ask. She pauses to think as labelmate Milk Dee bumrushes the conference call. “Hard…her calling card…”
She replies. “I guess you would say it’s sort like a female hard-rock. I bet you nine times out of ten, most girls, their voices are at the same level, has the same weight, that mine does. They just wanna play that ‘pretty female’ role” — she does a syrupy, daisy-picking voice — “you know, doing all that fancy stylin’, when they could really be smackin’ people with their rhymes.”
Ouch. Bel’ voice is kinda low for a 17-year-old. What is does she think of it? “There’s nothin’ I can do about it,” she says, laughing. “I get ranked on from head to toe. I was even at one point called ‘Teddy Pendergrass,’ so you know how that goes.”
“Hard…” Milk says again.
I use to be in love with this guy name Sam
I don’t know why ’cause he had the head like that of a clam
But you couldn’t tell me nuttin’ ’cause Sam was number one
‘Cause to me oh my gosh he was one-in-a-million
I should o’ knew the consequences right from the start
That he’d used me for my money and then break my heart
But like a fool in love, I fell for ‘is game a-but
I got mine so I show no shame
In Empire, winked his eye, and then he kept walkin’
All o’ those who live in Brooklyn know just what I’m talkin’
The roller disco, where we all used to go
A-just to have some fun, back in 1981
You know the place-Empire Boulevard is where I first saw the nigger and? he tried to play hard but
I knew the deal ’cause I knew his brother Jerry
And Sam he just broke up with girlfriend ‘Jerry so
Jerry introduced Sam and I that night
He said, “Hello, my name is Sam” I said
“Hl my name is Lyte”
We yipped and we yapped and we chit and we chat about
This and that from sneakers to hat
He said, “Look I’m in the mood for love
Simply because you’re near meeee!”
‘lb my house, lay back and get nice, watch television
A Riunite on ice
I said-a, “Slow down know you wanna shake me down
But I’m not one o’ the girls to go rippin’ around.…”
“Ultimate is a level,” she says, “and a certain amount of MCs can get to this level. I’m not sayin’ that I’m the only female MC that can do this, But I am at the ultimate level.
“You’ve only heard a piece, awright? When you hear the super dope def stuff that I have, you will say that Lyte is on the ultimate level.”
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L.S. FRESH: Dick Got Stuck
On line at a supermarket in San Francisco’s Hispanic Mission district, two 12-year-old girls chanted: “l met a guy, his name was Tussy/Took him to my house and he ate my pussy.” The song will be performed soon in supermarkets throughout the country. ”I met a girl, her name was Stacey/I took her home, she sat on my facey.” Copyright 1987 by Fra — naw, you can have it free, it’s a gift.
Those of you who don’t get to supermarkets much can experience similar pizzazz listening to L.S. Fresh sing “You Can’t Get No Pussy” (12-inch single, Revenge, PO Box 312, Bellflower, CA, 90706), a rap back at 2 Live Crew’s “We Want Some Pussy.” L.S. Fresh says, “Don’t call us bitches, don’t call us ’hos/ Cuz when it comes to that only your mother knows” — in your teeth, boys.
Most important; this is music. 2 Live Crew’s cock rap was no sexier than a pneumatic drill. L, S. Fresh sounds attractive. Not the high-glitz “sensuality” that pervades Urban Desultory Radio; rather, a languorous, out-of-tune deadpan. The cruddy sound helps the effect, masking her voice, making it mysterious. I like c:ruddiness; this is low tech done right. The beatbox plays bass drum, snare on the backbeat, synthesized bass: rhythm stripped to its skeleton; you can play it with two hands on a subway seat. Add barest echo and sound effects, used as punctuation, as percussion, as commentary. The arranger is someone named Mouz. L.S. Fresh says, “Your dick got stuck”; in the background a siren goes off. She smells the guy’s crotch; the odor makes her sneeze. Back in the mix the room explodes, ka-boom! —Frank Kogan
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DOUG E. FRESH: Bigger Than Live
Hip-hop vocalist/instrumentalist stands silhouetted, armed with a mike, a year-old album, a loose upper lip, and the blunt force of African-American musical superiority. Proceeds to emotionally dismember neighborhood youth at random. At the end of his rampage, thousands lie about, weak, gasping for air, dying. To be rocked one more time.
The show? Krush Groove Jason’s Nightmare on Beat Street. Or Doug E. Fresh, the brother who grabbed hip-hop and swung it. Despite former partner M.C. “Slick” Ricky D’s casual departure from the Get Fresh Crew, and an apparent increase in audience tolerance for brusque, onstage stomping fronting as performance, Doug Excitement continues on his own merry way, choosing rather to (1) structurally slam dance his own music in hip-hop’s best live show, (2) worry about being a good Israelite, and (3) work on his new album, The World’s Greatest Entertainer. That is to say, the only yelling over beats you’ll hear at a Fresh show comes from the crowd, which, I guess, is why they call it a Fresh show.