Monday, 31 December 2018

Roxanne Roxanne (2018) - Movie Review are a lot of major events that happened in the 80’s that would solidify the hip-hop culture right up to the present day. DJ Kool Herc’s legendary bloc parties, Kool Moe Dee’s first battle against Busy Bee Starski, the feud between the Bronx and Queensbridge that would define ‘beef’ forever after; this is a rich time in the culture’s history. But one story that keeps being overlooked, except when strictly looking at the history of rap beefs, is that of Roxanne Shanté. Making a name for herself as a battle rapper at just 9 years old, her part in what would be called ‘the Roxanne Wars’ was a defining moment for the genre, one that made it loud and clear that this rapping thing wasn’t just for the boys.

And sure enough, Chanté Adams is ideal as the legendary MC. Hitting that beyond-her-years confidence like a true champion, whether she’s performing on stage, on the streets, or just on her hustle, she embodies street smarts. The inclusion of contemporary hip-hop figures is smaller than one would expect from the quite fertile part of the timeline, but between Kevin Phillis as DJ Marley Marl, Nigel A. Fullerton as the Clown Prince of Hip Hop Biz Markie, and even Tremaine Brown Jr. as a very young Nas, it all fits on the cultural side of things.

However, in the words of another cornerstone of the culture, this is bigger than hip-hop. Shanté’s musical exploits only play a relatively minor part of the overall story, as this film looks more at Shanté as a person than as a musician. And the depiction we get makes for hard viewing, showing her upbringing in the Queensbridge projects as very touch-and-go. Her preternatural skills as a hustler are shown to be a matter of necessity, doing rap battles and shoplifting just to provide for her mother and sisters. Because of this, her work in music, in particular the ‘Roxanne’s Revenge’ track that put her on the map, is treated as a means to an end; she got into rapping for the same reason as a lot of people in the culture’s history, both past and present. It’s a way out of the trap of street life.

Of course, when she does start getting big, we essentially get a microcosm of what a lot of female rappers have to contend with: Male gaze. Watching those around her telling her to play along with the advances of her fans, repeating the lyric “Roxanne, Roxanne, let me be your man” from the song Roxanne responded to and blew up the scene, it’s hard not to connect this to a lot of female MCs after her that would have to play the same game for recognition. Rappers like Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, even Cardi B to a certain extent; they may be making their mark as women in a testosterone-fuelled genre, but they’re still expected to placate men.

More so than a strictly-hip-hop biopic, this serves as a more personal look at the life and struggles of one of hip-hop’s most underrated legends, showing her to be far more than just someone who can rap their ass off. It’s a solid flick, with a lot of good performances and a pretty slick soundtrack with original music from the RZA, and one worth checking out for those with an interest in the culture. Or if you just want a film about a real-life person whose story deserves to be heard.

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