Ladies First: Roxanne Shanté Talks Preserving Hip Hop With Rock The Bells Festival & Giving The OGs
No one had any idea back in the formative years of Hip Hop that the genre would be the leading force that it is today. Roxanne Shanté was just a young teen from Queens, New York when she began making a name for herself in music, and it was because of her that the famous "Roxanne Wars" erupted in the 1980s. To call her a Rap pioneer would be an understatement, as Roxanne Shanté, born Lolita Shanté Gooden, lived and witnessed the very carving of a culture that has dominated every aspect of entertainment worldwide.
This weekend, Roxanne is taking things back to her hometown as she once again partners with Rock The Bells, but this time as the host of its festival. Roxanne Shanté's appearance at the concert is just another addition to her ongoing relationship with the brand as she also acts as the host of the Rock The Bells Radio show Have a Nice Day on SiriusXM. When we caught up with her about this latest opportunity, she was excited about reuniting with several of her pioneer peers to celebrate Hip Hop—a "family reunion," as she put it.
"That's the difference between the Rock The Bells Festival and any other festivals. Most festivals are thrown together by people who, you know, they pick some hot artists, but for us, this is more than that—this is a family reunion, and we're looking so forward to having the family come together, especially after the pandemic. So, being able to do this...phenomenal. I tell everybody, 'This right here, if you have ever felt that you were not a part of Hip Hop history, then this is your chance to be a part of Hip Hop history.'"
LL Cool J not only founded Rock The Bells, named after his classic hit, but he will headline the festival that he helped curate. Fans will be able to watch some of their favorites take over as performers include Ice Cube, Rick Ross, Trina, Busta Rhymes, Lil Kim, Cam’ron, Jim Jones, Juelz Santana, Fat Joe, Remy Ma, Jadakiss, and many more. Attendees will try out the “Trill Mealz Food Court,” the first ever all Hip Hop-infused experience of its kind, featuring vendors such as Nas's Sweet Chick, E-40's Goon with the Spoon, Jadakiss and Styles P's Juices for Life, Ghostface Killah's Killah Koffee, Mia X's Team Whip Them Pots, and Bun B's Trill Burgers.
Nicholas Hunt / Staff / Getty Images
The preservation of Hip Hop, in all its forms, is something that is near and dear to Roxanne Shanté, and as someone who has been immersed in its culture, she is dedicated to shining a light on the OGs that deserve a certain level of respect. As one of the handfuls of women who participated in Hip Hop's inception, Roxanne has a lived experience unlike any other. However, unlike some gatekeepers, she's offering her advice to the new generation of women in Rap who are looking to shape careers of longevity. She is also sharing the names of ladies who helped her along the way and continue to give advice that keeps her in line.
Read our interview with Roxanne Shanté below and hear more about the Rock The Bells Festival, the importance of giving our Hip Hop legends their flowers, and find out who the Rap icon calls her "triple OGs."
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
HNHH: Thank you so much for taking the time today! I just want to jump right into you telling me about your partnership with Rock The Bells, your participation in the festival, and everything going on this weekend.
ROXANNE SHANTE: Okay, excellent! Well, as you know, this is the first annual Rock The Bells Festival, and what we have done is we have gotten the greats of the greats in Hip Hop to all come together and perform. But one of the things about it is that it allows me to show how much I love Hip Hop. I get a chance to really be a fan. Like, I know that I'm hosting, but I am truly a Hip Hop fan. I love the culture and it's an honor to be able to do this on such a large scale with Rock The Bells, especially with those who are telling the story that have lived it.
See, that's the difference between the Rock The Bells Festival and any other festivals. Most festivals are thrown together by people who, you know, they pick some hot artists, but for us, this is more than that—this is a family reunion, and we're looking so forward to having the family come together, especially after the pandemic. So, being able to do this...phenomenal. I tell everybody, "This right here, if you have ever felt that you were not a part of Hip Hop history, then this is your chance to be a part of Hip Hop history."
I remember being young, growing up, and watching Hip Hop evolve into its different eras. I find it important to preserve that catalyst era of Hip Hop history by continuing to speak to pioneers such as yourself who helped establish the structure of the genre. As someone who has lived Hip Hop, talk to me about your view on the importance of making sure that the artists who helped secure the foundation continue to be honored at festivals such as this.
For me personally, it's one of those things that I've been waiting for. I think, out of all the years that I've been in Hip Hop—and maybe I shouldn't even say years, I can say decades, at this point—for decades that I've been involved in Hip Hop, that this is finally a time where you feel comfortable being able to tell your entire story, knowing that Rock The Bells is going to preserve it properly. People are always saying that they were going to tell their story or they wanted to preserve it, but they never want to preserve it properly. Being a part of it allowed me to be able to tell you firsthand from someone who was there; not someone who read about it, not someone who listened to it, not someone who got a third-party story.
Now, you are actually getting it from those who were there, from those who created it. That's the reason why I feel so strongly about it. That's the reason why when I got the call from Rock The Bells even to participate in Rock The Bells as a radio station, when they said, "We would like for you to come on and be one of the voices for Rock The Bells." I was like, "Oh, absolutely," because they didn't say, "Okay, you can't still be Roxanne Shante." Roxanne Shante is a bit much and everybody can't really take it [laughs], but Rock The Bells understood that it was really Hip Hop and that I needed to do that.
It's amazing that they reached out to you specifically, especially as a woman in Rap. We're seeing this huge surge of female artists stepping into the game, owning who they are and exuding confidence. What advice would you give to young women that are entering Hip Hop right now, or even for those at their peaks, as someone who has the experience that you carry?
Mainly, the very first thing that I always tell them is to have a great lawyer. I mean, it doesn't matter if your hair's messed up, you don't have to have a fantastic makeup artist. You'll be able to afford her later once you have a great lawyer. You know, I also want you to understand that this is a music business. So, therefore, it is a business and you need to take care of that.
I also like to remind them that records are made in studios and not bedrooms. I think sometimes, somewhere along the line, that might have gotten confused. We have so many great artists that could have been greater artists had they not taken certain detours, but they didn't take those detours on their own. They were kind of lured into that.
Therefore, I like it where now they understand that all the information is right at their fingertips. They have the ability to be able to listen to a Roxanne Shanté or a Rock The Bells who will tell the story dearly, who will crack jokes about some of our losses in order for them to understand how important it is to me that they win.
I love to hear ladies in Hip Hop speak positively about other women that either supported them or gave them really great advice. Who are some women during your time in the industry—I know it's expansive—but among your peers, that just edify you, keep you going, or when you were starting out, just had your back?
Well, you know, when it comes to other women in Hip Hop, I would definitely have to say Pebblee Poo has always been an older sister to me in this game. She's always been someone that I have been able to talk to and say like, "Listen, this is what I'm going through," and she'd be like, "You know what? Maybe you're looking at this incorrectly. Maybe you should look at it from this direction, you know, because Shanie"—and they call me Shanie—she's like, "Shanie, I think this is what you should do, but you got to do your own thing, anyway." So, sometimes, it was really good for me to be able to hear someone else's story, whether I chose to take that route or not. I think it's all about having the knowledge to be able to make those different choices. So, I really thank Pebblee Poo for that.
I also thank Sha Rock, because Sha Rock also happens to be one of my Rock The Bells sisters, as far as LL Cool J's Rock The Bells radio. You know, she's now one of my Sirius XM sisters, and being able to go to her and talk to her about certain things—because most people say like, "Okay, if you've got to get on stage, do you have your plan?" I tell them all the time, like, I don't know what the f*ck I'mma do when I hit the stage, I just feel it [laughs]. I'm just Hip Hop, so I don't know specifically what I'm going to wear or what I'm going to do.
Sha Rock, she kind of likes to keep a little more structure with that. She's like, "Well, at least have one thing that you know you're definitely going to do." And I tell her all the time, like, "Thank you for that." You know, if you don't have someone to tell you that these are the things you need to have, or a little bit of guidance, you can really get lost. Even though I've had decades in the streets, every now and then, we all need to be able to go back and go to our OGs. Because though I'm considered a double OG, you know, those are my triple OGs.
This is a question that I ask everyone: What is something about Roxanne Shanté that is often unseen due to the veil of your celebrity? The industry has its own expectations of who an artist should be, fans often project who they want someone to be, and often that isn't reality. When that veil is removed, what is something about the heart of Roxanne Shanté that may not translate to audiences because of their perception of you as a person, if anything?
You know what? Roxanne Shante is never one of them because I've never had a veil. I've always been an open book, even to the point of becoming a [Pharrell Williams-produced] movie [Roxanne, Roxanne]. I think when people see me, they know that they can get a hug. They know that I'm approachable because they know me. So, there's never been something about Roxanne Shante that hasn't been revealed. They know that if you cross the line, then Shante is gonna be Shante-ing [laughs]. But they know that if they want a hug or they wanna take a picture, I'll be Roxanne all day long. So, I guess that kind of sums up being able to be Roxanne and Shante.
So, no, I don't have anything hidden from the public. There's not another side to me. What you see is what you get, on and off stage.
The Rock The Bells Festival takes place at the Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, New York on Saturday, August 6. Check out more about the event on its website.