Tuesday, April 12, 2011

U.T.F.O. -- "Roxanne, Roxanne" (1984)

There goes that girl they call Roxanne
She's all stuck up
Why you say that?
She wouldn't give a guy like me no rap
She was walking down the street 
So I said, "Hello, 
I'm Kangol from UTFO."
And she said "So?"

There's a long tradition of "answer" or "response" songs in popular music.  For example, Big Mama Thornton's original "Hound Dog" song (which was covered by Elvis Presley) generated six answer songs by other artists.  

Van Zant, Young
Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" was a response to Neil Young's "Southern Man" -- and one of the few answer songs that was more popular than the song to which it responsed.

The rap genre has inspired a lot of answer songs.  Most of these battles have been fairly benign recording-studio affairs that may have injured a combatant's pride but did no tangible harm.  (A few have resulted in assaults and even a drive-by shooting or two.)  The "Roxanne Wars" exceeded by far all other hip-hop music rivalries in terms of the number of answer songs that were produced.

In 1984, the New York City hip-hop trio U.T.F.O (which stood for "Untouchable Force Organization"), released a single that bombed.  But the record's B-side -- a song titled "Roxanne, Roxanne" -- became quite popular.

In "Roxanne, Roxanne," each of U.T.F.O.'s three MCs -- the Kangol Kid, Doctor Ice, and the Educated Rapper (a/k/a "EMD") -- take turns complaining about how a stuck-up girl named Roxanne failed to respond to their def rhymes and their other charms.  Frankly, the song is no great shakes, and seemed destined to be quickly forgotten.

But one day, a New York City radio DJ and a local record producer were complaining about how U.T.F.O. had cancelled a live appearance at a show the two were promoting.  A 14-year-old girl named Lolita Shanté Gooden heard the conversation and suggested they produce an answer record to get revenge on the group.

In "Roxanne's Revenge," the precocious singer -- now known as Roxanne Shanté -- puts all three of her would-be seducers in their place.  She has better rhymes than any of them, she brags, and how can a girl be impressed by an MC who doesn't have fresh rhymes?

Here's how she dismisses Kangol:

I met this dude with the name of a hat
I didn't even walk away, I didn't give him no rap . . .
Every time that he sees me, he says a rhyme
But, see, compared to me it's weak compared to mine
In any category I'm considered the best . . .
And everybody knows I will win the contest

Adelaida Martinez
U.T.F.O.'s response was interesting.  They released an answer to the answer, featuring a female rapper named Adelaida Martinez, who claimed to be "the Real Roxanne."  Her response responds to the original "Roxanne, Roxanne" almost line by line, but she belittles the U.T.F.O. threesome just as badly as Roxanne Shanté did.

Here's the Real Roxanne taking on the Educated Rapper:

Your nose is always runny
You look like Bugs Bunny
All your raps are old, ancient as a mummy
Your house is so scummy
Your clothes are so bummy
But now with your hit record all I want is your money
Educated Rapper, You ain't nothing but a dummy
You try to be chummy or you plays gin rummy
I bet makin' love to you must really be crummy

That's some bad rapping.  But both Roxanne answer records were big hits as well.  And that inspired a fourth Roxanne record -- then a fifth -- then a sixth -- and so on and so forth.

Roxanne's entire (fictional) family got into the act.  There was "The Parents of Roxanne" and "Yo, My Little Sister (Roxanne's Brothers)" and "Rappin' Roxy: Roxanne's Sister."  

There was "Do the Roxanne" (which created a dance but didn't diss anyone).

And finally there was "Roxanne's a Man," which claimed that Roxanne was really a transvestite whose manhood had been taken from him in prison, and insulted U.T.F.O. for getting all hot and bothered over a crossdressing sissyboy:

After things had died down, U.T.F.O. issued an answer of its own, insulting Roxanne and claiming never to have liked her in the first place, which generated a second answer from Roxanne Shante.  (Stop the world -- I want to get off!) 

Estimates of the total number of "Roxanne Wars" records range from 30 to over 100.  (That means I could have chosen different Roxanne-themed songs for the February 2012 version of "28 Posts in 28 Days" -- if I had wanted to drive away all my remaining readers, that is.)  Yet not a single Roxanne record is explicated on www.rapgenius.com -- a very surprising oversight on my brother Mahbod Moghadam's part.

Here's a video piece on the Roxanne Wars that aired on "Beef," a BET series that focused on feuds in the world of hip-hop.

It's hard to understand how the "Roxanne Wars" could have happened.  The original song was nothing special, and the first answer was notable mostly for its aggressive tone and amount of profanity.  Rarely does a song generate more than one answer, but somehow the third song in the Roxanne series seems to have opened the floodgates.

Let's all hope nothing like this ever happens again.

Here's the original "Roxanne, Roxanne":

Here's "Roxanne's Revenge" -- recorded in one take, boys and girls:

Here's "The Real Roxanne":

Finally, here's "Roxanne's A Man":

Here's a link you can use to buy "Roxanne, Roxanne" from iTunes:

Roxanne, Roxanne - Hits

Here's a link to use if you prefer to use Amazon:

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