Hip-Hop History Tuesdays: The Roxanne Wars and Battle Raps On Record

Posted by Billyjam, October 1, 2013 09:26am | Post a Comment

UTFO "Roxanne, Roxanne"

With so much mean-spirited dissing between rappers these days on social media websites like Twitter I am reminded of a simpler (pre Digital Age) era in hip-hop when one rapper had a beef with another he/she took it to the mic and did something creative and musical about it - keeping it real, real hip-hop, in other words. Hence for today's installment in the weekly Hip-Hop History Tuesdays Amoeblog I return to the 80's to the battle rap on record era and specifically the Roxanne battles/wars which pretty much kick-started and shaped the form on record. This approach to ironing out differences between individuals in hip-hop has never been restricted to just rappers/emcees. Indeed hip-hop's four elements - b-boying, graffiti, DJ'ing, and MC'ing - each have healthy histories of traditionally been rooted in non-violent forms of battle between rivals. Since the 70's graffiti crews have traditionally challenged one another via their vibrant street art. Hip-hop DJs / turntablists have long fought with one another via displaying their respective skills in DJ battles. Hip-hop dance b-boy/b-girl crews have gone head to head poppin, lockin, and breakin' etc. in celebrated dance battles. And, of course, MC's have battled one another in freestyle rhyme, whether on the street corner in a cipher, on stage, or on record UTFO Roxanne Roxannesince the beginnings of hip-hop forty years ago. They still do to this day. However many are too lazy to do so in person with their opponent but willing to do so from the comfort of their iPhone via a typed up diss of 140 characters or less .

Rewind to three decades ago of the much celebrated diss on record era and you will find countless examples of rappers battling it out on vinyl. Of all these MC battles in the history of recorded hip-hop, the most notoriously ubiquitous remains the battle of the Roxannes that began innocently enough in 1984 in New York City when UTFO (with assistance from Full Force) released their single “Roxanne Roxanne” on Select Records.  The track (see video above), which got its initial airplay on the late great Mr Magic’s WBLS rap radio show, triggered one of rap’s most involved battles, much to the surprise of its makers. Soon after Mr Magic gave "Roxanne Roxanne" exposure on his influential show, the record became a hit single and had everyone repeating such memorable rhymes as: “She thought my name was Larry/ I told her it was Gary. She said she didn’t like it/So she chose to call me Barry.”

"The Roxanne Battles" excerpt from the Beef II DVD

The whole battle of the Roxannes started after UTFO reportedly failed to live up to their promise to do a Christmas benefit for the radio show crew as a thank-you in exchange for making their song a hit. What followed was a direct dissing response entitled “Roxanne’s Revenge” under the moniker of The East 42nd Street Crew, which was really (the Marley Marl founded) The Juice Crew with Roxanne Shante rapping (they named themselves as such because of the radio station’s address on E 42nd St.). When this response, which was really Shante rapping over the UTFO instrumental, started to create a buzz, everyone involved figured that they should release it properly, so Marley Marl laid down some new beats and the first (commercially available) Roxanne response was born.  Next up UTFO figured they’d jump in on the battle and responded with “Real Roxanne” by Roxanne (with UTFO). After that, the floodgates were open and a slew of Roxanne response records started popping up, ranging in topics from “Roxanne Is a Man” to “The Parents of Roxanne,” and the ultimate, “No More Roxanne.” There was even a bootleg mix of all the best Roxannes entitled “Battle of the Roxannes,” in addition to a compilation album which included many of the following: “Do It Ricardo (Roxanne’s Man)” by Ricardo & Chocolate Boogie, “Roxanne’s Doctor” by Doctor Fresh, “Roxanne Is a Man” by Ralph Rolle, “The Parents of Roxanne” by Gigolo Tony & Lace Lacy, “Do the Roxanne Dance” by Doctor Rocx and Co., and “Sparky’s Turn (Roxanne You’re Through)” by Sparky D.  Roxanne Shante even got the last word in with “Queen of Rock” (under her name but produced by Marley Marl) on Pop Art Records in which she called out UTFO by rapping: "You know we’ve got our own Roxanne/ Yeah I’ve seen that girl/She’s got the face of a man!" Look for all of these "Roxanne" songs on vinyl or CD in Amoeba's hip-hop section, where you should also find the QD3 produced Beef II DVD, excerpted above. Meanwhile below are the audio only versions of both Ralph Rolle "Roxanne's A Man" and Sparky D's “Sparky’s Turn (Roxanne You’re Through).”

Ralph Rolle "Roxanne's A Man (audio only)" (1985)

Sparky D “Sparky’s Turn (Roxanne You’re Through)”

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Rap (134), Hip-hop History Tuesdays (44), Hip-hop History (63), Hip-hop History Amoeblog (33), Roxanne Roxanne (1), Hip Hop (94), Billy Jam (40), Roxanne Battles (1), Utfo (1)