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Our stories continue to be told in beautiful fashion. Last night, the SVA Theater in Manhattan, N.Y. world premiered the film Roxanne Roxanne: The Story of Roxanne Shante. With executive producers that include Pharrell Williams and Forest Whitaker and a cast boasting Nia Long and Mahershala Ali, the team delivered one of the most compelling and authentic hip-hop biopics yet.
Roxanne Shante was an early pioneer of the genre, a teenage battle rap sensation bred in the Queensbridge projects. She predated her fellow neighborhood heroes like Mobb Deep, Capone-N-Noreaga, and Nas—though we do get to see a young, shy Nasir Jones depicted in the film—who all rose a decade after her in the 90s. Shante was the first from the Bridge to pop in the mid-80s along with fellow legends and Queensbridge kings Marley Marl and MC Shan. The trio would go on to form rap's first lucrative super clique, The Juice Crew.
A couple of members of the collective, Biz Markie and Masta Ace, were in the building as well former on-wax foes-turned-real life friends, Kangol Kid from U.T.F.O. and MC Sparky D. Pharrell and his right-hand woman, former journalist Mimi Valdes (who is also a producer on the film) came out to show support alongside Long, Capone, directors Coodie and Chike, and Ralph McDaniels (another producer).
"This story is not just my story, it's our story," Shante said before the movie started. "It's not just a story about one lady in hip-hop, it's actually about two. It's the story of friendships and bonds. It's a story for the runaway, for the foster child. It's a story for the abused woman. It's a story for the domestic violence survivor. It's a story for the depressed mother who felt she let her children down or misled them in some type of way. It's a story about hip-hop. It's a story about the ability to never give up on yourself and know [that] if you stay focused and understand who you are and whose you are, that you will be alright. This is what this is."
Roxanne Roxanne is, indeed, unfiltered. We see the MCs plight at home as her mother struggles with alcoholism after a traumatic situation changes their family's lives forever. We also see Shante's plight as she tangles with an abusive lover and gets taken advantage of as a 16-year-old coming into the rap game. We see and are compelled by the strength actress Chante Adams exudes onscreen as the lead character.
Afterward the premiere, most of the VIPs who came to theater went to the after party at nearby Up & Down. Biz held court most of the night DJing, and delivered a mean 80s-centric, New York hip-hop and R&B set that included Big Daddy Kane, Guy, EPMD and, of course, Roxanne Shante.