I had my suspicions when I heard the story: Roxanne Shante’s tale of the clause in her contract that compelled Warner Bros. Records to pay for her Ph.D didn’t past muster. Ever. And as it turns out, according to Slate, she doesn’t even have an undergraduate degree. Mad ups to Ben Sheffner for sniffing this one out. Because while I wasn’t the best investigative reporter in the building back in the day even though I won an award or two (>pops collar<), any cub reporter could see it was the kind of story that would only ever appear in a crappy paper like the New York Daily News: one-source, dubious facts and sensational punchlines too improbable to be true. Heavy on sex appeal, short on fact-checking. From the beginning it smelled like an urban legend, like Willie Lynch or the Green Lady. You can look at the Slate joint as a hit peice on hip-hop or just diligence. In any event, it’s a black eye for the culture, and significant knock on the legend of Roxanne Shante’. But, truth to tell, her story stank from the back in the early 90’s, when I first heard it, and I’ll tell you why.
Let’s start by just using some common sense: White kids haven’t always bought rap, so it hasn’t always been a multi-million-dollar cash-cow. Not many rap acts were signing big, six-figure record deals. Roxanne told a reporter WB came off 200k to pay her tuition at Cornell? C’mon. Most rappers’ in the 80’s whole budget may have been 200K — the record company would have come off a mil in lawyer fees just to get out of the obligation so no other act would get the same bright idea. Think about it –if she had gotten a clause making provisions for her college education put in her contract, why didn’t Big Daddy Kane, MC Shan, Biz Markie and the rest of The Juice Crew follow suit — they weren’t “college material?” Nah. If this were doable, why wouldn’t every young pop whistle get such a clause? From the beginning, while it read sexy, it didn’t seem likely.
She’s not saying much, but it’s hard to know how to read this one. Part of me feels sorry for her. The other part wants to clown her, MC Lyte-style. I can’t call it. How do you read it?