Skip

Hip Hop's First Battle
October 27, 2008 6:41 AM   Subscribe

Way back in 1984, when rap was still in its infancy, a now-obscure Brooklyn trio called UTFO released a record entitled "Roxanne, Roxanne". UTFO cancelled an appearance at a show promoted by now-legendary figures Mr. Magic and Marley Marl, and when a teenage girl named Lolita Shante Gooden overheard them discussing the cancellation and their anger over it, she offered to record a diss track as the titular Roxanne, and became Roxanne Shante. UTFO responded with their own "Real Roxanne", and thus began a ridiculously long series of answer records involving everyone from the fictional Roxanne's doctor to her grandmother. Now you can listen to them all without spending a fortune: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10

Of course, all this was soon overshadowed by the Juice Crew/BDP beef, in which Roxanne Shante was also involved. That's a whole other post, but here are the two songs which started that war: MC Shan's The Bridge and BDP's The Bridge Is Over.
posted by DecemberBoy (40 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Aaah, memories of Philly's Power 99........remember this one from the same era?
posted by conifer at 6:51 AM on October 27, 2008


What's Goin' On by Mekon, from 2000-ish, also had Roxanne Shante rockin' the mic.
posted by mippy at 6:54 AM on October 27, 2008


This was really interesting. And it turns out that Roxanne got a PhD from Cornell thanks to a clause in her record contract, retired from rap, and is now a practicing psychologist.
posted by blahblahblah at 6:55 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


sorry - I should say paid for by a clause in her contract - she didn't get a PhD as a result of her contract.
posted by blahblahblah at 6:57 AM on October 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Cool post, DecemberBoy. So many memories flashing back. I forgot how cute rap was in the early days.
posted by hojoki at 7:02 AM on October 27, 2008


Synchronicity ! I'm listening to "Fly Girls! B-Boys Beware: Revenge of the Super Female Rappers!" at the moment, specifically JJ Fad's "You're Goin' Down". Now to find out which one of those Parts is that song.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 7:02 AM on October 27, 2008


This is fucking awesome.
posted by chunking express at 7:03 AM on October 27, 2008


seriously, great post.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 7:06 AM on October 27, 2008


...seems like "You're Goin' Down" isn't obscure enough. Absolutely stellar post, either way.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 7:10 AM on October 27, 2008


The following is paraphrased from a non-mefite friend:

"This could be just a mis-labeling problem, but there's no way that that is hiphop's first battle. Here's an earlier battle I can just think of off the top of my head.

If you mean 'hiphop's first beef that was put on record,' you could be right, but battling was hiphop's original form and started way before 1984."


From my own limited knowledge, I understand that hiphop started off somewhere around '79, so '84 seems like it would be really late for hiphop to have its first battle. I'm sure Okayplayer has the answer to this somewhere. Here's one relevant thread, but I don't have time to do the full search now.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 7:38 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yay!
posted by mwhybark at 7:45 AM on October 27, 2008


Oh, God I remember this. It was funny at first, but then it just seemed to get stupid by my memory. Never heard anything beyond the fourth one, though, so thanks for this.
posted by cimbrog at 7:47 AM on October 27, 2008


Speaking of Marley Marl...who can forget The Juice Crew's "The Symphony"? Every bit as good today as when it was first released.
posted by brandman at 7:54 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Juice Crew vs BDP
posted by brandman at 7:56 AM on October 27, 2008


There was a post last October about the "throwaway education clause" in Roxanne's record contract that helped pay for her PhD.
posted by mediareport at 7:57 AM on October 27, 2008


This post is NICE, thanks DecemberBoy.
posted by vito90 at 8:11 AM on October 27, 2008


This could be just a mis-labeling problem, but there's no way that that is hiphop's first battle. Here's an earlier battle I can just think of off the top of my head.

Always understated is the gigantic role that Jamaican musical ideas played in the development of hip-hop. "Rapping" over sampled beats or musical interludes, extended mixes, sound system wars and long series of musical battles and answer records all came straight from Jamaica, where they developed years earlier and were imported to parts of NYC by Jamaican ex-pats.

So whatever hiphop's first battle might have been, it wasn't really anything knew. Reggae had been having the same sort of battles for years, with the only difference being a sometimes very slight musical one and a different set of accents. Joe Gibbs and Lee Perry had a great series of 'battles' on vinyl before the days of hiphop, for instance, and here's a nice link to one of the more memorable and funny battles, between Prince Jazzbo and I Roy:

I-Roy & Jazzbo At War
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:24 AM on October 27, 2008


Yeah, this wasn't hip hop's first battle, but this is a good post. Man, those were the days. You had no control over when or how you'd hear the next record. Sometimes it was the radio, sometimes it was your cousin in another state, sometimes it was your friend's friend from down the street.

If you were smart you kept a blank tape or two with you at all times (but you had to watch where you put it - it would melt or warp if you left it in the car). Then when somebody had a great tape with a bunch of different songs on it you could get a copy if there was enough time, because you were never the first in line to get it.

There's be a bunch of stuff on there you'd never heard, a bunch of stuff you didn't even like, but there'd be some gems on there. Somebody had a double cassette tape deck and you set it up to record and would come back later while it dubbed. I had this white casio joint where half the silver buttons fell off and it was an absolute mess after a few years because your instant-ish gratification was nascent in those days but sometimes when you were looking for a song you abused those top-mount radio buttons.

Where'd that song go? Rewind-stop-play (nope) Rewinnnnd-stop-play (nope), then you got dangerous - rewind-play (nope) rewiiiiind-play (nope). And then when you got really impatient you wound up screwing yourself because you went to push play and your big fat fingers slammed down on play and record. Nothin you could do but hope it was a song you didn't care about or it was at a random part in the song.

Then it was like an audio scar on the lobes of your brain because you still kept listening to that tape! So what happened is that after months and years of that song with that little clip in it, your brain remembers it that way, and to this day I rap songs with parts missing because I fat fingered a tape while trying to find a song.

The worst was when you started dubbing a tape and then somehow the setup was so that you couldn't have the volume down while taping. It was one of those boxes where whatever the volume was at, that's what volume your tape would be at. Ugh! So then the level was all low.

Or you'd forget you had a 60 minute tape and the one you were taping from was a 90. Remember that - when your friend said they had a new tape with some new songs on it, you had to actually walk over to their house to hear it. Back when you were actually looked down on for listening to "that noise" that "wasn't really music". Ha!
posted by cashman at 8:32 AM on October 27, 2008 [7 favorites]


Barry's Records on 23rd Street and Park Avenue South. I bought the Rapper's Delight 12" there on hearing it once. All through high school I would stop once a week and spend a chunk of allowance on records to play over the weekend.

The Roxanne saga defines my summer between high school and college, along with Slick Rick -- hanging out at the ice cream store my friend worked at with the radio on, then getting a case of Meister Brau and going to the park for group games of Trivial Pursuit (6 teams of 4 and assorted spectators.)

NYC summers are the best thing about growing up there.
posted by ltracey at 8:45 AM on October 27, 2008


Ace post. This combines two of my most favourite things in the world: answer songs and women MCs!

I guess this is another thing hip hop got from Jamaican music:

One of the best, and most cynical, answer songs is Princess Buster & Her Jamaicans' Ten Commandments (From Woman To Man), which Prince Buster produced and released himself to cash in on the controversy surrounding his own Ten Commandments (From Man To Woman). That cycle stretched all the way from Jamaica to Philly, with Daddy Kae & Yvonne's soul answer, Eleven Commandments of Woman.

The Wreck A Pum Pum answer Wreck A Buddy is pretty good too (I like the Soul Sisters' answer, but the Sexy Girls one is best.)

Re: battles - Calypso singers did it best, really smooth and syrupy singing, while ripping the piss out of their opponent. Check Mighty Sparrow dissing Lord Melody:


You should really be in the circus
You ugly hippopotamus
Never yet in life have I seen
Such a hideous looking human being
Sometime your face like a gorilla
Sometime again it just like alligator
If I should open a human zoo
The first man I'm coming to hold is you


Calypso artists did answer records too - the amazing Lord Invader's Rum & Coca-Cola was ripped off by the Andrews Sisters (after someone copyrighted the song, doing Invader out of huge royalties), which prompted Invader to record an answer to his own song, called... Pepsi-Cola. (As an aside, My Experience on the Reeperbahn, Lord Invader's calypso about encountering a transvestite in Berlin has to be heard to be believed!)

There's a theory that battles and answer songs and the dozens all stem from the old Scots tradition of flyting. You can kind of see it when Dunbar says to Kennedy:


Thocht I wald lie, thy frawart phisnomy
Dois manifest thy malice to all men;
Fy! tratour theif; Fy! glengoir bun, fy! fy!
Fy! feyndly front, far fowlar than ane fen.
My freyindis thow reprovit with thy pen!
Thow leis, tratour! quhilk I sall on the preif,
Suppois thy heid war armit tymis ten,
Thow sall recryat, or thy croun sall cleif.


So, in fact, the first hip hop battle took place at the Court of King James IV of Scotland.

Er, sorry, veered off topic a bit there, really...
posted by jack_mo at 8:53 AM on October 27, 2008 [6 favorites]


For what it's worth, in those Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, etc links there's a Shockwave media player with samples, but they don't come up in my Firefox installation (they remain invisible); they're visible only in my IE browser. Not sure if anyone else is having this problem, but if you can't find the music, that's what's going on.
posted by crapmatic at 8:56 AM on October 27, 2008


On not-previewing:

Always understated is the gigantic role that Jamaican musical ideas played in the development of hip-hop.

Absolutely. I interviewed Kool Herc a few years back, and he waxed lyrical about the sounds in Jamaica that inspired him as a kid. I don't have the transcript on this computer, but I'm pretty sure he actually said "Hip hop began in Jamaica" at one point, and he would know, what with the whole pretty much inventing hip hop thing.
posted by jack_mo at 9:02 AM on October 27, 2008


Looking forward to reading through all of this, thanks for the links!
posted by paisley henosis at 9:11 AM on October 27, 2008


I'm still in shock by the fact that cashman and I have either lived through the same experiences during hip-hop's genesis, or he's been stalking me since the age of 12.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:14 AM on October 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


this is probably the greatest mefi thread ever. not just the fantastic post, but all the comments as well. This era is way before i ever got into hip hop, and i know next to nothing about it. man this is fucking awesome.
posted by shmegegge at 10:05 AM on October 27, 2008


I remember seeing a documentary about hip hop battles, though, that went into a little detail about the MC Shan, BDP battle, and in there they said that "The Bridge Is Over" pretty much ended that battle, as Shan had nothing that could compete with KRS One's work on that track. am I misremembering this?
posted by shmegegge at 10:07 AM on October 27, 2008


Wow, what a terrific post. Thanks.
posted by blucevalo at 10:19 AM on October 27, 2008


A lot of people credit the first real hip hop battle to be Busy Bee and Kool Moe Dee. Although at its core hip hop is all about competion.

Of all the 80's hip hop acts I think that Roxxanne Shante is the best off right now with that PHD that she got and her own psychology practice. She still does shows here and there as well.
posted by LouieLoco at 1:53 PM on October 27, 2008


MC Shan really didn't deserve all that. He really wasn't out to say that hip hop started in Queens, he was just talking about how hip hop started in Queens. On a whole though the Juice Crew made way better records than BDP. But yeah, South Bronx and the Bridge is Over killed The Bridge.

Roxanne Shante also ended the career of La Fruquan from Stetsasonic, she just killed that dude in a battle. When Shante was like 19 she was a beast.
posted by LouieLoco at 2:15 PM on October 27, 2008


I wouldn't say ended his career. Frukwan's work with Gravediggaz was dope plus his solo joint had at least one song I rock weekly - "America". The beat on that is just on some old swampy sewer.
posted by cashman at 2:26 PM on October 27, 2008


I never have figured out how a tape of the Roxanne cycle entered into the tape-dub rotation with my punk rock crew around this time, but it was standard at parties along with the Butthole Surfers and the Dead Kennedys. And the first Tom-Tom Club record.
posted by mwhybark at 2:33 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yay this post is great. I added the roxanneshante tag so you can read about Roxanne's PhD.
posted by jessamyn at 3:31 PM on October 27, 2008


This could be just a mis-labeling problem, but there's no way that that is hiphop's first battle.

Yeah, I should have phrased it like "Hip hop's first battle on wax" or something like that. Battling live started way earlier.
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:12 PM on October 27, 2008


I remember seeing a documentary about hip hop battles, though, that went into a little detail about the MC Shan, BDP battle, and in there they said that "The Bridge Is Over" pretty much ended that battle, as Shan had nothing that could compete with KRS One's work on that track. am I misremembering this?

Shan pretty much conceded defeat after "The Bridge Is Over". The chronology went "The Bridge" (Shan), "South Bronx" (BDP), "Kill That Noise" (Shan), then "The Bridge Is Over" (BDP). After that other people such as Blaq Poet got involved on the Queensbridge side, but really "The Bridge Is Over" pretty much ended Shan's career. KRS was still dissing the Juice Crew as late as Edutainment (1990).

MC Shan really didn't deserve all that. He really wasn't out to say that hip hop started in Queens, he was just talking about how hip hop started in Queens.

KRS even said as much on a comparatively recent track. His explanation is that he was just using it as a way to get his name up, because "answer records were big then" due to, to bring us back around, the Roxanne series of records.
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:22 PM on October 27, 2008


There is a clip with KRS-ONE saying he writes dis tracks for all the billboard top ten artists. And if you piss him off, he'll battle your ass and end your career. He's like a nuclear submarine people.

Manhattan keeps on making it / Brooklyn keeps on taking it / Bronx keeps creating it / Queens keeps on faking it.
posted by chunking express at 6:58 PM on October 27, 2008


My god. The wave of nostalgia is drowning me!

I was one of exactly 3 white guys at my high school that had UTFO records.

Did you take her to the beach?
That's what we planned,
but she stood me up
Roxanne, Roxanne


Did you meet him at the beach?
Helz no!
In the middle of December
when it's twenty below?


Memories I hadn't dusted off in 20 years.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:07 PM on October 27, 2008


Thread needs the Juice Crew/BDP clip from Beef I and the Roxanne clip from Beef II
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:16 AM on October 28, 2008


OK, that Juice Crew/BDP clip is cut short. Here's a MUCH better one.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:23 AM on October 28, 2008


KRS-ONE is so gracious in that video talking about how MC Shan's decision to actually take him on (as opposed to, you know, just ignoring him) was one of the big things that kick-started his whole thing, the Stop the Violence Movement, the temple of hip-hop education stuff and all the good things he's done. I love listening to him talk.
posted by jessamyn at 6:57 AM on October 28, 2008


I love listening to him talk.

KRS-One Talks About the 1992 Election With PBS / vintage video.
posted by cashman at 7:20 AM on October 28, 2008


« Older A Boy's Life   |   Syria's business Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post