Roxanne Shanté’s early inspiration in hip-hop was sparked by watching Nipsey Russell on “Hollywood Squares.” She admired his talent for rhyming and soon realized she had a similar gift. As a young female rapper, Shanté faced significant challenges in the male-dominated world of hip-hop. Despite the respect gap between male and female MCs and the notion that she had to work twice as hard for half the pay, she remained focused on becoming a great MC.
In 1985, at just fifteen years old, Shanté entered the “Battle for World Supremacy” at the New Music Seminar. This battle was a major test for any MC, as winning it meant being recognized as the best globally, regardless of gender. She prepared to face her opponents, ready to exploit their weaknesses in the heat of the battle.
However, the competition turned out to be unexpectedly tough, with Shanté pitted against all other MCs. She suspected the arrangement was designed to prevent her from winning. After battling through the ranks and reaching the final circle, she faced biased judging. One judge intentionally scored her low, believing that a fifteen-year-old girl couldn’t be the world’s best rapper.
Despite this setback, Shanté recognized that her loss was a sacrifice for the broader success of hip-hop, which was beginning to gain major record deals and wider recognition. She attributes much of her character and approach to being raised in Queensbridge, a place that taught her loyalty, the importance of keeping one’s word, and the value of community. Unlike other housing projects, Queensbridge provided a unique environment with access to various local resources and businesses, fostering a sense of self-sufficiency and community pride.
Shanté also reminisces about the inspiring view from Queensbridge, which expanded her horizons and aspirations. She acknowledges the influence of the environment, jokingly suggesting that something in the water might have contributed to the emergence of talents like herself and Nas. Speaking of Nas, Shanté mentions her role in encouraging his early career, highlighting her philosophy of not boasting about helping others, a principle she believes in deeply. This aspect of her character, she notes, is a direct product of her upbringing in Queensbridge.