When you write a battle rap at the age of 14 that just happens to become an insta-classic and a pioneering work of female-fronted hip-hop, you can’t be expected to think of everything. And you certainly can’t be expected to make sure your royalty contract is iron-clad, when you’re barely out of the eighth grade. Roxanne Shante, born Lolita Gooden and best known for 1984’s “Roxanne’s Revenge,” gave up on the fledgling rap music industry after two albums and paltry financial returns on her musical investments. Signed to Warner Bros., Shante had very little to show for her breakout hit and subsequent fame—until at the age of 19, she remembered the fine print on her recording contract.
Warner Bros. had included a clause promising to pay for Shante’s education. Faced with pennilessness, she decided to cash in on that promise:
She figured Warner considered the clause a throwaway, never believing a teen mom in public housing would attend college. The company declined to comment for this story.
Shante found an arm-twisting ally in Marguerita Grecco, the dean at Marymount Manhattan College. Shante showed her the contract, and the dean let her attend classes for free while pursuing the money.
“I told Dean Grecco that either I’m going to go here or go to the streets, so I need your help,” Shante recalls. “She said, ‘We’re going to make them pay for this.'”
Grecco submitted and resubmitted the bills to the label, which finally agreed to honor the contract when Shante threatened to go public with the story.
By 2001, Warner Bros. had funded Shante’s entire college education–up to and including the PhD in psychology she earned that year from Cornell University.
Total cost of education: $217,000. Roxanne’s Revenge: priceless.
Read more about the lawsuit, Roxanne’s fight for tuition money, and her current career as founder of a therapy practice for urban African Americans and funder of scholarships for female rappers through her nonprofit, Hip Hop Association.