For a brief period in late winter 1984/5, you couldn’t leave your house or turn on your radio in New York without hearing some rapper going on about a girl named Roxanne. There was “Roxanne’s Revenge,” “The Real Roxanne,” “Roxanne You’re Through,” “Roxanne’s Mother,” “Roxanne’s Brother,” “Roxanne’s Doctor” — even “Roxanne’s a Man.” Demonstrating the volatility of the dance music market, Roxanne replaced “y’all” as the word most frequently used in raps, and the term quickly passed into urban slang for an unaccommodating woman. Credit for this fad goes to Brooklyn’s UTFO (Untouchable Force Organization), the trio who started it all with “Roxanne, Roxanne,” a playful poke at a good-looking girl with the temerity to resist their suave attentions.
From the beginning, Doctor Ice, the Kangol Kid and the Educated Rapper (later joined by Mix-Master Ice) led a charmed life. After winning a break-dancing contest, they went on a European tour with Whodini and ultimately found themselves on the Phil Donahue Show, which led to an invite to Dustin Hoffman’s daughter’s birthday party. Before things could get any weirder, they released a 12-inch of the sharp and fast “Beats and Rhymes,” oddly, a better rap than its follow-up, “Roxanne, Roxanne” (both cuts were included on the band’s first album, along with “The Real Roxanne” and “Calling Her a Crab,” subtitled “Roxanne Part 2”). The latter’s lyrics aren’t exceptionally clever, but UTFO created such strong personae for themselves and the stuck-up Ms. R., while isolating such a familiar problem (girl says no), that teenagers identified with them in a singular way. What the record may have lacked in raw power, it made up for in character.
The Roxanne fad ended, leaving the talented UTFO at mortal levels of popularity. The Educated Rapper sat out Skeezer Pleezer, but that didn’t stop the group (produced, as ever, by Full Force) from making major artistic strides or finding new subject matter. “Where Did You Go?” and “The House Will Rock” combine rap and soulful crooning, while “We Work Hard” (a lecture on the subject of rap) has a solid funk track. The sob story of “Bad Luck Barry” is pretty funny, and chants its refrain over harpsichord!
Restored to full four-man strength, a more adult UTFO came back harder on Lethal, a sharp-sounding record with a couple of good ideas but not much lyrical imagination. Dabbling in gangster rap and performing a cross-cultural mating ritual with Anthrax (on the anti-drug title track), the crew demonstrates a desire to try new things, but otherwise this is just a trip to the old neighborhood. The record’s low point finds UTFO crooning “Pull your panties down/All I want to do/Is put my unh-unh-unh in you.” Smooth.
As steady as UTFO’s musical progression has been, the band’s rhymes have been headed in the opposite direction. Doin’ It! puts more excitement and musical action than ever in the grooves (the samples are really cool, and the raps are delivered with skill and authority), but UTFO comes on too rude (“Battle of the Sexes”) and too egotistical (“Cold Abrasive,” “My Cut’s Correct,” etc.) to be enjoyable.
Staying under the Full Force umbrella, Doctor Ice’s commercially minded solo debut offers a boring litany of product citations and crypto-medical boasting, occasionally delivered inna toasting style with a Jamaican accent. The woozy anachronistic soul sound of the old “Love Jones” and the album’s reggae borrowings (Yellowman might want to know about “Nobody Move,” credited to Doctor Ice and Full Force) give The Mic Stalker its only workable personality: the straight rap tracks are solidly redundant.
The Real Roxanne was one contender in the 1984 “Roxanne, Roxanne” fracas, which boiled down to a two-for-all with Roxanne Shanté. By the time either woman released an album, however, there couldn’t have been any less interest in the object of UTFO’s romantic frustration. Nonetheless, with fine sample-heavy old-school production by the likes of Jam Master Jay and Howie Tee, The Real Roxanne is irascible nasty-girl fun, a salty set of boasts, putdowns and don’t-mess-wid-the-Ro’ antagonism.
At 14, pioneering female rapper Roxanne Shanté (Lolita Gooden of Queens, New York) earned her stage name and no small reputation by recording “Roxanne’s Revenge.” A few singles followed, but it was five years before she cut her album. Produced by Marley Marl, Bad Sister includes remixes of the singles “Have a Nice Day,” “Wack Itt” and “Go on Girl,” balancing slow-grooving, almost mellow raps with tougher, faster ones. Shanté has a cute, coy voice that takes on an authoritative edge when she kicks into high gear. “Independent Woman,” a lecture aimed at young mothers, is the album’s only serious side; Shanté’s at her best delivering lurid details of her encounters with men (“Knockin’ Hiney,” “Feelin’ Kinda Horny”) and other women rappers, whom she puts to shame in the title track.