'Roxanne Roxanne' Star Chanté Adams Would Never Rap Again Without a Ghostwriter

After working exclusively in theater, Chanté Adams learned how to act on a movie set by watching herself on an iPhone. The Detroit actress shares what she learned about hip-hop playing Roxanne Shante and how far women in rap have come.

chante adams

Image via Getty/Jamie McCarthy for Netflix

chante adams

The story of pioneering female rapper Roxanne Shanté is one for the history books. But it's 2018, and we have a much more entertaining medium these days: Netflix. On March 23, the streaming giant released its festival favorite biopic about Queens, NY MC born Lolita Shanté Gooden, titled Roxanne Roxanne

The film tells the story of Shanté landing on the rap map at age 14 with "Roxanne's Revenge," a clever response to Brooklyn group U.T.F.O.'s 1985 single "Roxanne Roxanne," about street harassment an unbothered woman being hit on. Shanté did a lot in a short amount of time, from stoking the fires of a beef with KRS-One, to getting pregnant as a teenager. She faded from the spotlight by the time she hit her 20s, but the mark she left on hip-hop had already been made.

Roxanne Shanté was essential to the genesis of female rap. Her story is a powerful one that begged to be told with care. With Netflix distributing the piece, Pharrell Williams and Forest Whitaker as producers, and Mahershala Ali and Nia Long as co-stars, the film had almost everything in place to capture's Shanté's complicated life in the proper way. But it, of course, needed the right actress to bring Roxanne Shanté to life.

Enter Chanté Adams, now 23, the first-time actress who landed the gig and has earned rave reviews for her performance. In a phone conversation, Adams talks to Complex about working with Mahershala and Nia, the state of female hip-hop, and learning how to rap through prosthetic braces.

This is your first audition and film role, correct?
Yeah. I had just graduated from [Carnegie Mellon University], and I moved to New York. About two weeks after I moved, I got an email from the casting director telling me to come in. During those two weeks, I had only been going in to audition for plays, so this was my first movie audition.

Did you think you were going to get the part?
The thought never crossed my mind that I could actually get the role. I definitely wanted to do TV and film, and auditioning is the first step, so I was just happy to get the audition. I practiced really hard and I was proud of myself. I felt like I did a good job. And after that first audition, I kind of let it go, and then I ended up getting callbacks, and eventually the role. It all happened very fast. It was only about two weeks from my first audition to me being on set. 

What was the transition like going from a stage to a set?
I had no idea of how to film a movie, so luckily I had Nia Long and Mahershala Ali there to help me out. They were just amazing teachers on set for me, letting me know what camera angle we’re doing right now and where I need to keep my head so that I could still be seen because those are things we don’t think about when you’re on stage. Everybody can see you from usually every angle. So there’s some things I have to learn with being on set, definitely an adjustment. 

So, let’s talk about your preparation and your execution of this role. First things first: rapping. Have you always been a rap fan? 

the struggle I’m going to face in my first movie being about a rapper is that people are going to think I’m a rapper, and I am not. I would get talked about as a rapper because I’d definitely have a ghostwriter and would not hide it.

Yeah, pretty much. I’m from Detroit, Michigan so rap has always been a part of my life, but I never considered myself a rapper. I just like rap music. When I was in college I would drive home—it was a four-hour drive from Pittsburgh to Detroit—and I would just listen to a bunch of different albums. Just for fun and to pass the time, I’d match my voice with whoever was on the radio, so Nicki Minaj, or Drake or whatever. I’d do it until I felt like I got it perfectly and I guess that paid off when it came to auditioning and having to learn Shanté, and everything that she does while she’s rapping. That’s kind of how it all came together for me, just being a rap fan. 

Was it challenging actually learning how to rap for real?
No, that wasn’t the challenging part. The challenging part was that I had to do it with prosthetic braces on. Trying to speak fast when you have metal in your mouth is not fun at all. I’ve never had braces before so I did not know what these people go through but I am super-sympathetic to everyone who has braces right now [Laughs]. 

Now that you’ve gotten your bars up do you think you could hang with any of the lady MCs today? 
Oh, no. [Laughs]. I think the struggle I’m going to face in my first movie being about a rapper in a biopic is that people are going to think I’m a rapper, and I am not. I cannot write my own lyrics. I would get talked about as a rapper because I’d definitely have a ghostwriter and would not hide it. I would be like, “This is my ghostwriter.” So I’m gonna stick to acting. [Laughs]

Roxanne Shante and Chante Adams

What was your familiarity with Roxanne Shanté before you were cast in this movie?
I wasn’t born until 10 years after the time that we cover in the movie takes place. So, I wasn’t that familiar with Shanté, but I am the youngest of four, and I have older siblings who are diehard, old school hip-hop fans, so I knew who she was because of them. But I had no idea about everything going on in her life and her story, all of that type of stuff until I got the audition and read the script. 

Do you feel like women are given room to be lyricists and performers in ways that men are right now?
I feel like more opportunities are presenting themselves, but I feel like we as women still have a very long way to go. I feel like there’s definitely more doors opening up so that there can be more than one female rapper, because I feel like every—I don’t want to say decade or generation or something like that—but every so often there’s the one hit female rapper and that’s it. But I feel like now there are just so many more doors opening up and it’s allowing more women to take a platform. I’m really happy for all of the women out there that are making a name for themselves through rap. It’s a beautiful thing to see. 

You’ve accomplished so much so fast, do you have a dream role?
My dream role... it’s so funny when people ask me that because if you were to ask me that out of college, my dream role—which I didn’t think I could get until 10-plus years from then—would be to play a really strong, black female lead and tell a story that we’ve never heard before. But, I did that. 

You knocked that one out. 
Yeah, it was a dream role. But, I really wanna be a superhero. That’s always been a dream of mine. 

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