Netflix’s biopic on the pioneering rapper is hyper-focused on the details but misses the bigger picture

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Before Cardi B, before Nicki Minaj, heck, before Salt-N-Pepa there was Roxanne Shanté, one of the first female MCs to make a dent in the world of hip-hop. The tumultuous story of the New York rapper is told in “Roxanne Roxanne,” Netflix’s earnest, but scattershot, hip-hop biopic that works counterintuitively to the modern music biopic blueprint.

That’s largely because Roxanne Shanté’s tale works counter to most hip-hop success stories. The success she earned came from respect, and from carving out a place in hip-hop history from a track that was recorded on-the-fly in between trips to the laundry room. The fame, the riches, the platinum-selling albums and the big tours we now associate with hip-hop success eluded Shanté, born Lolita Shanté Gooden in New York’s Queensbridge projects.

Detroiter Chanté Adams makes an indelible impression as the rapper, who first made a name for herself in her neighborhood battling wannabes for $50 a pop. Rap was easy, life was hard, and her alcoholic mother (played by Nia Long) made things even tougher on her, leaving her stranded outside to fend for herself if she came home past her 9 p.m. curfew.

“Roxanne Roxanne” deals mostly with Shanté’s day-to-day struggles, including her abusive relationship with her much older boyfriend, played by “Moonlight” Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali. The context and importance of Roxanne’s story and hip-hop’s “Roxanne Wars” is cast aside, an oversight from writer-director Michael Larnell. Adams is able to bring Shanté to life, but “Roxanne Roxanne” is so focused on personal details that the bigger picture is rendered blurry.

agraham@detroitnews.com

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‘Roxanne Roxanne’

GRADE: C

Not rated: Language, sexual situations

Running time: 95 minutes

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