Heard about how rap legend Roxanne Shanté forced her label to pay for her Cornell Ph.D.? It never happened.

The conventional wisdom debunked.
Sept. 3 2009 7:19 PM

Roxanne's Nonexistent Revenge

Heard about the rapper who forced her label to pay for her Cornell Ph.D.? It never happened.

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There is also no evidence that Shanté's original record label, a small indie called Pop Art Records, ever promised to finance her education. I spoke with Jonathan Black, an attorney who represented Pop Art 1982-88. He said he negotiated the company's 1984 recording contract with Shanté, signed by both her and her mother, since she was a minor at the time. Black, who no longer has a copy of the contract—he stated in a sworn declaration filed in federal court that the company's copy was destroyed in a flood—is confident that it contained no obligation to pay for Shanté's education. "I'm sure that I didn't negotiate a contract that covered that kind of arrangement. I never did anything like that," he told me.

In a reversal of the common "my label ripped me off" scenario, Pop Art actually sued Shanté in 2005 after allegedly discovering that that Shantéwas trying to rip off Pop Art by seeking to collect license fees for music whose copyright was owned by the label. The case quickly settled, said Paul Rapp, an attorney who represented Pop Art in the lawsuit. For her part, Shanté told me that she never had a contract with Pop Art, suggesting that her mother may have entered into an agreement with the label without her consent.

When told of Warner's denial that it financed her education, Shanté repeated, "Hip-hop paid for my education, kept me from going to the streets." But she was unable to provide detail. "To my knowledge, that [Warner] is exactly where the checks came from. … All I know is that it was done." In a later e-mail, Shanté wrote that she was informed by Cold Chillin's former CEO Tyrone Williams that Warner "along with another party that chose to stay anonymous paid for my education." Shanté did not respond to Slate's request that she put us in touch with Williams.

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Shanté's claim to be a "doctor" also fails to check out. She's not a medical doctor, and she admits (and Cornell confirms) that she lacks a Ph.D. And a search of the New York Office of the Professions licensing database fails to reveal licenses to practice psychology or in any related field for either "Lolita Gooden" or "Roxanne Shanté."

******

Update, Sept. 3, 7:19 p.m.: After Slateposted its debunking of the New York Daily News' story on rapper Roxanne Shanté, the Daily News sent Slate the following correction, which it has now appended to the Web version of the original article:

It has come to the attention of the Daily News that a number of statements in this article written for the Daily News by a freelance reporter are, or may be, false. Cornell University has told us that Shante did not receive any degree from it under either her birth or stage name. We have confirmed that prior to the article, at least four publications on Cornell's own website reported that Shante had earned a Ph.D. from the university. Those references have now been removed. And in response to an inquiry today, Marymount College stated that Shante attended there for less than one semester.

Numerous e-mail and telephone inquiries by the freelance reporter to Marymount during the preparation of the article to confirm Shante's account were not responded to. Finally, there have been recent media reports that there never was an education clause in Shante's recording contract. When the reporter contacted Warner Brothers Records about the contract before the article, its only response was that it was having difficulty finding someone within the company who could "talk eloquently" about it.

Shanté herself responded to the Slatestory on Lemondrop.com, a female-oriented Web site. Shanté questions my motives but does not dispute anything in Slate's reporting:

I'm just gonna let it go. ... What he's trying to do is trying to get himself known, to get the popular sites to read after him. This is not a $5 billion Ponzi scheme. What would make someone go so hard and heavy at that?

Shanté did not call me back, despite promising Tuesday that she would do so.

Cornell, from which Shanté falsely claimed to have received a Ph.D. (the university says she never attended at all), has altered references to Shanté on its Web site. Click here to see one such change, as documented by users of Reddit.com.

Techdirt, which trumpeted the original Daily News story, has struck through its entire post. After Slate's piece appeared, Techdirt posted its own debunking of the Daily News story. Later, the site posted a bizarre interview it conducted with a man the site believes to be Walter Dawkins, the freelancer who wrote the Daily News article. Techdirt reports that Dawkins told the site he had relied on information in a Cornell alumni publication and a "Hot97 interview" as sources.

Ben Sheffner is an attorney and journalist in Los Angeles, currently employed by NBC Universal. While an attorney in private practice in the early 2000s, he represented numerous AOL Time Warner entities, including several Warner Music Group companies, on issues unrelated to Roxanne Shanté. Sheffner blogs at Copyrightsandcampaigns.blogspot.com. The views expressed here are his own.

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