It was the feel-good story of the summer. According to the New York Daily News, Roxanne Shanté, a 1980s female hip-hop pioneer famous for the 1984 underground hit "Roxanne's Revenge," had finally gotten her own revenge on Warner Music, the record label she accused of "cheating with the contracts, stealing and telling lies," to avoid paying her what she was owed. How? After valiantly fighting, reported Daily News freelancer Walter Dawkins, Shanté had convinced Warner to honor a contractual agreement to "fund her education for life." Warner ended up paying more than $200,000, Dawkins reported, to finance Shanté's education, which Shanté said included an undergraduate degree from Marymount Manhattan College and a Ph.D. in psychology from Cornell. And now, said the Daily News, "Dr. Roxanne Shanté" has "launched an unconventional therapy practice focusing on urban African-Americans," in which she "incorporates hip-hop music into her sessions, encouraging her clients to unleash their inner MC and shout out exactly what's on their mind."
The story was endlessly blogged and tweeted, heralded as an example of a heroic triumph by a girl from the projects over her evil record label. Credulous music-industry critics lapped it up; Techdirt, after stating flatly that Warner had "tr[ied] to cheat [Shanté] out of her contract," reflected the online sentiment: "It's nice to see how Warner Music actually did some good in the world, even if it had to be dragged there kicking and screaming."
One problem: Virtually everything about the Daily News' heartwarming "projects-to-Ph.D." story appears to be false.
An investigation by Slate has revealed:
- According to Warner, neither it nor any of its subsidiary record labels ever had a contract with Shanté, and it was not obligated to pay for her education. Indeed, there's no evidence that it ever did.
- Shanté—real name Lolita Shanté Gooden—doesn't have a Ph.D. from Cornell or anywhere else. Indeed, she admitted it in an interview with Slate. And Cornell has no record of Gooden (or "Shanté") ever attending or receiving a degree.
- According to Marymount Manhattan College records, Shanté enrolled there but dropped out less than four months later without ever earning a degree.
- New York state records indicate that no one named Lolita Gooden or Roxanne Shanté is licensed to practice psychology or any related field.
In the course of several phone interviews and exchanges over Facebook's internal e-mail system, Shanté—who refers to herself as "Dr." and "doctor"—admitted that she never received a Ph.D. The Daily News, which trumpeted the false accomplishment in its headline, made a "mistake," she said. And she insisted that she received an M.A. from Cornell. "I got my master's in psychology. I didn't complete my Ph.D.," she admitted. But according to Cornell records, provided through a service called National Student Clearinghouse to which the university directed me, Cornell "was unable to locate either a degree or enrollment record for the subject of your verification request."
Marymount Manhattan College records, also provided through National Student Clearinghouse, indicate that "Lolita S. Gooden" attended "02/06/1995 to 05/23/1995" but did not earn a degree. "Student withdrew for the semester and never returned," according to a notation from Marymount Manhattan. And in an interview, Marymount Manhattan communications director Manny Romero confirmed: "She was only here for the three months in 1995. She did not graduate from Marymount Manhattan." Romero would not discuss the source of Shanté's tuition money, citing federal privacy laws.
Told of the records indicating she attended only briefly and never graduated, Shanté maintained that she "absolutely" received a B.A. from Marymount Manhattan in 1995. "I didn't attend [the] graduation ceremony; at that time I was …" her voice trailed off. "I had my own reasons for that." Yet she insisted: "Yes, I do have a diploma." Shanté did not respond to a request for a copy, and Marguerita Grecco, the Marymount Manhattan dean who, Shanté told the Daily News, fought Warner on her behalf, did not return several phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.