There aren’t enough words to describe the importance of one of Hip Hip premier emcees MC Lyte. Nor is there enough space in this column to lay out the long list of accomplishments attributed to her. One thing is certain, if theres a Hip Hop Hall of Fame, MC Lyte is definitely in it.
If there’s an official list that lays out Hip Hops top 20 Greatest Emcees of All-time, MC Lyte is definitely on it. When we look back and ask ourselves who made a significant difference in Hip Hop? Who changed the game? Again MC Lyte’s name will be front and center.
We caught up with Lyte not too long ago and spoke to her about all that she has accomplished. We talked to her about the early stages of her career when she introduced herself to the world while still a young teen with a landmark song called I Cram To Understand which dealt with the crack epidemic.
We talked to her about her evolution from rapper to actress to social activism to book author and to business owner. For those who don’t know, long before P-Diddy, Jay-Z or any of todays high profile mega-rich rap stars hit the scene opened up businesses, MC Lyte had her own including the Harlem Cafe restaurant and the Duke the Moon management company with former X-Clan rapper Linque.
Today Lyte now owns a female clothing boutique in North Hollywood California. Her social activism has just seen her launch a successful Hip Hop Week at Spelman College in Atlanta where she lead nightly discussions about negative images in Hip Hop and the ways in which women can change things.
She appears regularly on TV shows including on the WB network. She’s gotten critical acclaim for her work in the movie Civil Brand which focuses on the nations increasing female prison population. But most important of all MC Lyte is back on the scene with new music including popular new joints like Juke Joint and the popular DJ Premier produced track called The Wonder Years. A quick listen lets anybody who had any doubts that after rocking the mic for almost 20 years this Grammy nominated emcee still has all her skillz in tact and will put heads to bed if you step to her on the mic..
Heres a brief rundown of our in-depth interview We started out by laying out the long list of MC Lyte’s accomplishments and we spoke about her new book which is aimed at improving the lives of teens called Just My Take. Lyte noted that it was important for her to set a good example and share words of inspiration with young people who are often overlooked and expected to somehow find answers to important problems on their own.
In part 2 we spoke to Lyte about the negative images found in rap and the way women are portrayed in videos. We spoke about the driving forces behind such imagery. Lyte noted that money is at the root of all this and that many executives are out to make a quick buck, while other decision makers are simply out to keep their jobs with little or no concern about the impact they are having on the community and the rest of the world.
She explained that the exploitation is such big business that when women who wish to show another side and express their intelligence it is somehow perceived as strange and out of the ordinary. She cited the behind the scenes struggles of fellow rap artist Eve who found that her songs which talked about dancing or sex would get highlighted and pushed by the record company while more meaningful songs which focused on important issues like domestic violence would be pushed to the back.
She speculated that such decision making led to Eve focusing her attention on acting. We ended this segment of our interview by asking about her song Georgy Porgy which is considered a Hip Hop classic and whether or not the story she raps about was true. She said it wasn’t, but she understood how one could come to that conclusion. Lyte explained that she came up in an era where it was critical for rappers to talk about something and that she learned to be a good story teller. We spoke about how that is a lost art in today’s world of Hip Hop.
In part 3 of our interview we spoke about Lyte’s decision to do the song Ruff Neck which talks about her love for the Boyz in the Hood and interestingly enough got nominated for her Grammy while her other songs which focused on drug addiction and sexism were by passed. She noted that she wanted to do a song that gave praise to the cats on the block, but she has no desire to actually kick it with Rough Necks. She noted that she hopes that maturity and change of heart and lifestyle has come upon those individuals who she would have applied that label when she first did the song. Lyte concluded that she had no regrets in doing the song even though she understands that it may have been a bit misleading in terms of what she values.
She went on to note that her one regret was releasing battle records like the landmark song 10% Dis that were directed at other female emcees. She regretted the fact that far too often these verbal conflicts were fueled by men who thought it would be financially viable and entertaining to pit the few females out on the scene up against one another.
We also talked about the tradition of artists causing controversy by releasing battle records when they first came on the scene as a way of getting known. She acknowledged that the battle records was a way that artists like Roxanne Shante and Salt-N-Pepa got their names out there,
Lyte pointed out that up to this day many record labels seem to have a problem putting more then one female on their rosters. She explained that Sylvia Rhone who headed up her record label was the only executive to have more then one female artists. She said YoYo, Missy Elliott and herself all shared the same label, but even in that case the label was careful to spread out the time in which their albums would be released thus ensuring that only one woman would be on the scene at a time.
In Part 4 of our interview we changed focus and spoke to MC Lyte about her acting career and her social/political activism. She went into detail about the movie Civil Brand and why she felt it was important to be part of an ensemble cast that focused on the raising prison population amongst females. She wanted to help change the false perception that being criminal and going to jail was a cool thing and a rite of passage.
She also explained that Civil Brand was produced on a shoe string budget and did not have all the expensive bells and whistles that is often attached to movies. She explained that good substance was driving force behind that movies success and that rappers should borrow a page from that philosophy. She noted that over the years the music industry has stopped looking for talent and started focusing image which is not a good thing.
In part 5 of our interview MC Lyte talked about her desire to forma coalition of women to work together within the industry. Currently her and YoYo are working on re-launching The IBWC Intelligent Black Womans Coalition. She also talked about being a role model and the challenges she has when the industry seems to be rewarding and enticing people to go in the opposite direction. She also talked about her new projects including the new albums as well as her businesses and how they came into being.
Below are pts1 and pt2 of our Breakdown FM intv w/ MC Lyte