MC LYTE: Rhyme and Reason
As the first female emcee to drop a full album with 1988’s Lyte as a Rock, MC Lyte is among the elite with sharp-witted rhymes and a metaphorical prowess that captures the ear with raw delivery.
Known for culture classics such as “Poor Georgie,” “Lyte as a Rock,” “Paper Thin” and “10% diss” where she took lyrical jabs at femcee Antoinette, MC Lyte’s catalog runs deep.
Fast forward to now and far from being relegated to hip-hop history, the Brooklyn rhymer continues to expand her brand through voiceover work, acting, hosting and deejaying.
But she of the distinctive delivery and raspy vocals is stepping back into her element of rocking the mic.
Her new project, expected at the top of 2015 offers two elements – new and true.
During a one-on-one conversation with JET, MC Lyte gives insight into her latest work, plus the progression of her Hip Hop Sisters Network which just announced its first #EducateOURmen scholarship giveaway. We also got her to build on the importance of the cypher and why she goes so hard for fellow Brooklyn rapper and occasional hater target, Lil’ Mama.
JET: This will be your first album in 11 years. How does it feel to be back in the emcee element and release music in this time?
MCL: (laughs) Well, it’s funny because you know I’ve been here before and I just think that it’s moving at a pace where I can see it. I can be very deliberate with my actions and the moves that are made in promoting and marketing. So it feels great. This is a great time.
JET: I recently watched your new video “Ball” featuring Lil’ Mama and the energy is definitely felt. Was it refreshing to tap into your sound and then also bring on a voice of a different, younger generation?
MCL: Yeah. Absolutely. As soon as I heard the track, I knew something needed to happen. It just feels like so much energy. And it also involved me having to tap into a higher register of my voice on that song as I’ve had to do it plenty of times when I was younger. That was fun to do. There are a few more on the album that lend itself to that energy. And then with Lil’ Mama it was a no brainer to have her come and get down on it. The funny thing though, it took the team to say let’s make sure “Ball” goes on this record because we cut so many songs. I’m glad that it was one of the ones to make the cut.
We had a good time. But more importantly I’m happy to see that energy transcend.
JET: You’ve taken Lil’ Mama under your wing and even shared your platform during Common’s AAH! Fest. What’s the building connection between you and Lil’ Mama? What is it about her specifically that encourages you to invest?
MCL: Prior to meeting her, I had two individuals (the president of Jive and president of Modern Times Group Movies) tell me about a young rapper named Lil’ Mama and how much she reminded them of me. And then we finally met, I just saw everything that they saw. She is reminiscent of MC Lyte from Brooklyn and just having that drive and passion for hip-hop music. She’s so funny and has so much personality and I just thought about the hard time she had been given with the incident of her jumping on the stage with Jay Z and Alicia Keys [at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards]. I think plenty of people in this music business have done things more outlandish than that and still have been accepted back into the fold or were never pushed out to begin with. I just felt that she was treated unfairly and moreover she’s talented and she needs the platform to be able to show that talent and however I can help or the company Sunni Girl (her management company), we will do whatever needs to be done.
JET: One of the ultimate fascinations of hip-hop is the cypher/ battle rap. It’s that raw excitement and ability to deliver the dopest lyrics and metaphors fueled from adrenaline and current surroundings. How important do you think the cypher, in its authentic form, is in the industry, today?
MCL: I think it’s important just as balance, meaning just giving a full spectrum of who a person is and not just one dimension of a person. So it’s not that you’re always at a party but what else do you do? What else do you do in your life or what else have you seen that you can share and impart upon hip-hop listeners. So yeah, I think it’s important overall. Everything is in terms of bringing balance back.
JET: Is there any artist today that you see taking the art and essence of hip-hop to another level?
MCL: I can appreciate the works of Kendrick Lamar. I think his new work “i” is really important to our culture and I think we should do whatever is necessary to spread the word that the song exists. I heard someone say that there isn’t a major push on this the way that they’ve pushed his other songs and I don’t know if that’s true or not but I say let’s just take precautionary measures and begin to talk about the song and lift it up. I’m excited for him and for his future and all of those in his crew, that really takes note to who he is as a personality and what it is that he has the ability to accomplish. And I say that, like take advantage of it, not just for the spotlight so that we wind up getting songs that, you know, don’t change people’s lives. We need artists that are working not just to make a hit record and get rich or whatever, but those who would do it whether they were getting paid or not. They’re out to change people’s lives with their music and that’s exactly what he’s been able to do. I’m happy for him.
JET: Your movement and presence in the hip-hop/entertainment arena has never been absent whether deejaying, acting, or being the voice of award shows. Branching out to formulate Hip Hop Sisters – what was the goal, and what has been the evolution of, that platform?
MCL: With the foundation, we are about redefining the essence of young girls, women through unity, empowerment, education and even entertainment, financial literacy. Literacy in general. We are about making a better way for young people to even view themselves and to not so easily be defined by film, music or television.
JET: I came across an earlier interview during which you spoke about the importance of writing and expression. The quote that caught my attention was the following: “Poetry stays true to the community, true to the people who wrote it. Because mainstream is not trying to get a hold of it to make money, it’s been able to keep its purity, which I completely respect and honor.” Is this ideology, in essence, carried throughout your new project?
MCL: Oh goodness. Yeah, I think my main goal is to stay true lyrically, content wise. Stay organic but true to me.
The record is really two parts that we merged – new and true. New is everything that is music today- the intense, high energy, and just a lot of movement within the music and chords.
The true part of the record is organic instrumentation, everything one is accustomed to hearing MC Lyte on and Dear John is a great example of the “true” reflection. Being able to tackle topics that show a clearer picture of who I am as an individual and how it is I think, and also being able to resonate with others and connecting with them on that level of having maybe gone through the same thing or maybe seeing someone go through it. Just being able to have it believable to them, which isn’t hard because it’s truth.