Video: 1-on-1 with MC Lyte
Widely recognized as the first female MC to drop a full-length album, MC Lyte and her influence go way beyond that of paving a way in hip-hop. The musician, motivational speaker and philanthropist has a mission and purpose to not just “Cold Rock a Party,” but to make a difference in the lives of our youth.
“I think it’s really important for me,” Lyte said. “I think it’s whatever is innately is in someone to do.”
In addition to sitting on the Board of Trustees at Dillard University, MC Lyte founded Hip-Hop Sisters. The foundation, which provides national and international support to women and youth around the globe, gives away three $50,000 scholarships each year to men of color.
JET took a trip down memory lane with the iconic rapper. In this exclusive interview, MC Lyte talks about her influence on hip-hop, and how she sees herself giving back to the world.
JET: You’re the first female MC to drop a solo album in America. That’s some pretty legendary ish. How does it feel?
MC Lyte: Twenty-seven years later, to have been the first to have released a full length album… to me, I guess it’s a big deal. You know, at the time I was just doing it. I was accomplishing something, but not anything that hadn’t been done before. I don’t think I concentrated too much on that.
JET: So you were focused on making good music and just so happened to be the first woman to release an album.
MC Lyte: Absolutely. I think my first time in that studio, I had my rhyme book… it actually wasn’t a rhyme book, it was a poetry book. So when I was auditioning for the record label, they said, “Okay let’s hear something.” So I just said the poems and they kind of created the music to go around what I had already written… which is why most of the stuff on Lyte As a Rock is not like three verses per song. It’s sorta like, here’s this short little verse and here’s this 24-bar song. Some of them don’t even have hooks. For instance, “Paper Thin.” So it just came from that book of wanting to be prepared for my moment.
JET: That’s interesting. Now, I know you released your album, Legend, earlier this year back in April, more than a decade since you released your last album. I imagine you’ve evolved since your earlier days as an artist. How have you changed from, say, the days of Lyte As a Rock?
MC Lyte: I completely understand—and I think somewhere in the middle of my career I understood—the power of collaboration, and getting together and coming up with what was going to be the best contribution to hip-hop. But I also think songwriting technique is a bit different for me now. Even the way that I deliver is somewhat different. It’s all just a metamorphosis of what has come to be.
JET: Speaking of collaborations, one of my favorites is the “I Wanna Be Down” remix. You, Yo-Yo and Queen Latifah joined Brandy for a remix of her single, and it was just dope. That type of female collaboration seems to be missing these days. Do you think female artists were more unified back in the day?
MC Lyte: Yeah. I don’t really know what’s happening with the folks that are celebrated as today’s music. I don’t really know how well or not they get along. I’m only left to judge as everyone else does when they do a song together: “Oh, they must like each other.”
I most recently saw a picture of an album cover of J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, and I think the record is called “Reminiscing,” so I can’t wait to hear it. But it seems to me they respect each other’s art and they saw fit to do musical works together. However, when it comes to the female MCs, it feels as though so many shy away from doing collaborations.
Now, I’ve got songs with Brat, I’ve got songs with Rah Digga. I haven’t recorded with Latifah since that song. Yo-Yo and I have a song that we did for her album after that called “This Is for the Cuties.” Of course I have a song with Missy, but I don’t think Missy and I have recorded after “Cold Rock a Party.” So it’s not enough of it happening where women come together and collaborate. I’d like to see more of it.
JET: You do a lot of philanthropic work in the community. How important is it for celebrities to use their influence for good?
MC Lyte: I think it’s really important for me. I think it’s whatever is innately is in someone to do. We wouldn’t want someone faking it. I mean, at least I would want you to be completely yourself. I do feel as though it is my responsibility to give back. That was my whole meaning for rapping.
My first song was “I Cram to Understand You.” It was an anti-drug song trying to give some words to my existing generation at that time. Stay clear of drugs, don’t take ’em, don’t sell ’em, don’t date someone who does. So it was always my mission to inspire the generation that I was a part of, so it became easy for me to think, “I gotta give…”
JET: Now, the N.W.A. biopic just came out. Any aspirations of having a female hip-hop biopic released?
MC Lyte: You know, it’s so crazy. I met with a writer/director at least 10 years ago that wanted to do my story, and for one reason or another, it wasn’t time. And now I understand why. I’ve had 10 more years of life, of living and making a huge contribution, making a difference for the culture and for the community. Do I believe there could be one? Absolutely. It’s just a matter of who would participate and [who would] want their story to be told. There are so many stories within hip-hop, and Straight Outta Compton is just one—but a very strong depiction of what took place at that time, and it was very well done. It can go on and on forever in terms of the stories that can be told [about] hip-hop.
JET: Anything else you’d like to add?
MC Lyte: We are in the middle of raising funds to send African-American males to college. It is #educateourmen [on social media]. It is our signature initiative with the Hip-Hop Sisters foundation. I would say go to hiphopsisters.org to make any type of contribution. If you want to volunteer or become a monthly donor, it could be as little as $1 and as much as you’d love to give. But we’re out here trying to change a nation of people.
Keep up with MC Lyte at www.mclytenow.com.