Back in 1984 MC Lyte released 10% Dis, a hard-hitting track that destroyed her then-rival, Antoinette. Lyte’s boasts proved prophetic:
Others write your rhymes, while I write my own,
I don’t create a character, when I’m on the microphone,
I am myself, no games to be played,
No script to be written, no scene to be made.
I am the director, as far as you are concerned,
You don’t believe me, then you’ll have to learn,
This ain’t as hard as MC Lyte can get
And matter of fact, you ain’t seen nothin yet!
Lyte didn’t just leave her rivals in her dust, she cemented her position as a hip-hop legend early in the game. I was proud to see Lil Kim, Da Brat, Remy Ma, and Yo Yo pay homage at the Hip Hop Honors, but the performance just underscored a sad point in my opinion.
Turn on your local urban radio station and try to find a female MC lyrically equal to Lyte. You’ll find yourself listening to the same twenty five, mind-numbingly misogynistic tracks all day long.
That’s a far cry from the late Eighties and Nineties, when female MCs like Salt n Pepa, Queen Latifah, and Lyte reigned the radio.
Lyte addressed the gender gap in a recent interview with Essence magazine : “Most record companies donâ€™t even want to sign a female MC if sheâ€™s not down with a male camp. And as women, weâ€™re still in an era when what you look like is very important. You can be lacking in other areas as long as you make up for it in looks. The way women are being portrayed reflects whatâ€™s really going on in our community. You have to teach a younger generation of women about self-respect and self-esteem;that they can separate themselves from what they see and hear on television and radio. And they have to see enough variety in the types of portrayals of women to know they have a choice.” So true.
As illustrated in my original Hip Hop Heroines article, Dr. Dionne Stephens identified specific stereotypes in the genre. Well it seems right now, the only types getting airplay are freaks, gold diggers, and divas. In the Essence interview, Lyte continued to say: “When it comes to the misogyny in hip-hop, Black women havenâ€™t been able to change things because weâ€™re not standing together… Itâ€™s going to take one of these really respected directors to say to an artist, â€œI wonâ€™t have a woman dressed like that in a video,â€ because that challenges the artist to say, â€œOkay, what other ideas do we have that would be exciting to watch?â€ There are ways to be sexy and classy without being borderline disgusting.”
It’s great to hear a pioneer in the game point that out.
I would love to see any of the female MCs today show the evolution and range that Lyte showed. She started out so Brooklyn tough on Paper Thin and street smart on Cha Cha Cha. She revealed her knack for storytelling on Cappucino, and came out Cross Colors bucket hat chic on I Go On. (Check it out! That clip is from Video Soul. I grew up watching Donnie Simpson and Sherry Carter). Cold Rock a Party was the jam! When Ruffneck came out I was with Lyte all the way (Since then I’ve come to realize that a ruffneck dude can be a whole lot of fun, they don’t typically make marrying material. I bet Lyte would agree with me on that). Her guest verses are always tight, and I love when Lyte comes out spitting hard, sexy rhymes, like she did in one of my favorite Janet Jackson videos, You Want This. (That video takes me back to when Janet would wear clothes and be sexy. I miss that pre-NFL boobgate Janet).
Nowadays, Lyte is older, wiser, and looking more beautiful than ever. She proved her value as an actress on the now defunct UPN series Half and Half. When she isn’t accepting accolades or doing charity work, she’s out on tour. She wrote a poetry book that’s available through her official website, and homegirl even owns her own boutique.
Do yourself a favor and check out the first single off her overdue and upcoming LP, Back to Lyte, which she discusses in this great interview with Nobody Smiling. “The Wonder Years” with DJ Premier takes a fierce look back and labels Lyte “the ghetto Joan of Arc.”
I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of her major comeback. Lord knows she’s looking better than most of the current crop of hip hop contemporaries (ahem… ahem!) and I for one would love to hear her spitting fire over some hot Timbaland beats.
Lately I’ve been feeling nostalgic for early Nineties jams. Whatever happened to groups like Brownstone and Zhane? I miss the fast slow jams that SWV, Xscape, and Total did so well. So here’s one of my fave smoothed-out MC Lyte jams from the Nineties, “Keep On Keepin’ On” featuring Xscape.
Congrats, MC Lyte! You’re Afrobella of the Week.
Happy Monday, y’all!