MC Lyte is arguably the greatest female emcee of all-time. While she hasn’t sold the records of a Nicki Minaj or Lauryn Hill or had the mainstream spotlight shined on her like Queen Latifah or Lil’ Kim her musical track record speaks for itself. Lyte’s lyrical ability, consistency and ability to evolve with the times while staying true to herself puts her at the top of the heap of female rappers.
In her 25-year career MC Lyte has amassed ten Top-10 Rap singles, two gold selling albums, and two Grammy nominations. Lyte was ranked nineteenth in Kool Moe Dee’s 2003 book, There’s a God on the Mic: The True 50 Greatest MC’s ahead of the likes of Snoop Dogg, Common, Scarface, Rev. Run, and The Fresh Prince. She’s not just a great emcee for a woman; she’s one of the greatest emcees, period.
Lyte will be honored tonight at the 2013 BET Hip Hop Awards with the I Am Hip Hop Award. The award is BET's version of the Hip-Hop hall of fame with past indcutees including Rakim, Salt-N-Pepa, Nas, Russell Simmons, KRS-One, Ice Cube, and LL Cool J.
MC Lyte spoke to Examiner.com about her new single 'Cravin'', receiving BET’s I Am Hip Hop Award, founding the Hip Hop Sisters Network, and her rich history in the game of rap.
SS: What does it mean to you to receive BET’s I Am Hip Hop Award?
MC Lyte: Wow, I’m honored. I’m truly honored and for the most part it helps with others understanding my contribution to the genre and to the culture of Hip-Hop. So it helps. It helps in what it is that I’m doing today and it’s an amazing amount of acknowledgement which is also what I need for what I’m hoping to accomplish in the future.
SS: Tell me a little about your new single, 'Cravin''.
MC Lyte: O boy, well I’m working on a new project and with this song once the producers were finished with the instrumentation we were like, “Wow, this feels really good.” So I wrote something and we put it down and it just felt like summertime. Even though the rest of the album is still being worked on this particular song felt like it needed to be put out immediately and that’s what we did. We put it together and shot a video for it. It’s a real feel good song. It’s funny, deejaying on the Queen Latifah show I was looking for uplifting really cool Hip-Hop songs that could be played that aren’t offensive and put people in a good mood. We don’t have that many of them today. I was looking for that Will Smith ‘Summertime’, LL ‘Around the Way Girl’ kinda feel and that suited the purpose.
SS: You’ve done deejaying, voice-over work and so many other things, why is it important for you to get back on the mic right now?
MC Lyte: One, the fans keep asking for it, and two, I feel like I’ve got something to say now. Before I wasn’t willing to say all that I had to say because I felt like it would go wasted. After living this amount of years, being in this business, and just along on this journey I feel like there are some things that I’d like to share but I wanted to make sure if who I was sharing it with would actually have it.
SS: Without being too negative I want to go back and touch briefly on your battles with Antoinette. ‘10% Diss’ and ‘Shut the Eff Up’ are two of the greatest diss records of all-time, but they never get mentioned when people talk about the best diss records. Did you and Antoinette ever squash it or was it just forgotten about?
MC Lyte: [Laughs] It wasn’t really our beef to be had. Milk and Giz had a song called 'Top Billin'' and they had a meeting with Hurby Luv Bug and he was supposed to put together an answer called ‘Stop Billin’’. They went back and forth about it and Hurby was taking too long to get someone to do the answer record. When you have a record that’s out and you have an answer record it breathes life into both of the titles. One day we were heading home from a show in Boston and we heard this song on the radio. It was Antoinette with the same song that ‘Top Billin'’ used for a sample which is ‘Impeach the President’. Somewhere in there she says a line about a bodyguard and we know that was a full-fledged line from 'Top Billin’' about Milk’s bodyguard. All of a sudden they were pissed off! They were like, “Oh my God, Hurby did this? He went and got somebody to diss us but it’s not the way that is should be done! It took too long and now it just looks like a diss record.” They pretty much put me on assignment and literally once we got in from Boston we went to the studio at 2-3 o’clock in the morning and came up with that song.
Giz used to do a bit of engineering but he didn’t know what he was doing. I put all the vocals down and he messed around and hit the wrong button and all the vocals disappeared so I had to do the whole thing over again [laughs]. It was classic material, let’s just say that. Then we put the record out and of course all hell broke loose. She and I only met once and that was at the World when we were on stage at the same time. She did her song, I did mine, and then she came back with another song called ‘Lights Out’. I came back with another one and squashed her and Roxanne [Shante] at the same time and so be it. I don’t think any battle with female emcees is ever about us. It’s always about some man fueling it with their testosterone saying, “Nah you can’t let her do that! You gotta diss her!”
SS: Take me back to when you recorded the house version of ‘Lyte As A Rock’, I’m from Chicago, the home of House and that song was huge here. Whose idea was it to remix the song and did you expect it to be as big as it was?
MC Lyte: No I didn’t expect it to be as big as it turned out. We were all into House music during that time. It was all ‘Follow Me’, ‘It’s Time for the Percolator’, ‘Devotion’. House music was huge. It was systematic because ‘Lyte As A Rock’ the original was so fast that I felt like we should do that. And you’re right, there’s not a time I can come to Chicago, Cleveland, or Cincinnati and not do that version of ‘ Lyte As A Rock’. Still to this day when I go to that region I need to do that song. There are certain parts of the country that could care less whether I do ‘Lyte As A Rock’ or not.
SS: Wow! Really? That’s very surprising.
MC Lyte: Yeah, I think they’re much more into ‘10% Diss’ or the east coast sound. They’d rather hear ‘I Am the Lyte’ than ‘Lyte As A Rock’, it’s a little more gritty.
SS: Some years ago the song you did with DJ Premier, ‘Wonder Years’ came out. How did that song come together and were there plans to put that on an album?
MC Lyte: You know what, there is an album with that it just hasn’t been released.
MC Lyte: Yep.
SS: What happened?
MC Lyte: It’s still in the files. At some point it can always be released. We just held it back for samples that need to be cleared on it. It’s a great piece of work. We called it ‘Back to Lyte’ because it’s very basic. Giz executive produced it. I have another album I did that Milk executive produced that’s called ‘The Black Album’. Whenever we feel like it’s appropriate we can drop both of them.
SS: Talk a little about the Hip Hop Sisters Network.
MC Lyte: The Network is comprised of the artistry side which was built in about 06-07 online with a network of deejay’s, emcees, photographers, choreographers, and women who just love Hip-Hop. Men are always welcome it’s just on this particular platform we have to be respectful. They’re always welcome to join us as long as they follow those rules. It’s where they’re able to show their art—music, photos, videos, and things of that nature. Out of that the foundation was born last year. Since the inception of it we’ve been able to give scholarships away, which is a dream of mine come true. In addition to the artistry side and the foundation side we now have the production side. We’re working on our first docu-series with BET. We’re actually in the middle of filming that right now. I’m excited. It’s a great time.
SS: Talk a little bit about the show. I know there are some pretty big names involved with that.
MC Lyte: Yeah, totally. We have Yo Yo, Monie Love, Lady of Rage, MC Smooth, and our protégé Lil’ Mama. I don’t know that I’m at liberty to talk too much about it but it’s going to dive into some serious matters. We’re going to try to stay away from anything that’s ratchet but of course drama is what it is. We don’t plan on leaving anyone without resolution. What we are going to show is it is OK for women to come together and do business because, yes, we can get along. We are going to have a difference of opinion but in the end what we plan to teach the audience is you don’t have to think like everyone else but what you should do is be able to have a difference of opinion and be OK with someone else thinking differently. And we can still work together even with a difference of opinion.
SS: When people talk about the greatest female rappers I always say it’s a 3-way tie between Latifah, Lauryn, and Lyte. It’s hard for me to pick one of the three. I won’t ask you who you think is the best, but I will ask you, who you consider your peers to be?
MC Lyte: I think for me who you named certainly warrants that but for different reasons. I think Lauryn’s body of work is so heavy that it can be counted because first off she’s sold so many millions of records and touched so many people, but on her own it was just one album. Even though I’ve never sold over thirteen million records, because my body of work is plenty it can stand up to thirteen million records sold. Because Latifah was able to touch so many people with her music and go far and beyond anything that a female emcee has been able to accomplish, she too warrants that. I think for me being able to put out work with a consistent flow, they say seven albums but it’s actually ten, that just goes to show what they count, I feel like being able to move, and keep moving that many people and generations over a certain amount of time with just music stands for a lot. I think the three that you mentioned are great. I also think maybe not just as an emcee but as an innovator and as a producer Missy needs to be acknowledged for what it is she has brought to the genre of Hip-Hop. We’re all this great family. It’s almost like when you look at kinship. We’re all from this tree but sway and move in different directions, but the root of it is Hip-Hop. It’s like saying who is the best male emcee, can you really? Biggie did what he did but we didn’t have enough from him--we wanted more. What he did totally solidified him as one of the best but can you say thee best? I don’t know.
SS: I’ll always say Rakim [laughs]. That’ll never change for me but if somebody said Jay-Z was the best I’m not going to argue with ‘em. It’s hard to say.
MC Lyte: Right, and that’s the best for you because of the time in which you lived. I think the best is not factual with anyone. The best is relative for you. It’s your truth. Some people say MC Lyte is the best. I’ll take it but I know in some ways it can be disputed by someone else who feels like someone else is the best.
SS: ‘Paper Thin’ is so timeless. Would you say that’s the biggest MC Lyte record for Hip-Hop heads? Every time I’m at a show and a DJ throws that on people lose their minds.
MC Lyte: Yeah, yeah they really do [laughs]. I think it would be ‘Paper Thin’ or ‘Ruffneck’.
SS: When can we expect to hear the next MC Lyte album?
MC Lyte: Next year. We are working diligently on it now. I’m pushing ‘Cravin’’. I was with the majors for thirteen years of my career and now I’m in the independent world but I still think you need to get people ready for a record. It needs to be a demand before you try to supply. My goal is try to have to the people ready before I try to give them anything. We’re working ‘Cravin’’. I did Arsenio and 106 & Park, so I’m just getting word out and the imagery with the video—it’s extremely important to me. We’re probably going to drop a couple more singles before the album. I’m excited about the album—all of it. Who is involved, the production, the presentation, the lyrical content, and the flow. I think the newest thing you talked about was ‘Wonder Years’ but I’ve been posting up new music all the time. I did something with Mick Boogie that came out for the Brooklyn Nets soundtrack, Brooklyn Originals, where they did a mixtape with everybody from Brooklyn. I have a song on there called ‘Dope Style’ produced by Caviar—that’s fire! I guess it only really matters when people know about it [laughs].
SS: Didn’t you do a joint project with a band, too?
MC Lyte: That was ’08. It was called Almost September. I put that group together because I wanted to do something soulful. We did pretty well. We released in Europe and worked the record—it was fun. We have about 30 songs that we haven’t released from that record. Maybe one day we’ll do some volume ones and twos.
SS: Sounds like you have a lot of stuff in the vault.
MC Lyte: Yeah, I won’t leave my mother empty-handed I’ll tell you that [laughs].