Hip Hop pioneer MC Lyte has been making history since 1988 when she became the first solo female rapper to release an album with “Lyte as a Rock.” Since then, the Brooklyn native has added quite a few more “first” to her long list of accolades and has cemented herself as a legend in the game.
With a career that spans three decades, the multi-hyphenate MC Lyte continues to set the tone for women to thrive in a male-dominated industry. Her ability to create has allowed her to venture into new spaces within the industry and continue to build her brand. Mireya Hernandez tapped in with MC Lyte to discuss her legacy, directorial debut, new sitcom, and her all-female curated Choice Mix playlist for Red Bull Radio.
Mireya Hernandez: Truly an honor. It’s my first interview. So let’s talk about your first. First solo female artist to release an album, first with a Grammy nomination, gold certification. You were inducted into the VH1 Hip Hop Honors, you have BET’s I Am Hip Hop Achievement Award. There are so many firsts. But can we start by talking about the first song you ever wrote at the age of 12? I Cram To Understand U.
MC Lyte: I Cram To Understand U was just one of those things that started out as a story but then it was like a poem, and then they said, make it rhyme. I said, Okay, and it was in my book of rhymes when I went to my first audition. So when they started playing a track, I just started with that, rhyme. Then they took the track off and they said just say it, I said it and Milk (Dee) began to make a track right there to it. It was about me being in love with a guy who was in love with a girl whose name starts with a C and ended with a K. He was in love with crack and I had no idea. I like to joke around, I’ve got a great sense of humor. But generally speaking, I’m somewhat serious. I was a serious kid. So when I saw drugs, our communities played with drugs from Brooklyn to Manhattan, all the way up to Harlem and the Bronx, it was just something that I wanted to paint a story to, and Melly Mel’s The Message really had a great impact and influence on my decision to become a storyteller.
That was going to be my next question. At the age of 12, because I mean, at 12, you know, we’re still children, we’re kids. What inspired a song with a message such as that? It was very prevalent during the crack epidemic so it touched on so many different things. And just the fact that you were able to create that at the age of 12, who or what inspired that?
Like I said, The Message had a lot to do with it. But then also just seeing, you know, if you’re alive, you’re awake, you’re aware, you’re looking, you can see things, and you can choose to ignore them, or you can choose to address them. For me, I just wanted to address them for my generation at the time because I didn’t want them to take drugs, get involved with somebody who sold them or took them. I just wanted to put out an anti-drug message for kids to stay as far away from drugs as they possibly could. Also, my mom worked at North General Hospital in Harlem. I think she worked on the fourth floor or the fifth floor. On one of the other floors was a drug rehabilitation center. You could see people coming and going, that were heroin addicts. You’d see big holes in their arms and the decaying, it just looked terrible. I knew that at that age, drugs would never be a problem for me because I think that’s probably a trip that every adult needs to take their child on. So that you just get scared straight.
To follow up with, one of the first songs that I heard from you and made me fall in love with you as an artist was Poor Georgie. The message there is a little different, but still touching on substance abuse. Another great song, you’ve had just so many, and your legacy of Hip Hop is undeniable. When did you realize that you were making history? When did you realize that you were cementing yourself and creating this legacy and for women, especially?
When did I realize that? I guess maybe when I did Carnegie Hall. Being the first female rapper, I thought I was the first but then somebody told me, Grandmaster Flash or Melly Mel or someone else.
“I consider myself a renaissance woman in that aspect. I’m not afraid to try anything.”
Did it before you? Because I was under the impression that you were not just the first female rapper, but in general.
It may take some studying to do but I think it was an 87. So in any case, I think that might have been a moment not because of me, but because of how everyone else reacted to it was like, “Oh my God, look what you’re doing”. I gathered at that point, it was something special.
And how did you transition from being a rapper to a DJ, actress? You’ve been acting for so many years. I want to talk about all the other things that you’re doing currently but how did you transition into that and just create this longevity in your career?
I remember very early on, my then manager told me we’re gonna build your career so that it isn’t dependent upon a hit song. Because songs come and go, just like artists come and go. With a song that could have been a number one hit, if they don’t have a team of people to foresee what’s about to happen, or more importantly, what they want to happen, you can stand the chance of just going away. So I began to think of all of the other things that I love to do, I wanted to act before I wanted to rap. I wanted to use my voice because I heard radio long before I thought that I’d ever become a rapper. What I was able to do is go get some acting classes, go get some voiceover coaching, and prepare myself for all of the other things that I wanted to do. As far as we call it, creating multiple streams of income. I consider myself a renaissance woman in that aspect. I’m not afraid to try anything. I’m about to embark upon my directorial debut called Break Up In Love. Check it out at http://breakupinlove.info/, which I’m excited about. I found two great writers to write me a short. I’m going to get in there and direct. And for Redbull it was DJ.
Your mix with Red Bull. All women. I loved it. I’ve listened to it so many times since then. You’ve got Beyonce on there you have Lumidee, which I was excited to hear. You had Yo-Yo on there. You have Missy Elliott, Sunshine Anderson. You had just such a range of artists on there and it’s beautiful to see women getting their flowers, especially during this time in Hip Hop and where it’s at? Can you just touch a little bit about the curated mix and what inspired it and how you went about choosing those songs?
Well first off, I have to thank Biz Mark, who I ran into at an airport in 2008. He was like, “you should be DJ”. I was like, “I should be what?” He was like, you should DJ. I said, “Why are you saying that?” He said “because you know music.” He and I will sit and discuss music from all areas. So I said, “You know what, that would be great. I’ll be a curator.” People can come into my living room, and I’ll just play and that’s what it will sound like, an MC Lyte get down. Once they told me that it was all women, I knew that I wanted to span across time.
Now let me tell you something, you can’t really do a female mix without Beyonce, that’s at least if you want to move the crowd. As a matter of fact, I could probably play Beyonce so many times in a set, they think something was wrong with me, like what the hell is going on? Where are the other artists? She has that much flavor to her music with different moods and different beats per minute and so on and so forth, to bring about a different kind of energy. What I wanted to do with this mix is keep them high, keep them high and then bring it on down. I think I might have used Queen Latifah’s Princess Of A Posse and then brought it back up again. I just thought of having a good time. I played what made me happy for that mix. And since then, it’s funny that you said you listen to it more than once. I had a birthday gathering, a very small gathering. And we used the silent DJ. And we social distanced. And the people wanted to hear the mix more than once.
It was a great mix, thank you for doing that. So you’re a DJ, actress, voiceover, rapper. We talked about your directional debut with Breakup In Love but you also have Partners In Rhyme, which is a show that is executive produced by none other than Bentley Kyle Evans, who also executive produced Martin and Jamie Foxx, just to name a few. Can you talk to us about that?
It’s my first job as an executive producer, producer, actor, music supervisor. I’m doing everything that I can with this project. Not because I can because it’s my project but because these are the things that excite me. Being involved in the magic of television and movie making. That is a dream for me to be able to do. And so this show is loosely based on my life of having to mentor a Lil Mama, Cardi B-esque, young female rapper, which to me in it itself is already funny. My management company manages Lil’ Mama’s theatrical career. She is my little sister. So just the dynamics between us, I’m able to use some of that for the actual Partners In Rhyme. But we did cast for the role of Luscious T. We cast Precious Way.
I saw I saw that and I’m super excited to see it come out and watch it. I think it’s a great concept. It’s definitely needed. You know, especially right now, women in Hip Hop are getting their shine, and I love it, it’s great. That probably wouldn’t be possible without you. So thank you very much for that. Lastly, before we end, what’s next for MC Lyte? What is on the list of things to do?
I have to shoot tomorrow. There’s a pilot that I have agreed to be a part of, and I play a detective. And then, of course, we go into pre-production in January for Partners In Rhyme.
That’s awesome. So that is coming up very soon. Very exciting. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
Thank you so much. Have a successful journey on your interviewing experience.
Be sure to check out MC Lyte’s Choice Mix on Red Bull Radio below: