Legends" is an editorial initiative that will feature trailblazers and icons in hip hop culture. Our goal is to not only pay homage to artists who have impacted rap and rap culture, but to reconnect them to the HNHH community. In this edition, MC Lyte spoke to HNHH about how she got her first start, the challenges she faced while on the come up and fills viewers in on what she's got coming up. This is our first instalment, but keep checking out HNHH for more to come.
Beyond being a pioneer for women in hip hop, MC Lyte is a pioneer of hip hop, period. Her seminal debut album Lyte as a Rock was released in 1988 during hip hop’s formative years, and included the trailblazing female diss track, “10% Dis” directed at then rival Antoinette. She was the first solo female hip hop artist to have a gold record, with her single “Ruffneck”, and later in 1996 had a commercial hit with “Cold Rock A Party” which featured a then unknown Missy Elliott on the remix. MC Lyte’s legend was cemented when her rhymebook and turntable were put into the Smithsonian, and she was honored in 2006 on VH1’s “Hip Hop Honors”.
In her interview with HNHH, MC Lyte was knowledgeable as always offering advice about the dichotomy an artist faces with trying to sell records and “saying something purposeful.” She also discussed the varying definitions of what comprises a "hit" record, and filled us in on projects she is currently working on.
Discussing how she got her first “big break”, the Brooklyn emcee preached preparation as being vital for a rapper, “I went to a studio, and I had my rhyme book with me and I was ready. So it was about really, being prepared when the time came.”
While not naming any names, the hip hop legend talked about the choice a rapper makes between rhyming about anything, just to push units, and trying to relay a message to listeners, and the difficult balance of the two. “Everybody gets to a point that once you become popular you want to sell records. It’s all according to the message that you want to put out there, as to whether or not you’ll make [the] Top 40 [charts],” MC Lyte added honestly, “sometimes people will find themselves saying nothing just to hopefully sell records.”
Clearly, this is a subject she has spent a lot of time considering, and voiced an artist’s internal debate of creating music to sell records, or to truly reach fans, “do I rhyme about just whatever just to make a hit song, or do I take this microphone to make some of what I say purposeful?”
On the topic of a hit record of hers, the female legend broke down the meaning of the term “hit”, whether the definition is by profit, or by popularity, “we can look at a hit in terms of...radio spins, or we can look at it like sales, or we can look at it as in what is most popular in the streets.”
To illustrate, Lyte compared two of her most recognizable singles “Poor Georgie” and “Cold Rock A Party”, saying “’Poor Georgie’ may not have been a top seller, but it was very popular in the hood. ‘Cold Rock A Party’ may not have been popular in the hood, but it sold the most amount of records.”
MC Lyte strived to send a message while delivering her illustrious rhymes, and she will continue to reach audiences. This seasoned veteran still contributes to the culture of hip hop, with two books in the works, and a syndicated radio show appearing on 26 stations and on Sirius XM. You'll want to listen when this emcee icon speaks because in contrast to her emcee moniker, this legend's words carry heavy weight.