Monday, December 10, 2007

MC Lyte

MC Lyte was one of the first female rappers to point out the sexism and misogyny that often runs rampant in hip-hop, often taking the subject head on lyrically in her songs and helping open the door for such future artists as Queen Latifah and Missy Elliott. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Lyte began rhyming at the age of 12, which eventually led to a single, "I Cram to Understand U," which led to a recording contract with the First Priority label. MC Lyte's debut full-length, Lyte As a Rock, surfaced in 1988, while a follow-up, Eyes on This, followed a year later. Both discs are considered to be the finest of the rapper's career, especially her sophomore effort, which spawned the hit single "Cha Cha Cha" (peaking at number one on the rap charts) and the anti-violence track "Cappucino." Lyte turned to Bell Biv DeVoe's writers and producers Wolf & Epic for her third release overall, 1991's Act Like You Know, a more soul music-based work than its predecessors and in 1993, issued Ain't No Other (the album's popular single, "Ruffneck," earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Single and turned out to be the first gold single ever achieved by a female rap artist). By the mid-'90s, Lyte had relocated to a new record label, Elektra/Asylum, issuing such further releases as 1996's Bad As I Wanna B, which featured a duet with Missy Elliott on the track "Cold Rock a Party," and 1998's Seven & Seven, which included further guest appearances by Elliott, as well as Giovanni Salah and LL Cool J, the latter of which produced the track "Play Girls Play." In addition to her own albums, MC Lyte has teamed with other artists from time to time, including Atlanta's Xscape on the Soul Train Award-winning "Keep on Keepin' On" (a track that also appeared on the Sunset Park soundtrack and became Lyte's second gold single), and has tried acting, appearing on several TV shows, including such comedies as Moesha and In the House, plus the crime drama New York Undercover. Lyte has also put aside time to become active in several social projects/organizations, including anti-violence campaigns, Rock the Vote, and AIDS benefits. In 2001, Rhino Records issued the 16-track career overview The Very Best of MC Lyte. Lyte then mounted a comeback in 2003 with Da Undaground Heat,Vol. 1.

In the earliest years of the hip-hop game, women were quite frequently overlooked until a new breed of female lyricist came along and gave the proverbial middle finger to a male-dominated game. MC Lyte's debut ushered in the era of the female MC -- confident, brazen, and not afraid to put male MCs in their misogynist place without flinching. The album starts off with a rather slow introduction before kicking things into high gear with the now classic title track, which put Lyte in the center of a media frenzy. With Lyte reasserting her femininity over and over again without compromising production quality or lyric delivery, Lyte as a Rock has aged better than most records that came out during hip-hop's formative years, although at certain moments it has become dated since its release. But what has aged is more than compensated by the classic tunes and the disc's potent historical impact on a generation of women MCs. A classic.

MC Lyte - Eyes on This (1989: First Priority)
A rapper with considerable technique and a fine sense of humor, Lyte was one of the most highly regarded female MCs of the late '80s and early '90s -- especially on the East Coast. Eyes on This, the Brooklyn native's second album, tends to be one-dimensional lyrically -- she spends too much time bragging about how superior her rapping skills are and how inept sucker MCs are. Though it's hard not to admire the technique and strong chops she displays on such boasting fare as "Shut the Eff Up! (Hoe)" -- a an attack on Lyte's nemesis Antoinette -- and "Slave 2 the Rhythm," she's at her best when telling some type of meaningful story. Undeniably, the CD's standout track is "Cappucino," an imaginative gem in which Lyte stops by a Manhattan cafe and gets caught in the crossfire of rival drug dealers. In the afterlife, she asks herself: "Why, oh why, did I need cappucino?" Were everything on the album in a class with "Cappucino," it would have been an outstanding album instead of simply a good one.

MC Lyte - Act Like You Know (Sep 17, 1991: First Priority)
Though highly respected in rap's hardcore, MC Lyte was never a platinum seller. Atlantic Records no doubt encouraged her to be more commercial on her third album, Act like You Know — a generally softer, more melodic and often R&B-ish effort than either of her first two LPs. But even so, the album is far from a sellout — Lyte's music still has plenty of bite, substance and integrity. Like before, she's at her best when telling some type of story instead of simply boasting about her rapping skills. Especially riveting are "Eyes Are the Soul" (a poignant reflection on the destruction caused by crack cocaine), "Lola at the Copa" (a warning about how a one-night-stand can lead to AIDS); and "Poor Georgie," which describes a young man's life and death in the fast lane. Lyte's change of direction proved to be short-lived — with her next album, Ain't No Other, she returned to hardcore rap in a big way.

MC Lyte - Aint No Other (1993; First Priority)
Whenever a hardcore rapper becomes more commercial, hip-hop's hardcore is likely to cry "sellout." That's exactly what happened to MC Lyte when she increased her R&B/pop appeal with 1991's Act Like You Know. The album wasn't without grit or integrity and even had some strong sociopolitical numbers, but hip-hop purists can be every bit as rigid as jazz purists — and they tend to be wary of any attempt to cross over. So in 1993, Lyte ditched the pop elements and emphasized hardcore rap on Ain't No Other. The song that did the most to define the album was "Ruffneck," a catchy, inspired single that found Lyte expressing her preference for ragamuffin street kids from the inner city. "Ruffneck" expressed Lyte's allegiance to hip-hop's hardcore, and she's equally rugged and hard-edged on tunes like "Fuck that Motherfucking Bullshit," "Hard Copy," and "Brooklyn." As a bonus track, First Priority includes a remix of "I Cram to Understand U," the song that had put Lyte on the map in 1987. Not earth-shattering but generally decent, Ain't No Other will appeal to those who prefer Lyte's more hardcore side.

MC Lyte - Bad as I Wanna B (Aug 27, 1996; East West)
MC Lyte's Bad As I Wanna B suffers from stilted production, conventional musical ideas and over-reaching lyrics. It is clear that MC Lyte wants to restore the luster to her career, but she is not sure how. So, she surrounds herself with top-flight producers, who such away the passion from her music. Sure, there's a couple of good hooks and funky beats on Bad As I Wanna B, but for the most part, it's lacking in soul.

MC Lyte - Seven & Seven (Aug 18, 1998; East West)
Ten years after releasing her first album, MC Lyte delivered Seven & Seven, her sixth album. During that time, Lyte remained remarkably unchanged, and Seven & Seven proves to be startlingly similar to the slick, R&B-influenced hip-hop she's been turning out since Lyte as a Rock. At times, that's not too bad, but the album's exhausting 77-minute running length makes the similarity of the material a little numbing. There are good songs buried in the album, to be sure — it just takes too much time to dig them out.

MC Lyte - Da Undaground Heat, Vol. 1 (Mar 18, 2003; IMusic)
Four and a half years after parting ways with EastWest (a subsidiary of major label Warner) in the wake of the commercial disappointment of her last album, Seven & Seven, MC Lyte, at the advanced age of 31, attempts a comeback with Da Undaground Heat, Vol. 1. Pacting with the production team Maad Phunk!, she benefits from contemporary-sounding beats and gimmicks. But her own rap approach remains determinedly old school. She is still relentlessly self-congratulatory, praising and mythologizing herself in a style reminiscent of her 1980s origins. An obnoxious, repetitive bit finds her listening to answering-machine messages from various peers delivering eulogies to her. The best and most unusual track is "Boy Like That," which uses a sample of the song by the same name from West Side Story. But for the most part, Da Undaground Heat, Vol. 1, for all its claims to be an update and return to form, is a throwback from an artist unable to keep up with the fast-moving trends in hip-hop.


Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm against the misogyny, and this girl is one of my heroes for the same reason. I think we need more citizens like her, who loves the human rights, and also enjoy generic viagra after lunch (I read the information in the tabloid last week) and I think she's very intelligent to accept the fact.

Anonymous said...

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