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As we close out the year and reflect on women in hip hop, we touched base with the one and only MC Lyte. With a career spanning over three decades, the Brooklyn, New York native has reeled in endless accolades and consistently prevailed in an otherwise male-dominated industry. Beyond that, the rapper, DJ, philanthropist, all-around entertainer was the first solo female artist to release an album with a Gold single, to perform at Carnegie Hall, and even to be nominated for a Grammy award — paving the way for the rest of the women to follow suit.
To celebrate her groundbreaking career, MC Lyte teamed up with Red Bull Radio to curate an exclusive mix titled The Choice, an all-women lineup spanning the genres of rap, R&B, even some world music mixed in. With the new playlist, she captures the feel-good essence of what hip hop means from all over the world… from a woman’s perspective. From Queen Latifah and Total to Beyonce and Faith Evans, MC Lyte reminds you of the countless other women who deserve to be celebrated in the culture.
REVOLT caught up with the star to reflect on the journey of women in hip hop thus far. Read below as we discuss her classic collaboration with Brandy on “I Wanna Be Down (Remix),” being one of the pioneers of female hip hop, pushing through a male-dominated industry, artists she’s a fan of today, how women rose to the occasion in 2020, and more!
“I Wanna Be Down (Remix)” with Brandy was a moment. What was MC Lyte like then?
That song came out in 1994, I was just coming off of “Ruffneck” and doing a lot of touring. As a matter of fact the jacket, I wore in that “I Wanna Be Down” video, I have a picture of me on tour with that jacket. I was on tour with Shai, SWV, Keith Sweat, and Silk.
That song was everything. We got it done, everybody was in the studio separately. I did my vocals first, they shipped it off over to Yo-Yo and she did hers, then shipped it to Latifah and she did hers. We’re all label-mates except for Latifah. When the label called, they said, “Look, we need you to do this.” I said, “Okay” and I’m glad we did. Keith Crouch did a great job on the remix for that.
Did you all anticipate the record to become so huge?
Absolutely not, at least I didn’t. I thought, “Hey, we’re doing this record.” It’s laid back, it’s easy, which I really enjoyed. The next single I had from that was “Keep On Keepin’ On.” Jermaine Dupri was definitely influenced by the tempo and the musical arrangement of the Brandy remix. It put him in the mode to want to create “Keep On Keepin’ On.”
How does it feel to be one of the pioneers of female hip hop?
It feels great. Before I came onto the scene, I was watching Chiraq, Roxanne Shante, Salt N Pepa, Sparky D, and Sweet Tee. I was taking a look at everything happening on the scene. To be able to join the ranks with all those that laid the foundation for women in hip hop is great. I don’t even have a word that could really explain it.
What was the environment like for women in the game three decades ago?
It was definitely not a lot of us. A lot of the time, we’re trying to prove, “We should be here. Make room for us, allocate us in your budget. We need to be on tour, we need to be on the radio.” There were a lot of people speaking on our behalf. Record labels pushing us to radio, pushing us to promoters to include us equally.
Hip hop has been historically male dominated. How did you manage to build your own name and legacy?
I never gave all of that much attention, I came out and did what’s natural to me. I spoke about topics meaningful to me, the generation I was a part [of], the community I’d grown up in. Yeah, I was a woman in hip hop, but that was nothing new. I’m in a woman’s body. How else…? (laughs) There’s no other experience for me to have so it didn’t feel like a big deal. This is who I am, let my music be what it is. I didn’t understand how difficult it was at the time. Now looking back, oh my goodness. The men really try to make it hard for us. It’s not any specific man, it’s the way this world runs.
What are your thoughts on women in hip hop today?
Oh boy, they’re getting it! So much foundation was laid prior to. They have this amazing amount of freedom. They get to wear what they want to wear, say what they want to say, act how they want to act, and not be deadly ridiculed, pigeonholed or blocked. At this point in time, they really get to show their power. Nicki [Minaj] started that off with saying what she wanted to say, how she wanted to do, make her own money, have her own queendom. That’s a huge deal to me, being able to maneuver in the midst of it and realizing that hip hop is a stepping stone to where it is you want to go. Yes we love it, I love it with the core of my being. It’ll always be first on my list of true loves, but really I love to see the women out there now taking and parlaying it into much more.
How do you view the rise of today’s female rappers?
It’s awesome, it’s about time. This year and last year are the first time we saw in history mainstream media, radio magazines showing love to more than one female artist. Cardi, Nicki, Megan Thee Stallion, Tierra Whack, CHIKA, Lady London, everybody’s getting their love. It’s about taking your lane and owning it. Don’t try to be like anybody else. All these women have found their niche and with that, they found their own audience.
Megan Thee Stallion has been killing it!
Absolutely. “Body-ody-ody-ody!” (laughs) She empowers people to want to own their own, which is important. You’re not giving anything away that you haven’t given your permission for.
Where do you see the future of women?
Just more. We’re seeing women coming into ownership, wanting to own their own stuff in terms of entertainment. Wanting to create, own, and employ the people that they want to employ. I see women empowered, being able to make moves and do what it is they want to do. Because so many women at this point have been successful at it, women on a cusp of doing something new in a creative space can now garner the attention and support from other people that we otherwise wouldn’t have had. It’s a great place to be. This is the time for women.
How have women rose to the occasion in 2020?
Voting, we definitely stepped up. We changed the trajectory of what could’ve been to another scenario. All the women who showed up at the polls and brought their soarers, their friends, family, communities out to vote was a show of real power. Salute to the women.
What do you hope for women in 2021?
Success. Knowing their powers. Stepping into it, not being afraid of it. Putting your eye on the prize, creating strategy to get there and achieving your goals. That’s what I hope for women in 2021.
Talk about the exclusive mix you curated for Red Bull Radio, The Choice. What was your process in picking the artists?
I was invited to participate and give a mix in celebration of women. The first thing I thought of is who do I want to include in this mix? Because it’s so many that have influenced culture and really impacted music on a whole. I decided what my first song was going to be and then let it take me away. I knew certain people had to be included simply because of relevance. Other people I wanted to put in there just so they could see what’s happening around the world: Hip hop heads have influenced culture and community all over the globe. I was able to achieve that with dipping down to Colombia, Africa, Europe, coming back to the United States. I wanted to curate something that I myself would enjoy, I think I was able to achieve that (laughs).
Talk about your directorial debut. That’s so exciting.
It’s called BREAK UP IN LOVE. It’s about a couple deciding to consciously uncouple. Within that, we have a really serious topic that plagues the United States in a real impactful way. We’re looking to shoot in January, we have an Indiegogo page going. Please by all means visit breakupinlove.info. It’s great, it’s a passion project. I’ve begun the mission of pitching myself as a director but there’s nothing better than proof of concept, so that’s what it’s all about. I’m excited.
What about your new TV Show, “Partners in Rhyme”?
“Partners In Rhyme” is a sitcom we sold to UMC/AMC. I’m executive producer along with Bentley Kyle Evans he did “Martin” and “The Jamie Foxx Show.” It’s loosely based on my life and having to mentor a young female rapper. A Lil Mama/Cardi B type of character who has seven million followers and doesn’t want to listen to anybody tell her anything. It’s old school meets the new.
What are your thoughts on the Me Too Movement?
Oh boy. This is a moment where not only do people have to be accountable and responsible for their actions and behavior, but this is a time when someone can actually step up and give an account of what happened to them. Not be shunned away or not be in a place where they’re not believed…like Anita Hill. This is a time where women have enough power to change the course of history right now. I salute to all those women and all my sisters able to come to the forefront and give an account of their stories. I hope they’ve been able to find some sort of solace, peace, and healing from coming forward with their message.