“I only write about what I go through, or things I’ve learned along the way.”
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. Rapper MC Lyte forged the way for other female MCs to find their way in the often-sexist, male-dominated world of hip hop. Lyte became the first female rap artist to achieve gold certification for her single “Ruffneck.” In six albums, she produced four Number One rap singles.
Lyte was born Lana Moorer, in Queens and raised in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York.She began rapping when she was 12, learning from her brothers Milk and Gizmo of the rap group Audio Two. Her father, Nat Robinson, started the First Priority record label in 1987, and her brothers appeared on her first three albums. Her first single, “I Cram to Understand U (Sam),” became an instant cult classic. The song is about a woman who has to compete for her man’s attentions, but her competition isn’t another woman, it’s crack cocaine. The single, released when Lyte was still a teen, set a standard for adult, hard-core rap that has rarely been equaled since.
Her first album, Lyte as a Rock, was released on First Priority in 1988 and produced by her brothers. The album contained samples from Ray Charles, Helen Reddy, and the Four Seasons. It’s notable for its narrative songs, like “10% Dis” and “Paper Thin,”that tell fleshed-out stories featuring doomed but interesting characters. Despite the assertive, in-your-face persona Lyte shows in her music and onstage, the artist is known for her soft-spoken demeanor behind the scenes. Lyte’s follow up to Lyte as a Rock, Eyes on This, was released a year after her debut, when she was just 19. The album “maintained her reputation as an insult-hurling tough talker who rapped to hard, simple beats,” People critic Michael Small wrote. It featured production by Grand Puba and the hit single “Cha Cha Cha,” which reached number one on the rap charts. Lyte took a courageous stand against violence in the haunting song “Cappuccino.”
She became an anti-violence spokesperson, namely for the Stop the Violence campaign, which took her into schools to speak to kids. She also appeared in public service announcements for the Rock the Vote
campaign, which featured her song “I’m Not Having It.” She appeared in PSAs for Musicians for Life and supported various AIDS charities. Lyte became the first rapper to perform at Carnegie Hall at a 1990 AIDS benefit.Lyte hired R&B producers Wolf and Epic, of Bel Biv Devoe fame, to produce her third release, Act Like You Know,which came out in 1991. The result was a smoother, more soulful turn for the artist. Despite the commercial success of the singles “When In Love,” “Poor Georgie,” and “Eyes Are the Soul,” Lyte’s fans despaired that their aggressive, street-smart diva had softened her style.
On her fourth release, 1993’s Ain’t No Other, Lyte returned to her harder-edged rhymes, much to the relief of her fans. “Back to basics,” she said in a Billboard interview at the time, “that’s what’s happening to rap music now. I worked with some young, hungry… rappers. Being around them gave me a whole different feel.” KRS-ONE from Boogie Down Productions contributed a few lines at the album’s start to introduce it, and Lyte laid out an aggressive affront to disrespecting rapper Roxanne Shanté on “Steady F. King.” Lyte intentionally avoided moral or message songs on this album, she
later said, to avoid sounding too much like she was preaching.
Though Lyte enjoys listening to message-driven rap, she told Billboard, ” evidently core hip-hop fans don’t want to hear that. They want to party, so I gave them fat beats and fat lyrics about me.” The single “Ruffneck” was produced by Wreckx ‘N’Effect, and was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Rap Single, and earned the first-ever gold certification for record sales by a female rap artist. She spent the summer of 1994 on a sold-out tour, opening forJanet Jackson. She also made an appearance on Jackson’s song “You Want This.” She teamed up with fellow female rappers Yo Yo and Queen Latifah to create the hit remix of singer Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down.”Lyte’s fifth album, Bad as I Wanna B,found her on a new record label, Elektra/Asylum. It also found her with a heightened sense of responsibility for the music she made, and the impact it had on her fans. It once was considered “cool” to curse on rap records, to “prove you were the baddest,” Lyte admitted in an Essence interview, according to a 1996 People review. “Now I feel responsible for what comes out of my mouth.”
That said, she practically began the album with an expletive, but toned
it down as the album played out. She earned her second gold record for “Keep On Keepin’ On,” which appeared on Bad As I Wanna B. She teamed up with the female R&B group X-Scape on the song, which won a Soul Train Award and was featured on the Sunset Park soundtrack. That album also contained Lyte’s hit single “Cold Rock A Party,” which featured Lyte teamed up for a duet with hip-hop diva Missy Elliot. Elliot was featured again on Lyte’s 1998 release, Seven & Seven, on three tracks, “In My Business,” “Too Fly,” and “Want What I Got.” Artists Giovanni and L.L Cool J. who produced the track “Play Girls Play,” also lent a hand. She hired producers the Neptunes to handle and co-write “Closer,” “I Can’t Make a Mistake,” and “It’s All Yours,” which also featured vocals by singer Gina Thompson.
“Some of my best work has been when I’m vibing with others.”Beyond recording records and releasing increasingly popular singles, many female MCs began to diversify in the late 1990s. Some started record companies, some went into acting. Lyte went to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. She has appeared in such television sitcoms as Moesha and In the House, and on the drama New York Undercover, and plays a recurring role as Lana on the show For Your Love. She also appeared in the independent film A Luv Tale. “I know I can do both,” Lyte said of acting and hip hop in her bio located online at MCLyte.com. “but hip hop is my first love.”
After the success of the “Cold Rock A Party,”Lyte began doing voice-overs. Hers was the voice behind a national advertising campaign for Wherehouse Music. She was the voice little girls heard after Christmas of 2000 from the African-American “Chat Doll,” named Tia, manufactured by Mattel. She founded her own management company, Duke Da Moon Productions, which handled the groups Isisand Born In Hell, a Brooklyn rap unit. She also signed a three-year deal with Sirius Satellite Radio. who hired her to host a musical show that airs three time daily. She also hosted a talk show for Sirius,
interviewing black celebrities and entertainers such as Whoopi Goldberg,
Vivica Fox, and Tisha Campbell.Looking back on a career that started when she was just a teenager, Lyte is able to find pride and a valuable lesson in her experiences. “I’m proud of how long I’ve been in the business,” she said in the Artist Direct interview. “Ofcourse when I started I never imagined some of the things you have to go through. But anything you do in life is about meeting the challenges.What I tell any young people who want to get into this business is you have to be prepared to never give up.” Rhino Records released a collection of MC Lyte’s work in 2001 called The Very Best of MC Lyte.
MC Lyte has spoken at colleges and universities, for organizations around the globe, and with notable people like Iyanla Vanzant, Russell Simmons, and Soledad O'Brien bringing a message of empowerment from her book Unstoppable: Igniting the Power Within to Achieve Your Greatest Potential. She also partnered with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund on the iLEAD international tour in South Africa to empower the continent’s youth and up and coming leaders. MC Lyte served as the President of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Recording Academy (the Grammy organization) from 2011 to 2013. She is the first African American to serve in this role and she is also the CEO of Sunni Gyrl, Inc., an entertainment and production firm, and the founder of Hip Hop Sisters Foundation, which has presented two $100,000 scholarships to college students each year since its inception,and she is an honorary member of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.
In October 2006, MC Lyte was one of the honored artists on VH1’s annual award show Hip Hop Honors.[ She was joined by fellow female MC’s Da Brat, Remy Ma, and Lil’ Kim as they performed some of her tracks, such as “Cha Cha Cha,” “Lyte as a Rock,” “Paper-Thin,” and “Ruffneck.” In 2013, MC Lyte received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 Hip Hop Inaugural Ball, and she also received the BET “I Am Hip Hop” Icon Lifetime Achievement Award, making her the first female solo hip hop artist to receive the honor from the network.