Trailblazing female rapper MC Lyte has some sage advice: “I would never suggest to a female MC to do what I did,” she told me on this week’s “Renaissance Man.”
As a young girl dreaming of becoming a recording artist, she went with a guy friend to Staten Island because the label First Priority Music, founded by Nat Robinson, was looking for a female artist to sign.
“I had my rhyme book. We went to Staten Island. It was cold as I don’t know what. We were going over on the ferry. We got there. They had a Thunderbird,” she said. “[We] jumped in the Thunderbird, went to the house, went to the basement. There were like nine guys in the basement all waiting for me to get there.” She opened up her rhyme book, took the mike and took control of the room. “And I guess that’s when I knew I had something.”
Looking back, she knows that her fateful trip to Shaolin could have put her in danger — even though it resulted in her big break. She became the first female MC to release an album, “Lyte as a Rock,” and one of the first hip-hop artists to play Carnegie Hall.
“I would never say ‘go over on the Staten Island ferry on an island which you can’t get off of unless you’re driving or you take a ferry’ … I would never tell someone to go into a basement of a house where they know absolutely no one except the guy that brought them there,” she said. “It was just a recipe for disaster. And thank God that’s not what they were about.”
But MC Lyte, whose second season of “Partners in Rhyme” on AllBlk TV just dropped, said she never “approached being in this business as a woman,” but as a human. However, she was a female working her magic in a male dominated world, so being considered a pioneer comes with the territory. Her influence remains with artists such as Rapsody telling me MC Lyte made her want to get into the rap game.
“I never considered myself the first. I always thought, you know, hey, I’m just in it. I’m pushing the culture forward. But it wasn’t until I got older that I realized how difficult it actually was,” she said. “So you asked me, ‘How did I feel once I got there?’ I don’t know. The delineating moment of, ‘Oh, I made it.’ I felt somewhat accomplished at the first Grammy nomination.”
The Brooklyn native, who started rapping at 12, has also been a fashion leader and said her style back in the day was a bit edgier than the Dapper Dan of Harlem devotees. She rocked Simpsons characters all over her clothing and favored Karl Kani and 5001 Flavors — the latter of which got her audited by the IRS because she was getting so much inventory from them. She said it was eventually tossed out.
But perhaps her most important role is of a very youthful elder stateswoman of hip-hop. MC Lyte has always been vocal about violence in hip-hop, dating back to the late ’80s when she joined other rappers for the “Stop the Violence Movement,” with the iconic song “Self Destruction.” Nowadays, she uses social media to speak out.
“I think [rap wars and violence] has a lot to do with these monikers that somewhat journalists are responsible for, you know, even coining this phrase ‘old school.’ Or corny phrases of these segmented ways of looking at the hip-hop genre. And once you start having segments, it’s like anything when you have teams, when you have an Atlanta team and you have LA, everybody’s rooting for their team. So it becomes very segregated,” she said adding that a little conflict isn’t bad, but “when it gets off record is when we start to have an issue. I come from a school of braggadocio. If you can’t say you’re a badass, then you might as well just sit down. But then, you know, we’ve had incidents in hip-hop where it started on record and then it went out into the world.”
MC Lyte, whose favorite young artist is J Cole, is all about unity. And we should listen to her sermons about not going into strange basements, but also: Life.
“We’re losing too many people. And not just from music, just in general, across the board. It’s never been so easy just to shoot a gun,” she said, adding, “It’s like what is really happening with the value that we’re putting on lives?”
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.
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