MC Lyte: Shining Lyte
Today, she stands as an acclaimed veteran with accolades to spare. Shes received countless awards, nominations and honors in a career that has spanned more than two decades. Nevertheless, as is with life, the highs came with lows in Lytes career. These lows drove her to once say she had suicidal tendencies. These lows drove her away from major label politics and now, she stands stronger because of them.
In this exclusive interview with HipHopDX, Lyte spoke on the ups and downs in her illustrious career, opening up what caused suicidal tendencies, what inspired her and what troubled her about tricks major record labels play. The woman whos rarely held back in her career also let us know why she strives to create a positive message with her work and explained what she is currently working on. Even though shes faced tribulations through the years, she has yet to fade. From new television shows and new music to saying shes one of the best to have ever done it, its safe to say MC Lyte continues to shine.
HipHopDX: Youve been quoted as saying that Salt-N-Pepa inspired you to say that if they could do it, you could do it, too. Im sure many people have been similarly inspired by you. Do you have any advice for these up and comers?
MC Lyte: This is the time where the playing field has been leveled. You could make great strides at this moment because its really not about all of the money that you have. Its more about the connects. People want to help you because youre talented and they see your grind. I think with the onslaught of the Internet and sites and blogs, its a way to become popular with your music that yesterday didnt afford us. I think this is the time right now. But, its also time where you might do a lot of work and not make a lot of money.
DX: True indeed. So, I guess you just have to do it for the love.
MC Lyte: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I make, at this point, way more money from all other entities aside from selling records. Really, I havent had a major release in quite a few years but its all of the other things that I get to do that put me in a state where I could see myself under the definition of successful.
DX: Lets talk about one of those entities. Your show Hollywood Treatment with Mary J. Blige seems to be taking reality TV on BET in a positive direction. Can you explain how that plan came to fruition?
MC Lyte: The show is [from] two young ladies who came up with the concept and theyre actually in the music business. One of them is a theatrical manager and the other is a hairstylist to the stars. They came up with a show concept that would allow those celebrities with their foundations to help the community and those who were in need and those who stepped up to the plate and said, Look, I need help with this particular area of my life. They went to BET and they loved the concept. [They] put them together with Dubose Entertainment. Then, they were really able to flush out the ideas and the concepts. Meanwhile, I had several meetings with BET and done a whole lot of things with them in the past. I said I wanted to be involved in many different levels with them. When they decided they wanted a host for the show, they came to me and said, What do you think about this? And its just the type of shows I want to be involved with in terms of giving back.
DX: What was one of the most heart warming experiences on the show?
MC Lyte: Oh, boy. I dont know how much I can really divulge of it but I know that it is going to be a show that in the end, will help people in our communities more than weve ever imagined a television show would be able to do.
DX: Im really curious to find out if many of your upcoming shows will carry similar positive themes.
MC Lyte: Oh, itll definitely be positive. Yes, I do have one and it is very music driven. Nothing I do is ever going to go into the realm of Why the hell did she do that? [Laughs] You know?
DX: Your performance on Def Poetry Jam was a highlight in your already impressive career that some people might overlook. You have some introspective lines in that poem. First female soloist to go gold sounds hot, right? Then why do I feel so cold? If I vanish, would anybody remember me? 23 having suicidal tendencies. Can you shed light on that point in your life after having some time to look back on it like Damn, why did I feel so cold?
MC Lyte: Wow. Um, you know what? I think at that point in my life, I was really allowing the outside powers to sort of define who I was. I think at that time, I was also about to renegotiate my contract with Elektra. I think also at that time, I had become aware of all of the politics related to being signed to a major record label. Dont get me wrong. I loved what they did for me in terms of letting the world know my name. I dont think theres any real corner of the world I can go to and people not be familiar with either my name, face or voice. I owe that all to the major record label for making that happen and believing in me and the management I was with at the time. However, theres a lot of little games that are played [like] performing for a radio station, not for your ad, but for the ad of another artist on the label. I am an individual. However, in the major record label game, I am a pawn in the chess game. So, as a record label executive, theyre thinking How can I use the pieces to the advantage of everyone involved? I think at that age, I just became aware of Wow, Im just a piece in the game.
DX: So, when you talk about having those suicidal tendencies, were you referring to the artistic and business side of life or the personal side as well?
MC Lyte: I think that I wasnt really separating them. I think it was just altogether one. Like, I just want to be done with this! It was very frustrating.
DX: Now, it seems like your music is bringing positive aspects of Hip Hop back to the light as well. On wax, you once said you were born to spread the truth to the youth and on that track you describe how emcees dont supply more positive messages to listeners. How important has it been for you to balance ill music with a balanced message? It seems like youve been doing that since your first album at such a young age.
MC Lyte: Well, thank you very much. I dont think Ive put that much effort into it. Its just who I am. So, you might hear one of those songs where Im just going at somebodys throat lyrically because thats just what I do and how I am. I still feel like I am one of the best to ever have done it and will continue to do so until I feel like I want to put the mic down. But, also I am overwhelmed with wanting to help people or wanting to have someone relate to what it is that Im talking about. In order for them to relate, Ive got to be spitting some truth. Truth is recognizable all over the globe. Ive likened it to this before but its like watching a movie. One bad actor can ruin a whole movie. But, if the movie is okay and theres one actor in it whos so truthful through his theatrics, youll cry. You dont cry for bad acting. You cry because you connect to it and you feel it. Of course, Im not really looking for people to drop tears when they hear a 16 from MC Lyte. But, I do want them to experience what Im going through.
DX: Tell us about those experiences because as one of the few prominent female voices within the Hip Hop circle, youve talked about abusive relationships (Girlfriends Story), addicted boyfriends (I Cram to Understand U) and more. Were any of these issues that you had to face personally or did you feel as though you had to speak for an entire gender because it just wasnt being said?
MC Lyte: You know, I felt like I was speaking for an entire generation. No, I cant say that I was ever involved with a guy who was addicted to crack like Sam was nor did I see a guy (Poor Georgie) who drank and drove, smoked, got cancer and died in a car crash. Like, I mean, how bad can it get? Those circumstances werent real for me but I am a storyteller. So, what I did was take things that are real to people. Like, my uncle died of a heart attack but he was also on the transplant list to get a heart because he ruined his because he was an alcoholic. So, no, he didnt get into the car crash like Poor Georgie did, but he crashed in a different kind of way. By the time hed gotten his life together, his heart had decided it was too late. So, yeah, he didnt drink for the last six years of his life, but by then it didnt really matter.
DX: Speaking of being a storyteller, I know you planned on being an author. What kind of books are you currently working on or planning on penning?
MC Lyte: I think I decided some time ago to do a memoir. And, I feel like Im living such a life that should be documented. It may be a little too soon to do a memoir. I may have to live a little bit more. Thats one but I would do that with a writer. I did write a poetry book on words of wisdom or however you want to look at it. I just wrote down some poignant information that I think could be helpful to my generation and the new Hip Hop generation.
HipHopDX: When you talk about the new generation, can you tell us about how you started Almost September. What made you pick these two gentlemen out of any other set of acts to work with?
MC Lyte: With Almost September, I just had the concept that I wanted to be a part of a group. I think one of the things that I have learned throughout the years is that some of the most successful songs that Ive had have been collaborative efforts. Whether it be Jermaine [Dupri] [click to read] and Xscape, Puffy and Missy [Elliot], or Teddy [Riley] [click to read] and the whole Wreckx N Effects camp when we came out with Ruffneck. Of course, at the very beginning with the Audio 2. They were very instrumental in my delivery, [and] in the choosing of the tracks. Its one thing to be alone and another when you have a whole bunch of people who want the best outcome. Its like that much more energy put towards it. So, with these guys, they are extremely talented guys. I met them through Macy Gray. I felt like we could make some beautiful music together and we did.
DX: On The MC documentary, you say that an emcee is influenced by the community and you discussed the impact that Brooklyn had on your first records. As a young girl from Brooklyn, what messages did you want to bring across to the world when you first started releasing material as an emcee?
HipHopDX: Oh, boy. Um, Not Wit a Dealer, which was one of the songs on the second album, I think. Milk did that. I thought that was real important because we get so amazed by what the narcotics dealer does in terms of running a business, making money and having all of these things that are materialistic. I just wanted young girls to know like, you can make it and you can do it on your own. You dont need that. Now, if youre in love with him, pull him into a circumstance where he realizes he can take that same business savvy and make a real business out of it and not put peoples lives at stake. Not just the drug addict, but also the people that are in their circumference because anyone is in jeopardy when someone is out to kill or destroy someone else. You just in the way. I think thats what I wanted to express and also, I just wanted to shine some light on the West Indian culture because thats what raised me. With the last Internet blast of Brooklyn, I read comments like Oh, she sounds like a fakin Jamaican. No, I am a fakin Jamaican. I wanted more to be nothing but West Indian living where I lived. So, that molded and shaped who I am today.
DX: Aside from Brooklyn, what influences you today?
MC Lyte: People. Just all of the people that I see in various places. The people that I talk to. The music that I hear. Everything to me is an experience that can be reflected in my music at some time, at some point.
DX: When you listen to an emcee now, what impresses you?
MC Lyte: Truth. I mean, truth! That really gets me. I love when a dude can be as hard as hell but he also has a heart and you can feel it in his lyrics. He may tell you about his shortcomings but he also tells you how bad he is. He can also express all the different sides that exist.
DX: When we talk about new emcees, we have to discuss your cousin Charles Hamilton. He has been getting a lot of publicity of late-good and bad. Has he come to you for a lot of advice through the years? How have you helped him deal with the challenges hes facing now?
MC Lyte: Its funny. I just spoke to him about 15 minutes before this. Hes in the studio right now. We definitely go back and forth. I probably say a whole lot more to him than he cares to hear. But, thats just big cuz playing the part and certainly being as truthful with him as I possibly can. Fortunately and unfortunately for him, he came into a whole lot of knowledge that I didnt become aware of until much later on in my career, which caused me to be more serious and business minded and very analytical about the choices that I was making beyond the creativity level. With him being hit with all of the knowledge to begin with, all of the politics that come into play, he felt the need to express himself. Thats one thing about Charles [click to read]. He is a bundle of honesty. Sometimes, its hard for people to understand or bare the truth. Or, some people just like to see the facade and want just that. So, I commend him always for keeping his integrity and just being truthful.
DX: You said you became critical of label politics. What exactly created that?
MC Lyte: Well, I think its just the knowledge of the game and the games that people play. I remember doing two songs with R. Kelly in Miami. It was right after Biggie had come out and one of those songs, he wanted to write. He wrote it but the flow was completely Biggie. At that time, it was too much of a mirror to Lil Kims style. I told him, Alright, MC Lyte cant do this. Peoplell look at me like Im crazy. He was like, Nah, this is gonna work. I told him, No, Im not in agreement with that. I wound up leaving Miami. There was one song that he had prepared a hook for and he was to deliver that song with the hook. But, because I wouldnt perform the lyrics the way that he wanted me to one the other song, he never handed in the song correctly, with the hook. On the record that Jermaine Dupri executive produced (Bad As I Wanna B), theres a song on there called Two Seater. that doesnt have a hook on it because he wouldnt lay the hook down. Then, the label paid him! They paid him 100% because they wanted to keep good faith because they wanted some songs for En Vogue. These are the politics that get plaid. Of course, I had the management in place that was like To hell with that! Youre not recouping it from MC Lyte. And they didnt but they wound up paying him because they wanted to still keep that relationship. So sometimes, even when [there is no] integrity, people will go along with it just to make it smooth on the other end somewhere else.
DX: That must have been hard to deal with.
MC Lyte: Yeah! Its just like How yall gonna pay him for something he didnt complete? I wasnt really down with that but it wasnt my money. So, if they wanted to pay him, go ahead. I hope they got what they needed from him for En Vogue. Those are the little games that you become aware of, either early on, or later.
HipHopDX: If we can, take me on a trip through what these records mean to you, what they meant to you then and how they were created.
MC Lyte: Sure thing.
HipHopDX: Alright, tell me about I Cram to Understand U (Sam).
MC Lyte: "Cram to Understand U" is a record I wrote when I was 12 years old. Actually, I recorded that song when I was 14 at Clark Kents house, in his basement. We did it to an instrumental song. I dont even remember what instrumental it was. But, that was the first time I laid it. Then, a couple of years later, when I was 16 with Milk and Giz (Audio II), I said the rhyme and Milk made the track on the spot back when there were only four-tracks. That was sort of the beginning for that song. It turned out to be critically acclaimed. I remember getting a half page in the New York Times for that song, before Hip Hop was even really recognized on the level of a New York Times. That was the beginning. That was the door opening for everything else that came to be. We released that independently and shortly after, we were the first independent label [First Priority Music] signed with a major at Atlantic Records with Sylvia Rhone and Merlin Bobb.
DX: What about Ruffneck?
MC Lyte: With Ruffneck, the album was almost completed and Sylvia and Merlin wanted me to go down and work with Teddy. Once I got down there, it was just a matter of jelling and seeing what the song was going to be about. I worked with that Akil Davidson on the lyrics for Ruffneck. He was like What do you wanna say? I think Apache had Gangsta Bitch out and I was like I want to do something for the guys. I want to do something for the guys that I know around my way. Although Ruffneck may seem like a term that I coined, it was definitely already in existence in the West Indian culture. So, I wrote what I wanted to say and then we played with a couple of different flows. Even Left Eye was on that record! We pulled her, miraculously, off tour for her to come do the middle verse. After everything was done, L.A. Reid would not give us the clearance for it. It was like, Ah, what a freakin headache this is. So, now I had to go back down to Virginia and do the second verse. Later, of course, once it was nominated for a Grammy and everything, I ran into L.A. Reid. He was like I didnt know! I didnt know! I was like, Thats the point! Most people dont [know] until its done.
DX: How did Cha Cha Cha come about?
MC Lyte: Cha Cha Cha was one of three or four songs that I either had written for me or that I co-wrote with someone. Cha Cha Cha was completely written by The King of Chill, who also produced it. Of course, he also did the music for Lyte as a Rock and Paper Thin. But, on Cha Cha Cha, specifically, he had that one already written out.
DX: What about Wonder Years, the track you did with DJ Premier?
MC Lyte: Oh, yeah. I was lucky to get that beat. Let me tell you, Id been after [DJ] Premier for years to do something for me. It was always with the record label. They didnt want to pay the money for Premier. They felt like his songs werent going to go radio or mainstream so they didnt really want to pay what it would take. So, in any case, I was like Look man, I want to do this. He was like, Well, hey, I have this beat that I made for Jay-Z [click to read] and he hasnt made a move on it, so you can have it. So, he gave it to me. I wrote the rhymes systematically. As soon as I heard the music, I just knew I wanted to talk about. But, I think at the time, it may have been too informative for most. They were like, Oh, shes bitter! And, I didnt have a hook on it. So, maybe a year and a half or two years later, Premier called me and said Yo, I just played the joint in the studio and the guys love it! One of his groups, so I was like Okay, good. Have them write a hook for it. That was literally how we got the song done.
DX: So you wanted a hook on there?
MC Lyte: Well, it didnt have a hook and at the time, Premier was like Oh, okay. Thats a cool record. But, I dont think it was until after everybody had gotten to the point where they were a little fed up with the lyrics that most were delivering. His group heard it and was like, Oh my God! Why isnt that record out?
DX: Tell us about Self Destruction, a record you recorded with nothing but All Stars, including Public Enemy, KRS-One, Doug E. Fresh and others.
MC Lyte: That was a whammy, right there! It was a studio full of folks. I started writing mine and what you hear from that verse, the middle point of it is where I originally started the rap. LL [Cool J] was there and then he was like, Start that shit off with Funky, fresh, dressed. I was like, Okay, lets see how this shit sounds! At that point, it became a collaborative effort. A lot of people like, LL wrote your verse. No! He didnt write the entire verse. He gave me the razor blade taped to your collar. I didnt know anything about that! That definitely wasnt my world! But, I think it made for a really great collaboration. Thats one of those songs, literally, when I do it in concert, I dont even have to rap. The whole crowd does it.
DX: Cold Rock a Party.
MC Lyte: Ah, the one most people are familiar with is the remix. That remix was done by Ron Lawrence and P. Diddy. At the time, I think Missy had just come out with the Gina Thompson record and the SWV record. Everybody was vying for her. P. Diddy wanted to sign her and so did Sylvia [Rhone]. So, it made for the perfect mixture to have her on a record with me at the time, lending my credibility on a bonafide Hip Hop record. Up until then, it was just her rapping on R&B songs. The funny thing is, we set up studio time twice and she didnt make it. I told Puffy Whats the situation? Does she not want to do it? He was like, Nah! Nah! She wants to do it! Shes just crazy right now, just crazy busy! I was like, Okay, well, Ill tell you what. You set up the studio time and once her vocals are down, Ill come in and do my part. Thats literally how it was done. She laid her verse and then I laid my verses and then, right after I finished my verse, she came back in and did the [singing]. She did all of the ad-libs. She did what an innovator does. She can hear the ending fo the song before most hear the beginning. So, it turned out really, really good. We built a friendship from there and did a lot of shows together.
DX: For this album new album, who are you working with?
MC Lyte: Truth be told, I dont know yet. Im stalking Anthony Hamilton [click to read] because I need a hook from him. Hes in Japan right now, but Im waiting for him to slide his way right on back to the United States of America to get him. Then, I have a couple of feelers out to people but this record is not dependent upon a guest appearance. Id really love to have those that Ive reached out for but I dont want to get it twisted in that those are mandatory. Its just great to have more for color. But, the songs that Ive done so far are very personal and very truthful and every verse matters. For me to take away a verse to have a name, I dont really need it.
DX: But, I meant more in terms of production.
MC Lyte: Oh, production. Ive just been going with what sounds hot! I heard that 50 Cent [click to read] for the most part, gets CDs and doesnt have any names on them. So, he just chooses the music based upon the music. Thats basically the way Ive been doing it. It keeps the integrity and it makes those producers with names work all the more harder because its not just the name. Its like, Whats the quality that is being given here?
DX: Finally, what other things are you working on now?
MC Lyte: I have the new song, Rockin with the Best. We have that song and the label is really excited about it. Most deejays that have given feedback are like Oh, my God! This is what weve been waiting for from Lyte. Im working on the album right now. I have six bonafide songs that will make the record. Now, Im going out to complete it with another six or seven more. Ive become the Executive Vice President of DMG, which is Dubose Music Group and Im completely excited about that. We have a female artist out of Atlanta, a singer named Tenille, a 20 year old singer-songwriter that Im so excited to have as a part of this label. We have two shows with BET and I have a radio syndicated show that I just singed on to do, a weekly show that will happen in most markets. Were looking at a little over thirty-something markets to start with. Then, I have a lot of voice over [work.] Im excited about that. We just started a whole nother AT&T campaign, which is love. Just a lot of stuff on the horizon.