MC Lyte: Rage Against the Machine

posted November 16, 2005 12:00:00 AM CST | 0 comments

MC Lyte is focused. Sitting in the lounge of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, her striped business suit starched and cut perfectly, shes poised and articulate as she elaborates upon the ideas shes been spreading for the past few days at Spelman Colleges Hip Hop Week. Her message is simpleits time to cut the bullshit and reclaim Hip Hop. Nearly 18 years after she first entered the game via her classic debut album, Lyte as a Rock, shes not only come full circle but discovered a new callinga vision that pokes at the consciousness of even the most detached Hip Hop fans. Traveling across the country, encouraging women and explaining why we as a community must re-discover the most precious elements of Hip Hop, Lytes wisdom and quiet enthusiasm is contagious. With a new album due out next year and book of poetry, Just My Take in stores now, her voice is as powerful as ever, and she wont be silenced by anyone.

Whyd you decide to initiate Hip Hop Week at Spelman?

I visited Spelman back in March for the Take Back the Music Festival which was a town hall meeting that Essence and Spelman had put together because Spelman took such a huge stand in not allowing certain artists on their campus because of songs and images that were begin pushed forth through their music and at the panel one of young girls got up and asked, we love hip hop and we love the men in hip hop why do they hate us so much, what have we done to them? The question came from such a pure place, she just wanted to know what did we do wrong to be treated this way and be called these names and I just felt like maybe there should be some type of dialogue that goes back and forth so that students at Spelman could gain some understanding why the turn in Hip Hop has occurred.

Do you anticipate this being a yearly event?

An annual event would be great, we even yesterday began to talk about what could take place next year that could be different from this year.

Hip Hop Week was dedicated to celebrating the life of C. Delores Tucker who we all know back in the mid-90s took a stand against gangster rap. She took a lot of flak for that at the time from the Hip Hop community.

Right

Is it ironic to you that now were celebrating her life at a Hip Hop event and that a lot of the Hip Hop community has come around since her passing and said, okay, we see where she was coming from?

I think there is no easy way and her going after the record labels was probably the smartest way to do it. However, the record labels at that point begin to talk to the artists and the artists feel like they have to take a stand because its their music. But I think she had the right idea as far as just being unacceptable. Now how to go about changing the course, Im not sure how that should be done. I personally think its to go after the minds of the youth and have them change their minds as to what is entertaining. Only at that point will the message be felt.

Nowadays people use Hip Hop Generation and Black youth culture interchangeably. Is that at all dangerous to you?

I think Black youth culture is Black youth culture. The Hip Hop generation encompasses a lot of other cultural backgrounds to me. It sorta encompasses a huge amount of youth that exist in other countries so to me the Hip Hop generation is the youth period and at this point its a couple of generation. So I think Black youth culture is one thing in itself and it should be dealt with separately because we go through different issues and the younger Black generation has a whole set of different barriers and hurdles to overcome.

Youre one of the dopest females ever to touch a mic, lyrically. How does it feel to see women in Hip Hop now achieving a certain level of fame even though they dont write their own lyrics?

Oh, wellboy. Its to each its own. I happen to think that writing your own lyrics for your rhymes is necessary. For me thats what Hip Hop is all about because with singing someone can write for somebody else, with an orchestra or a band, you can write the music for someone else to play but hip hop is the kind of music that should come from you, from your soul and your spirit and thats how people will feel it. And thats why Hip Hop is that type of music that speaks to your soul and spirit. When you begin to have people writing for you and writing about things that arent true to who you are, it has a certain fakeness that doesnt resonate well with the people.

I mean, you say it doesnt resonate well, but you have these popular artists who have sold a lot of records

Yeah, but popular doesnt mean that youre good. And you know, you can fool some of the people some of the time but you cant fool all of the people all of the time. I think that the way that this system is set up today, yes there may be a large amount of artists that are popular who dont write their own lyrics but they have made fans of their music, not fans of who they are. So if someone whos been their top writer decides that theyre not gonna write for them anymore, then so goes the popularity of that person. Im just thankful that I came in at a time when record labels were into artist development and making fans of artists and not fans of a hit song.

You spoke at one of the panels about the infiltration of Hip Hop right as it was reaching its peak in terms of its ability to move the masses in a positive direction. Can you elaborate on that?
Well, I tend to feel like there was an era when so many things were being taught. Take for instance KRS1, You Must Learn. I mean at the time when we were in the midst of it, it just felt like good music, you know. And what he was sayin was so on point. Now when I look back and I listen to it, it was really tutorial, it was really, like teaching. Just imagine, everyone from that era had their own voice. There was no doubt about it, when you heard a song, you knew exactly who it was when you bought a record your pretty much knew what you were gonna get. There werent any surprises in a way that would make you feel as if youd been tricked into buying or purchasing that record. They say its no mistake that Hip Hop came at a time when the whole Black power movement of the 70s had been diminished little by little, infiltrated and I believe Hip Hop was started as a way to let these young folks from the ghetto get a message out, or tell a story, or have funit was never degrading. It was never the type of music that would put someone else in a predicament that was unsafe or unhealthy. But in any case, yeah, I think it was building up the capability of moving people in huge numbers and you can tell that by the number of records that was sold and the number of people that would show up to concerts. And the perfect example is Public Enemy. The scary thing about PE was although they were attacking white supremacy they had white fans. So, I mean, thats a reason for someone to get scared because not only are you talking about uplifting Black people but now you have not just Black people as your followers. So I think it came to a point where they were like, okay we gotta get in here and infiltrate this, too much can happen and its giving power to groups that may use that power for something that can be tremendously good.

Do you really, honestly think that Hip Hop can ever reclaim the element of motivation it once had?

I certainly think it can happen. I think what we have to go back to realizing is that we hold the power. Weve been tricked into thinking that they hold the power and were allowing them to make the choices for us. The perfect example is when we came up we had maybe two hip hop magazinesWord Up! and Right On and those to magazines dealt mostly with pictorials, they didnt deal with a lot of elaborate stories and what most magazines are dealing with today. They certainly didnt pit wars against different camps or different coasts. Media wasnt what it is today and Im saying this because we were still able to get a message out, we were still able to be knownI came out in 88 and in 89 I was in Denmark. There was nothing to hold back the promotion or marketing of an artist in those days but now I think were fooled into thinking, oh, that artist must be hot cuz theyre on the cover of a magazine. I came when there was only two hours of Hip Hop on a Friday and a Saturday. Im just saying at that point you had to search for the Hip Hop that you liked and that meant something. When you look for something its just like working hard for something, you appreciate it more. When something is just handed to you, you have the tendency to just accept it.

What do you have coming up?

Well, Im working on a new record and I have six songs done, the record is entitled Smoking Mirrors

Why the title?

Because smoking mirrors often confuse not only the consumer that the show is being done for, but it also confuses the artists and I want to sort of, not only make the public aware of smoking mirrors, but to sort of lift the veil and let them know what things are real and what things are not. So Im gonna get that out.

And you have a book of poetry?

Yes, Just My Take that we just released, self-published in August folks can find it at some local black bookstores and on officialmclyte.com. I also have a home accessory line coming out in January called the Lana Moore Collection which will be available at Lowes and Walmart. And other than that, I have bunch of speaking engagements at some colleges and universities and Im looking forward to that. Im just gonna keep it movin.

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