Interview With MC Lyte
“I really don’t believe jack of all trades master of none I believe if you study that craft you can do it well”
MC Lyte never believed that rappers were not able to multi-task even though her life as enduring hip-hop legend would make people think otherwise of her intentions. Her first album Lyte As A Rock from 1988 established her as a preeminent rhymer, another Brooklynite maker of the canon. It was songs like her “10 % Dis,” Roxanne Shante’s “Roxanne’s Revenge” four years earlier and the entrance of Salt N Pepa in 1986 that established women as integral members of the rap world instead of temporary fads long before Foxy and Kim showed us their g-strings. In 2009 the female rapper is mostly an underground marvel read Jean Grae, Eternia, Invincible, Bahamadia, T-Love, Lin Que and others I have not heard of to date. Fans of Lyte wonder why she does not take her rarefied nine album status to reestablish female rappers in the mainstream and dedicate herself exclusively to music. The film successes of Queen Latifah, Will Smith and Ice Cube validated the rapper’s ability to be a crosstrainer and created new opportunities in an industry that has become eager to hire anyone with a brand name. A budding filmography and televison roles in “The Playa’s Ball” and “Half and Half” never made her love for music ebb because her passion for each discipline is equal but not greater than the other. Prior commitments to a major label in the ‘90s made it difficult for her to fulfill the obligations of her music contract and venture deeper into acting. A new professional alliance with James DuBose who has a history as a producer and executive producer of several TV shows including Run’s House, Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is and a host of other projects with Spike TV, HBO and Fox has given Lyte a new gig as the Executive Vice President of his entertainment group and the flagship artist of his DuBose Music Group. The new situation allows her to run the company, act and make music in the same building.
Musically speaking she released a spontaneous video for “Brooklyn” earlier this year to recreate an apetite for her work. Last year she introduced Almost September, a hip-hop soul group consisting of herself and songwriters Jared Lee and Whitey that quickly intrigued fans but never received a suitable release because of time restrictions. As a solo artist she just released “Rocking With The Best” from her upcoming album in 2010. In addition to her new VP job and music she is doing voiceover work, collaborating with David Banner on a talent contest, prepping a new radio show and community building among women in the industry.
What’s going on? What’s the reality show “Hollywood Treatment” with Mary J. about?
It is a reality show and Mary J. Blige is on the first feature so I’m hosting the show and the one we have in the can is in face the one Mary did the show is just chilling. The show in itself is about young folks who are trying to get from point A to point B and really don’t know how and they’re asking for help so what we do as the show is team them up with the best foundation that has been started by a celebrity. And with this particular episode that young lady really had a lot in common with Mary with regards to Mary’s upbringing so we thought that would be an appropriate match.
How about your voiceover work with KFC and AT&T?
With AT&T I do voiceover work with them I have done voiceover campaigns in the past and I have one with them right now. With regards to KFC, David Banner and I decided to judge the contest to help them find some new stars some new musicians who really take their craft seriously. It will run on the internet and they will be chosen on the internet.
How did you get with Dubose Music Group?
Well James Dubose has done an unbelievable amount of productions for several networks mainly BET he does the Keyshia Cole Show, Neffe And Frankie, the new Monica show that will air in the fall he does Comic View he was one of the producers for Blind Date so we met and he pitched the show to me which is another show I’m signed on to do and in the midst of it we started talking about music which is his true passion and we come from a day where we can make a lot of stuff happen with a little bit of money and also you know keep the integrity of the music and he asked me to run his company. I really couldn’t ask for a better situation God really his hand on me there’s no other place opportunity to do all of what I’m doing in terms of being at the label as an artist and doing television. I remember when I was signed to a major record label and I moved to LA Slyvia Rhone was like ‘Uh ah get yo’ ass back on these New York City streets people need to see you over here.’ You know I was determined to be on television and she just couldn’t understand how at the height of everything we were selling I guess uh when I moved out there I probably was in the middle of “Keep On” or “Cold Rock A Party” this is like millions of records sold she’s like ‘What are you doing?’
I remember reading the story of where your image was glammed up and she told you or someone to take off the make-up and get those jeans back on!
She wasn’t talking to anyone but me! I glammed it up and had my little tight pants on and she was like ‘What are you doing? Uh-ah put those jeans back on what is she doing?’ and literally had to do the whole shoot over the whole photo shoot over but in any case I say all that to say now we’re in a new day new time with James DuBose because he has this multi-faceted company it allows me to do all of what I want to do and I don’t have a problem with the boss so if I’m on the set doing a show I don’t have a problem with the president of the record label handling record label business I don’t have a problem with them working out scheduling while I show up on this TV set it just really makes for a great collaboration and allows me to create and do what I love to do.
As far as music is concerned I saw your “Brooklyn” video a few months ago.
“Brooklyn” we just threw out there I wanted to start up a bubble-up on the internet and then the video of course was so guerrilla style I mean literally D-Nice was supposed to shoot the video for me and he just up and disappeared I don’t know where the hell he went but at the last minute I was on my way to New York I thought I was going to get him to shoot this video the other people had been asking me for this interview so I said “I’ll give you this interview if you shoot this video” so we did a bartering with Hostage Music I give them a really lengthy interview and then they just shot the video for me which was way easy around Brooklyn and we got the shots we needed to capture the West Indian culture. So that was that and then with “Rocking With The Best” this is the set-up single for the album which I’m currently working on right now and I’m excited about it this song came to me in sort of a funny way I was at a Drake concert and ran into Talib Kweli we got to talking I’m like goodness what I gotta do can we do something together? He’s like let’s meet up tomorrow we met up the next day and I went back with him to his home and he played a bunch of different tracks for me and I found this Ski and Apple juice kid beat which is the “Rocking With The Best” beat and I was like OK I need this went into the studio two days later in New York and rocked the verse got in touch with the guys and it was a song.
ARVE Error: id and provider shortcodes attributes are mandatory for old shortcodes. It is recommended to switch to new shortcodes that need only url
When you started rapping did you think your career would last this long?
I didn’t think I’d be doing it this long and I think it really took maybe five years ago I really understood what it means to be and being allowed to just create I think I had begun to believe how they treat hip-hop in terms of masses and media you can’t love parts of hip-hop it’s all or nothing and I think I had begun to think well maybe hip-hop isn’t as creative I didn’t verbally say that to myself that’s what I had to be thinking because I saw people make so much less of it of what I thought it was my entire life so I began to understand oh I don’t have to be an emcee to prove I’m valuable to prove that I’m creative or just to have the freedom so then I said you know I don’t have to just do voiceover at this time I don’t just have to be an emcee at this time I can do it all at the same time and I’m happy I really don’t believe jack of all trades master of none I believe if you study that craft you can do it well.
What does it feel like to be a hip-hop legend?
It feels good I mean in the infamous words of Tony Toni you know sometimes most times it feels good sometimes it feels like ok how would it be to be fresh and new and someone no one’s ever heard of right now it’s the attention that a Drake can garner now people knew who he was in Toronto from the television show and everything but to America he’s all new he’s fresh so I wonder sometimes how that would be and then I’m quickly reminded of how hard it is for a female emcee to enter the game right now and I realize that I am lucky to have gotten into it when I did.
Why do you think it’s been so difficult for women to have a consistent upfront presence in rap?
Well with women in hip-hop it’s a real simple answer and it all equates to female emcees have always very larger their personalities have been so huge that record sales could never really catch up to it. You can ask everybody who the leading emcee contenders were over the last ten years but I think many of them sold a million or maybe a million once and then that was it and I think record labels they want to make their money back they are in the business of selling records and it is not to get a popularity contest they could love you till kingdom come but in the end they have to make shareholders happy and if they don’t sell records they will go out of business.
Are you as critical of rap music today as some of your peers and rap fans in general?
The last two years I started DJing and I found a love for hip-hop I’m quite satiated when people say this about not liking hip-hop I don’t think they’re really going to find it inundated with what is being played on the radio feeling as though their choices are limited when in fact if they got on the internet they could find a slew I can literally sit at iTunes for about two hours a week and just buy music that never was promoted to me.
Like the song and video you did with Crew Grrl Order.
That was a call Chuck D placed in like hey I need you to do this and I said I’ll be there.
Who are your favorite hip-hop artists?
I really enjoy KRS One I feel like he’s going to say something to make me think and I just like the way he puts words together I like Jay-Z because he’s got a great flow and he’s able to merge the world of boasting which what hip-hop is about but also giving you parts of himself that are not so boastful so I like that about him and I think he and Kanye sort of share the same space but just if I had to say Jay-Z is like seventy raw thirty refined and it’s the opposite with Kanye he’s definitely refined thirty raw but like when you get a Jay-Z record you know you’re gonna get some raw stuff and but then you’re also gonna have those songs that are gonna go in the Billboard top one-hundred as a pop song not that he made a pop song the song is popular so it forces it onto the chart where as with Kanye he has an array of records that can go pop like immediately and then he has those thirty percent where he’ll invite a Little Wayne on Joc something and be a little more raw with it and I love both of those guys. I like Lupe and Common, Eve and Jean Grae I like a lot of stuff. I listen to so much music and I get inspiration from just about all music I mean that from Sha Rock and the Funky Four Plus One onto the Sugar Hill Gang all the way to Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Prince , Linda Ronstadt you name it I was inspired by it. Carly Simon, Carole King, I’m just a lover of music so when I hear something it will definitely inspire me. I think most of my storytelling probably comes from the era of listening to what my mother listened to and that was James Taylor and Neil Diamond and Paul Simon like all these guys that really wrote stories in their music.
I know you have been asked this a million times before but can I ask for the stories behind “10% Dis” and “Paper Thin?”
I was kind of forced into doing but being that I was ok with having done it I wound up dissing Antoinette because Antoinette unknowingly dissed Audio Two there were certain things in her record that addressed them in a subtle way if that makes sense but they didn’t want to diss a female emcee and they thought that I should do it and I said OK. “Paper Thin” I think I had the lyrics written back when I was about thirteen fourteen years old and it was all a matter of finding the right music to put it to and I went into the studio to do that first album Lyte As A Rock I had my rhyme book already there was nothing I had to write for that record because I had so many rhymes already written that I just went through each rhyme several different tracks until we found the right match.
Is that the same rhyme book you donated to the Smithsonian?
No that’s a different book but knowing my mother she has it I haven’t seen it in forever “Cha Cha Cha” is probably the only rhyme in my history I didn’t write that I said but didn’t write and that was written by the King Of Chill he had the music and the rhyme already written and I was excited to do it it was a couple of things in there that just really when I recited the rhymes sounded a little funny to me because I just don’t talk like that like ‘Well well well I’ll be damned’ it’s like I really don’t talk like that it was certain things about the record that took some getting used to that way it wasn’t my vernacular but it worked out well it was a number one Billboard song.
What is the status of Almost September?
Almost September we’re a group that will always be and whenever we want to record together we will and whenever we have to keep living our lives because Almost September is a labor of love we did shop a major deal and no one seemed to understand why there was a need for Almost September. They liked the music but they were to afraid to invest in a circumstance where we weren’t doing what the rest of hip-hop was doing right now. So we did do a deal with Sony BMG and we released an EP last year and we went out and supported it in November and December in Switzerland and Germany and then the next thing was to drop the album this year which meant we would’ve had to go over there and be over there for a substantial amount of time to work the record and prepare for the record and I really couldn’t do it and neither could the guys they had to finish up a Macy Gray record which I think they’re still mixing so it just it was truly gratifying at the time when we were doing all our recording but I don’t think each of us gave it enough thought after ok like how are we going to work the record now when we all have these things individually? We have like thirty songs at any given moment we’ll probably release an EP when we have downtime and go at it again.
What are your thoughts about Michael Jackson?
As a baby in my mother’s stomach she tells me I was dancing to “Got To Be There” I knew Michael Jackson’s voice before I could see his face. Michael Jackson has been a part of my life since I was born and it’s a great great loss that we’ve all had. But I still find it amazing today that one can leave the physical world yet their voice is still here.
What are the plans with your new radio show?
It’s called Café Mocha we’re locking down the markets right now and hopefully we’ll be up by the fall I’m not quite sure of all of the markets but I know it is over two dozen so I’m looking forward to that
When is the new album coming?
I’m right in the middle of recording it I would like to go for the last quarter of this year however I’m not in a rush we’re gonna put out another single and the next single will be the single we started off as an internet campaign a set-up so it’s kind of taken on these wings of being much bigger which we certainly love however with the next single and if it doesn’t come out the last quarter it will come out the first quarter of 2010.
Is there anything you want to add?
I tweeter your readers can twit me at twitter.com/MCLyte and I’m also on Myspace, Facebook and blog and Okaysister.com and then also I have a social network for women in the business journalists, DJs it’s called hiphopsisters.com they can come on in and be a part of the team.