During Women's History Month, ERS-Plus is turning up the volume on female MCs across 50 years of Hip Hop. Up this week is Hip Hop’s queen of firsts, MC Lyte. Want more Hip-Hop and R&B? Check out ERS-Plus on HD2 Radio, and online.
By Isabella Kohn, Staff Writer
Lana Moorer, born October 11th, 1970, otherwise known as MC Lyte, is undoubtedly one of the trailblazers of the Hip Hop genre. She gained fame in 1988 as the first female rapper to release a full studio album, Lyte As A Rock. Her powerful stage presence, rhyme, lyricism and overall musical prowess have made her stand out in an industry and genre dominated by men.
According to the Hiphop Archive and Research Institute, “MC Lyte combined a deep, rich, strong voice with emotional vulnerability, insightful artistic and social analysis, and a playful sense of humor. She challenged narrow ideas about both Hip Hop and femininity and took pride in her intelligence, lyrical skills and ability to defy conventional expectations. One of Hip Hop’s most revered story tellers, she addressed a wide range of themes ranging from love, respect and trust, to art, knowledge and power.”
Since the young age of 12, MC Lyte had been rhyming. At this age, she wrote her first single, “I Cram To Understand U (Sam).” By the time she was 16, the song was recorded and then released. The song addresses the cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and the impacts drug abuse may have on individuals and their relationships. It was one of the first in Hip Hop to address the topic.
When discussing the track in an interview with Okayplayer, the Hip Hop star said, “to see lyrics that I had written prior be appreciated in such a way, you know, there’s nothing like it. I guess it just goes to show that when you’re speaking truth, or when truth resonates with others, then I guess it could be considered a classic because it never goes old.”
MC Lyte flexed wit and lyrical skill on songs like 1989's “Cappucino.” She addressed the complex issue of the fragility of youth on “Poor Georgie.” And in her later works, Lyte took unapologetic agency with regards to intimacy like on 1993's “Ruffneck.” If you needed a reminder of who got the party lit, MC Lyte made it clear she can rock the party better than anyone on “Cold Rock A Party,” a 1996 collaboration with Missy Elliot. With over three decades in the game, her music remains timeless and inspiring.
QUEEN OF FIRSTS
MC Lyte mastered the art of being first. Consider that she was:
- The first rap artist to perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall
- The first female rap artist to receive a Gold single
- The first solo female rapper to be honored on VH-1’s Hip-Hop Honors
- The first female solo rapper to be nominated for a Grammy in 1994, for her single “Ruffneck”
- Again nominated for a Grammy in 2004, for the song “Ride Wit Me”
- The I Am Hip-Hop Icon Lifetime Achievement award in 2013, for her contributions to the Hip Hop culture and genre.
LYTE’S GREATEST HITS
MC Lyte has partnered with artists like Janet Jackson and Missy Elliot, boosting her status as both highly influential and internationally recognized. Below is a brief list of some of her solo and collaborative hits:
- "Paper Thin," from her 1988 album Lyte as a Rock
- “Cha Cha Cha,” from her 1989 album Eyes on This
- “Poor Georgie,” from her 1991 album Act Like You Know
- “Ruffneck,” from her 1993 album Ain’t No Other
- “You Want This” by Janet Jackson ft. Mc Lyte, from Janet Jackson’s 1993 album Janet
- “Cold Rock a Party” ft. Missy Elliot, from her 1996 album Bad as I Wanna B
- “Keep on Keepin’ On” ft. Xscape, from the 1996 album Sunset Park - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
- “Ride Wit Me,” from her 2003 album Da Undaground Heat, Vol. 1
WHO INFLUENCED MC LYTE?
Lyte is a breakthrough female emcee. She was first to achieve pivotal accomplishments, paving the way for many in the Hip Hop music scene. She has been influenced by none other than her fellow pioneers of Hip Hop. In an interview with The Cut, MC Lyte acknowledged Salt-N-Pepa as her main source of inspiration. She said, “There were others, though, that I saw making it, and I was excited for them. And excited for hip-hop in general and excited that women were participating. But it was Salt-N-Pepa that I heard, and I actually thought, ‘I can do this too.’”
WHO DID MC LYTE INFLUENCE?
The Brooklyn-born artist’s earlier music promoted and helped establish Brooklyn, New York as a center of Hip Hop culture and music. As a result, she helped pave the way for artists like Jay Z, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and Lil Kim.
Her off-stage work currently lies in mentoring and supporting the youth and rising rappers. She told The Cut: “I feel a responsibility to the younger generation that are coming in. Specifically, those who want to be looked after. Those who care to have a mentorship relationship with someone like me. And there are many that I talk to on a regular basis, that I would go so far as to call them friends.” She listed the rappers Tierra Whack and Rapsody among those she has mentored.
She also supports the creativity and talents of young people of diverse ethnic identities through the non-profit HipHop Sisters Foundation, which annually presents two $100,000 college scholarships.
A LASTING LEGACY
Nearly three decades since her first release, MC Lyte is still an undeniably influential figure in the industry. Reflecting on her career and talking about the importance of Hip Hop, she told the Washington Post, “[It] still moves people to want to create… It still moves people.”
But ultimately, her Hip Hop accolades are not the only thing her legacy will consist of. When her emcee microphone is off, the star rapper is a DJ, an actress and an entrepreneur who dedicates her time to managing other artists as the CEO of the firm Sunni Gyrl.
MC Lyte has taken her gifts as an emcee and quite literally added her talents to live shows, serving as the announcer for many televised award shows. These have included: the NAACP, BET and Grammy Awards. Viewers can hear and sometimes see MC Lyte in her newest role as a voiceover professional. She is also the executive producer and co-creator of the original series Partners In Rhyme, which began in fall of 2021. It airs on the allblk.tv network distributed on Prime and Roku.
When she was 18, MC Lyte told The Morning Call newspaper that her intention was that she would not want to be a rapper once she was ten years out from the release of her first album. Nearly thirty years later, many would agree that she isn’t just Hip Hop, but because of her trailblazing career, MC Lyte is Hip Hop.