MC Lyte on the ‘freedom’ of today’s women in hip hop compared to the golden era
The embodiment of hip hop, Brooklyn’s own MC Lyte has been moving crowds for over 30 years, and is revered as one of the genre’s most respected lyricists, among both men and women who rock the mic.
With an unmistakable ear for music, the wordsmith plays curator during her latest gig with RedBull Radio, crafting her Choice Mix after essential women throughout the genre, from good friend and fellow Golden Era MC, Queen Latifah, to Billboard’s 2020 Woman of the Year, Cardi B.
“I took the mix around the world,” Lyte, born Lana Moorer, told Page Six. “We went to Africa, we went to Columbia, we started in the US and ended in the US, but I was able to span over four decades of women within hip hop.”
Lyte — who dropped her debut album, “Lyte as a Rock” in 1988 — knows first-hand how critical the female perspective has been to the culture, taking note of the newfound “freedom” today’s biggest names enjoy, allowing them to disrupt the system unapologetically.
“Some things you hear now, you would’ve never heard back then,” Lyte insists while discussing a distinct content shift for prominent women in rap. “There are women who have been here before and paved that trail for the next female MC to come out and be comfortable being wild.”
Undoubtedly, the brash attitude and sex-positive influence of artists such as Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown gave birth to a school of girls currently dominating the charts. Lyte, however, remembers just how stifling the industry could be for women of her era. Even contemporaries Salt-N-Pepa, while able to tackle risqué (for the 80s) themes, were still confined to innuendo and sexist expectations.
“I’m sure if you talk to any female MC from my day, we all wanted to say something crazy,” Lyte says. “For us, we had to do a lot of holding back. Holding back because it just wasn’t proper to say, or holding back because it would be beyond anyone else’s belief that that would be in our vocabulary.”
The veteran sees the shift and can appreciate how much today’s female rappers can, “say exactly what it is they want to say and dress exactly how they want to dress,” while adding that freedom “comes with responsibility.”
“The growth has happened, but in some areas, it can become unruly.”
The game can certainly feel off balance when it seems only one type of woman can find major support, and therefore, success. Lyte believes, however, that it only takes one woman with her eye on the prize to bring more substantive elements of the culture back to the forefront.
“It only takes one to break the mold,” Lyte says. “It takes one to swing it all the way back. She might already be out there. It could be a Rapsody, it could be a Tierra Whack, it’s just that the record labels need to support those efforts just as much as they do the others.”
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