MC Lyte is a pioneer and legend within the hip hop community. The “Light As A Feather” emcee is also an active philanthropist. In honor of Black History Month, Lyte’s teamed with AT&T 28 Days campaign, which encourages children to give.
She sat down with theGrio talk about poetry, who is she currently listening to, and if there can ever be a successful openly gay mainstream rapper.
theGrio: MC Lyte, thank you for sitting down with us.
MC Lyte: Absolutely, thank you. Thank you very much for the platform.
Tell me about the 28 Days campaign. You’ve been tapped to lead a team and help a nonprofit organization with your charity efforts.
Absolutely, I’m honored to be a participant even at the level of a coach for the 28 days, but it’s all about taking a look at history but also being able to step out in the forefront and make history. That is what I like so much about this campaign. We can also further that mission and with the team that I have, physically we’re helping out an organization called “Write Girls.” This is completed up my alley. They have these workshops to empower young girls to write out what it is they are feeling, to use their imagination or to just open up.
How has poetry impacted your life and how you can give that knowledge and experience to your team?
As a kid, my mother had me write everything. I had to write an essay for everything that I wanted to do that was extracurricular based. So if you wanted to go roller skating, play hand ball, it was always an essay. It was short but none the less you had to be able to write and convince her that I needed to be outside of the house. I used to think hip-hop was that but the mainstream has sort of had its way with it.
Now a lot of the focus is put on being at the top of the charts, being more popular so that you can be on the cover of someone’s magazine. Whereas poetry stays true to the community, true to the people who wrote it. Because mainstream is not trying to get a hold of it to make money, it’s been able to keep its purity, which I completely respect and honor.
Your career continues to have longevity. You worked with BET Hip-Hop awards, you’ve been an announcer, and your voice is known. A lot of people don’t understand that there other ways to parlay hip-hop into other careers. You, Queen Latifah, and LL Cool J are some of the few that seem to have made the transition.
Before I wanted to rap I heard people on the radio. I heard celebrities talking on WBLS NYC. I was going to Norfolk State University to be a communications major so that I could eventually be a radio personality. I know that I had something to say; I’m able to use my voice in all sorts of ways.
My manager said something to me very early on my career that was we were going to build my career so it wasn’t dependent upon a hit record. Once we sat down and figured out all of the things I wanted to do prior to rapping which [were] acting, voice, being a voice-over talent and provide artist support and development to other artists.
I feel like there’s a certain element missing especially when it comes to women in hip-hop. It feels like the media will only let one top woman be at the top, right. Are you listening to anyone in hip-hop in this generation?
I enjoy Macklemore. I don’t just like his music. I like him as a person. There are some emcees, I may like a song or a line they said. I might like a body of work. To say I like him as a person, I didn’t know him personally but what he’s able to convey in his music, not just the music, he gets up and accepts an award, talks about Trayvon Martin in his speech, I like that guy. He uses his time wisely, he never lets a movement be wasted and he’s very purposeful and meaningful. That’s what I like about him.
Nicki Minaj has a song [which] she claims is women empowerment, called “Looking A** Ni**a.” When she posted a photo from her Instagram account and the artwork for the single, it was an iconic image of Malcolm X holding a rifle and looking out the window. She claimed, “I’m just trying to convey a message, Malcolm X was trying to make sure he defending from all these ni**as.” She later apologized, but I would assume someone who is from an older generation of emcees would be offended by it.
I’m a little closer to the generation impacted and was directly affected by what would cause that great leader to stand by his window with that piece of machinery, artillery. Was I here for what he did or the passing of him? No. That happened prior to my existence; however I am still of aware of not only what he did for me but what he’s done for us and the world over. Why is it that I cannot tap into what would cause that is because my mind is filled with what really caused that [sic].
Two years ago R&B singer Frank Ocean said that he has been in love with a man at one point in time in his life. And just this year NFL prospect Michael Sam came out of the closet. Do you think we would ever see the day where there is an openly gay mainstream rapper?
I will never say never. Kudos is such a corny word but Kudos to all of the people that you just mentioned for being able to live their lives out loud. If that’s what they needed to do in order to feel free, so be it. With [Michael Sam], I don’t know this story but thank you. You’re actually updating me on news. That’s great for him. I’m sure his life will not be the same. But then, who expects it to be?