Miami is about to get a visit from the first lady – of hip-hop, that is.
Brooklyn’s mean queen MC Lyte was the first woman to put rap on wax and release a full-length LP. She came through the gate spitting thoughtful, direct messages about respecting yourself and the people around you with a strong “or else.”
She opened the door for every female MC running the game today, but when she was just learning to rock a crowd in BK, it wasn’t like that.
“I thought it was actually funny [the media] said I was the first female MC,” she laughs. “Oftentimes, I’m put in a position where I have to educate who it is that I’m talking to about all the female MCs that acted as an inspiration to me prior to me even grabbing the microphone.”
Maybe it’s not fair to call her the “first lady of hip-hop” in a chronological sense. Maybe it’s more of a presidential title. The First Lady of the United States usually champions an issue of great importance. MC Lyte’s entire career has been about speaking frankly with the masses. Now, she turns her attention to empowering a new generation, and that’s what brings her here.
On Wednesday, May 6, she’s joining Tracy Wilson Mourning and her ladies of the Honey Shine Mentoring Program for a day of entertainment, giving, and growth at the organization’s 13th annual “Hats Off” Luncheon. Honey Shine’s “Honey Bugs,” girls aged 8 to 18 overcoming at-risk situations, will be showcasing their talents alongside a silent auction and guest luncheon, all proceeds of which go toward the girls’ field trips and six-week summer camp.
“It was pretty amazing to see the programs that they had in place for the young women,” Lyte says of her first meeting with Honey Shine. “We wanted to somehow become involved and do the work that we do with Hip-Hop Sisters with them.”
Of course Lyte already has her own outreach program, Hip-Hop Sisters. The program is all about “redefining the essence of young girls and young women through education, empowerment, financial literacy” and a little bit of hip-hop.
“We have a component that’s artistry driven,” she says, “but for the most part, it’s about being able to get young girls at a place where they can do well for themselves.”
Lyte and her Sisters have granted four $100k scholarships to young women, and beginning this Fall, three $50k scholarships to young men. It’s inspiring for a girl from Brooklyn to see what a difference her name can make. When she walked into the booth in the late ‘80s to record her debut Lyte as Rock, she couldn’t have seen this.
“What to me mattered most at that time was an anti-drug message,” she said. “I didn’t even know to call it that, I just knew that there were drugs that had penetrated my community and other communities, and I wanted to be able to tell my generation not to become involved with them at all. The first song, ‘I Cram to Understand U,’ is what propelled me into this place of honesty; not necessarily rhyming on record, but speaking and telling a story in a way that didn’t have a lot of bells and whistles. I was just stating the facts.”
Today, there are a number of female rappers hitting the charts, though maybe not so many as the world deserves.
“I do think there’s not a whole lot of variety on the mainline,” Lyte says, “but for the most part, they still exist, and they’re everywhere. They just need to keep going, keep creating, keep speaking, and keep using their voices.”
In point of fact, it’s time for Lyte to start using hers. After 12 years of charity work and business ventures, Lyte’s best buddy DJ K Rock finally convinced the award-winning rapper and philanthropist to climb back into the booth.
Legend, Lyte's newest album, features Common, Faith Evans, Lil Mama, and more on 11 rough-and-tumble tracks. Lyte comes in hard with a highly stylized flow and production as catchy and hyphy as today’s rap game counterparts, but listen closely to the lyrics and you’ll hear that Lyte is bringing the same message of education, empowerment, and hard-knock realness as she always has.
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“I just enjoy talking on records,” she says. “If you took the music away, I could just say the words. It’s who I am. It’s great that the words rhyme, but it’s what I would say.”
The Legend LP was only released for Record Store Day and is no longer available on shelves, though a digital release is following some live listening parties across the country, but fans won’t have to spare any change to cop it.
“It wasn’t really about the money,” Lyte says. “I don’t have major record label budgets to be able to compete on that front, so it’s like, ‘okay, what am I really in it for?’ I do it because I love hip-hop.”
Honey Shine Hats Off Luncheon. 11 a.m. Wednesday, May 6, at the Hilton Hotel, 1601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 3058542444; honeyshine.org. Tickets cost $150.