By any metric, MC Lyte is a pioneer in hip-hop, one that—along with Salt-N-Pepa—helped pave the way for female MCs with her debut album, 1988′s Lyte As A Rock. She then went on to create a series of Gold albums, grab a Grammy nomination in 2003 and have her diary, turntable and records donated to the Smithsonian. Now, after 25 years in the game, Lyte is starring in her own reality show on BET alongside The Lady Of Rage, Yo Yo, Smooth, Monie Love and Lil Mama titled Hip-Hop Sisters, and will be honored at next month’s BET Hip-Hop Awards with the prestigious I Am Hip-Hop title, which has been given out to the likes of Rakim, Russell Simmons, Grandmaster Flash and Salt-N-Pepa in past years. XXL caught up with the pioneering MC right after the award was announced last week to check up on what she’s been working on, her reaction to the award, and what’s changed in a quarter-century of hip-hop. —Dan Rys (@danrys)
Congratulations on the award! How does it feel?
Awesome, it feels great. It feels right; it’s definitely not missed, it’s purposeful. I definitely feel honored to be amongst the other artists who have been honored throughout the years. But it feels right on point. I appreciate the acknowledgement.
Your debut album was 25 years ago. How does it feel to have been in the game for so long?
You know what, time flies, that’s all I can say. [Laughs] I certainly didn’t think I’d be as engaged with hip-hop at this point, I didn’t even know it was gonna be around. I was just participating and free-flowing, and look where we are 25 years later.
What was your mindset back then?
I just loved hip-hop; I waited for those two hours of hip-hop on WBRS and on 98.7 KISS with Red Alert and Mr. Magic. Those were my times to just flip back and forth through radio stations just listening for what was fresh, what was new in hip-hop. I went to the hip-hop clubs. This was all before the debut record, was just my love for the music.
Who were you listening to?
Everybody—Salt-N-Pepa, Run-DMC, Rakim, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Melle Mel with “The Message,” I knew all the words to Kurtis Blow records, Kool Moe Dee, Sha Rock and the Funky Four Plus One More. I lived and breathed it.
You and Salt-N-Pepa were pioneers for women in hip-hop back then. Was that difficult to be some of the only women around?
Well there were plenty before us when you consider Sha Rock and Pebblee Poo. Sweet Tee came with Salt-N-Pepa ’cause they were both under Hurby [Azor], but there were quite a few. I don’t think it made it more difficult—I actually think it was probably easier, because it was easier to be recognized and noticed, to stand out. I think it probably was—maybe it was difficult for someone else, for management or producers or radio or the behind the scenes people. But for me, I was just doing what came naturally. Yes, I’m a female on the microphone, but I never looked at it like that, it was just like, I have a voice, and I’m gonna use it.
What’s changed the most for you in this 25 years?
What’s changed the most for me is probably just my outlook. Just being more business-minded, understanding the results I’m looking to get as opposed to…When you’re just getting into the game it’s like, oh yeah, let’s do that record, let’s do that video. Some thought is put into it. But I think at this level, seeing so many come and go in this business, I just want to inspire people. By any means necessary, that’s what I look to have done. Through the 25 years, I’m more deliberate with what I do, I’m more purposeful.
How is Hip-Hop Sisters?
It’s coming along great, we actually start filming this month. We’re all excited, the ladies are all excited. We’re all performing in New Orleans the day before the hip-hop awards, and then we all fly to the awards together. It’s an exciting time. They’re all friends. We speak often.
How long will you guys be shooting for?
Right now we’re shooting a pilot presentation, because we’re dealing with a lot of subject matter that we want to make sure that everybody is really cool with the way that they are presented, which is probably not like any other docu-series where they’re like, film, shoot, show it, bye. But with this we want everyone comfortable, so we’re stepping through the process to leave everyone with a good feeling. It’s a lot of stuff—if you could imagine your life and just all of the parts, and now you’re talking about women, which is a lot more, then you’re talking about six of them. There’s just a lot of parts.
What new music have you been working on?
I’m working on an album, and it just so happens that the song “Cravin’” came out of the batch, like, wow, this song feels like summertime, let’s put it out immediately. Just wanted to catch the tail-end of summer with that one. But I am in the studio working now. I’m working with a crew of producers from Loud Box Entertainment, and we’ve got some surprises. That’s the only thing I can say right now.