It’s almost impossible to not know where MC Lyte is these days. Just listen. That voice is always a dead giveaway—its distinct, and sounds just as powerful saying hello as it does when it’s dropped over a track—and we hear it voicing over commercials, on the radio, and sometimes as an announcer for your favorite award shows.
But this month, we’ll actually see her getting her due. The MC still looks amazing, at least a decade younger than her actual 43 years of age. The iconic Lana “MC Lyte” Moorer was toasted with the I Am Hip-Hop Award at BET’s Hip-Hop Awards, taped recently at the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center. The show airs October 15 on the network.
Rapper Eve handed the award to Lyte after a video tribute by Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Queen Latifah. Before presenting her with the honor, Eve said, “She set the precedent for female freestylers. I’m truly, truly honored. She has meant so much to me in my career.” Lyte in turn gathered herself before encouraging female MCs who’ve followed her to continue to make an impact on rap music.
And really, they ought to listen to that voice. Lyte has been around since the late 1980s and still has an incredible presence in the music industry. She currently co-hosts the Café Mocha radio show, and she’s got a few more things on deck too.
We talk with Lyte.
EBONY: What did that feel like to get that honor from BET?
MC Lyte: It’s great to have it done publicly, but all these people show me love whenever I see them on a personal note. So it’s not shocking that they would be the ones to say these beautiful words to me, full of adoration and admiration. But it definitely feels great to have it done publicly, so that other people see how I, through the past, have resonated with so many artists.
EBONY: You had a really special message for female MCs when you accepted your award. What is your hope moving into the future, with regard to female MCs?
ML: There are a couple of things. One, I’d like to see them just love it to love it. You know, it’s almost like when an athlete loves tennis, they play. Period. Whether it’s being monetized or not, whether there’s huge audiences or not, the love of hip-hop and the love of rhyming should just be that. And then at some point, if it can be monetized, that’s great. But it’ll always be presented in truth; it’s just what you love to do, and you do it for no other reason except that, and then everything else comes after that.
That’s my first hope, that they would do it for the love of it, and then they can’t be disappointed. If you don’t expect to do anything except touch the people with your words and somehow inspire someone else with them, great. But if there’s great expectancies of getting awards and radio play and video airplay and doing all of these things, then there’s a whole other level that comes into play.
EBONY: Sounds like you have a few hopes, MC Lyte.
ML: Yes! Two, I hope that we as lovers of hip-hop challenge ourselves to find female MCs that we like, and then when we like them, support them. We buy the records. In other words, it’s being promoted by some huge machine that puts millions of dollars behind it. We have to learn how to put the hip-hop we love in the position to be on top, and then we’ll get more of what it is that we like or what it is that we can solidly get behind and say, “I support this music, these lyrics and this artist.”
EBONY: You’re a DJ now and you co-host a radio show. You’ve always consistently been in front of the mic, an executive, and now you promote the music. You’ve never been the subject of a “where are they now” special like some of your contemporaries. Why has that been different for you?
ML: I think it’s a couple of different variables. When the door is closing or the curtain is pushing towards a closed position, I just change position and do something else for a minute until that other door opens back up again. All of the things that I do are all of the things that I wanted to do as a kid. I wanted to do radio way before I wanted to rap. I heard people’s voices on the radio much more often just speaking than I did rapping. It felt like when hip-hop became what it was, and we had two hours on Friday and Saturday, I still heard people talking more than I heard them rapping. And then I saw Tootie on Facts of Life acting before I heard rapping, and I wanted to act as soon as I saw Tootie do it. I was like, ooh, I want to do that, too.
So I just think I’ve stuck in there long enough to prepare myself for the moments that would allow me to do the other things that I wanted to do my entire life. Voiceovers. Radio. Acting. Deejaying. I remember talking to someone not too long ago, and they were like, “when did your love for deejaying come into effect?” And I was like, “wow, at 11. I was downstairs in the basement with my neighbor who had this huge DJ set, and he would just let me play his records. He wouldn’t even be there.”
He trusted me enough to go down, play the records. And it would be reggae records. All of the things that I do are just the things that I love. And I never make it about fame, I always make it about the outcome.
EBONY: What female MCs are really doing it for you right now?
ML: I do like Azealia Banks. Stylistically, it’s different from what we’ve heard. It’s got pieces of Missy (Elliott) in it. She got people on the dance floor with her songs, and Azealia Banks was able to do the same thing. I appreciate her stylistically because she’s bringing something else to it.
I enjoy Nicki Minaj when she’s doing her uplifting music. “Fly” and “Right Thru Me,” those are the songs that I think that myself, as well as the fans, when we hear them, we get goosebumps. Because she’s really talking about stuff, the troubles in our own lives.
I find the way to enjoy hip-hop, regardless of what’s happening on mainstream, because I search for my hip-hop. I’m accustomed to that. I come from the generation where it wasn’t so easily given to me, or easily found. I had to search around for things to find what really made my head bop.
EBONY: Does it surprise you that hip-hop has made it this far?
ML: Yeah. I mean, it makes sense that it would still be here. But it is that it’s still here, it’s shocking to me that I’m still involved, and it’s not because other people want me to be, or expect me to be, but because I enjoy it.
EBONY: And now you’re doing reality TV too! BET is shooting a series with you, Monie Love, Yo-Yo, The Lady of Rage and Smooth.
ML: Yes! We have the show that I’m VPing with Lynn Richardson and Sunni Gyrl, a show called Hip-Hop Sisters. We’re actually filming this week, so I’m excited about that.