"My life. Freedom of expression through lyrics, music, dance, art. Community. It means family," shares legendary emcee MC Lyte (neé Lana Michele Moorer) when asked what hip hop means to her during our Zoom call.

In the late 1980s, the Brooklyn-born rapper entered the industry with intention. For her, it was important to make her mark on the genre while also speaking directly to issues and topics that not only affected her immediate community, but the Black community as a whole. From drug addiction, racism, and even the way Black women were viewed and treated—the "Ruffneck" lyricist was instrumental in pushing conscious rap forward.

"Hip Hop is the one thing—no matter race creed, religion, culture, environment—that has this way of permeating any blockage of comprehension of the next person."

MC Lyte

With a total of 8 studio albums in her discography and plenty of chart-topping collaborations, MC Lyte has certainly earned her spot among hip hop's greats. Today, she's still ensuring that the story of the culture shifting genre is always told in the right way. From her voice-over work on several award shows and commercials, to her philanthropic efforts with her organization, Hip Hop Sisters Foundation.

"We've given over a million dollars to young people who have chosen to further their education at places like Dillard University, an HBCU, in New Orleans. It's been wonderful to see them do that, and then go on to procure themselves within chosen career paths."

She's certainly earned plenty of deserving accolades, including: the BET Hip Hop Awards "I Am Hip Hop" Icon Lifetime Achievement Award, recognition by Vh1 Hip Hop Honors, as well as the W. E. B. Du Bois Medal which is Harvard University's highest honor in the field of African and African-American studies.

MC Lyte performs at "I Am Woman: A Celebration of Women in Hip Hop" at The Kennedy Center on June 04, 2023, in Washington, DC. Image: Shannon Finney/Getty Images.

As EBONY continues to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip hop, and its role in pushing the culture forward, we sat down with MC Lyte to delve more into the earlier parts of her legendary career, her thoughts on the future of the music genre as well as what she's most excited about during this celebratory year.

EBONY: How did your upbringing in Brooklyn and NYC as a whole influence your career and love for Hip Hop?

MC Lyte: Growing up in Brooklyn was definitely a beautiful musical experience. My mom played a lot of different genres in our home. Then, there were different sounds when I would go to Far Rockaway, Queens and in Spanish Harlem, where I would go visit my grandmother, there was hip hop. My upbringing prepared me for what was to come. But it wasn't until I heard Salt-N-Pepa that I believed I could rhyme.

Speaking of your early career, why was it important to speak to the social issues that affected Black and Brown communities?

The first root began long ago, when I attended school in Brooklyn. Around age 9 or 10, we had to create our own picket signs to go to the United Nations and protest on the steps to let our brother [South African activist] Stephen Biko go. So from a very early age, I was serious about the social issues and topics that affected those I knew and loved, and the communities I was a part of.

I released "I Cram to Understand U" in 1988, which was an anti-drug message, because I wanted kids my age to know how vital it was for them to stay away from drugs, or anything associated with drug use. Part of that was seeing the drug addicts when I would visit my mom at her job at Harlem Hospital. I just knew that never could, or would, be my story, and I wanted to share that with my peers.

What are you most excited about during this milestone year in hip hop?

This is something I've been involved with for over 35 years now. So for me, it's a like a parent that attends their child's graduation. Wow, just look how far we've come, and there are so many contributors to it. Hip hop is this thing that nobody owns, and everyone has the right to listen to and become a part of it. For me, that's always a plus when you have something that's so inclusive and has still managed to persevere, even when people have tried to put a stop to it. There's been so many things we've come against, but we're still standing with legends that have gone on to do great things. Like own empires, enterprises and companies that have created opportunities to put many other Black people to work.

" For me, it's a like a parent that attends their child's graduation. Wow, just look how far [hip hop has] come."

MC Lyte

LL Cool J's Rock The Bells, to me, is an extension of that—an extension of a man that started living his dream very early on in life and continued to do that in other mediums. But true to his heart, hip hop always comes first for LL Cool J.

Talk to the next generation of hip hop and where you see the genre going.

Hip hop is endless. The youth are extremely special and what they bring keeps it alive, and keeps it moving. I believe we will continue to have many subgenres that will go around the world. Hip hop is the one thing—no matter race creed, religion, culture, environment—that has this way of permeating any blockage of comprehension of the next person. Everyone loves music.