Friday, October 30, 2009

October 30: MC Lyte, "Lyte As A Rock"

Artist: MC Lyte
Album: Lyte As A Rock
Year: 1988
Label: First Priority

Throughout history, one would be hard pressed to find another genre that has been so heavily dominated by males then the hip-hop/rap genre. For nearly its entire existence, female representation within the genre has been beyond minuscule in comparison. As the genre began to explode in the late 1980's, there was one emcee who was determined to prove that women were just as capable at delivering meaningful, hard hitting rhymes as their male counterparts. Presenting some of the most original rhymes, and eventually becoming the first woman to have a gold hip-hop single, everyone from Queen Latifah to Lauryn Hill to Missy Elliot owe their existence to one of hip hop's true pioneers, MC Lyte. Much in the way that Patti Smith demanded that the rock and roll audiences listen to what she had to say, MC Lyte presented some of the most blunt and unrelenting rhymes ever, and she clearly had no problem whatsoever putting male rappers in their place. With songs speaking to drug abuse, violence in the inner city, as well as rallying cries against the misogyny that was so (and remains so) dominant in the hip hop genre, the rhymes of MC Lyte were truly like nothing else that had been heard. Still standing today as one of the watershed moments in music history, MC Lyte's brilliant 1988 debut album, Lyte As A Rock, is a true hip hop classic, and it completely changed every aspect of the hip hop genre.

Much like LL Cool J began his career as a teenager, MC Lyte began rhyming at only twelve years old, and her brothers (who are in fact, Audio Two) helped producer her first single when she was just fifteen. This single, "I Cram To Understand U (Sam)," is what secured her a record deal and it remains one of the most brilliant, yet heartbreaking anti-drug songs ever written, and it was re-recorded and placed on Lyte As A Rock. The fact that MC Lyte had no issue addressing these "real" issues as bluntly as her male counterparts is one of the key aspects that set her apart, yet there is one other song on the album that solidifies her theory that women could work any aspect of the rap scene as well as men. Perhaps the most time honored and genre defining moment for any hip hop artist is that of the "dis" track. Every legitimate emcee, from KRS-ONE to Jay-Z to the Beastie Boys have done their share of such writing, and on her debut album, MC Lyte absolutely decimates her only rival, rapper Antoinette, on the track, "10% Dis." Unrelentingly bashing Antoinette for more than five minutes, Lyte drops the brilliant chorus, "...beat biter, dope style taker...tell you to your face you ain't nothin' but a faker..." The brilliant rhymes and smooth, clear delivery make Lyte As A Rock a true hip hop classic, and these rhymes are pefectly complimented by the sparse beats and samples underneath.

Lyte As A Rock covers the entire latitude of music, pulling everything from go-go to classic funk to simple beats with minimal sampling. This simple approach in production is wonderfully "old school," as the general dynamic in production had already begun to shift with the work of producers like Tha Bomb Squad among many others. Yet even more than twenty years later, the minimalist sound still works perfectly, and it is one of the key elements that makes Lyte As A Rock a classic. Easily the most significant musical moment comes on the title track, as the sparse beats flow behind a slightly altered sample of Tommy Roe's 1966 top ten hit, "Sweet Pea." Proving the wide musical knowledge of her DJ, MC Lyte's ability to flow over any style and speed is yet another key aspect that set her and her music aside and above that of her peers. From the grooving go-go of "I Am A Woman" and "Don't Cry Big Girls," to the truly classic sound of "Paper Thin," the lesser focus on samples creates a far more authentic sound, and leaves no room to argue MC Lyte's unrivaled rhyming ability. The overall limited use of beats and music in general helps to drive the focus of the album to MC Lyte's lyrics, and this proves to be the true genius behind the record.

Though there have been a fair number of female rappers since MC Lyte first appeared on the scene, few have the lyrical power and calm, yet strong delivery that MC Lyte brings on every track. Much in the way that LL Cool J made a point to ensure that every lyric was clearly heard, throughout Lyte As A Rock, MC Lyte rarely raises her voice, and this allows for each verse to have its maximum impact. After experiencing the album, it is abundantly clear that throughout the entire history of the genre, there are very few emcees who can write as well as MC Lyte, regardless of gender. Pointed, clear, and concise, the rhymes of MC Lyte create some of the most vivid, and often heartbreaking scenes ever committed to tape. Whether it is the call for women to be more selective and patient in choosing a mate on "Paper Thin" or the questioning of "why" females are seen as incapable of rhyming on "MC Lyte Likes Swingin'," there is not a subpar moment anywhere on Lyte As A Rock. Easily one of the most powerful tracks on the album, as well as anywhere in hip hop, is the anti-drug classic, "I Cram To Understand U." The fact that this was MC Lyte's first single (before she had a record deal) is truly stunning, and te impact of the song is just as powerful today as it was upon its initial release. Without need for any sort of gimmick or restraint, MC Lyte proves to be one of the greatest emcees in history, and every track on Lyte As A Rock is a true hip hop classic.

Breaking down countless barriers for women, MC Lyte used her debut record to prove that females could rhyme just as well with just as much impact as their male counterparts. Refusing to compromise on the lyrical content or delivery style, Lyte As A Rock, truly busted open the doors for every female emcee that followed. The album's straightforward and unrelenting lyrical content made it acceptable for females to address "real" issues and be just as aggressive as male emcees, and MC Lyte even takes moments throughout the album to call out her male peers for their overly egotistical and extremely misogynistic rhymes. Bringing in only minimal verses from other emcees, the album is a true tour dé force, as MC Lyte shines brilliantly on every track, bringing some of the most original rhymes and delivery style that the world had ever heard. Never backing down in the slightest, MC Lyte addresses everything she sees in the world around her, from unfaithful partners to drug abuse to giving "props" to her hometown of Brooklyn. MC Lyte's ability to present unflinching, confident rhymes, whilst still keeping her femininity firmly intact is one of the key reasons that she remains a true pioneer and icon more than two decades after the release of her debut record. This album, 1988's Lyte As A Rock marks a truly pivotal moment in music history, and it remains one of the most phenomenal and original albums ever recorded.

Standout tracks: "Lyte As A Rock," "Paper Thin," and "I Cram To Understand U."

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