When MC Lyte hit the Hip Hop scene with her debut album, Lyte As A Rock, on September 13th in 1988, the relationship between women and the genre could be characterized as both intricate and thorny.
Contrary to popular perception, the ladies have been in the mix since day one. The South Bronx in the mid to late ’70s wasn’t just bubbling with the sounds and skills of popularly known pioneers such as DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaattaa, Grand Wizard Theodore, Grand Master Flash and others.
There were also women shaping the culture right alongside them, such as a crew from the BX known as The Mercedes Ladies who hosted their own jams, kicking some serious ballistics on the microphone with lyrics that were soaked with both bombastic and delicious flavors.
The first prominent female MC was Sha Rock. She was a member of the first rap group to make a national television appearance, The Funky Four Plus One, whose signature song was “That’s The Joint”, which they performed on Saturday Night Live in 1981.
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The ladies in those early days had their own stylistic influences on the local movement that would one day burst out of the rugged streets of New York’s worst ghetto’s to become a world-wide cultural phenomenon.
Roxanne Shante ushered in the ’80s with her mic skills, but by the mid to late portion of the decade, women were more often relegated to the misogynystic leanings of Hip Hop, appearing scantily clad in videos to be objectified as opposed to being appreciated for their own artistic and lyrical merits.
But MC Lyte flipped the script on that nonsense when she dropped the groundbreaking Lyte As A Rock in ’88, becoming the first solo female rapper to release a full album.
And she didn’t simply crash through barriers for being the first solo emcee to hit it big on the charts and at cash registers. Her legacy was immediately certified due to the essence of her piercing lyrical content.
It was apparent from the project’s title track, at the mere age of 17, that few rappers in the game, both then and to come in the future, could hold a candle to her style and flow. On the song’s second verse, she spits:
Lyte as a rock, or I should say a boulder
Rolling down your neck, pounding on your shoulders
Never shall I be an emcee, called a wannabe
I am the lyte, l-y-t-e
This is the way it is, don’t ever forget
Hear the rhyme by someone else and you know they bit
All in the way, just little obstacles
Chew em up, spit em out, just like popsicles
Suckers out of my way, we’re not on the same wavelength
I show stability, potential and strength
On the other hand, you are weak and unruly
Could never be a spy, cause you’re just a plain stoolie
I am the lyte a-a-a-a-a-a-as-as-a-rock l-y, l-l-y-t-e
Lyrics I am the Lyte “a-a-a-a-a-a-as-as-a-rock” L-Y, L-L-Y-T-E [repeat 3X] [Milk] Do you understand the metaphoric phrase ‘Lyte as a Rock?’ It’s explaining, how heavy the young lady is You know what I’m saying King? [King of Chill] Yes my brother, but I would consider ‘Lyte as a Rock’ a simile because of the usage of the word ‘as’ And now..
She brought an element of social consciousness while exploring real issues: racism, sexism, and the drug culture that was devouring our beloved neighborhood in Brooklyn.
To paraphrase Chuck D, she wasn’t rhyming for the sake of riddling.
Through the force of her lyrical prowess, she was slinging and landing metaphorical blows to the dome like an ambidextrous knockout artist, all while empowering and inspiring women to take shit from no one.
“Paper Thin” has survived as one of the greatest cuts, in my opinion, in the history of Hip Hop. The video is a trip back to a cherished time for those of us who had teenage crushes on girls with bamboo earrings, as we sat on park benches blasting our favorite mixtapes in the days when Big Daddy Kane epitomized that New York swag with his truck jewels and high top fade.
Lyte was letting it be known that a man’s silver tongue and charm was merely paper thin without a sincerity and generosity of spirit to support all that game he was kicking. She wasn’t the one to be naive, because she was an around-the-way girl with an intelligence and robust sense of self-worth.
MC Lyte Paper Thin Video request by PIOSystems
She led the way for the likes of Queen Latifah, Sister Souljah and Salt ‘N Pepa, who all laid the foundation for those who would later follow in their footsteps like the remarkable Lauryn Hill.
Lyte As A Rock’s contribution to the evolution of Hip Hop tends to be understated. But Lyte needs to be recognized as one of the greatest ever, right on par with the likes of Slick Rick for using words to sew some supreme storytelling fabrics.
She slapped many into looking past her wondrous smile and magnificent beauty, because the truest appreciation of her elegance was to be seen in the dexterity of her nimble mind.
“The significance of MC Lyte in the era of the ’80s are often overshadowed by the b-boy strides that were being made during the same decade. Yet, coming at a time when rockin’ the mic was an equal opportunity profession and all women weren’t automatically called “bitches and hoes,” MC Lyte emerged from the depths of Brooklyn caring more about her rhyme skills than her make-up.
Spending her youth years listening to her mama’s music, which was the swooning soul of Al Green and other down home R&B men, little Lyte’s whole world turned upside down after she was exposed to rap records bumping from her cousin’s stereo. Bopping to cuts by the Funk 4 + 1 and the Treacherous Three, from that moment on she knew she was chosen.
Fast-forward a few years later when Lyte was a teenager working with her step-brothers Milk and Giz (Audio Two) to create her first single “I Cram to Understand U (Sam).” Over its minimalist beat, Lyte’s lyrically trashed the object of her desire. Even though Sam was a scrub, Lyte loved him till she found out he was just a crack fiend trying to get her green. Although sister girl might’ve had a broken heart, she wasn’t taking no shorts.
In the real world, luckily for Lyte, her pop’s started a record company called First Priority, and months later she recorded Lyte As a Rock.
“Boom, she sounded rough, rugged and raw,” rap expert Chuck D. said about the young girl in the Fila sweat-suit and bamboo earrings.
“Kickin’ it for Brooklyn,” as another one of her jams declared, MC Lyte was soon the rap queen of her borough.
Holding on to her crown while eliminating all contenders, Lyte wasn’t scared, because the sharp-tongued wordsmith could hold her own on the microphone.
Lyte’s follow-up single “Paper Thin” was the phat showstopper, using a dope Prince (“17 Days”) sample combined with a pinch of Al Green (“I’m Glad You’re Mine”) that should’ve halted all rivals, including beat biter Antoinette, in their tracks.
Homegirl might’ve been Lyte as a Rock, but her debut album was heavy as a boulder.”