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‘All of Us Who Came Before Played Some Type of Role : MC Lyte Talks Red Bull Radio Mix, Hip-Hop Family Tree, and Paving the Way For Female Rappers to Have Freedom of Expression

Lana “MC Lyte” Moorer’s groundbreaking career is filled with accomplishments, including Grammy nominations, a Trumpet Awards Trailblazer Award, and lifetime achievement honors from VH1 and BET. While the hip-hop pioneer is still doing her thing in the game, she’s proud to see how women in the industry have grown over the course of her decades-long reign.

The “Ruffneck” rapper, who recently curated an exclusive mix featuring women in hip hop for Red Bull Radio, spoke with Atlanta Black Star about what went into the creation of the hour-long track, her thoughts on the evolution of women’s roles in hip hop and which artist she feels is following most closely in her footsteps.

MC Lyte. Photo courtesy of MC Lyte.

MC Lyte’s Red Bull mix celebrates the women she feels have had an impact on the game, including but not limited to Queen Latifah, Missy Elliott, Keyshia Cole, Beyoncé, and Lauryn Hill. The DJ was approached by the brand to create a mix featuring an all-female lineup. Her process of picking hits to include, she said, was largely driven by emotion. She used the first track to “set the tone,” then let the music guide her through the rest. “Well, for me doing any mix, my first record is always going to set the tone for where I want to go. Literally, I could be driving in the car and I hear this record and I go, ‘Oh, okay. I want to start a mix with that record.’ “

“For this one, once they told me it was an all-female lineup, I said, ‘Okay, let me start it off right here.’ Then I just let it take me where it took me,” she said of the mix, which she kicks off with one of her own songs, “Well Well Well” with Warryn Campbell featuring Jason McGee & The Choir.  “There are certain things when I’m creating the crate…that I’ll drop in that I know I want to hit. But then the rest I’m feeling my way through it to get me to where I’m going. When we party, party, party, and I want it to stop down, that’s when I threw in ‘Princess of the Posse’ with Queen Latifah. It reset the whole mix. Let us start up again. I really had a lot of fun with that mix, yeah.”

Since stepping onto the hip-hop scene in 1987, MC Lyte has made a name for herself by opening the doors to feminism in a male-dominated industry, starting with the 1988 release of her debut album, “Lyte as a Rock,” the first full album released by a solo female rapper, which has been praised as one of the best rap albums released in the ’80s. She continued to keep her foot on necks by becoming the first rap artist to perform at Carnegie Hall in 1990, taking up the mantles of actress, DJ and speaker, and undertaking a numerous amount of philanthropic efforts, including her Hip Hop Sisters Foundation, all of which amount to just a small overview of her many achievements.

Having been around long enough to see the genre evolve over time, the emcee is thrilled to witness the growth of the roles of women in the game, both in front of and behind the mic. “I’m seeing more women in executive positions … Let’s take a look at Mona Scott,” she pointed out. “She started in music management, and then veered over, and now produces television and movies.  I love the turn that we’re taking behind the scenes, as well as in front.”

She continued, “I think this year alone, I saw mainstream give love to more than one female artist at a time. Nicki just came out of giving birth, God bless her. She has a beautiful baby. But to see Nicki, and Cardi and Meg Thee Stallion and Rapsody and Tierra Whack and Kash Doll, and just all of these women that have been working really hard to get the shine, or were able to be seen this year. So happy about that.”

Seeing the effects of the foundations that she and other female pioneers — like Salt-N-Pepa — helped lay reflected in the freedom of expression that artists have today is a great sense of pride for the multi-hyphenate.  “I think that all of us who came before played some type of role in the amount of freedom that a female MC has now,” she explained. “Freedom to say what she wants, to look how she wants, to emanate whatever energy she wants to give off. Then also what it is that being said, that freedom, I think is totally because of everyone else that came before.”

According to the “Cha Cha Cha” rapper, the inspiration that artists receive from one another is what helps continue to push the genre forward, creating what she describes as a hip-hop “family tree.” “Meg Thee Stallion gets to do what she does because Lil’ Kim… Lil’ Kim do what she does because of Salt-N-Pepa, because of ‘Push It.’ It’s like this lineage, you know what Doug E. Fresh said one time that ‘All rappers come from the tree and the tree have four branches.’ ”

She added, “It’s interesting because of course Rapsody and I would come from the same tree. Prior to me, they would say, ‘I come from the Sha-Rock tree.’ It’s interesting the way he laid it out. It would be great for someone to do a family tree at some point so you can see all of who sprouts from what branch.”

Nominated for the Best Rap Album (“Laila’s Wisdom”) and Rap Song (“Sassy”) Grammys in 2018, Rapsody is the current artist whom MC Lyte feels is keeping her lyrical essence alive for millennials and Gen Z.  “She deals with serious topics. She tells stories. She gives homage. She’s got the B-girl edge… but I also see that she’s an amalgamation of many others as well, but I definitely see me too.”

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