MC Lyte questions the current state of hip-hop

MC Lyte last night at the Tivoli on the Auraria Campus.
MC Lyte last night at the Tivoli on the Auraria Campus.
Antonio Valenzuela

Last night at Auraria, MC Lyte shared her views on the current state of hip-hop, a broad range of topics ranging from the diminishing role of females to the dwindling voice of hip-hop overall and its lackluster effectiveness to her personal triumphs and downfalls. With style and grace, she left many with a question to be answered, "Where are all the soldiers at?"

See also: MC Lyte and Crazy Legs visit Auraria this week for the Sankofa Lecture Series and the inaugural Hip-Hop Legacy Literacy Conference

MC Lyte, the first female to ever rock Carnegie Hall stopped by the Tivoli on Thursday as part of the Sankofa Lecture Series. Along with cautioning the female artists in the house of not letting a record company tell them how to live and present themselves, she mused on the current state and classification of the genre.

"This is the only time in its history that hip-hop is not reflective of what's going on," she noted. "If I was to judge the world based off what's on the radio, I would think everyone is at a big ass party. Hip-hop is visionary, and articulate, but never has it been ignorant until now." Hip-hop used to be the source of information for the streets, and now MCs as scared to tell the truth. "I remember when I MCs had balls," she said.

The legendary MC also pulled no punches about the lack of femininity in hip-hop. She noted how in the '90s when female MCs had the spotlight it just did not equate into record sales the executives might have expected. Since then, she said, the labels have shunned female rappers, noting that there's only one in the spotlight right now. Although she didn't mention any names, it was safe to assume she was talking about Nicki Minaj.

MC Lyte last night at the Tivoli on the Auraria Campus.
MC Lyte last night at the Tivoli on the Auraria Campus.
Antonio Valenzuela

MC Lyte also touched upon the power of lyrical content, and pointed to the lack of substance and accountability in today's artists. "What will you say to sell a record?" she wondered aloud. "It seems like there are no limits to what some will do." Using lyrics from some of her favorite songs as a background, she asked the crowd to identify some of the first hip-hop songs they had ever heard. When someone mentioned Sugar Hill Gang, she started with, "Hip-Hop, hip, hip-hop you don't stop," while the crowd took over the verse and finished it accompanied by a group clap.

Quoting the Grandmaster Flash song "White Lines," she reflected on the lyrics like that that had a significant impact on her growing up. "Lyrics like these meant something," she declared. "They were powerful. Hip-hop is meant to entertain, but also educate. The mike, just holding it, gave you responsibility; you have to be accountable for what you say."

According to Lyte, the reason hip-hop is in flux these days is because there is no leadership. "There are no leaders," she said, "and therefore there is no movement." One of the more introspective moments of the evening came when MC Lyte shared a story about herself on a radio show early in her career. "I was on the air," she recalled, "when a call came in, and it was Dougie Fresh. He said, 'Are you happy Lyte?' to which I replied, 'Yes,' and he said, ' Let the people know."

After finishing her first record, Lyte said she felt like she had the "weight of Brooklyn" on her shoulders, and by Dougie Fresh calling her out on it, she was able to drop the yoke of expectations she had built up for herself. "It helped to change my perspective," she explained. "And in some sense helped me to be free."

Lyte says the solution to overturn the current system of label-induced singles instead of street-induced singles lies in the hands of the fans: "We have to get out and support the underground artists," she urged, "and demand they play their music. It's really up to us."

Lyte said the first time she heard Salt & Peppa she was inspired to pick up the mike. "When I saw them do it," she recalled, "I was like, 'If they can, so can I."

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