I remember the epiphanic moment when I discovered what “M.C.” meant literally. Listening to “Midnight Marauders” by A Tribe Called Quest, I gathered that “M.C.” stood for “master of ceremonies” Sure, it seems kind of simple in retrospect, but what are the implications of the word “master?” As a feminist, I can’t help but notice that “master” is masculine in nature. Yet, this masculine title didn’t discourage women from breaking onto the hip-hop scene. Several ladies have snatched the mic from these “masters” and become chart-topping rap legends. Notably, M.C. Lyte was the first female to break borders and change the hip-hop scene forever. Much respect is due to M.C. Lyte, not only for her status as a rap revolutionary, but also for her later efforts to improve the lives of young women across the United States.
M.C. Lyte, also known as Lana Michele Moorer, grew up in Brooklyn, NY and began rhyming at age 12. Perfecting her flow, she became somewhat of a local legend by the age of 17. She started competing in rap battles throughout her community, and her ability to trump the competition, as well as her gender, distinguished her as a one-of-a-kind M.C. She saw her great potential as a rapper and produced the song “I Cram to Understand U.” This dynamic single caught the attention of First Priority Music, an American hip-hop record label of the late 1980s and early 1990s. M.C. Lyte signed with First Priority and released her debut album Lyte as a Rock in 1988. Although this album established her professional music career, her singles didn’t top the charts until her follow-up “Eyes on This” was released a year later. With hit singles like “Cha Cha Cha” and “Cappucino,” her sophomoric album proved her to be more than just a one-hit-wonder. However, her most successful single, “Ruffneck,” comes from her fourth studio album Ain’t No Other. “Ruffneck” is a loud, rowdy ballad that celebrates the male outcasts of society. The lyrics read, “I need a ruffneck/I need a man that don’t stitch like a bitch/She’d tears or switch/Doin’ whatever it takes to make ends meet/But never meetin’ the end ’cause he knows the street.” M.C. Lyte demands a man who is rough, tough and self-reliant. In an interview with Jam’N 94.5, a Boston-based hip-hop radio station, she explained the message behind this raw, gritty single: “I guess it’s…saying that…I haven’t shunned away that typical black male – the male that’s having so much problems with finding a job or finding the money to stay in school – the one that society usually shuns away.” She even discusses how many young black males grow up with one parent, which places much responsibility on them at a young age. As adults, they’re accustomed to working for everything and being independent. Yet, society tends to shun these young men due to stereotypes. Conversely, she applauds these men, recognizing their struggle and relating to them.
Furthermore, M.C. Lyte’s performance and delivery of “Ruffneck” is what gives it that edgy, in-your-face vibe. The beat is characteristic of that bouncy, 90s hip-hop sound. While the beat plays smoothly, her lyrics are cutting and bold. Each word of the verses is thrown like a quick jab, while the chorus is quick and fluid. With her badass attitude and stage performance, it’s no wonder M.C. Lyte needs a “Ruffneck.” She simply requires a man that can keep up with her flow. In a performance on “Yo! MTV Raps,” she is placed in the center of a circle of young men. While the crowd bounces along to the song, M.C. Lyte feeds off of her fans’ energy, not missing a single beat. She effortlessly delivers a driving, aggressive performance, proving that women too can thrive in the rap industry. As a female in the hip-hop world, she boldly stood where no one else did, and for that, she was recognized as unique and refreshing. This would help her to continue enhancing the hip-hop community, both in the spotlight and behind the scenes.
While she continued to produce her own hit music, M.C. Lyte simultaneously inspired many women to enter the hip-hop scene. Specifically, performers like Brandy, Missy Elliott and Queen Latifah recognize M.C. Lyte as the female pioneer who opened doors for women in the rap industry. According to author Bethany Bezdecheck, Missy Elliott first heard M.C. Lyte at a house party in Virginia. She responded to the music, saying, “‘This dude is hot!’” When her friends corrected her, saying that the rapper was a woman, she started considering her own career as a female rapper, and the rest is history. The two even collaborated on the single “Cold Rock a Party” in 1996. Additionally, M.C. Lyte worked with many other musicians and even took some time to experiment with acting, writing and community service projects.
Once she earned a name for herself in the rap community, it was full speed ahead for M.C. Lyte. While turning out her own hits, she also collaborated with various artists like India.Arie, LL Cool J, Will Smith and Moby. She even crossed over to acting, appearing in T.V. shows like Moesha, In the House and New York Undercover. Additionally, she took roles in films like Limitless and Love and Basketball. M.C. Lyte has even branched out from the entertainment industry, becoming a published author and philanthropist.
Entering the rap scene, she was categorized as a feminist, and she has fostered this title throughout her career. Along with promoting female M.C.s in the media, she has founded the feminist organization Hip Hop Sisters. According to its website, Hip Hop Sisters is “a non-profit foundation that promotes positive images of women of ethnic diversity, bringing leaders from the world of Hip Hop, the entertainment industry, and the corporate world.” Along with community service projects, the organization offers a full-paid college scholarship to women and men who simply love and respect females of the hip-hop community.
Despite her feminist perspective, M.C. Lyte seeks to encourage both men and women, so she published her book Unstoppable, which is filled with inspirational messages for all. In an interview with You & Me This Morning, a Chicago-based talk show, she stated, “It’s a lot of the premises in that book that have helped me stay sane in a world that could have had me go a completely different direction, so I wanted to make it available for youngsters and then whoever wanted to read it and hopefully get something from it.” She wanted to keep it simple and appealing to all readers, so each page is filled with just one thought or message. The challenge is not to finish the book, but rather, to apply these messages to one’s life and make positive changes.
Throughout her career, M.C. Lyte has been awarded for her musical talent and further recognized for her giving spirit. Emerging as a female rapper in a man’s world, she knows what it’s like to feel as if the odds are against you. However, her perseverance and hard work paid off, and for this, she has chosen to help those like her, who feel as if their goals are intangible. With her solid work ethic and kind spirit, she continues to give “lyte” to those living in darkness, marking her as both a music revolutionary and a loving humanitarian.
– Caitlin Eldred