A highpoint of the annual BET Hip Hop Awards ceremony is the presentation of the I Am Hip Hop Award, a marquee centerpiece for lifetime achievement in the poetic genre. Brooklyn, NY-born pioneer MC Lyte was the 2013 recipient. Credited as the first female rapper to release a full-length project, for what other reasons was Lyte deserving?
Rapidly rising hip-hop star Tam Tam says MC Lyte deserved the award because she is a true representation of how a female rapper should be respected. “[She] is the female rapper that has inspired me the most as a star on the rise, because she showed me that I can always get my point across while remaining true to myself, and always stand up for what I believe in. Also, young ladies can still represent sexy in a cool, laid back and corporate-type of way.”
Stellar underground sensation Lady Ace says she didn’t grow up a huge MC Lyte fan due to her love for rock music, but admits she acknowledged Lyte’s talent and appreciates her message. “She deserves the award because she was consistent, relevant, and she represented the culture rather than selling the ‘image’.”
An accomplished actress and poet, MC Lyte famously used the microphone to captivate audiences and critics over seven studio solo albums with more than 30 notable singles. CEO of management and production firm Sunni Gyrl Global and founder of the influential Hip Hop Sisters Network, Lyte will continue to be a beacon for generations to come.
SoulTrain.com: Being given the I Am Hip Hop Award is a huge honor, one that has to feel good from the moment you’re announced as the recipient. But how did it feel once they put the trophy in your hand?
MC Lyte: It was heavy; it weighed a lot! But it felt like a moment I’ll always remember. Being able to address the crowd after being acknowledged in that capacity was great! I was able to thank all the people who helped me along the way.
SoulTrain.com: I think it’s honorable you openly share this accomplishment.
MC Lyte: It’s not all about you, it’s about the people who helped get you to where you are. I got to spend quality time thanking all those people.
SoulTrain.com: Lyte, how much quality time did you spend watching Soul Train?
MC Lyte: So much! I lived for the Soul Train Line, and of course I had to see the performances–whoever it was going to be! I think I got to perform on there three times. I’ve got a lot of memories of Soul Train.
SoulTrain.com: After watching Soul Train then being able to perform on the show, what was it like to witness Don Cornelius finally accepting hip-hop, then you later benefitting from it yourself?
MC Lyte: Yeah, that’s crazy, huh? Soul Train gave a lot of people inspiration, and a lot of hope they could be more. It gave us the belief we moved good, we danced well, and that we have tenacity.
SoulTrain.com: A driving force for many artists was to get on Soul Train. Were you in that crowd?
MC Lyte: Absolutely. It really inspired so many of us as entertainers–rappers, singers, dancers, and producers–because to get on Soul Train was the ultimate goal.
SoulTrain.com: Hip-hop and the Soul Train brand have both thrived for four decades and counting. Tell us why you think they’ve had such staying power.
MC Lyte: Hip-hop keeps evolving, growing into something bigger. It’s more diverse and more in depth. It’s the voice of the youth. As new generations come in they become enthralled with this hip-hop culture. The brand of Soul Train encapsulates a moment in time when everything was about us. It was about what black people created.
SoulTrain.com: For the 40-year anniversary of hip-hop I made an attempt to honor DJ Kool Herc with an interview to celebrate him. He was less than receptive. He was actually angry because he felt over the years the culture and its youth-driven evolution has disrespected him. Knowing what hip-hop has become, do you agree with his reaction?
MC Lyte: If you’re hurt, you’re hurt. A person’s feelings are their feelings! It doesn’t really matter if I feel their reaction is warranted. But what I will say is what you give is what you receive in terms of attitude and willingness to remain involved.
SoulTrain.com: In the SoulTrain.com exclusive series The Gap Parts One, II and III, we touched on generational conflict in urban music. Sadly, it’s encountered a lot in hip-hop.
MC Lyte: Unfortunately, that’s what the machine’s involvement in hip-hop perpetuates–a disrespect for the people who came before you. Not even disrespect, but a total disregard. So many other cultures look to their elders for advice, for guidance and leadership. That’s probably what’s missing from hip-hop today as the younger generation takes over. There’re so many who have something to say, but so many more who are saying nothing. That’s because they’re not around their elders; they’re around one another. No one is teaching them to have some dignity, to be responsible and to be accountable.
SoulTrain.com: Lyte, if there was a newer artist constantly being compared to you, would you care how that artist conducted themselves?
MC Lyte: I tend to care how everyone conducts themselves, whether they’re being compared to me or not. That’s simply because we as entertainers have such an amount of influence over people. Somewhere a line needs to be drawn between what it is we deem presentable or acceptable to our youth.
SoulTrain.com: Was the need and want for proper influence one of the reasons you launched Sunni Gyrl Global?
MC Lyte: Yeah! With Sunni Gyrl it’s more about the artist development and support that we offer to a wealth of talent as a company. With Hip Hop Sisters it’s about foundation. We’re trying to give young ladies another perspective, to have them understand that they can create who it is that they are. That don’t have to be defined by lyrics they’re hearing in songs today. The two entities work differently, but they’re both about empowering people.
SoulTrain.com: It’s great you’ve extended your reach to others. It’s needed. But what is something you still need help with?
MC Lyte: You know what? It’s so much work to be done I need employees. And in order to have employees I need to make more money. So…[laughs], there’s a lot of work to be done!
SoulTrain.com: You’ve put in your share of work, MC Lyte. I guess you wouldn’t have received the I Am Hip Hop Award if you hadn’t. Given all you contributed and accomplished, tell us what career moment replays in your mind the most.
MC Lyte: Receiving the I Am Hip Hop lifetime achievement award is a huge moment. It’s monumental for me! To be recognized by BET in front of the next generation, the now generation, the generation who laid all of the foundation and pavement for me to get to where I am today, that’s in my mind the most!
– Mr. Joe Walker
“The Word Heavyweight Champion” Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, staff writer and columnist for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and co-creator of TheGrooveSpot.com, is an award-winning entertainment and news journalist and columnist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Former Editor In Chief of XPOZ Magazine, his work has graced the pages and covers of Notion Magazine, Kalamazoo Gazette Newspaper, Real Detroit Weekly, and MLive.com. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker, connect with him on Facebook, and also visit ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.