FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya, and this is News & Notes. MC Lyte is seen as a pioneering woman in the world of hip-hop. Now she's moderating a new BET Television town hall series called "Hip-Hop Vs. America II: Where Did the Love Go?" It specifically digs into gender relations in hip-hop and in the hip-hop generation. Think super sex-soaked hip-hop videos, lyrics about hoes and tricks, and I'm not just talking about ones from male rappers, but female ones as well. R. Kelly and his recent acquittal on child pornography charges. There's plenty for men and women to talk about. BET premiers "Hip-Hop Vs. America II" tonight, and we've got MC Lyte with us to break it all down. It's great to have you back on.
Mr. MC LYTE (Rapper, Moderator, "Hip-Hop Vs. America II: Where Did the Love Go?"): Thank you.
CHIDEYA: So I saw you out and about at all the BET events, it was great stuff. And, you know, last year, you and I were both panelists on the BET "Hip-Hop Vs. America," now you're coming back as a moderator, holding down the fort. First of all, just give me an example of something that - a conversation that unfolded during, you know, the process of making this.
Mr. LYTE: The process of making it or that actual taping?
CHIDEYA: You know, yeah, the taping.
Mr. LYTE: The taping. Oh boy. Well there was a moment that Little X and I had, and it was a panel where we were discussing videos. And most of the panelists were actually women who are in videos. And one of the women was Delicious, from Flava Flav's show. And I posed a question to the women and Little X chimed in and said, you know, most of these women, and I had to say, I'm not really talking to you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LYTE: Like, I'm talking to these women, you know.
CHIDEYA: Right. Right.
Mr. LYTE: And I think for too long, men have spoken for women or think that we can't speak for ourselves. And so we had a little moment there. And he retreated, because I think he did find himself out of himself and totally like enraged only because he could possibly be mad at himself. I'm not quite sure, but I had to cease (unintelligible). And he's actually a really good friend of mine as well. And we talked after, but during the process of it, it got heated, it got heavy. David Banner took it there. The gentleman who does the show running for Chris Rock's show.
CHIDEYA: "Everybody Hates Chris."
Mr. LYTE: Yeah, right, "Everybody Hates Christ." That got a little heated. You know, not just with me, but amongst themselves.
CHIDEYA: Yeah, I mean, you know, last time it was also heated, and it was wide-ranging. Why did you guys decide to focus in on gender issues this time?
Mr. LYTE: Well, I think they are going to do this many times over, and this just one particular sector they decided to go in to. Because there's issues all over the place within hip-hop, but I think this is one that they wanted to dive into.
CHIDEYA: Let's dig into your career. I mean, you have been rhyming professionally for well over a decade.
Mr. LYTE: A long time.
CHIDYEA: And you are someone who true hip-hop fans adore. What was your path into the industry? How did you get into it, and how do you feel being a woman has affected your ability to do what you do?
Mr. LYTE: Oh boy. Well, I can say this. I think going through it was just me going through it. I didn't really have any preconceived notion as to what it was going to be like. I did want to go in the footsteps of Salt 'N' Peppa, but that was just by way of hearing them and wanting to emulate them in some sort of fashion. But I didn't have any idea of what I was facing. I was just doing it. And I think second time around, you know, I'm able to see things much clearer, and, you know, it's sort of moving slow motion now. And I think back then I wasn't really in present time. I was just there going through the motions, and it sort of panned out nicely because of the people that I was surrounded with. And it made it a little bit easier. And I think being a woman in the game made it that much easier, because there's so many males.
Mr. LYTE: Yeah, it's a male-dominated field. And I think to be able to stand out, you've got to either look a different way or present some other type of fashion, which we've seen done many times over. Or you have to be saying something that's different from what, you know, what's being said. And I think at the time when I first came out, they thought I was a little boy. You know, every time they would meet me for the first time, oh my God, you're MC Lyte? I thought you were a 12-year-old boy or something like that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LYTE: And I was like no, not so. So I think it actually worked for me at that time.
CHIDEYA: Right, interesting. Let's talk, you know you mention fashion as it, you know, relates to female MC's. And so you've got rappers like Jene Grey who's respected as an MC but she doesn't go out of her way to flash a lot of flesh. Rappers like Lil' Kim and the recently incarcerated Remy Ma are female MC's and they're always working the skin tight clothes, you know the hot pants, the weaves, all that. So how do you think women who are very overtly sexual are treated differently than women who are not in terms of their fan base or how people relate to them?
Mr. LYTE: Right, well let me just say this. I think those particular women who wear the skin tight and the, they do that regardless. Whether they were rapping or not.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LYTE: No, really. That's who they are. And I think when I came out and I had the baggy jeans and the t-shirt, like I didn't make that up. We all wore that in Brooklyn. That was the uniform, you know the huge gold earrings that was, I represented every girl from Brooklyn at that point. But I think how we're treated, to me I always wanted to be heard, not just looked at. And I think because the field was so male dominated and I'm on that stage rocking for an audience of guys rather than to have them gawking over me, I wanted them to hear my words.
So there was a point in time where I tried to, you know, get a little sexy with it and the exec at the record label was like, uh huh, what is this? They had just paid like 10 grand for this photo shoot and was like scratch it, we need to do another one. Put your jeans on and you know, hit Brooklyn. So at that point, I realized that I didn't have to push to be anything else but myself, and whenever I felt like I wanted to do that, I would.
CHIDEYA: All right, just quickly, you have a new group, Almost September. I've heard the stuff on My Space, you haven't dropped an album yet. It sounds good.
Mr. LYTE: We dropped a six-song EP. It's available digitally.
CHIDEYA: Yeah. Tell us just quickly what's your sound.
Mr. LYTE: The sound is soul hip-hop.
CHIDEYA: Soul hip-hop. You've got a bunch of band mates, you yourself are rhyming, how does it feel?
Mr. LYTE: And two other people. It feels great. I love a collaboration. It always feels good when people are in the room for the best of the song. You know, like everybody wants the best of a song.
CHIDEYA: All right, well you guys got to come in to the studio and grace us with your music.
Mr. LYTE: We will, at Almost.September.com, so people can get a taste.
CHIDEYA: All right, MC Lyte, thanks so much.
Mr. LYTE: Thank you very much.
CHIDEYA: MC Lyte is a hip-hop pioneer and co-host for BET's new town hall series, "Hip-Hop versus America II. Where did the love go?" The series begins tonight and she joined us from our NPR Studios here in Culver City.