True confession: I’ve been a fan of MC Lyte since I first heard the Lyte as A Rock album on a visit home to Memphis from college. Her lyrical creativity, in my opinion, makes her one of the best MCs in the history of the genre.
I was such a huge fan in the early 90s, in fact, that myself and four friends hung out in the rain outside a Memphis radio station to try to get her to listen to our demo tape. She was taping a segment to promote her second album Eyes On This (which included the hits “Cha Cha Cha” and “Cappucino”). We eventually got the tape to her after running through the airport to catch her before she left (it was pre 9-11, so you could actually run through an airport back then without having a ticket).
Even the name of this blog was inspired by her hit song of the same name. So when I spoke recently to the legendary rapper, actor, philanthropist and author, it felt like I was talking to an old friend. We talked about her career and her upcoming visit to Chicago, where she’ll be featured at the African Festival of the Arts this Friday, August 31st, in the Book Pavilion to promote her book Unstoppable: Igniting the Power Within to Achieve Your Greatest Potential. She’ll also be launching a nationwide search for the recipient of the $100,000 MC Lyte First Wave four-year scholarship for hip hop/multicultural studies at the University of Madison Wisconsin.
The scholarship is being sponsored through Lyte’s Hip Hop Sisters Network, which promotes positive images of ethnically diverse women by bringing together leaders from the entertainment, hip hop and corporate worlds. She also founded Hip Hop Sisters Artistry to provide a platform for female artists to showcase their talents in an environment of encouragement and respect.
Q: Tell me why you wrote “Unstoppable” – The Book?
Lyte: “People were repeatedly asking me how did I persevere through all these years and not lose who I was. It was how I choose to live my life. I had a message to get out to young people. Rap wasn’t the way to deliver that message. So God put it on my heart to write the book and I just wrote entries every day.”
Q: Tell me about your transition from rapper to where you are today?
Lyte: “The manager for the first 13 years of my career told me to build your persona so that it doesn’t matter if you have a record or not. I took voice over lessons and acting classes. So it took some thought, I wanted to act before I wanted to rap. I wanted to be on radio before I wanted to act.”
Q: Hip Hop Sisters Network has some major industry figures as part of its advisory board, including Russell Simmons and Jada Pinkett Smith. Talk about the inspiration behind the organization.
Lyte: “Hip Hop Sisters started about five or six years ago. A young lady named Lex Diamond inspired it. I visited her school and she asked me ‘What happens when you’re not around? It would be nice if I could still have a way to talk to you.’ We currently are 2300 members strong. Some of the advisory board members I’ve known for years. When I called, they all jumped at the chance because they know me and my reputation for being a person of integrity. The goal is to enhance the lives of young women we come into contact with.”
Q: What’s MC Lyte’s next act?
Lyte: “I have a memoir coming and I am working on a coffee table book. Also, I’m getting into TV and event production.
Q: What should Chicagoans expect from your visit on Friday?
Lyte: “I’m going to shed some light on being ‘unstoppable’. It’s God that glimmers within and says you can do all things. I really want to connect with the people of Chicago. I’m looking forward to it!”
MC Lyte will be making appearances Friday at Paul Robeson High School in Chicago and Rich South High School in Richton Park to talk about the scholarship. She’ll be appearing at African Fest at the following times:
5:30 - 6:30 p.m. Book signing, short talk in the AFA Book Pavilion
7:30 - 7:45 p.m. Reading and short talk on AFA Main Stage
8:00 p.m. Book signing in designated area near Main Stage
You can find out more about Unstoppable and the Hip Hop Sisters Network at www.hiphopsisters.org. Follow her on Twitter @mclyte.
For more information about African Festival of the Arts, visit www.africanfestivalchicago.org. Advance tickets are $10 and $20 at the door. Seniors and kids under 13 are half price.