Hip hop has long been criticized for its problem with women. Misogynistic lyrics, objectifying music videos, demeaning name-calling ― none of it is exclusive to rap, but this particular genre often catches heat for its sexism. And female artist MC Lyte has been in the thick of this male-dominated industry for decades.
In 1988, the Brooklyn-based rapper released a critically acclaimed album called “Lyte as a Rock.” With that, MC Lyte ― barely 18 at the time ― became the first solo female rapper to release a successful studio album. Now considered a pioneer and icon in hip hop, MC Lyte tells “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” that being a woman played a powerful role in her career.
“I definitely think my gender has absolutely helped me in this game of hip hop,” she says.
With so many male peers, MC Lyte saw her gender as a distinct advantage.
“I don’t even know if I’d be a rapper if I was a man,” she says. “It’s just too much to contend with. As a female, I could sort of make my own lane ― and work it.”
After her debut album, MC Lyte continued to produce hits (like 1989’s “Cha Cha Cha,” which peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart) and later earned a Grammy nomination for one of her tracks. The success was amazing, MC Lyte says, but what she always cared about most was the music. “To have a number-one song on the Billboard charts? It never started out like that for me. That wasn’t the desire,” she explains. “The desire was to make a record.”