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MC Lyte balances her roles as DJ, motivational speaker

Hip-hop star among acts at Albany Spring Fest

Thursday, May 16, 2013
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Hip-hop performer MC Lyte will be at the Palace Theatre in Albany on Friday.
Hip-hop performer MC Lyte will be at the Palace Theatre in Albany on Friday.

Pioneering female hip-hop star MC Lyte, born Lana Michele Moorer, has a lot more on her plate than just MC-ing these days.

She still finds herself on the road most of the year performing for audiences, but only about half of that is as the rapper best known for such ’80s and ’90s hits as “Ruffneck,” “Cha Cha Cha” and “Poor Georgie.”

The rest of the time, she DJs in clubs, covering everything from old and new hip-hop to classic soul and R & B, and is also an in-demand speaker on the subjects of hip-hop history, the entertainment industry and female empowerment.

Even that is scratching the surface. Last year, Lyte founded the nonprofit charity Hip Hop Sisters Foundation, which awarded two $100,000 scholarships to the University of Wisconsin in Madison last November. Also last year, she published the self-help book “Unstoppable: Igniting the Power Within to Achieve Your Greatest Potential.”

Albany Spring Fest

WITH: Big Daddy Kane, MC Lyte, Doug E. Fresh

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Palace Theatre, 19 Clinton Ave., Albany

How Much: $48, $32

More Info: 465-3334, www.palacealbany.com

“I do travel a great deal, and it’s on all sorts of business, be it the foundation — we’re about to start looking for submissions for our [next] $100,000 scholarship to the University of Wisconsin in Madison,” Lyte said recently from her home base in Los Angeles. “If it’s not that, it’s speaking at different colleges, community-based events, even corporate events. I just did a speaker series with AT&T at the beginning of this year.”

Positive message

For Lyte, all these endeavors are interconnected. It’s all about the messages of positivity and empowerment that she’s been pushing since before her first album, “Lyte as a Rock,” was released in 1988.

“When I’m performing, I can only move people with just my music; when I’m DJ-ing, I get to be the cause of activity from everybody, so that’s really a plus — with performing, it’s allowed me to really live out that part of me that loves to be onstage,” she said.

“And when I speak, it gives me to the opportunity to talk to kids as well as adults about the history of hip-hop, about what it means and what my life has meant. . . . I’m able to inspire in ways that I used to only be able to look forward to doing with my music.”

Lyte is part of the bill for the Albany Spring Fest at the Palace Theatre on Friday night, opening for fellow old-school hip-hop hitmakers Big Daddy Kane and Doug E. Fresh. Even with all her other endeavours, Lyte still looks forward to performing her old songs — her last official studio album was 2003’s “Da Underground Heat, Vol. 1,” whose single “Ride Wit Me” earned Lyte her second Grammy nomination.

“I actually work with the guys [Big Daddy Kane and Doug E. Fresh] often, so that’s nothing out of the ordinary,” she said. “Whenever we do get together, we really know how to not only have the audience have a good time — it’s really important that we have a good time as well. When I’m onstage going down memory lane with these songs, it puts me in a great mood, so I’m hoping to have just as much fun as the audience.”

It may seem that Lyte has spent the past decade away from recording studios, in favor of her speaking, acting, voice-over work and philanthropy. However, she has continued to record under the radar, releasing songs online that have recently been collected on her own Android and iPhone app, and has made appearances on recent songs by Boyz II Men (“What You Won’t Do For Love”) and India.Arie (“Psalms 23”).

Not part of the machine

She revealed that she’s about to start work on a new recording project, although she is unsure when or how it will be released. Previously, Lyte was with First Priority Music (a subsidiary of Atlantic) and East West America (Elektra); “Da Underground Heat, Vol. 1” was her first independent release.

“I sort of [left] that from the desire to not be a part of the huge machine,” Lyte said. “That was just me; I took a step back. I’m about to start working on a new music project really soon, but I don’t know — maybe it will be distributed through a major, maybe it won’t. I know it will always be true to what makes me feel good.”

The Brooklyn native was one of the earliest solo female hip-hop artists to achieve stardom, recording her first single, “I Cram to Understand U (Sam),” a scathing look at crack addiction in a relationship, in 1986. Her subsequent albums and singles continued to tackle women’s issues inside and outside the hip-hop community.

She achieved breakout success with her fourth album, “Ain’t No Other” — the album’s single “Ruffneck” scored Lyte her first Grammy nomination, notable for being the first Grammy nod for a female rapper (the single was also the first by a female rapper to go gold, selling more than 500,000 copies).

Despite Lyte’s trailblazing, she has noticed that there are actually fewer female MCs on the scene today than when she was starting out. However, the Internet is helping to change this.

“There were so many more female MCs out at the time when I was on a major record label — as a matter of fact, the label I was on had three female MCs they were putting out,” she said. “But I think it’s better now, in a sense, because of the advent of the Internet. These women can now — they don’t need approval from major record labels, and that’s not just women who rap, it’s also men. If you’re not talking about the same thing that’s being promoted today, major record labels aren’t looking at you — but you don’t really need them now to keep moving in a way that makes you feel good.”

Extending outreach

Lyte’s desire to guide the next generation of hip-hop artists led to her founding the Hip Hop Sisters Network, which includes the foundation as well as artist outreach services.

“That’s an extension of everything I’ve always wanted to do,” Lyte said. “The mission is, we’re redefining the essence of young girls and women in the hip-hop community through inspiration and communication. I really want to help this generation that is in desperate need of leadership, and I don’t want them to fall into pretending to be what it is that they hear in these lyrics today — not get caught up in the moment of what’s happening now.

“Outside of that there are other things we focus on — be it awareness of teenage pregnancy, AIDS awareness, anti-violence — all of the things I’ve lent my celebrity out to over the years.”

 
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