Full Clip: MC Lyte Breaks Down Her Entire Catalogue (Brandy, Janet Jackson, LL Cool J & More)
“The first time I recorded this song I was 14-years-old. I did “I Cram to Understand U” in Tony’s studio in Brooklyn—he later went on to become Clark Kent. When it was finally pressed for record, I was 16. It was actually a rhyme that I wrote when I was 12. I just remember [“Cram…”] being on a four-track Tascam. The boiler was making noise while we were recording and we had to wait for it to stop [laughs]. I had all my rhymes in a notebook. Milk (Lyte’s brother Milk Dee of the Brooklyn rap duo Audio Two) made the track and I had the rhymes to go with it.
[The crack addiction storyline of the song] came from two places. My mother used to work at North General Hospital in Harlem. Whenever I would go there would be a slew of heroin and crack addicts and everybody there at the rehabilitation center that was a couple of floors down. I would have to come into contact with these addicts and I would think, ‘Wow, what a jacked up way to be.’ I would never want that for myself or any other young person that I knew so I was going to make it my responsibility to tell people about drugs so that they could avoid them at all cost. Then also my grandmother lived in Spanish Harlem. I would visit her from the age of a baby until I was 14 years old and I would see the crackheads all over the street. And one my cousins was a crackhead. I didn’t even know what crack was before that, but my cousins used to talk about him.
I did a lot of rehearsing before I hit the scene. I did a lot of work with George Lucien, who was actually the father of [some of the members] of Full Force. He would come to my house and I would rehearse my vocals with him. He would tell me to learn a song that I really loved which was a Salt-N-Pepa song. I would literally say it over and over again and George would coach me on how to make my voice sound strong and how to pronounce the words to where someone else would feel it. I owe that to him.
Being a female MC back then was just my life. It’s like asking how does it feel being black. I didn’t know anything else. I knew there was Salt-N-Pepa, I knew there was Sweet Tee, Roxanne Shante, The Real Roxanne, and of course Sha Rock of the Funky Four Plus One. There were enough of them for me to believe that I could [be an MC]. At that point it was just a matter of just going with what I felt. It wasn’t until later that I realized, ‘Oh, the guys don’t really treat us so fairly; they don’t want to pay us what we deserve; the promoters and male acts don’t want to give us [top] billing.’ There were artists that had issues from time to time with having to go on before me onstage. With guys it’s all about testosterone. But there were other guys who treated my like their younger sister and treated me with love.”