MC Lyte is co-hosting 2013's Breakin' Convention Festival at the Apollo Theater (June 13-16); a hip-hop dance theater festival produced annually by UK based, Sadler's Wells despite its distinctly American roots. As one of hip-hop's pioneering female rappers, Lana Michelle Moorer sheds LYTE on working with Jonzi D on Breakin', the many projects she has in the works, which are mostly focused on the education of women in music, as well as a massive new "Reality Doc" exploring the lives of hip-hop's founding mama's such as Lyte herself, Yo-Yo, Lady of Rage, Monie Love and MC Smooth.
MC Lyte methodically speaks on any topic, from Missy Elliott to Macklemore to Paris Hilton, proving she can still rock a party.
VIBE: How did you get involved with the Breakin’ Convention? Can you tell us about your role as a co-host with Jonzi D?
MC LYTE: Jonzi D just said, “We want to incorporate Lyte in some capacity," and of course Breakin' is one of the five elements of hip-hop, and I think outside of it just growing congruently with hip-hop through ups, downs, turnarounds, and restructuring, and what it has metamorphosed into, I’m still very much a part of hip-hop. I went to the Salsa Congress this past weekend, and I got a chance to see a lot of dancers presented, and I saw one Breakin' team that was just so out of this world, and so not what you would expect hip-hop to look like. It’s gone so far.
Because Breakin' is done to all kinds of music, would you call it strictly hip-hop? Now, because everything falls under trap, rap, and something-step, can you define it?
I want to call it hip-hop, because that’s where it stems from, and we have a tendency to want to claim what we helped to spawn. And "we" as a collective consciousness of hip-hop have such a big head at this point. I still would love to call it hip-hop, so I’m just going to keep rollin’ with that, but knowing that hip-hop has touched so many other cultures and within it, so many people from all over the globe have had the opportunity to witness Breakin' is testament as to how far, how wide and how it's somewhat of a long-lasting, intricate part of what hip-hop is all about. To not lose the art form is critical because it’s a very crucial part of the five elements. Somehow people can get away from that, but to see it included in this past week, it looked just as difficult, if not more, than most of what I was seeing.
What are the five elements of hip-hop that you’re referring to?
There’s a dance element, which is breaking, there’s DJing, MCing, there’s a beautiful form of art, which is graffiti and freestyle art, and of course the fifth element, which is often left off, is knowledge. Knowledge of oneself, knowledge of others, knowledge of the world around us, being in touch with all of the different realms that exist outside of just oneself.
The Breakin' Convention is at the Apollo Theater; do you have a favorite memory of the venue?
When I got booed. It was my first time at the Apollo, and what happened was I was on a walk-up to these rooms, and unfortunately I was on the fourth floor when they announced me so I didn’t know. It took me forever, and not only did I not know, but when they came to the room it was real lax, it was like, “okay, we’re ready for you”, and I still had to put everything on! By the time I got downstairs, the crowd was so annoyed that I had taken that long. It wasn’t a huge boo, but there were a few boos in there. It took me until halfway through the first song to win them over. Then I was the golden girl again. I won them back. It took a minute, and I was able to show them that I was there to do the thing.
Tell us about Hip-Hop Sisters Network, your non-profit organization. How is it involved in the upcoming Breakin’ Convention?
I wanted to extend myself to the younger generation in a different kind of way than just passing through their city. I wanted to be able to give someone the opportunity to actually go to school, so it’s all about redefining the essence of young girls and women through hip-hop, and through unity and empowerment. Hip-Hop Sisters Network has two sides to it. One is the artistry side, which has been in existence for quite some time now, probably six or seven years, and that lives at hiphopsisters.com where we have a little over 2,000 young women who rap, DJ, choreograph, some journalists, photographers, just all folks who are in love with hip-hop and sort of use it as a platform. We’ll have conference calls every once in a while and get about 100 plus people on the phone wanting to learn about publishing and copywriting, just a forms exchanging information, but the flip side just got started last year, and in that time we’ve been able to give away two $100,000 scholarships. Thus far, we’ve done some collaborative work with an organization called Hip-Hop 4 Life, which is run by Tamekia Flowers, who actually happens to be married to Kwame, and we formed this partnership. We go at it again this year on the same weekend as the BET Awards, where we’ll have 300 young girls from the greater Los Angeles area. We have symposiums and interactive programming for them, and hopefully they’ll be able to walk away feeling stronger, with a sense of purpose, maybe helping to get them refocused on what the most important things in their lives are.
What is your take on some of the female performers of today who flash their cookies and call themselves musical artists? Paris Hilton just got signed to Cash Money to make a house music album... How does an artist with talent and celebrity as yourself feel about the message that something like that sends?
To me, that sounds like a complete money move. It doesn’t have anything to do with the art of music. I’m hoping that she can deliver something that’s expressive of who she is, and possibly if she’s able to really tap into some things that affect her, she might be able to come out with a body of work that actually means something. I feel like people should be able to give what they want, and what they feel comfortable giving, and it just so happens a lot of them are comfortable with giving on that level. So the only thing that gets me a little cross about it is the lack of balance, and the lack of opportunities that exist for young women in general, the ones who are actually rapping about things that most of us can really relate to. I think that Paris will speak to a few, I have no doubt that she has the capability of doing well in that arena, when you’re talking about a dance record, however, there are a bunch of young ladies that are talking about real stuff that could possibly enlighten someone and inspire somebody, yet they aren’t given the opportunities and they don’t have the platform to be pushed and promoted in a way that one needs to really be successful in this business.
Which female hip-hop artists are you really feeling right now?
You know what, it’s so crazy because it doesn’t really fall into the guidelines of what is most popular, because I have Hip-Hop Sisters I’m in touch with so many MCs. There’s Mae Day out of Detroit who is hot as ever. I like Macklemore, I’m feelin’ him right now. It just seems like he’s not afraid to touch real topics and he’s not on this super macho bandwagon where everything has to be so hyper-muscled.
What are some upcoming projects you have in the works? There have been rumors of a reality show you've got cooking that’s going to blow some minds.
We’re doing a reality documentary, and the reason we call it a reality doc is because reality television has become not so ‘reality’ in terms of the story and set-up. This is really a hard look into the lives of all of these women who have been in the business and persevered in a male-dominated scene. We go into pre-production at the end of this month, and we start shooting in July.
Who is involved that we should be excited about?
The whole cast! We have Yo-Yo, Lady of Rage, Monie Love, MC Smooth hailin’ from the West Coast, who made some noise on her own and actually touched, believe it or not, almost every soundtrack in existence during her time. She’s a very well accomplished writer, and she wrote all the songs for B2K. Then we have our protégé, Lil Mama. We get a look into the lives of these women, and what happened, what went wrong, the climb back… Yo-Yo’s running for congress next year, she’s marrying a mayor, and Lil Mama’s on the climb back up to the top. She’s been penalized for quite some time, so now she’s got to get back out there and work her ass off, and show them all of the skills that she has.
Is Missy Elliot coming in on this project?
I wish! I want Missy to just finish her album! Right now, we’re actually over the brink. We’re at six characters, so hopefully with the next round we’ll go after some female MCs and see if they want to be involved, but I’m not opposed to anyone being a part of it.
How are you on the dance floor? Can you bust the occasional move?
No. I can’t bust out nothing but the whop! That’s all I got.