Since I’ve spent the last 2 weeks doing all of this female rapper coverage, it only makes sense that my next classic album review would be of the feminine persuasion.
Now even tho Lyte is my favorite female rapper of all time, I’m not quite sold on whether I think her debut album is better than her sophmore effort, Eyes On This. As a matter of fact, I don’t know which album of hers is her best.
I imagine the beginning is the best place to start.
I remember always liking Lyte for some reason as a kid. I would get hyped when her part came on for the “Self-Destruction” compilation cut. It’s almost like no one patronized her for being a woman, she was just that confident and made you a believer. Certainly, in my young mind, there was no difference. She was just another fly rapper with an unmistakable voice. I don’t ever recall anybody crying nepotism because of her brothers in the Audio Two. She came thru flawlessly with an ill rep and the best geometric hairstyles this side of 80’s pop music.
I wasn’t so much aware of her singles at the time or the top selections off of her album, because none of them were super radio smashes like Rob Base‘s “It takes 2” and me being a child, I wasn’t able to experience the thrill of hearing dj’s crank “Lyte As A Rock” at the Latin Quarter or The Rooftop. What did seem to trickle down to young me, however, was the impression that she was pretty raw and spoke her mind like her male peers. I got the hint that I wasn’t supposed to be listening to her music just like Kool G Rap and some of Big Daddy Kane‘s records with curse words in them. Heavy D and Doug E. she was not. But hey, she’s a Brooklyn Chic – it’s to be expected.
Now as an adult, going back into the crates to hear the largely touted classic from Ms. Moorer has a mildness to it. I can see how this was a big deal in it’s 1988 glory. Besides, at this point, a female rapper with a major release was unheard of. She broke records by going gold. Her acceptance in the game has always been monumental.
It’s almost as tho she was aware of this going into her album, as she sets the stage with an intro track that isn’t even a song!(“Lyte vs. Vanna White”) Just a damn-near 3 minute track of beat with slight scratches and voiceovers concluded by a halfway humorous and rare comedic moment of role-play by Lyte at the end. From here, we go into the title track which we all have come to know and love; if not by growing up on it, then surely by it’s reintroduction and rise in popularity on the soundtrack to the much over-rated but now Black-girl-classic, Love & Basketball. Her now Iconic, KRS-1 like inflection is cemented here, and the big deal aesthetic is continued as she drops one of the best 80’s rap videos ever, to accompany her song.
The voice is one thing. The flow is another.
The defining thing about this album is the varying of her delivery. And not necessarily in a good way. Much like how Biggie‘s first album showcased his growth of style and a time lapse, leaving an album comprised halfway of his more nasal, projected delivery and his more calm, big poppa cadence, Lyte vacillates between having an on-point, fluid 80’s flow, to a more prose-like, run-on flow that doesn’t exactly catch the beat in the right places. No matter how much you like her, this can get annoying after a while. I could only imagine if this album was 15 tracks as opposed to the perfect 10. For every “Lyte As A Rock”, where she seems to attack the beat with matching energy and pace and slickness, there’s a “Lyte Thee M.C.” that falters a tad.
Fortunately, what made this album a classic was it’s singles and the way in which they came to the public’s attention. The singles are actually the best songs on here. The ones that you probably know or have heard of, all came out in a way that would give you the impression that Lyte is a multi-layered emcee. The truth is that if you cop the album it’s all a boom-bap laced pile of diatribes of her uniqueness and superiority, which is surprising considering the era that she came out in, where socially conscious themes were the trending topic. Her approach was more typical of early to mid 80’s rap realeases, where it was all about bragging and boasting. Although Lyte’s brand of braggadoccio is much more cool calm and collect than the guys’ (which always made her cool), knowing the Lyte we’ve come to know by now with all of her insight and cautionary tales, it’s a little disappointing that none of that is present on her seminal release. But then again, taking into account that this is her coming out record (no pun intended) and the fact that she was in fact the first female rapper with a major release, I’m assuming that proving herself amongst the big boys was more important at the time than talking about the crack epidemic, or domestic violence.
To Lyte’s credit she tries a little. There’s moments where you can see that it’s important to her to wave the female flag high as indicated by titles like “Iam Woman” and “Don’t Cry Big Girls”, but it seems her focus isn’t quite there. On both songs, she starts off strong but then ends up trailing off into her usual spiel, making what seemed to be a possible rally for women everywhere just a guise to bring the spotlight back to the one-woman show. So the feminist ethos is sprinkled in there loosely, but ultimately lost.
The only time Lyte breaks out of self-aggrandizing mode is to take the heat off of sucker mc’s and place it in the face of corny 2-timing men and would-be suitors. This is why the singles off of this project made such an impact; You got what is now the modern formula for most successful rap releases, a party song (“Lyte As A Rock”), a Street hit (“10% Dis”) and 2 songs geared towards the opposite sex (“Paper Thin” & “I Cram 2 Understand U”). The latter 2 contain some of the best flowing and lines of Lyte’s career. She was classy, but blunt, and the lyrics were easily relatable. These songs did wonders to quell any notion that she wasn’t interested in men, and helped her establish a female audience whereas she might’ve already proved herself to the male crowd already. This is pretty much the reverse of most female rappers’ entrances into the game. Another memorable video for “Paper Thin” took it over the top and made it an instant classic – not to mention one of the best simple beats in hip-hop history. From hearing only these joints, you would hope the rest of the album sounded like this.
“Kickin 4 Brooklyn” is another track that remains one of Lyte’s most popular, tho not an official single. In a narrative style, over a stuttering drum beat, it’s the rare instance where you get a touch of Brooklyn from the female perspective, before it became super-commonplace to shout it all over hip-hop records. Lyte may actually be responsible for adding to making that a norm. She exuded Brooklyn pride like none before her. This added to her street cred, but what really set it up was the incredibly infamous “10% Dis” where she devotes a whole record to then-contender Antoinette. As I mentioned in the previous post about forgotten female rappers, Antoinette’s career got put to bed early by not one but 2 songs directed toward her by Lyte. This one being the most clever and amped up, had to be the most pivotal. She murders her with lines like “30 days a month your mood is rude, we know the cause of your bloody attitude“ (a reference to Antoinette’s static-charged single “I got an attitude” and an all around female to female classic dis) and “Unlike Rakim, you are a joke”. In fact, how many lines from this song have actually been used and re-used??! This is one of the best battles of all time. In effect, Lyte also changed the game slightly by raising the bar for battles.
And that’s what it really boils down to. This album is classic undeniably for where it stands in both hip-hop history and female rap history, not for it’s sonic presentation, or depth. It is the dream introduction for any female aiming to make her stamp, and the kind of entrance every spitter strives for.
Having that said, my favorite tracks are the Prince Paul produced “Mc Lyte Likes Swinging” ,
which would have a whole different connotation given today’s interpretations and the longtime talk of Lyte being a proud lesbian. And also “I Cram 2 Understand U”, “kickin’ 4 Brooklyn” and “Paper Thin”.
And due to the fact that this fellow Libra made an album that perfectly evens out with flaws and miss-steps as well as Milestones and breakthroughs, I give Lyte As A Rock 4 Candles out of a possible
4, 8, 12 or 16.
4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)
8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)
12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)
16(Classic all around)