Before Lana Michelle Moorer, better known as MC Lyte, came on to the scene in 1988, female MCs were having mild success, but not at the same level as their male counterparts. Lyte, along with Salt n’ Pepa and Queen Latifah, changed that narrative in the late ‘80s and opened the door for future female MCs to have smash success and showed that women could rock the mic just as hard as the men could.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Lyte began spitting rhymes when she was 12-years old, and in 1985 she ran into the Audio Two. This chance meeting was important because it got her an opportunity to record her first song, “I Cram to Understand U (Sam),” in 1986. The track was released by First Priority Music, which with the underground success of “I Cram to Understand U,” helped the label land a lucrative distribution deal with Atlantic Records.
From that point on, Lyte began to expand on her craft, and in 1987 she entered the studio to record her debut album, Lyte as a Rock. Released in 1988, the album was an out-of-the-box smash on the strength of the album’s chart-topper, “Paper Thin.” Wasting little time to capitalize on her commercial fortune, she released her sophomore LP, Eyes on This, the following year, and it was an even bigger hit as Lyte as a Rock.
Eyes on This reached the top 10 of the R&B album charts (#8) and the LP became her first to chart on the Billboard 200 (#86). Eyes on This produced her second straight chart-topper in “Cha Cha Cha,” and added another Top 10 rap hit in “Cappucino” (#8). With Lyte now regarded as one of the queens of hip hop, she was invited to appear on KRS-One’s 1990 anti-violence single “Self-Destruction,” and around the same time, she went into the studio to record her third album, Act Like You Know.
Released in 1991, the album had a different sound and tone, as it wasn’t as hard and brutally honest as her first two LPs, but instead was built to be more assessable to the growing suburban hip hop fanbase. Act Like You Know took a slight hit on the charts, stalling out at number 14 on the R&B album charts, but it did produce another chart-topping single in “Poor Georgie.”
1993’s Ain’t No Other continued her commercial winning streak, becoming her third straight album to venture into the Top 20 of the R&B album charts (#16) and producing her fourth number one hit in “Ruffneck.” That single would get her nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rap Single, which made Lyte the first solo female MC ever to be nominated for music’s highest honor, and the next year, she appeared on smash hits for Janet Jackson (“You Want This”) and Brandy (“I Wanna Be Down”).
Although Lyte was still scoring hit albums, by 1995, hip hop was undergoing another fundamental change in sound, but to her credit, she made the proper adjustments and in 1996, she left First Priority Music and signed with East West Records. There, she released her fifth LP, Bad as I Wanna B, which would become her fourth straight Top 20 album (#11) and her highest-charting album on the pop side (#59).
Bad as I Wanna B produced two of Lyte’s biggest singles in “Keep on Keepin’ On,” featuring Xscape (#2 Rap/#3 R&B/#10 Hot 100), and “Cold Rock a Party,” featuring Puff Daddy and an emerging Missy Elliott that became her fifth chart-topper on the rap side, visited the Top 10 on the R&B side (#5) and just missed out on the Top 10 on the Hot 100 (#11).
But all of a sudden, the hits stop coming for Lyte as her subsequent albums and singles for East West Records did little on the charts. By the time the ‘90s came to an end, she left East West and decided to release singles under her own independent label. But all was not lost for Lyte, as she was enjoying a successful acting career and was still making music. In April of this year, she released her eighth album, Legend, which was a perfect title to an MC that has become just that in the history hip hop.