Though we still need to say it, it should go without saying that music is one of the most powerful forces we have for exploring and understanding culture, race, and identity. Hiphop is no different; in fact, it is the prime example of that. Over the past forty years hiphop has emerged as the language of youth all over the world who are drawn to its unique capacity, to build, respect, and represent. Hiphop is a fluid, adaptable language. Its best practitioners see it not only as a path to possible fame and hopefully fortune, but as a classroom: a platform from which to reach out and teach young people how to make their way in a world that doesn’t always seem to have a place or the space for them.
There is no one else who has used that platform to a greater effect than Lana Moorer, the artist we all know as MC Lyte. As the first female Hiphop artist to be nominated for a Grammy for Best Single, to earn a gold single, to be recognized by VHI Hip Hop Honors, to perform at the White House, and, yes, to make it to Carnegie Hall (twice!), MC Lyte is a hiphop pioneer who has used her voice and her rhymes to show the world what a powerful woman in charge can do flowing with sounds, rhymes, insight, language And ideas that go far beyond the mic, the turntable, and the stage and into the core of our everyday world.
MC Lyte is a premier MC, DJ, and performer who has worked with all of the major players in Hiphop while also appearing in numerous films and television programs. In addition, she is a sought-after voiceover artist, an entrepreneur, and is a cultural thought leader, sharing her ideas at corporate, educational, arts and community institutions and organizations. She has delivered keynote addresses at Duke University, The Ohio State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of California-Santa Barbara, and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, to name just a few. She speaks about female empowerment, about how hiphop’s ethic of education, engagement, and respect can move all people—women and girls, men and boys—to a place of self-knowledge and empower them to act and advocate for themselves and their beliefs. She has done this work most forcefully through her Hiphop Sisters Foundation, the non-profit she founded to promote positive images of women of color, harnessing the energy and power of leaders in hiphop, the entertainment industry, and corporate world to support women and girls in areas of cultural expression, financial literacy, health and wellness, mentorship, and, of course, education.
I had the good fortune of meeting MC Lyte last year at The White House Council on Women and Girls Conference. We were on the panel “HipHop: Women’s Vulnerability and Voices.” Amidst this unique gathering of grassroots leaders, politicians and academics, I marveled as she commanded and enlightened the room. She represented and argued for a Hiphop that continues to build and that takes its role and responsibilities critically as it celebrates and argues that we must Stand up for Woman and Girls.
Today, it should be no surprise that MC Lyte is one of the featured new artists in the 2017 Hiphop Archive & Research Institute signature project: “Classic Crates.” This Classic Crates project explores and analyzes hiphop albums that have had the greatest impact on music and culture. Her 1988 album Lyte as a Rock will be inducted into Harvard’s Loeb Library collection this spring. There was never any question in my mind that MC Lyte would have pride of place in that project. She is a pioneer who has never rested; she is a woman whose power has never flagged - but has grown stronger over the course of her career.
She is currently in her fourth decade as an established Hiphop recording artist, and now actor, businesswoman, philanthropist and game changer. She released the album “Legend” in 2015, and this year is releasing new media through “SpotLYTE”. Very few of her contemporaries – male or female - who began their Hiphop recording careers in the mid- to early 1980s - have continued to release new music and even fewer, arguably none, have done so with MC Lyte’s level of success. Moreover, though many have tried, few have been able to establish educational foundations that build in their communities and also speak to the concerns of youth in the U.S. and around the world. Yes, MC Lyte put the hard work in and she kept working and growing without slowing down. She never left us. She encourages anyone who will listen through education, entrepreneurship and philanthropy - while giving us music to move to, words to recite and examples that reflect our realities. Yes, Lana Moorer, you are the Lyte! Still Shining!
For her unmatched contributions to hiphop and for her commitment to advancing the lives of women and girls through music, the Hutchins Center recognizes Lana Moorer, the artist we all know as MC Lyte, with the W. E. B. Du Bois Medal.
Lyte as a Rock.
By Professor Marcyliena Morgan