The First Ladies of Rap and Hip Hop culture are all forward-thinking pioneers whose legacies, both individual and collective, are undeniable. While these women don’t technically require a proper introduction at this stage in their careers as veterans, there’s no better time than Women’s History Month to celebrate the achievements, challenges overcome and contributions each have made over the past three decades.
The relationship women have with Hip Hop is a complicated one, as listeners, as creators and in how they are represented. While overcoming being subjected to misogyny, adversity, economic hardship, incarceration, sexual abuse/objectification, violence, and so on, these particular women have long worked to get their voices heard, consequently paving the way for other women to blaze their own paths as well. Despite securing a rightful place and identity within the culture not coming easy, the First Ladies of Hip Hop have pushed all sorts of boundaries over the years, creating some of the most seminal works helping to define and refine the genre as we know and love it today as a result.
Celebrating: MC Lyte
Introduction: Born Lana Michelle Moorer, MC Lyte became the first solo female rapper to release a studio album with her 1988 debut, Lyte As A Rock. She began rhyming at the age of 12, sharing her music for the first time in an official capacity at age 18. In addition to being a successful rapper, MC Lyte has worn the hats of an activist, actress, radio host, author, motivational speaker and philanthropist many times throughout her career. She also helped launch the Hip Hop Sisters Foundation in 2006, which awards two annual $100,000 scholarships for high school graduates to attend the University of Wisconsin free of tuition for the first four years. The foundation aims to help young girls “define themselves for themselves,” with a focus on promoting self-love and self-respect, while also inspiring young girls to explore their creativity and talents.
Breaking Barriers: MC Lyte was the first female solo rapper to be nominated for a Grammy, nominated for Best Rap Single for 1993’s “Ruffneck.”
List Of Achievements: MC Lyte received the “I Am Hip Hop” Icon Lifetime Achievement Award from BET, making her the first female solo hip hop artist to receive the honor from the network. She also was honored by VH1 on their annual award show Hip Hip Honors. MC Lyte also served as the President of the L.A. Chapter of the Recording Academy (the organization behind the Grammys) from 2011 to 2013 making her the first African-American to do so. She has released eight studio albums throughout her lengthy career, with 2015’s Legend being her most recent, after a 12-year hiatus. She also owned a boutique in Los Angeles that specialized in accessories for quite some time, before launching Sunni Gyrl, Inc., a management company focusing on artist development, creative services and consulting.
Noteworthy: In 2006, her personal diary, a turntable, records and other items from her early career were donated to the Smithsonian as part of a special collection titled, “Hip Hop Won’t Stop: The Beat, The Rhymes, The Life,” organized to include objects of historical relevance that helped shape the genre of Hip Hop.
Fun fact from the vault: MC Lyte DJed Michael Jackson’s 50th birthday celebration. Talk about a legendary party.
Wise words: “Ladies, if you want to be treated like a queen, act like one.”
Where she is now: MC Lyte currently reigns as the CEO of Sunni Gyrl and is the Chair of the Hip Hop Sisters Foundation. She resides in Los Angeles, where she actively is a mentor to young women through her organization and involvement within the creative Hip Hop community.
Take a listen: