MC Lyte & Rapsody Recount Racist Assaults & Open Up About Being Women in Hip-Hop
February 1 marked the beginning of Black History Month, a yearly occasion during which African-American stories, issues, art, and conversations are shared with more visibility than perhaps the rest of the year. In today’s atmosphere – where “Black lives matter” is not just an aside in a casual conversation and social activism has become a movement of the mainstream – a Black History Month is not only excessively necessary but for most a utilitarian way to engage a national dialogue about the history, present, and future of a demographic whose contributions are often overlooked. Within Hip-Hop, there is perhaps no demographic overlooked more than the female MC; whether omitted from conversations about the greatest rappers or in conversations about influential contributions in other realms, the legacies of African-American women often go unmentioned. In a refreshing response to such unfortunate realities, two of Hip-Hop’s most celebrated women both past and present dig into the issues facing them, namely the legendary New Yorker MC Lyte and North Carolina’s rising queen of the mic, Rapsody.
In a conversation published by Billboard, the two talented spitters touch upon the uniquely female perspective that goes into being a woman in Hip-Hop. From their earliest experiences with racism, the progress made on behalf of women in the industry, and the work of those who came before or after, two generations are represented with equal reverence. When asked to recount her earliest memory of a racist exchange, MC Lyte brings us back to Brooklyn, New York. While working at a Mexican restaurant, she says, she had an up-close and personal encounter with a physical manifestation of racism, in which she recalls “literally being the target of rocks while we were waiting for the bus.” As a child of parents who grew up in the context of the Civil Rights Era, this experience took place with some prior knowledge of White-on-Black violence. “It wasn’t the first time I had seen it, of course – seeing it on television, seeing the Civil Rights Movement and everything that people went through and the tyranny that was caused. However, it was the first time that I had experienced rocks coming at me from angry, White people due to me being a different color,” she shares. Rapsody’s experience “wasn’t that intense” and arose during an episode of road rage. The other driver involved “rolled down the window, and just yelled out, ‘You black n—-r!'” Tragically, she recounts that something similar happened much more recently, as well.
When asked to speak on what it means to be a woman of color in Hip-Hop today, MC Lyte argues there’s a serious lack of diversity in female perspectives. “There used to be a time where female MCs sort of spoke for a sector of the female population and I don’t know that those on the front lines actually reflect all of us nor do they speak for all of us,” she says of this generation. ” However, she adamantly believes there exists a plethora of women representing divergent perspectives who are “waiting for their opportunity to be heard by the masses.” Rapsody waxes nostalgia beautifully in her response, referencing the sisterhood between female MCs that, to her, seems to have dissipated greatly. “It was about camaraderie…I think being in this business, you get so frustrated because there is no balance. It seems like there can only be one [female MC] at a time now.” MC Lyte takes that analysis further, asserting the notion that “there’s not room for just one — it’s just the gatekeepers have decided to put their attention elsewhere and the bottom line is the gatekeepers only get to keep the gates so long as they make the money for the companies because that’s what it’s all about. It’s a business.” The tides have changed within the culture, where what was once the ulterior motive for an industry built on creativity, now there is much more of an explicit focus on the bottom line. “We have surpassed just rocking for the block and now we are associated with companies that are investing a lot of money in the hopes of seeing a great return. They’re gonna bet on what has worked. And unfortunately for many female MCs, there are many more dollars that were spent than what was made,” says Lyte.
Rapsody’s point of view offers up some perspective about the contemporary environment as she – and likely many others like her – views it. “[I]t feels like today — in the business world anyway — when people call you a female rapper, it seems like they do it to separate you from the pack,” alluding to the idea that the qualifying agency of the word “female” before “MC” makes it an inherently “other than” signifier. Whereas male MCs are referred to simply as MCs, women are often identified by sex first. As she explains in her own words, “You’re boxed into a category of ‘I’m only gonna compare you to other females’ and not just in the grand scheme of things and where you’re at on the level with all artists. It feels like they do that to cheapen us. ‘” With an upcoming performance during Dilla Weekend in Miami, Rapsody is sure to prove why she’s a dope MC, female or otherwise.