Joining the likes of David Banner, Bun B and 9th Wonder, the legendary MC Lyte is lecturing on hip-hop literacy at Ohio State. The Second Annual Hip-Hop Literacies Conference began yesterday (May 9th) at 9am and will finish with MC Lyte performing on Friday night. The theme of this year’s conference concerns itself with the globalization of popular black culture, targeting socio-economic issues affecting youth culture.
Other keynote speakers include Ronald Jackson (professor of African-American studies), Mark Anthony Neal (professor of black popular culture) and Marcyliena Morgan (professor of African and African-American studies).
“In the end, not only did hip-hop start off representing youth that had been ignored and abandoned, but hip-hop continues to do that. Generations that follow legacies can continue to contribute to the world as creatively, politically and socially aware as possible.” – Marcyliena Morgan
We’re at a point where we need to understand that as community, we have the power to affect and change society using hip-hop culture as our vehicle to achieve. We have the power to use words and art to better the future. MC Lyte spoke on the subject with the Columbus Dispatch last week, check it out below.
Q: You’ll give the keynote speech, joining academics from Harvard, Duke and the University of Illinois. What ground will you cover?
A: My message is definitely consistent: Hip-hop is not just about the music; it’s about the culture — a family and a community. I’ve been doing it now for over two decades. I’ve seen the before and the after, the then and the now. We know that words have an enormous amount of power. When those thoughts are brought to life, it can potentially expand someone’s world or shut it down. I will call to action the level of responsibility for people to get behind the hip-hop that makes sense. Let’s disassociate with the music that doesn’t. It doesn’t speak to us; it doesn’t make us better.
Q: How do you view rap music as a force for magnifying the black urban experience as well as prompting social change?
A: I think it was necessary in terms of knowing that there are ghettos and disenfranchised neighbourhoods all across the world. It got out a cry to the world: Look where we are . Get away from the violence; don’t hang out with the drug dealers. Find your solace.
Q: What artists first inspired you?
A: I could go all the way to The Message (1982) by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. It just depicted the ghetto so accurately. It took me on a voyage; I was maybe 8 years old. Had I not seen what he was talking about, it certainly painted a picture. For those who never saw what the Bronx looked like, he was able to create that imagery. And White Lines (Don’t Do It) by Melle Mel, about this drug called crack: I think it was a lesson for me, just listening to his music. It was the reason I attacked drugs so intensely in (the 1988 song) I Cram To Understand U (Sam).
Q: What’s your take on today’s hip-hop landscape?
A: It’s just disheartening. Hip-hop has produced our modern-day heroes. To now be at a drought with someone speaking not just on the events of the community but for the community, to not have an artist at the helm so we can have a positive outcome, . . . it’s sad.
Q: To what do you credit your breakthrough in a male-dominated field as well as your confidence as a lyricist?
A: My mother had a lot to do with it. At that time, I was unaware of anything holding me back — which is probably why I’m still here today. My goal wasn’t just to rap. My message over my entire career has been to tell others to stand up for something: Don’t be treated like a doormat. Speak your mind.
Q: What has changed for women in hip-hop?
A: When I came in, record labels didn’t know anything. They let us do whatever we wanted; we wrote the music, chose the tracks, (endorsed) our own projects. It was a free-for-all, creatively. Now, if they see one thing working — not just for females but artists in general — they want to cookie-cutter that scenario and you wind up getting a bunch of clones. I think the barriers are just staying authentic, to keep being in control of what it is that they want to promote and the message they want to stick to.