Rapper MC Lyte was the keynote speaker at the Black Cultural Dinner organized by the Black Students Union (BSU) as their signature event for Black History Month on February 23.
The Black Cultural dinner is an annual event held by BSU to provide a space that highlights the accomplishments of people in the African-American community.
“The purpose of the dinner is to inspire and empower all people, not just African Americans. This is a safe space for us all to connect and to feed off one another’s energy,” said Ciara Swann, BSU’s publicist.
MC Lyte began her lecture stating her love for hip hop, a genre in which she was a pioneer. She was the first female rapper to release a solo album, Lyte as Rock, in 1988.
“Hip hop is love, is charming, is inspirational, is motivating, is crucial, is necessary, is flavored, is revolutionary,” Lyte said.
Currently, Lyte is also a motivational speaker, an entrepreneur and is active in social projects such as anti-violence campaigns.
“Since the theme of the evening was Arts and Activism, Lyte was the perfect choice,” Camille Watts, BSU vice president said, “She uses her talents to spread truth, her opinions and her beliefs, and that is very inspiring to us all.”
At the beginning of the lecture, Lyte spoke about her first encounter with music. She was visiting her grandparents when she heard a rap record playing on a radio outside her house.
“I just heard that voice that was so captivating, I thought, ‘I got to be in there’,” Lyte said.
She wrote her first song in 1982, when she was 12 years old. The song was about being in love with a boy addicted to cocaine. It was recorded years later in 1986.
Lyte’s said her mission was to deliver positive messages to youth. Her key principles are, “Stay as far as you can from anything related to drugs, never let people take advantage of you and stand up for something.”
Content with the work she has accomplished she added, “It is a beautiful thing when you are living your purpose, because it is like working without working.”
Contrasting the meaning behind the past and present generations of of hip hop, Lyte said hip hop in the 1980s was about helping the community.
“We said what we wanted, talked about issues. We were courageous warriors who stood in the front line to deliver truth,” she said.
With regards to the type of hip hop music produced today Lyte said, “The change in hip hop has resulted in many children being led to think that life is one big party. Kids are beginning to think that being the dude that makes it rain in the club is something to aspire to be,” she said.
She also stressed the misogyny present in many songs.
“They disrespect every woman they have ever laid eyes on. They are soon to have their own daughters who will have to fight for the respect they deserve, not knowing her fathers perpetuated hate many years prior,” she said.
Lyte also described the hip hop industry as a “money-making machine.” She talked about how record companies arrange contracts with radio stations or magazines to display the artists.
“Those rappers seem powerful but are powerless because the power now belongs to the machine, to the system,” she said, “They have given up on defending their brothers and sisters and have succumbed to just the delivering of words that rhyme. Having real power means making choices that involve more than just yourself.”
Despite her critiques, Lyte seemed hopeful about the future of hip hop.
“Hip hop goes through these twists and turns, so you will be sure to find the hip hop that you love. There is so much music out there that feeds the soul. It’s just not in the Top 10,” she said.
Several of Lyte’s fans sat in the audience while she gave her lecture. Brandon Mendiola, 47, who works in the Upward Bound Program at USF, brought two of his records to the event.
“She’s a legend. An artist that is not ashamed of her body of work in the past twenty years. It’s great for young people to be exposed to her work,” he said.