M.C. LYTE / “Paper Thin”
You know what, I feel like everybody’s opinion is needed. Every point of view is necessary to the game, because it creates a balance. But I do feel as though every woman should be allowed to speak her mind and a lot of the times these female emcees have been put out by male emcees or by male producers, so a lot of it is not what they feel from the heart. So, I just want to see the women stand up and come from their heart and talk about the topics that they want to talk about, and not so much the topics other people want to hear.
On “Paper Thin,” Lana ‘M.C. Lyte’ Moorer ably combines the womanly bravura of an Old School blues singer, the hard-edged egoism of modern rap and the improvisational freedom of a jazz instrumentalist. The setup: an amorous young man makes the mistake of telling Lyte he loves her. The conflict: she’s knows he’s full of shit. The resolution: she rips him a new one.
Nearly every line is memorable—Lyte’s rejoinders are precision-guided and highly volatile, like missiles—but the last verse is a real piece of work:
I take precaution when choosing my mate
I do not touch until the third or fourth date
Then maybe we'll kiss on the fifth or sixth
Time that that we meet, ‘mmaah,’ like that
‘Cause a date without a kiss is so incomplete
And then maybe I'll let you play with my feet
You could suck the big toe and play with the middle…
It’s shit-talking of the highest order: arrogant, dexterous, funny, and so, so swinging. If you can sit still through this, there’s probably no help for you. (Extra points for Lyte and Co. for showcasing the dub version back-to-back with the vocal track.)
For “Shut The Eff Up! (Hoe),” Lyte realigns the artillery; this time, it’s a young lady in the crosshairs. The female MC in question is either Antoinette or Anquette (I don’t remember which and Lyte takes care not to mention her adversary by name. Not out of fear, but because, as Lyte rapped, “I’d tell your name but that would give you fame / And I ain’t out to give you what you don’t have.”) Whichever An---ette it was, the point is that the girl made the mistake of insulting Lyte on wax.
Back in ’88, one way a new MC could make a name for his or herself was to write a record dissing an already-established MC. There was nothing violent or dangerous about it; it was simply lyrical pugilism, a holdover from the park days when the loudest sound system and the most entertaining MC won the right to rock the crowd. But, dissing another rapper is like playing with fire: you can burn them, certainly, but you may just as easily get burned yourself. From the opening epitaph, “I think it’s time I start feeling bitchy” (an acidic aside by the Queen of Shit-Talking herself, Millie Jackson) and the scratched-in vocal drops (“Hot damn, ho!” / “There’s gon’ be some shit”) we already know who’s going to be doing the burning and who’s going to end up charred and smoking.
Both “Paper Thin” and “Shut The Eff Up!” make references (lyrical and sampled, respectively) to Lyte’s debut single, “I Cram To Understand U (Sam),” a record Lyte reputedly composed when she was all of fifteen years old. (A believable story since Lyte was still only sixteen when “I Cram To Understand You” actually hit the record store racks.) The song begins with an immortal couplet and gets better from there.
I used to be in love with a guy named Sam
I don’t know why because he had a head like that of a clam
Lyte’s narrative benefits from its unconventional plot structure—she tells the aftermath first, then, in the second verse, she takes us along with her on an eventful first visit to Sam’s abode.
Next month, I finally went to his house
I walked into the door, there was a girl on the couch
I said, uh, “Who’s the frog? The bump on the log?
“You chump, you punk / How could you do me wrong?
“Sing your sad song about you’re loving so strong”
You said, “Wait, Lyte. Check a fuse. The girl is my cousin”
Your brother agreed but later said that she wasn’t
As the record continues, Lyte’s talent for story-telling—complete with verse-by-verse cliffhangers, red herrings and side plots—causes you to listen with a bit of a breathless feeling. At first, Lyte’s tale develops along the typical ‘boy done girl wrong’ storyline with which we’re all familiar. Eventually though, we realize that there’s a bit of a mystery involved. Sam is up to something, but what exactly, we don’t know. Like the rest of the record, the payoff is first-rate.
-Mtume ya Salaam
Note: “Paper Thin” and “I Cram To Understand You (Sam)” are from Lyte’s debut album Lyte As A Rock. “Shut The Eff Up! (Hoe)” was originally a vinyl-only b-side from one of the Lyte As A Rock singles, but was smartly reissued as part of Lyte’s second album Eyes On This. Or, you can skip all the completist stuff and just get The Very Best Of M.C. Lyte which includes all three tracks.
What do Millie Jackson & Bob Marley have in common?
Y'all know who that opening voice sample is on "Shut The Eff Up! (Hoe)" don’t you—das Millie J.! And in case you are culturally deprived and ain’t never heard the word from Ms. J., here is a cut that is one of the funniest/nastiest classical music tracks ever recorded. Period. End of story.
Seriously, the whole thing about cursing on rap records, well, you know that’s been done to death before and moreover done in all kinds of creative was, which is something M.C. Lyte obviously knows, hence she samples the Godmother (or Nan-nan, as we would say in New Orleans) of female MCs. Millie was a seriously capable vocalist but also had a Red Foxx streak running through her heart (or, knowing Millie’s repertoire, it was probably running thru some other part of her anatomy). Anyway, this focus is on M.C. Lyte right now but when I heard the sample I just couldn’t resist dropping Millie's cut.
Hey, Mtume, tell the folk about when you and your adolescent siblings used to crack up behind listening to the Millie Jackson Live & Uncensored LP on Tennessee Street down CTC (cross the canal) in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans!
The other piece I want to drop is two versions of a Bob Marley remix that features MC Lyte. Sis was always serious and I forever likes that about her. Just check it out, y'all: Lyte is heavy.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
A simple word can make your ass hurt
Yeah, it's true. We grew up listening to the "Phuck U Symphony." And, Richard Pryor's Live On The Sunset Strip. And, Eddie Murphy's first two comedy albums (the second one was funnier, if I remember correctly). And, an LP by some cat named Dap 'Sugar' Willie. (The name, if not the LP title, is unforgettable.) Many, if not most, of the jokes, we didn't get. (I realized that in retrospect only.) But we listened to them over and over and over because there was actual, real (are you ready for this?) CURSING!!!! To kids, it was like being handed the Holy Grail. Yes, we were actually allowed to hear real sex talk and cursing.
Now, before y'all get all envious of my childhood that was, keep the big picture in mind. We may have been allowed to select our own records, but temper that with no television, no candy, no ice cream, no cake (except carrot cake, which almost doesn't count), no meat, no mainstream movies, and absolutely, positively no cursing at each other. (I called my sister, Asante, a 'bitch' once and couldn't sit normally for a week. Funny how a simple word can make your ass hurt.)
—Mtume ya Salaam
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