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.
—MC Lyte
mc lyte 02.jpg 
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.

* * *

mc lyte 01.jpg
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?        

millie j cover.jpg
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!
mc lyte jammin.jpg 
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 emoticon and couldn't sit normally for a week. Funny how a simple word can make your ass hurt.)

—Mtume ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 4th, 2005 at 1:02 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “M.C. LYTE / “Paper Thin””

Nadir Says:
December 7th, 2005 at 11:59 pm

Back in early “88” there was a cat who got some trivial question right on one of New Orleans’ local so called “r&b/rap” stations. The prize, announced by one of the more astute radio personalities working at the time, was a copy of MC Lyte’s debut album: Lyte As A Rock. The major oversight this “dj” (and I would say his name, but that would give him fame!) made was stating that the caller had just won a copy of … “A new cool brother named MAC LIT. This big brother’s rap is bad!” I guess if you didn’t look carefully at this rap classics album cover, and didn’t have any phonetic bone in your body, but a whole lot of sexism in your misinformation, it would be easy to mistake that “big brother” from the cover as being one of the most deadliest mc’s or all time. Well dj’s make mistakes, and young teenagers stop listening to radio stations for a long time.

Antionette was the name of the mc that got her career ruined by lyte. They had some verbal sparring that lasted a few songs, until the infamous b-side “Hoe shut the eff up” came out. Back in those rap credibility days, if you were dissed correctly, your career as an mc could have been taken away. There are 2 interesting points about this particular battle. 1. Antionette was a pretty good mc. 2. Lyte actually beat her with her first response: 10% dis (which is on this classic too). “Hoe shut the eff up” erased Antionette off of the hip hop map, and put Lyte in that elite category of being called one of the most cutthroat battle mc’s to ever done it in recorded history.

Kiini Says:
December 8th, 2005 at 7:09 pm

Well I have so much to say about M.C. Lyte.

Listening to I Cram To Understand You right now, I’m struck by how much is in the song. It is not a bunch of music with a light sprinkling of lyrics, Lyte has a lot to say. Lots of words, lots of different structures, telling a whole story.

Why do I love light? Well she’s so good at putting people in their place. In fact, I think that’s her genre. Putting people in their place rap. All these classic cuts are in the vintage rap cadence… her cadence in I Cram to Understand You reminds me of The Bridge.

One of my favorite Lyte songs–more for the lyrics than the music–is Cha Cha Cha, which by the way, she rhymes with “Mardi Gras”…

You can cha cha cha to this Mardi Gras
Because I’m the dopest female that you heard this far
And it does get better, the voice gets wetter
Nobody gets hurt (as long as you let her)
Do my thing with an 89 swing…

and on and on and on so flows and flows against an unnamed antgonist who may as well as be Antoinette.

She rhymes about hurting the girl so bad that she’s in the hosptial, but then reminds her…

Visiting time, I think it’s on Sunday
But notice you only get one day to shine
The rest of the week is mine
And I’ll blind them with the courage that the others have yet to find…

She is the Lyte, that will blind the sight,
but the rhythm will still guide you through the night!

Gotta run, will share more on Lyte later….

Kiini Says:
December 8th, 2005 at 9:58 pm

O.K., so when I read about Lyte demolilshing someone on wax, I mentally went straight to the duet she has on Common’s Like Water for Chocolate. I don’t know what the plan for that duet was, but she SLAYS common. At the end, he just has to exuse himself b/c he can’t do nothing with her. She just don’t cooperate. She coming up with all her side schemes.

O.K. the pretense is Common is a pimp, but a pimp with a side message of taking Lyte as a poor street prostitute higher… spiritually, emotionally, etc. I think Common is trying to elevate the pimp conversation into something positive, like he’s going to be a positive pimp. In his lyrics he seems to be high on his own pimp juice explaining how he’s trying to save Lyte’s character and how he wants to expand her mind, etc. He seems to fascinated with the fact that he is talking about something different than the next pimp.

But, it is impossible to elevate the pimp conversation. He’s still talking about pimping. Lyte gets that you can’t do pimp shit nowhere but in the gutter. Lyte’s rhymes are hard edged about survival and when she notices how soft this wanna be pimp is, she strikes out at him as quick as lightning… saying she’s going to string him by his navel and make him work for her. She’s been looking for an abstract ho.


O.k., so none of this is going to save our nation, even though Common wants to be a nation saving pimp. But damn if a hard edged woman taking no prisoners and kicking an MC off his own record ain’t a joy to witness.

ekere Says:
December 10th, 2005 at 7:13 am

Lyte is classic. Paper Thin is timeless. Lyte could take out most of these cats on the radio today. And hey, in the Paper Thin video doesn’t she say “I just have this feelin, I wanna take the subway,” so she leaves her ride, gets on the train , sees her man with someone else, and then…it’s over. Ah, those were the good ol’ days of rap. 🙂

April 21st, 2006 at 6:24 pm


DarkDepth Says:
May 15th, 2006 at 7:06 pm

I mean she’s the only female I’ve heard tell stories. From I Cram 2 Understand, Cappucino, Not Wit A Dealer, Lola From The Copa, Poor Georgie, Like A Virgin, Druglord Superstar, etc.

I mean she battles, got the best voice, comes hard every era, motivating students and women, she has fun with records, she doesnt glorify drugs and alcohol. In fact she has been able to pull street credibility and still totally demonize it because of her level of seriousness, self respect and skill.

Everybody from 2Pac, BIG, Nas, Chuck D, Talib Kweli, Bahamadia, AZ has shown her love in their music, videos, etc. She is well deserved of the respect and its sad she’s not considered in the top10-15.

Much love the New Jersey but the true Queen is from Brooklyn.

morenajoy Says:
December 11th, 2006 at 12:31 pm

i love the video but did she have to do that to my boy cedric…. love you baby!

Kiana Pierce Says:
July 19th, 2007 at 2:38 pm

Does anyone know where they sampled mc lyte – cha cha cha beat from. i know it was an old school song fro the 80’s but i cant find what song she sampled the beat from.. if you do know plz email me yella_belle2007@yahoo.com

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