MC Lyte is considered by most to be one of the greatest female emcees of all-time. Before becoming the voice for most of BET’s Award Shows and the voice behind a bunch of TV commercials (and might I add, more beautiful the older she gets), her sturdy feminine voice helped pioneer the way for the ladies in the mid-eighties, as she and Latifah led the charge for female rappers to be taken as serious on the mic as their male counterparts. The last time we checked in with MC Lyte was in ‘93 with her fourth album and final release on First Priority, Ain’t No Other. The album would render Lyte her first gold-selling single (“Ruff Neck”), but the album didn’t do as well commercially and, in my opinion, it was a bit uneven. Still in her mid-twenties, Lyte was looking for a new label situation and eventually would land at East/West/Electra where she would release her fifth album, Bad As I Wanna B.
MC Lyte would recruit SoSo Def head and music mogul, Jermaine Dupri to oversee Bad As I Wanna B as the executive producer, and he and Rashad Smith would produce most of the album’s ten tracks. Bad would reach fifty-nine on the Billboard Top 200 and bear fruit to two gold-selling singles, but the album itself received mixed reception from the critics and I don’t know if the streets was even checking for Lyte by ‘96.
I’m very familiar with the singles from Bad, but I have never listened to the full album since finding it in the dollar bin at a used bookstore several years ago. But like they say, there’s no time like the present, so…lets go back in time.
Keep On, Keepin’ On – The first song of the night was also the lead single from Bad. JD builds the slick instrumental around an interpolation of MJ’s “Liberian Girl”, as Lyte plays a manizer, flexing her feminine flirt that gets mildly dirty: “I get loose and produce large amounts of juice, can you get use, to that or do you need a boost, of energy, to enter me and get it on… beat on my drum if you feel the need to, as I proceed to, open up and feed you.” JD (who also receives a co-writing credit for this song along with Lyte) adds discreet adlibs throughout the song and Xscape takes care of hook duties, giving the shimmering track an even shinier R&B feel. Lyte has never sounded so sexy and enticing on a record, and I enjoyed it. Thanks, Jermaine.
Have U Ever – Lyte puts the sexy shit to the side and sets out to prove to all “the ruffnecks and hoodrats” (her words, not mine) that she’s still lyrical and has maintained her street edge. Am I the only one that found it hilarious that during the second verse when Lyte shouts out Da Brat and asks her to holla if she’s down when our hostess that JD’s protégé gives no response? I mean, they could have at least let her give a quick “what up” adlib. Speaking of JD, his bland backdrop does nothing to breathe life into Lyte’s decent rhymes.
Everyday – This was the second single released from Bad. Lyte comes off like a arrogant pimptress as she lists her needs and requirements for any would be suitors: “I got a wish list that must be fulfilled, and you gets none until I get my toes sucked, and my eyebrows plucked, I need my car waxed and my floor shellac, I need my back rubbed, and the bubbles in the tub, that float me to the bed so that we can make love.” JD hooks up another smooth and pristine R&B bop (and receives another co-writing credit), but this time only Kandi Burruss from Xscape drops by to sing the hook, completing this satisfactory groove.
Cold Rock A Party – This was the third single released from Bad. Well, kind of. The album features a super mid Rashad Smith produced instrumental that our hostess uses to get off a few brags and boasts. The “Bad Boy Remix,” which is built around a loop from Diana Ross’ “Upside Down” and features new verses from Lyte and cameos from Puffy (of course) and Missy Elliott, was the version used for the single that most of you probably remember. It wound up being a great business decision, as it would propel the single to gold status, plus the remix sounds a thousand percent better than the O.G. mix.
TRG (The Rap Game) – Lyte comes off like the seasoned veteran that she was by 1996, sharing some of her wisdom and own experiences in the fickle and fleeting rap game: “I got trapped in the rap game at sixteen, and saw it’s no more than a crap game, know what I mean? Like when you feel you shake ’em right they fake roll snake eyes, in this industry that’s how quick niggas die, through my eyes it’s like Russian roulette, never do you know when you’re about to get wet, so you should stay set so you don’t fall and go under, have people saying I wonder what happened to him or her.” Lyte’s commentary was pretty interesting, and even though JD’s interpolation of a portion of Barry White’s classic, “I’m Gonna Love You,” sounds stripped of its soul, I still dug the polished synthy instrumental.
One On One – This record finds Lyte yearning and lusting after one unnamed gentleman but based on the trail of clues she leaves throughout the song, I think I figured out who he is. Let’s run through them, shall we: He’s been on the cover of Vibe Magazine. He’s starred in movies (“Hollywood got a hold of that behind”). He has a woman/wife. He has a nice body (she longs for the opportunity to rub his backbone, deltoids and biceps). He’s a musical artist (“I like the video you got out, the song is butter”). It has to be LL Cool J (Hit me in the comments if you agree or if you have another possible candidate). The Rashad Smith/ Goldenboy produced instrumental is dope and sounds great behind Lyte’s riddled rhymes.
Zodiac – Lyte (or her co-writing friend, credited as Allah) got the bright idea (no pun intended) to make a song about zodiac signs. The only problem is none of her rhymes sound the least bit interesting and JD’s instrumental is even less effective.
Druglord Superstar – Lyte plays the role of a fed-up girlfriend, whose drug dealing boyfriend’s lifestyle is starting to affect hers and she uses the song’s three verses to outline his evil deeds and exploits. After leaving Lyte hanging on “Have You Ever,” Da Brat stops by to play Lyte’s supportive friend, adding a few aggressive adlibs and helps with the hook, but no verse, which I’m sure they could have easily fit into the song and storyline. The hook is kind of random, but the urgent feel of Rashad Smith’s instrumental works well backing Lyte’s semi-interesting storyline.
Keep On, Keepin’ On (Remix) – Same lyrics as the original with a way less interesting instrumental, and Xscape changes up the hook just enough to not get a fuck.
Two Seater – If LL can swing an episode in the backseat of his Jeep, then why can’t Lyte get freaky in her two-seat coupe? Over the course of three verses, Lyte mixes sexual innuendos with car references (hi-lariously boasting that her car has “automatic locks” and “newly installed shocks.” Oh, you fancy, huh?), but whatever you do, don’t try to spark a blunt while in her fancy ride. R. Kelly is credited for the lifeless backdrop that sounds like an unfinished idea and Lyte ‘s hook is horrendous: “If you wanna ride good life, baby, you can’t smoke the weed-a, in my two seata.” Come on, Lyte.
Bad As I Wanna B finds a matured MC Lyte embracing her feminine side and sexuality, and out to prove that she’s still a viable emcee. While I’m sure the recruitment of JD to produce and oversee the project and Puff Daddy’s work on the “Cold Rock A Party (Bad Boy Remix)” were more calculated moves than organic, the choice paid off commercially for Lyte and the polished easily digestible R&B saturated singles are pleasing to the ear, even if they neglect her hardcore fanbase. Ironically, most of the songs on Bad that are designed to appeal to the hardcore fanbase suffer from production that’s plain as vanilla and drier than Tyrone Biggums’ lips, while Lyte struggles to find anything interesting or entertaining to rap about, even with the help of a few writers.
Bad As I Wanna B is far from terrible, but in a year packed with so many heavy-hitting albums, it sounds a little…Lyte.