Our recurring column ‘Lest We Forget’ is devoted to revisiting albums that have been unfairly overlooked or marginalized within the broader critical and commercial context of our favorite artists’ discographies. We hope that our recollections shine a newfound light on these underappreciated gems from the past, and as always, we encourage you, our readers, to weigh in with your own perspectives and memories in the comments below.
Lana “MC Lyte” Moorer remained a durable emcee throughout hip-hop’s golden era. Starting with Lyte As a Rock (1988), she built a catalogue based on her rock-solid rhyming skills and understated but commanding vocal presence. In the beginning of her career, as a centerpiece of First Priority Records, she presented herself as a bit of a tomboy, ready to hang with the fellas and well equipped to fire off a few murderous verses.
Lyte made a slight misstep with Act Like You Know (1991); the production style was a little too smoothed out and there were a few too many pop grabs. Consequently, she probably over course-corrected a bit with Ain’t No Other, embracing the rough-and-rugged aesthetic presented by artists like Naughty By Nature, Onyx, and Black Moon. Mostly it works, but occasionally it sounds forced. Regardless, it was a bigger chart and commercial success than her previous album.
Given that Ain’t No Other’s sound palette skews closer towards the Onyxs and Naughty By Natures of the world, it’s striking that a good chunk of the production was handled by well-known New Jack Swing and R&B producers, including many from Teddy Riley’s camp. Other producers include frequent Lyte collaborators/First Priority labelmates Audio Two, Sir Scratch and K-Kut of Main Source, and Backspin, a well-known New York City based mixtape emcee.
All of these producers help give the album the grimier, boom-bap sound. It’s strongest on songs like the title track, ”Brooklyn,” and “One Nine Nine Three.” The jazzy, busy “What’s My Name Yo” would sound at home on a Gang Starr album, as Lyte executes verbal gymnastics over a horn-driven track, rapping, “It’s a big thing when we hang cause we rip when we wreck / When we hit, what the heck? We be putting corny n****s in check / Seek what I reap, follow you’ll learn or get burned / I ain’t afraid to buck and earn.”
Ain’t No Other is best known for “Ruffneck,” the album’s first single. The song plays like an inverted version of Apache’s “Gangsta Bitch,” with Lyte extolling the virtues of the Tims and Carhartt wearing bad boys stalking the streets of New York and cities across the nation. She adds that she’s looking for a certified hard rock with a heart of gold, rapping, “Evil grin with a mouth full of gold teeth / Starting beef is how he spells relief / Acting like he don't care / But all I gotta do is beep him 911 and he’ll be there.”
For all of Lyte’s efforts to re-brand herself as “one bad-ass bitch from Brooklyn,” one of the album’s smoothest tracks, “I Go On,” Ain’t No Other’s second single, is arguably its strongest, as Lyte flows effortlessly over a loop from Anita Baker’s “Been So Long.” Though she spends the first two verses on the prowl for (temporary) male companionship, she uses her third verse to target domestic violence, making it clear that no should lay a hand on her under any circumstances.
One key aspect that differentiates Ain’t No Other from Lyte’s previous albums is how fully she embraces her sexuality. Previously Lyte had treaded lightly while discussing her physical intimacies, but here she boasts freely and openly about her sexual conquests and her lack of desire for a long-term relationship.
Some of these songs work better than others. The funny and audacious “Lil Paul” shows Lyte taunting her cheating ex with the tales of bedding his best friend, the nominal “Paul” and her plans to seduce the ex’s younger brother. The Audio Two-produced “Fuck That Motherfucking Bullshit” is less successful, an over-the-top and extremely explicit faux “battle” cut between Lyte and Big V, her longtime bodyguard.
“Never Heard Nothin’ Like This” harkens back to Lyte’s late ’80s period, especially musically, as she brags and boasts over a bare-basics drum track and guitar licks provided by Audio Two. She spends a good deal of her second verse cursing out sucker emcees in Spanish, French, and Pig Latin. “Can I Get Some Dap?” is a similarly back-to-basics track, this time produced by Backspin. Lyte runs down her history of rocking mics, demanding respect for her accomplishments and making a name for herself on the basis of her lyrical talent.
Lyte is also known for her aptitude with dis tracks, and on Ain’t No Other she includes one for the ages, targeting Roxanne Shanté on “Steady Fucking.” A year earlier, Shanté had released the single “Big Mama,” where she targeted the majority of women emcees recording music. She was particularly vicious towards Lyte, calling her a lesbian who needed “a good piece of dick.” Lyte responded in kind.
Lyte has said she named her first dis track towards Antoinette “10% Dis,” because she only used 10% of what she could have said. I have to imagine she went the full 100% on Shanté with “Steady Fucking.” The Audio Two-produced track is one of the harshest and meanest dis tracks that I’ve ever heard. Lyte incinerates Shanté, calling her a “low down dirty loser,” claiming her child is a crack baby, threatening to hit her with a Land Cruiser (twice), insinuating that Shanté and her mother regularly fight over performing oral sex on her father, and asserting that she encouraged her uncle to molest her. The utter contempt in Lyte’s voice further sells the animosity.
Lyte continued to make music throughout the ’90s, shedding the grimy aesthetic, but keeping her lyrical edge. Even though keeping things gritty didn’t sound like it came naturally to Lyte, she still performs admirably throughout Ain’t No Other. She succeeded in shifting her approach while staying true to her core musical values, ultimately coming through with her respect intact.