Happy 30th Anniversary to MC Lyte’s second studio album Eyes On This, originally released October 3, 1989.
Lana “MC Lyte” Moorer stood shoulder to shoulder with the Golden Era’s best emcees when she released Lyte As A Rock (1988), her debut album. Less than a year and a half later, it became clear that she had the tools to build a sustained career with the release of Eyes On This. Dropping 30 years ago, Eyes On This showcases Lyte’s tenacity and increased confidence as an artist. It’s every bit as good as her first.
Lyte was a damn good emcee on Lyte As A Rock, but she’s even better on Eyes On This. Her lyrical abilities continued to improve, as she sounded even more confident. With the determination of a bulldog, she attacks each track, showing no mercy towards those who dare step to her. Production-wise, the musical backdrop of Eyes On This differs a bit from Lyte’s debut album. Labelmates and stepbrothers Audio Two remain prime musical architects for the album, while King of Chill (also a labelmate and member of The Alliance) has an increased presence.
The King of Chill-produced singles really give Eyes On This its distinctive sonic character. “Cha Cha Cha,” the album’s lead single, is also one of the best songs Lyte has ever released. Though the beat intentionally evokes old school hip-hop, sampling the Fearless Four’s “Rockin’ It” synthesizer-based loop and the drum/guitar break from Cerrone’s “Rocket In the Pocket,” it still feels futuristic even three decades later.
The album’s second single “Stop, Look, Listen” is a smoother exercise, as King of Chill expertly manipulates the opening bass note from Ecstasy, Pain, and Passion’s “Born To Lose You,” adding in atmospheric sounds and echoes. Lyte flexes a laid-back delivery, but still comes off ruthless as she raps, “’Cause when I start, I never give slack / You feel like a ‘kick me’ sign was pinned to your back.”
Other standout displays of verbal and production prowess include “Throwin’ Words At U,” “I Am the Lyte,” and “Funky Song,” the latter two produced by Grand Puba. The brief “Rhyme Hangover” is a highlight, as she testifies to the intoxicating powers of her raps over the breakdown from The Meters’ “Funky Miracle,” as her DJ K-Rock cuts up vocals from Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover.” Lyte encourages the audience to “let the beat just seep through the cracks and crannies of your brain—you can't remember your name.”
Being that this album was released in the late ’80s, the crack epidemic was very much front and center on rappers’ collective consciousness. Lyte explores the violence associated with the sales of narcotics on a pair of tracks.
“Cappucino” is the stranger of the two, about as surreal of an anti-drug song as was recorded during the time period. Production-wise, Marley Marl takes a much more reserved approach than his usual Juice Crew productions of the era, relying on muted drums and basslines, with occasional scratches. The song’s narrative is a little loose, but Lyte gets her point across. Essentially, the song is a dream sequence where Lyte is killed in a shootout while trying to pick up some “cappucino” (a.k.a. cocaine) and has a vision of the afterlife. It leads to a darkly profound revelation by Lyte, where she ponders if death is preferable to living, if only as an escape from the drug-fueled street violence.
“Not With a Dealer” is the more conventional story, centered on Lyte’s friend Cecilia and her boyfriend, the dealer Born Supreme (apparently the one who sold crack to Lyte’s ex-flame Sam on “Cram 2 Understand U”). Over similarly stripped down production, Lyte details how Born’s lifestyle constantly put Cecilia’s life in danger, and her hesitance to get out of the relationship due to love. Lyte comes firmly down on the side of living this time around, encouraging her to put breathing ahead of the romantic idea of love. Things come to a tragic end, as many anti-drug songs from the era tended to.
Lyte also continues her feud with rapper Antoinette with Eyes On This. The two had been trading barbs over the previous few years, starting with Antoinette’s “I Got An Attitude,” which was followed by Lyte’s “10% Dis.” The order of targeted attacks and responses gets a little convoluted from there, but it appears that Antoinette clapped back once again with songs like “Unfinished Business” and “Lights Out, Party’s Over,” the latter of which featured on her own debut album Who’s the Boss? (1989)
Lyte responded again with “Shut the Eff Up (Hoe),” which is probably the best song associated with their beef. Originally appearing as the B-side to the “Lyte As A Rock” 12-inch, Lyte dials things up, wondering, “Shall I ease into the disses, go 20, then 30 / Or shall I go straight to 80 percent?” before laying into Antoinette over the length of five (!?!?!?!?!) verses. Over a smooth loop of the Meters’ “Cardova,” punctuated by stabs of vocal samples, Lyte eviscerates her opponent, proclaiming, “You ain’t getting loose, you fucking jerk / And you ain’t getting paid, you’re just getting laid.”
Also included on Eyes On This is the second dis track, “Slave to the Rhythm.” Produced by PMD, the song has a much more urgent, chaotic feel, as claxons blare over a pulsating bassline. Lyte delivers her lyrics at a break-neck pace, boasting, “It took a whole album for you to try and dis me / And ha-ha-ha, slum bitch, you still missed me.”
On both cuts, Lyte carries on the hip-hop tradition of often not calling her target by name, reasoning, “I’d tell your name, but that would give you fame / And I ain’t out to give you what you don’t have.” Still, the feud went on a bit longer, as Antoinette responded again with “Fox That Rocks the Box” from her next (and final) album Burin’ At 20 Below (1990). Afterwards, the feud finally fizzled out as Lyte continued making music while Antoinette’s career faltered.
Though Eyes On This was a success for Lyte, it was her last album where she mostly focused on emcee shit. Moving forward, she shifted her style, opting for a more smoothed-out sound on Act Like You Know (1991), creating more crossover friendly offerings. Though it may not have been my cup of tea, it showed her commitment to growing as an artist. But for this album, she got better at what she was already good at, and proved that she had the skills to maintain her staying power in a competitive field.