Picks and Pans Review: Act Like You Know

updated 01/27/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/27/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

MC Lyte

Rap was born in the Bronx about 18 years ago. Like a typical teenager, it's going through some growing pains. Until the rap explosion of the late '80s, there were fewer artists, and one style tended to die out before another took over. Now a rainbow of styles coexist, from raunch to pop, and rappers have to make tough choices between mainstream appeal and street credibility.

MC Lyte hasn't quite been able to make up her mind. With her second album in 1989, Lyte, just 19, maintained her reputation as an insult-hurling tough talker who rapped to hard, simple beats. Now she's getting more sophisticated, but she can't let go of the old bad-girl mode.

The album's first half includes songs with mild curse-free lyrics, often with an R&B chorus or sampled bits of pop music. Bel Biv DeVoe's producers, Richard Wolf and Bret Mazur, add lush background tracks with the potential to lure older listeners.

The second half is another matter. A variety of producers, including Queen Latifah's cohort, Mark the 45 King, provide simpler street beats, and Lyte peppers her lyrics with enough raunch and expletives to earn an R rating.

By trying to have it both ways, Lyte risks pleasing no one. That's too bad, because both her modes show off consistent skills. She's a great storyteller. "Like a Virgin" borrows the Madonna title to spin a morality tale about a young girl who decides to be more cautious when her lover drops her after their first sexual encounter. In other songs, Lyte bluntly expresses lust and describes herself—à la male rappers—as being in complete control of her lovers. So closely does she guard herself from expressing gentle feelings that her range is limited.

Lyte's two-sided style ought to appeal to teenagers. Like Lyte and rap music itself, they find themselves in a confusing middle ground. (First Priority)

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