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07/23/2015 08:13 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Hip-Hop Pioneer MC Lyte Demanded Her Place In The Industry

The music industry isn't always the most supportive community -- but female rapper MC Lyte is doing her part to change that. She's come to the defense of fellow female artists like Iggy Azalea and is the founder of Hip Hop Sisters Network, a non-profit that works to promote positive images of women.

In an interview for Oprah.com's "Who Am I" web series, the hip-hop pioneer reflects on how far we've come and why it's so important for women to support each other.

"It's a dream come true to see this many women who rap," says Lyte, who was the first female hip-hop artist to release a full-length album. "We don't see so many on the front lines, but there are so many of them that have a voice.

"It's very powerful and it's empowering," she adds.

When Lyte first burst onto the scene in the 1980s, she faced an uphill battle trying to stake her place in an industry with very few women. "I think to step into this hip-hop game at 16 years old, and all of these older guys [were] dominating this industry and this field/genre of music, and I just came in like, 'Hey, I want my space, give it to me,'" she says.

Though Lyte has now found a community of supportive women (Faith Evans, Jada Pinkett Smith and Lil Mama are among the Hip Hop Sister Network's advisory board members), she wasn't always so lucky. "The business that I've grown up in, you don't see a lot of loyalty happening," Lyte says. "People jump ship, people move around, people talk behind your backs -- even the ones who are supposed to be a part of the mission and the movement you're creating. To be on the receiving end of disloyalty is one that for sure has led me to be the way that I am, and that is to be true to the people that I'm with."

Some bad apples aside, Lyte says she's also had great people in her life who kept true to their promises. Those people, she says, have shaped who she is today.

"All you have is your word," Lyte says. "So to me, to keep my word is extremely important."

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