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MC LYTE: “Act Like You Know”, <i> First Priority Music/Atlantic</i>

How best to describe MC Lyte? She’s saltier than Salt-N-Pepa, less regal than Queen Latifah, not as political as Public Enemy, and almost as profane as Richard Pryor. Hailed by some as the first lady of rap on the strength of her catchy, hard-edged 1988 hit, “I Cram to Understand You (Sam),” Lyte looked more than capable of holding her own and presenting a most welcome female perspective.

On Lyte’s new album, that personality and point of view come across loud and clear. That’s a plus on the jazz-inflected “Eyes Are the Soul,” in which AIDS, crack addiction and teen pregnancy are topics treated with nonjudgmental empathy. But elsewhere, Lyte dumps the social concerns, particularly on a spinoff of Spoonie Gee’s frankly aggressive “Take It Off,” and then later as she details a first lover’s sexual shortcomings on “Like a Virgin” (not the Madonna hit).

There is a unique openness to the way she expresses her raunchier nature. But if she’s aiming to become the rap world’s answer to a female Richard Pryor, she’s got a long way to go before she can match his originality and profundity.

Rating: * *

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