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- American rapper, DJ, actress and entrepreneur
“It takes a legend to raise a star.”
There’s possibly never been a more apt tagline for a television series than "Partners in Rhyme's." Titan of hip-hop MC Lyte returns to TV in the new comedy (not to be confused with the British show of the same name) now streaming on the AMC Networks-owned platform ALLBLK (not to be confused with the New Zealand national rugby team).
In the series, Lyte plays rap legend Lana Crawford, who is faced with a huge tax bill, declining job prospects and a niece who’s a rapper with dreams of being more than just internet famous. (Precious Way, who also appears as a musical scion on ABC’s “Queens,” plays the niece, Luscious T.) Lyte drew from her experiences and those of others to inform her character, who decides to take a job at the record label Prosper to propel her niece to stardom.
Playing Lana seems effortless to Lyte. Perhaps it comes easy because she has lived with the material for a while. Producer Wayne Conley (“Queen Sugar”) brought an idea to her in the ’90s for a show about a rap legend ghostwriting for other artists.
“I think we just lost sight of it,” Lyte says of the time it took from idea to reality. She tweaked the idea with the busy Conley’s blessing and pitched it with Bentley Kyle Evans (“Martin”), who co-wrote and directed the series’ first episode.
For those keeping score at home, that makes Lyte a star, co-creator, executive producer and even co-writer on the series. That’s a lot of hats, after a lot of time. But she wouldn’t have it any other way. “When God ordains something to be done, it's done,” she says. “So there were no hiccups.
“It couldn't have been at a better time, or any other time,” she says. “Because I don't think I would have been ready to hold all of those titles. But the years of perseverance and also showing up on other shows as supporting characters. I saw how the system worked, I saw how casting was done and lighting design and set design and all of those things, I had such an interest in just the formulation of a show and the magic that goes behind it. Or should I say — the work that goes behind it to make it look like magic.”
Lyte has a long list of credits, and “Partners in Rhyme” is reminiscent of her role as a record executive in the early 2000s sitcom “Half & Half.” For years, she’s been busy providing voice-overs for awards shows on BET and then — surprise — this year’s Emmys (“exciting”). And fans should prepare for new music from MC Lyte, given her biggest title of all: rap legend.
“Naturally,” says Lyte. “We just want to bring a win home.”
ALLBLK, launched in 2015 (as the Urban Movie Channel) by BET founder Robert L. Johnson, bills itself as "inclusively but unapologetically Black," and MC Lyte is by no means the streamer's only attraction. The production values may be uneven, as are some of the plot choices and some of the acting. But there are names you know who can be counted on to bring their A-game, including Brian White, Wesley Jonathan and Jackee Harry. Indeed, as with any streaming service — and that includes the big ones with their big libraries — there is good and not-so-good among ALLBLK's offerings. To help you sort through them, here's a look at nine other TV shows on the platform — a mixture of originals and catalog titles — worth devoting some time to.
"For the Love of Jason"
Binge this one. Jason is a thirtysomething man questioning his life: career, love and family. Come for his problems, but stay for the friends who help him while dealing with serious things of their own, including interracial dating, infidelity and overbearing parents. The show is also gorgeous, with swooping shots of Los Angeles and wonderful makeup. By the middle of the first episode, you’ll be yelling for someone to bring you some popcorn.
You might not understand everything that’s going on from the opening credits to the end of the first episode, but you’re going to want to stick around to find out. You may even end up quoting one of the main characters after you lift your head and realize you’re in the middle of the second episode: “I don’t know what came over me. I couldn’t control it.” What you will figure out quickly is that twins Erica and Eric Cross do not take prisoners. Especially when they decide to become vigilantes to take down a sex trafficking ring in their city. And that’s after they do their own dirt.
"A House Divided"
The names alone make this series a worthy addition to the list. Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs ("Welcome Back, Kotter"), Demetria McKinney ("House of Payne"), Paula Jai Parker ("Queen Sugar"), LisaRaye McCoy ("Single Ladies") and an all-grown-up Parker McKenna Posey ("My Wife and Kids") star in this oft-told tale of a matriarch dying and a family’s foundation cracking. Three seasons in and the drama keeps on coming in this soapy series.
“Don’t play with God.” That’s basically the moral of every story in this anthology series. Taking biblical stories and applying them to modern people is intriguing, though I wish there were more signs — get it, signs — that that’s what the creators are doing, besides the corresponding Bible passage that ends each episode. With this conceit, the intended audience is clear: You better know the Word before you dig in.
Don’t let the smooth title fool you: There’s nothing delicate about this series, which focuses on the myriad schemes, I mean business interests, of Lacey McCullough (Maryam Basir) and her law firm. The opening credits are also smooth — and worth watching every time. Pay attention as the competing storylines come in hot. Which side is this law firm on? Baby, whichever way the wind blows.
"My Mane Problem"
"Celebrity stylist" Dr. Boogie has never met a problem that fixing your hair won’t solve, and he aims to prove it in this L.A.-set reality series. There are tears aplenty as one woman after another walks into his shop and lets him — sometimes literally — snatch their wigs to fix both what’s on their heads and what's in their heads. Hair is just the crowning glory for this series, which dives into feelings and insecurities and finds a way to the surface.
Insta-famous Kendall Kyndall hosts this kinda talk, kinda sketch show that Kyndall says celebrates “all Black everything.” It may be "all black everything," but it’s part news, part information, part funny. The hosts do a better-than-average job of keeping their online personas intact so expect plenty of glimpses into their feeds.
"Craig Ross Jr.'s Monogamy"
It’s an experiment, and the show kind of feels as if it were one too. Married couples on the edge consult a mysterious enterprise and agree to exchange partners with the promise that it will bring them closer to the ones they love. There are faces you know and love from some hot properties (Darius McCrary, Jill Marie Jones) and faces you’ll remember but can't place right away (Vanessa Simmons, Dan Martin). Thing is, a mystery has to be one you want to solve.
"Here We Go Again"
The premise for this TV One comedy is a groaner: A woman who followed in the footsteps of her mother and had a child at 16 will go to silly lengths to keep her 16-year-old daughter from doing the same. But, in the way of sitcoms, she should have been looking out for herself. LeToya Luckett ("Greenleaf," ex of Destiny’s Child) is a delight as Maddy Walker, who finds herself in a delicate situation, while Wendy Raquel Robinson galvanizes every scene as the young grandmother.
For the record:
1:19 p.m. Dec. 1, 2021: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of an actor in “Craig Ross Jr.'s Monogamy.” The actor is Dan Martin, not Dan White. The article also misidentified the series as a TV One original.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.