I’m a huge fan on TV One’s Unsung series, which looks back at underappreciated voices in hip-hop, R&B, funk, gospel and more – those trendsetters and trailblazers that might not get hashtags and Twitter threads dedicated in their honor, but the music we love wouldn’t be the same without them.
Unsung wraps up season 14 this coming Sunday with a feature on The Jones Girls. Before we bid Unsung adieu for another year, I figured it’s time for me to make some personal requests of my own – 20 artists who deserve the Unsung spotlight and would make for really compelling (and controversial) episodes.
Obviously I could have picked 120 artists but these 20 truly deserve some love. Not only do these 20 artists have overlooked contributions, but the stories behind their work are just as captivating. Don’t let us down, Unsung, let these stories be told!
One of the most prolific feature artists of the early 2000s, Mo has both an incredible voice and hilarious personality. She was on track to be one of the brightest new starts of the era – I’d love to hear more about her journey through radio, relationships, reality TV and more. She has a wild story.
Brat is the first female artist to receive a platinum certification, instantly making her a trailblazer. From being a cornerstone of So So Def’s 90s dominance to her abrupt retirement, there’s lots to discuss. It would also be cool to hear her thoughts on today’s female MCs.
Tony Toni Tone
How hasn’t this happened already? One of the biggest groups of the late 80/early 90s, several No. 1 hits and classic tracks to their name and members who have gone on to enjoy solo success on their own – this one is a no-brainer.
This might seem like an unconventional pick, but that’s what Unsung is all about. D.O.C. seemed destined for superstardom in 1989 – a platinum selling debut, No. 1 singles, affiliation with NWA, he really was next up. But after his larynx was damaged in a car crash, his career was forever changed. It’s a story that needs to be told.
If you became a R&B fan in the early 2000s, you already know the hysteria around these guys. BET’s answer to the boy band craze set the world of R&B on fire – but they flamed out as quickly as they rose to prominence. This one might be a long shot since the members aren’t really seeing eye to eye these days – abuse allegations, bickering over baby mommas, it’s a LOT – but if the story gets told, it’ll be an all-timer.
P! Yeah this is a personal request but who cares, this is my list. A member of Boot Camp Clik, Heltah Skeltah and Random Axe collectives, The mighty Sean P is one of the most intimidating (and entertaining) MCs the world has ever heard. After his untimely death in 2015, he’s long overdue for a tribute. He may not have been a chart-topper but he was an underground king. Oh, and speaking of…
In an era when Southern rap was often maligned, Bun B and the late Pimp C held down an entire region, eventually breaking out and becoming massively influential on a global scale. Of course their group efforts and classic collabos will be featured, but this will be an opportunity to dive into their solo efforts too – Bun B is still a force to be reckoned with and the life and times Pimp C could be an episode all its own. This is another great one waiting to happen.
Here’s another “how has this not happened already?” pick. One of the pioneering forces of the New Jack Swing movement, Guy had an incredible run in the late 80s and early 90s and a short but memorable comeback in 2000 too. And trust me, once they start diving into the story of the Hall brothers – specifically Aaron – things will get juicy quickly.
You might not recognize the name, but you’ll know the hits. Prolific soul singer Leon Ware’s solo career might not have gotten the love it deserved, but his legacy truly resides in songwriting and production, including incredible tracks for The Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Quincy Jones, Parliament, Maxwell and countless more. He’s one of soul’s true architects and his story needs to be remembered.
De La Soul
Another set of hip-hop legends who aren’t discussed enough today, the quirky trio of De La Soul made their names from their quirky presentation and constantly evolving sound, paving the way for today’s more eclectic artists. Their endless battles over rights to their masters will make for compelling TV too.
If you were around in the early 2000s, you know there was no doubt that Amerie was set to be one of the biggest players in R&B. But what happened? I’d like to know too, and that’s what Unsung is for. From her cult classic debut to her celebrated partnership to Rich Harrison, label woes that derailed her career for a decade and her evolution into YouTube star, there’s a lot to discuss. And maybe they’ll ask her to address that dumb Beyonce rumor so y’all can stop bugging me about it.
This one will pull at your heartstrings. DJ Premier and Guru were celebrated as one of the greatest rapper/producer duos of all time. The group’s breakup, Guru’s tragic passing and Preemo’s recent efforts to honor the group’s memory will make this a very compelling episode.
Terence Trent D’Arby
This is another name that will make you young’ns go WHO? – and that’s exactly why we need this episode. A forefather of progressive soul, Terence Trent D’Arby exploded on the scene in 1987, dropped a multiplatinum album that received worldwide acclaim and seemed destined to rule the 90s. But he soon buried that persona, changed his name to Sananda Maitreya and basically started from scratch. But why? Give us the answers, Unsung, it’s another wild story.
Some may argue Mobb Deep isn’t unsung, but I think their contributions definitely are. Their sophomore effort The Infamous helped the East Coast rebound in the 90s coastal wars for rap dominance and their two subsequent albums cemented them as New York titans. The fallout and reunion of Prodigy and Havoc would be a great story too. It’s also a wonderful chance to memorialize P for all he’s done for the game.
I’ve said it many times before but Intro is one of R&B’s greatest “what if’s.” Jeff Sanders, Clinton “Buddy” Wike and Kenny Greene were brimming with potential and outside of Intro, Kenny seemed like a solo star in the making. I’d love to hear from the remaining members about their journey and how they coped with Kenny’s untimely death.
Artists like Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott rightfully get props for their boundless creativity – both on wax and on our screens. Pharcyde needs way more love in that department. From pushing hip-hop’s creative boundaries to crafting iconic tracks – “Passin’ Me By” is one of the greatest rap songs ever recorded, fight me if you disagree – Pharcyde deserves the spotlight.
Joe’s an interesting one. In R&B circles, he’s regarded as an all-time great. In more mainstream discussions, he’s mainly remembered for his late 90s-early 00s run and that’s about it. Unsung can help reconcile that. Joe is one of the game’s most prolific performers, writers and vocalists with more hits than some realize. R&B’s foremost unsung hero definitely needs an Unsung.
OK, I know this is sort of a long shot because her mainstream run was pretty short compared to others on this list, but I DARE you to find a voice as perfect as Lisa’s. Her debut album was loaded with top 20 hits and defined her as a star on the rise. Then … she seemingly vanished. Her story is riveting and I’ve seen it told on other platforms, but I’d love to see Unsung’s take on her greatness.
If done right, this could be a top 10 Unsung episode. Rap’s foremost super villain is a comic book character come to life. Shedding light on his enigmatic persona, his origins with KMD and his infamously unorthodox flow and production will be engrossing, and that’s before we get to the REALLY weird stuff like the DOOM impersonators and the shocking news of his death (announced on Halloween 2020, of course). DOOM has quietly reigned as one of rap’s most influential figures – props are long overdue.
And speaking of overdue props, no one personifies what Unsung stands for more than Static Major. A member of the vastly underrated trio Playa, a major component in the rise of Timbaland and Missy Elliott, the pen behind hits from Aaliyah, Ginuwine, Pretty Ricky, Destiny’s Child and more and, right before his untimely death in 2008, he was *thisclose* to being a breakout star on his own. Static is the quiet genius behind many of hip-hop and R&B’s most celebrated hits. It’s time we celebrated him as well. Unsung, make it happen.
Who else deserves love on Unsung? Let us know below.