TV One's Unsung, a modern day version of Behind the Music that often focuses on lesser known R&B/hip-hop/dance acts, is among the most captivating and well-constructed shows of its kind. It is consistently peak-Behind the Music levels of excellent. Case in point was last night's particularly inspired episode about Houston-based gangsta rap pioneers the Geto Boys, who are best known for their classic 1991 single "Mind Playing Tricks on Me."
In just five minutes, the Boys explained the process of collecting stories to tell as first-person accounts of the criminal lifestyle (they were largely ripped from headlines), why their music was so consumed by this subject matter, why they perceived the push back from Geffen Records and the larger public to be racist (David Geffen had released records by Slayer, Guns 'N Roses and Andrew Dice Clay, while white-oriented fictive violence is often acclaimed), and when said push back was justified (DJ Ready Red left the group in '92, partially because a fan claimed he'd killed people while listening to the Geto Boys).
"I would not give a 6-year-old child a Geto Boys album," said Bushwick Bill, wearing a ski cap styled to look like the Sesame Street character Elmo. "Because a child would be led astray by the belief that we are really telling them that the street is glorified when we're telling you these are the traps and the pitfalls. But we say it in the first party [first person] so we make it sound good to make you hear how bad it is."
The Boys were particularly lucid in their language (extremely notable is Bushwick Bill's solo single "Ever So Clear," in which he details his lifelong feelings of societal rejection that resulted from his dwarfism — one of the few examples of songs covering this topic). Their interviews on Unsung were no exception and this topic remains relevant today because of shock acts like Odd Future. Perhaps the Geto Boys could tell it particularly well because the are on the good side of hindsight, but regardless, I've never heard such a succinct summary of gangsta rap's goal and effect by the people who helped pioneer it.