By P. Frank Williams
I’m stalking Bushwick Bill of the legendary Geto Boys for an upcoming episode of Unsung. Bill and I are supposed to roll through the streets of Houston to film footage related to his early life, and my camera crew and I have been waiting in the lobby of the Houston Marriott at the Texas Medical Center for way too long. I’ve called and texted him too many times. Yet, when he finally picks up, his voice is still thick with sleep; but he hustles downstairs and we’re on our way.
It’s just another wild weekend producing Unsung, the three-time NAACP Image Award–winning music documentary series spotlighting the stories of acclaimed R&B, soul, gospel and hip-hop stars, many of whom never garnered mainstream acclaim. Since premiering in the fall of 2008, Unsung has resonated with fans in a major way, and is consistently among TV One’s highest-rated series. “Of the 60-plus artists we’ve profiled so far, only two or three have ever been subjects of other documentaries,” points out Unsung co–executive producer Mark Rowland from his L.A. office.
I’ve been along for the ride as both producer and writer for five of the show’s six seasons. As a former executive editor of The Source and a reporter at the Los Angeles Times, where I covered historic stories like the L.A. gang truce and rap mogul Eazy-E’s AIDS-related death, I bring a wealth of resources and contacts. More than a decade ago, I transitioned into writing and producing for TV; and today, VH1’s Hip Hop Honors and BET’s American Gangster are among my many credits.
Visual storytelling is my passion, and so is hip-hop. Creating the best of both worlds, I’ve merged the two. Since joining Unsung, Whodini, Fat Boys and Arrested Development are just a few of the episodes I’ve helmed. As much as I love what I do, it’s never easy. Even if you’re not blowing up Bushwick Bill’s phone.
There is an ever-evolving wish list of talent that we are constantly updating. Luckily, TV One always approves the final list. But even with a successful show like Unsung, securing talent can be the hardest part of producing an episode. Sometimes it takes courting the artist to be profiled. Sometimes they volunteer. Sometimes we might run into each other at an event and I pitch them personally. It’s a very unpredictable process.