By: Melody Charles
“They’re what?” “Are those Negroes serious?” “Aw. HAYELL. Naw.”
If that was your initial reaction to the news that St. Paul, MN’s Mint Condition was going to be featured on the hit TV One series, Unsung, then you weren’t alone. But that doesn’t mean that the band doesn’t feel some kind of way about the opinions, or that they appreciate the implications of creating a premature demise.
“First of all, I’m gonna start out by rebuking what those people said, especially about something happening to us, in the name of Jesus,” says Rick Kinchen.
The bassist and three of the other Grammy-nominated collective are chatting with Knowshi shortly before their Dallas show at downtown’s legendary Majestic Theatre and are very adamant about Unsung being a positive career move, not career ender. “TV One had probably probably done every possible act that they could have already and now they’re trying to include younger people and bring something else to the party.”
Stokley Williams, the lead vocalist and frontman of the band, is even more blunt: “I kinda feel sorry for em’. But you know what they say about opinions—they’re like @$$holes, and everybody has one. Most of them stink. We’re glad that we have some fans that took it so personal, but our story is kind of similiar to what happened with Sheila E. and a few other performers: she’s doing great, she went through some trials and tribulations, but she’s incredible now, still successful. It’s the same with us. Instead of saying ‘aw man, what’re they doing on Unsung?’ and all of that…forget the title, did you like it?”
Apparently, viewers eventually aligned with Stokley’s attitude and tuned in for the March 13th broadcast, making the Mint Condition episode of Unsung the highest-rated one of the new season and one of the most popular of the entire series. Lawrence El said that the tribute-type focus that they experienced actually lent credence to the longtime fans who constantly express amongst themselves—and to the members directly—that the quintet has never received the shine they so well deserve. “There are so many people that come up to us and tell us that we’re unsung. In their view, we should be appreciated more. But we’re cool, we don’t feel that way.”
Fans were also instantly abuzz about what was revealed within the program, such as where departed member Keri Lewis fits into the present picture (he’s free to perform with them whenever time and locale permits), what they wish had been expounded on (Roger Lynch being the son of Roger Troutman, for example, was never expressed) and what ultimately brought them back from the brink after their extended hiatus following 1999’s poorly-promoted fourth CD, Life’s Aquarium.
“Besides the loyalty of fans, it always comes to the music for us and wanting to play. I don’t care how much business we do, it’s like ‘MAN...we have to play.’ We were at that reflective stage in our lives when we realized what’s important, and that what we have together is like gold. There’s songwriters, producers here, they’re incredible, and they all happen to already be a part of the band. We realized that we have what most solo artists and musicians want to have, something they can be a part of that’s bigger than themselves.”
O’Dell, the lead guitarist, also revealed that he was on the brink of exiting the spotlight. “It really was one of those trying times and I was truly not feeling it. I was getting to that point where I just wanted to play and not deal with any of the bull$#!^ of the business end. But at that time, we were still doing live shows and I remember Charlie Wilson’s brother telling me, when I was riding in the limo with him….it was almost like he knew what I was thinking and he told me ‘Man, ain’t nothin’ better than having that band: don’t ever break up from that band.’ And it wasn’t just him, it was also every other guy coming from an older band that I had a one-on-one with around that same time. They reminded of how important and special this band is, how we’ve influenced others, and the fans even tell me, ‘no matter what side projects you do, please don’t break up.’ It made me realize how important this unit really is and not to go nowhere.”
So what’s still really ‘unsung’ about the band is how well their independent Caged Bird imprint is working out for them—according to Stokley, the band uses it to mete out their talents for songwriting and production—and that the personal and professional success that they’ve experienced over the last two decades, up to their eighth CD, Music at the Speed of Life, which debuted at number one on iTunes upon its September release, is far from routine.
“This industry is like a moving target right now and we’re trying to figure out how we’re gonna sell music, which products out there people are buying, the trends, how shrinking retail and how those on-line networks can work together. Young kids want to get it and it’s hard to break into this thing. It’s hard to get success when you get in, and then wen you have success, the hardest thing is to keep it all. Once you get in and have a hit, that’s when the work begins, because you have to keep figuring how to keep it.”