It’s bound to happen. With the across-the-board critical and ratings success of The New Edition Story three-night miniseries — which delves deeply into the celebratory and at times turbulent career of the ‘80s and early '90s' most influential R&B group — television execs will be scrambling to find the next musical act worthy of meticulous biopic treatment.
As fans gear up for part two (Wednesday, at 9 p.m. ET) and part three (Thursday, January 26) of the redemptive journey of Ronnie DeVoe, Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant, we present five other intriguing talents who should be bound for dramatic small screen glory.
The most impactful female hip-hop act of all time has also been for years, puzzling enough, criminally underappreciated. Salt-N-Pepa certainly have the hardware (Their landmark work, which includes Hot, Cool, & Vicious, A Salt With a Deadly Pepa and Very Necessary, has sold close to 20 million copies worldwide).
But really, the groundbreaking careers of Cheryl "Salt" James, Sandra "Pepa" Denton and Latoya "DJ Spinderella" Hanson represent more than just commercial accolades. Salt-N-Pepa’s powerful message of female empowerment brazenly cut through rap’s at-times-misogynistic noise machine throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Push it, indeed.
So what was it like to be an openly gay male vocalist even in the androgynous ‘80s, courting mainstream glory while waving the pioneering flag for LGBT rights? For Sylvester, it was a turbulent and tragic run that still managed to have endearing moments of triumph. It was in 1978 when the Watts, Los Angeles, native became a dance club goddess with the soaring hit “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and its relentless, sweat-inducing follow-up “Dance (Disco Heat).”
Sylvester had the kind of otherworldly church-blessed pipes that kept Patti LaBelle up at night. And he proved to be a survivor, topping the dance music charts with the incendiary “Do You Want to Funk” (1982) and the too-sweet “Someone Like You” (1986). It has been said Sylvester, who was recruited to provide background vocals on his idol Aretha Franklin’s 1986 comeback album Who’s Zoomin’ Who, was held back from superstardom due to blatant homophobia. The gifted singer-songwriter would later die on December 16, 1988, due to complications from HIV.
The birth of New Jack Swing, multiplatinum superstardom, group infighting, alcohol and drug addiction — and that’s all before the second album. To say that the life and times of super producer Teddy Riley and his Guy brethren Aaron and Damian Hall would jump off the TV screen would be an understatement.
Riley by himself is a fascinating figure who singlehandedly breathed life back into R&B, crafting anthems for everyone from crooner Keith Sweat and bad boy Bobby Brown to the King of Pop Michael Jackson — all while proudly keeping his hip-hop pedigree (Doug E. Fresh, Kool Moe Dee and Heavy D). But could you imagine a dramatic re-telling of the fierce rivalry between Guy and New Edition? Get the popcorn.
Ricky Walters dropped one of Golden Age hip-hop’s most revered albums: The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (1988). But the masterful storyteller and former associate of Doug E. Fresh’s Get Fresh Crew, didn’t get a chance to record his sophomore set while basking in the glow of platinum record sales. In 1991, Slick Rick was convicted of attempted second-degree murder after shooting his cousin in what he claimed to be self-defense.
The flashy, British-born emcee did five years in prison, released three more albums and a decade later faced deportation back to the U.K. Yet, there is a happy ending. Today, Slick Rick is celebrated as one of rap’s greatest lyricists and was finally granted citizenship in 2016 after a long, 23-year battle.
The truth is K-Ci, JoJo, DeVante Swing and Mr. Dalvin have enough wild, high flying, dysfunctional material for three biopics. There’s the quartet’s multi-platinum ascent as the most gifted (and best) post-New Jack Swing group of the ‘90s. The notoriously eccentric DeVante’s discovery of future beat king Timbaland and innovative rap visionary and songwriter Missy Elliott also deserves screen time. But its K-Ci’s drug-addled, toxic relationship with Queen of Hip-Hop Soul Mary J. Blige (who deserves her own movie, by the way) and JoJo’s past substance abuse issues that would make it must-see-TV. The current reunited Jodeci has a story to tell. Make it happen, fellas.
(Photos from Left: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images, Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)