Here's to Burns
Over three decades ago ― in 1986 ― a music industry treasure was brought into the world. Thanks to producers Robert Small and Jim Burns alongside songwriter Jules Shear, fans have intimate memories of their favorites forever documented on MTV Unplugged.
The specials air few and far between now, but back in its prime (1989 to 1999), it showcased artists’ range and talent regularly.
Showcasing artists while they performed acoustic versions of their own hits and covers, MTV Unplugged saw big names like Aerosmith, Nirvana, and Paul McCartney.
Then, in the ’90s, things got even hotter. In 1991, MTV Unplugged aired its first acoustic rap episode. LL Cool J, MC Lyte, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest performed.
Speaking of the ’90s, throughout the decade, Unplugged became so monumental that artists began making albums out of their 60-minute performances. Mariah Carey’s MTV Unplugged (1992), Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York (1994), Shakira’s MTV Unplugged (1999), Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 (2001), and Alicia Keys’ Unplugged (2005) all went platinum.
Where would hip-hop be without Lauryn Hill’s tear-jerking performance on the program? Quiet frankly, the show is a stroke of genius.
Sadly, Unplugged‘s co-creator Jim Burns passed away at 65 years old this month after being hit by a taxi in New York. In his honor, here’s an ode to everything Burns and his counterparts have given hip-hop.
The hip-hop MC helped Unplugged step into hip-hop, so it’s only right that MC Lyte kicks off this list. She performed her hit “Cappuccino.” By this time, the Brooklyn native had already broken history, being the first solo female rapper to release a full album.
Little did she know then, two years after her Unplugged episode, she became the first female solo rapper to be nominated for a Grammy.
A Tribe Called Quest
On the same episode as MC Lyte , A Tribe Called Quest showcased their talent. Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jarobi White, and Phife Dawg performed their 1990 hit “Can I Kick It.”
At the time, the group had only been active about six years and were on the brink of releasing their second album, The Low End Theory.
LL Cool J
Joining MC Lyte and A Tribe Called Quest, LL Cool J also performed on Unplugged‘s first rap episode. His acoustic rendition of “Mama Said Knock You Out” became a classic.
The then-23-year-old rapper went from smoothly performing “Jingling Baby” to shirtlessly rapping to the crowd about how his mama taught him not to keep a lick.