Syleena Johnson Talks ‘Unsung,’ R. Kelly and ‘Misogynistic’ Music Industry

Syleena Johnson appears on TV One's Unsung. (Credit: TV One)

Syleena Johnson has a new album and a new awareness about the music industry.

The R&B singer is the subject of tonight’s episode of Unsung, and said the TV One docuseries is the right platform to share her story.

“Whenever there is an opportunity to have your story told, there’s an opportunity to invoke healing. There’s an opportunity to evoke understanding, and to create a relative bond between yourself and your viewers and listeners,” Johnson told Urban Hollywood 411 about sitting down with Unsung.

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The episode looks at her personal life, the ups and downs of her tenure at Jive records, and her working relationship with then-labelmate, R. Kelly.

“He was just a very good blueprint, that’s what he did do, he helped my work ethic,” Johnson told us about working with the now-jailed music legend.

Johnson said she was unaware of Kelly’s alleged sexual abuse of underaged girls, and described her experiences with the Grammy-winning “Pied Piper of R&B” as strictly professional.

“He was very good with that, he was an extremely hard worker when it came in music, extremely passionate about music, and watching him be that passionate and hardworking, really increased my work ethic,” she recalled in our Zoom interview.

The singer-songwriter also spoke candidly about what she described as a “double standard” for women in the music industry.

“The music industry is just the most misogynistic, narcissistic environment in history, she said. “It is filled with a double standard, from the time you sign the dotted line, starting with the fact that women have to be stick thin stereotypes and sexy, with two pieces of clothes on, and over sexualized to sell records and to be marketable.”

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She noted that while men in the industry can be overweight and still achieve success, women are expected to meet a certain beauty standard.

“Men can be 400 pounds, not healthy, overweight and still sell millions of records. There’s something wrong with that, especially when you’re not facilitating a healthy lifestyle on either side of the spectrum,” she said.

Johnson believes the industry treats artists as commodities ran than as human beings.

“The industry doesn’t care about the people, about the artists that are in it. It’s very rare that you have executives and different people that care about the artists,” she stated.

“We are looked at as marketing tools, marketing objects, if you will, and women even worse. We are to be seen and not heard,” she continued. “As far as a voice is concerned, when you have a voice, you are a b–ch. And so when you speak out on your behalf, that is what they label you, as a diva a b–ch, and difficult, all of those things. And that’s just for having an opinion.”

The singer is the daughter of 1960s R&B Hi Records singer Syl Johnson and Brenda Thompson, the first Black female police commissioner of Harvey, Illinois. Her family noticed she had a gift at an early age, although she says on the episode of Unsung, her father was not always supportive.

After graduating from college, she embarked on a music career. She signed a deal with Jive Records, and began working with fellow Chicago artist R. Kelly, who wrote and produced her hit single “I Am Your Woman.”

In 2004, Johnson landed a career-changing opportunity as a vocalist on Kanye West’s “All Falls Down,” which earned her a Grammy nomination.

Despite those early successes, she was ultimately dropped by Jive. Johnson refused to give up and has since added the titles of author, “R&B Diva” and co-host of the TV One talk show, Sister Circle.

But she’s not abandoning music. On Friday, she dropped a new album titled “The Making of a Woman” — a deluxe edition of last year’s “Woman” album.

“It is an ode to women. It is from women, by women about women,” she said about the new album.  “I’m hoping that women can be entertained and inspired and men can be educated, in a way, from some of these records and the stories that are told in the lyrics.”

You can hear more from Syleena Johnson on Unsung, Sunday, April 25 at 9 p.m. ET/8C on TV One. Listen to “The Making of a Woman” below.