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Shuggie Otis and Kelis: 2 musicians who were underappreciated in their time

Amanda Parris
Listen to Marvin's Room, August 25th 2017

Marvin's Room with Amanda Parris on CBC Radio


In the film Back to the Future, Marty McFly ends up playing the guitar at his parents' high school dance, breaking into a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” The year is 1955 and the song is still three years from being released, so when Marty performs it — complete with a rock 'n' roll guitar solo — it prompts one of the band members to call his cousin "Chuck" and demand that he listen to the song as an inspiration for his new sound.

It’s a flighty fantasy that also (somewhat problematically) rewrites history by crediting a white teenage suburban kid with the genesis of a sound that in reality was pioneered by a Black middle-aged musician. However, the classic film scene does tap into the theme of this week: genius is sometimes only recognized years after their emergence.

There are certain musicians who are simply ahead of their time. Today we are going to explore the sounds of two of them: guitarist Shuggie Otis, a little-known legend in his own right, and the constantly evolving musical chameleon Kelis.

Shuggie Otis

Otis’s album Inspiration Information took years to complete. He wrote and arranged every song and played almost every instrument. But its release in the mid-'70s was lackluster, and little was heard from Otis in the years following. However, in the ‘90s the album re-emerged with a huge cult following. It was the time of rare groove, and musicians such as Lenny Kravitz and Prince championed the album as a guiding influence in their own sonic creations. Inspiration Information was re-released at the turn of the century to an audience finally ready for its sound.


The brilliance of Kelis has yet to receive the full celebration it deserves. Her musical style is fluid with a reinvention for each new album. Never one to follow trends, Kelis was rocking multicoloured hair and diamond grillz long before it became socially acceptable in the R&B world.

Her first major single, 1999's "Caught Out There," had Kelis literally screaming at an adulterous lover, transforming the song into a theatrical work of art. Who deserves the blame for this lack of recognition? It's been argued that bad management and lack of promotion disrupted her potential reach. Hopefully, in a few decades from now, the brilliaince of Kelis will finally be recognized.

The Marvin's Room Playlist for Aug. 25, 2017

  1. Kelis feat. Too $hort, “Bossy”
  2. Missy Elliott, “Hot Boyz Remix”
  3. Donnell Jones feat. Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez, “U Know What’s Up”
  4. Shuggie Otis, “Aht Uh Mi Head”
  5. K. Forest, “Reverse”
  6. Jon B., “They Don’t Know”
  7. Jahkoy, “No Regrets”
  8. Kelela, “Go All Night”
  9. Allie, “Let Her”
  10. Jazmine Sullivan, “In Love With Another Man”
  11. Andreena, “Catch Me”
  12. Rhye, “Please”