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Band R&B Hip Hop


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The best kept secret in music


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"Feelin' Down" - Radio Release 2002...#1 most requested song



Quartet has something "U'Nek" to sing
Ink contributor

Any struggling musician will tell you that Charleston is a tough town if you want to make it big. Granted, we have a few groups to cling to, like the Blue Dogs, Hootie and the Blowfish, Edwin McCain, and Jump, Little Children; but generally most of what we have are transient, nearly qualified bands whose lack of direction is surpassed only by their trendiness.

Let's face it: Chucktown ain't much of a launching pad.

R&B quartet U'Nek (pronounced "unique"), which went from the city suburbs to touring with hip-hop boy band B2K in a matter of three months, seems to be an exception. It is clearly satisfying that someone finally has grasped what seems ever evasive in this city: A chance to represent.

"If you want something, you have to go out and get it," says Rashaan "Rayshaun" Green, 17, a senior at Burke High School, "because it's not going to come to you, especially in Charleston."

Rayshaun has been a self-taught singer since age 4. Early on, he impressed his family with soulful renditions, such as Usher's "Think Of You," on his karaoke machine. Other influences include R. Kelly, Jagged Edge, 112 and Michael Jackson.

In 2000, Rayshaun and Justin "J" Yates decided to form a singing group with Edward "Johntue" Washington. Nearly a year later, the quartet was completed with the addition of Aquino "Keyno" Burns. Now all four members are seniors, with Rayshaun, J and Johntue at Burke and Keyno at West Ashley High School.

Musically, U'Nek has been compared to Boyz II Men, writing songs about "love and girls," says Keyno, who has been singing since he was 8 and is inspired by Usher, Jagged Edge and B2K. "I make a beat in my head or think about a personal life experience and make it into a song."

J has been singing since the age of 9 and playing the piano since he was 14. He generally approaches songwriting through the keyboard, drawing from influences such as 112, Donnell Jones and Usher.

U'Nek's sound is vocally rich, blending the heart and soul of the R&B style with the catchiness of pop and the warmth of harmony. Backed by the steadiness of keyboards and drum machines, the lyrics waste no time with complication.

The songs, according to Rayshaun, are simply about "real love and life situations." The song "U Was The One," for example, is "a reflection of people we love and we lost," he says.

What separates U'Nek from most other groups in the industry is it writes and produces all of its music, explains J. Recently, the creation and production of music in the hip-hop world have been dominated by major producers, such as P. Diddy, R. Kelly, Timbaland and The Neptunes.

And unlike traditional R&B singing quartets, it is Johntue's ability to rap as well as sing that removes any pure classification or genre.

Influenced by artists such as Jahiem and R. Kelly, Johntue allows the group to extend its fan base beyond R&B and to those more interested in hip-hop and rap.

Though none of the members has ever taken singing lessons, their raw talent was apparently clear to industry mastermind Master P when U'Nek sang for him in spring 2002 during his tour in Charleston.

"We stood outside Master P's hotel for three hours until he came out," explains Rayshaun. "He was shocked because he thought we were going to rap, and when we started singing, he was staring with his eyes wide open. The next thing we knew we were opening for the same tour we met him on."

Sent on a whirlwind of fame, U'Nek spent the next six months under the management of Ralph Avant, enjoying backstage passes, recording a demo and touring with B2K during that summer. They consistently surprised fans by coming on stage dressed in jerseys and headbands, leading the crowd to believe they were just another rap group.

"Everybody is like Ö hold up, you sing? ... Dang, we thought you were about to rap," says Rayshaun.

Before each show, the group joins together for prayer and then performs a ritual hand-pat similar to that done by The Temptations. They come together in a circle and, after layering their hands upon each others', they say "U'Nek Forever!"

It was a combination of talent, charisma and perseverance that threw the group so quickly into the limelight, and it has enjoyed the fame. "The first show with B2K felt like all our work was worth it," says J.

Their work ethic calls for full dedication, consistent practice and uninhibited communication. And with the recent breakup of B2K, it is clear that, these days, most groups, with or without any display of these qualities, hardly last anyhow.

After the rush of success it experienced, the group took some time off last year for what Rayshaun calls "branching out." But today, after almost a year of separation and collaboration with other singers, the original U'Nek is back together.

And, having rerecorded a demo at Fusion 5 Studios in Mount Pleasant, the group s