TV One’s Unsung has delivered some great biographical stories of your favorite ‘90 R&B artists including 702 and Cheryl “Pepsii” Riley. On Unsung's season finale airing tonight (July 15), the series will profile a true unsung hero in the R&B game –– Michel’le.
Michel’le was very instrumental in the early success of Dr. Dre and Ruthless Records, as well as played a vital role in the development of West Coast rap in the 1990s. However, her entry into the music business came with a lot of bumps and bruises.
A native of Compton, Calif., Michel'le Toussaint was first discovered by West Coast hip-hop pioneer Alonzo Williams when she only 19 years old. On a whim, Alonzo called her to record her vocals on the World Class Wreckin Cru's indelible slow jam “Turn off the Lights” because the group’s lead female vocalist, Mona Lisa, wasn’t available.
"I had to pick her up from her [house]…and before she went into the studio to sing, she ask for something that I never heard from an artist in my life," he recalled in an interview on the Tariq Nasheed Show in 2016. "She asked for two strawberry shakes from Jack In the Box."
Despite “Turn off the Lights” getting extensive radio airplay nationwide, Michel’le had no knowledge of the music business and claims she never received a dime from the song’s royalties.
Williams denies that he robbed Michel'le of royalties as retold in the 2016 Lifetime movie, Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge & Michel’le. "She was a work for hire," he said, adding, she got paid the standard fee and then some.
Months later, Michel’le and Dre began dating, but she never thought of herself as a R&B singer until Eazy-E approached her in the studio and ask her to join Ruthless Records, a label he co-founded with the late Jerry Heller.
In 1989, Michel'le released her self-titled album on Ruthless with the entire album produced by her then-boyfriend Dr. Dre. The collection featured the chart-topping hits "Nicety," "Something In My Heart" and "No More Lies," which many believed she was talking about the hit-making producer. But Michel'le says that wasn't the case.
"I had this crush on my brother's friend, and he would always lie, lie, lie," she says of the the song's origin.
But her relationship with Dre wasn't always lovey-dovey. Not only was he physically abusive, he was allegedly an habitual cheater. On the TV One special, Michel'le recalls a moment when Dr. Dre came home from a night of partying and allegedly punched her in the eye for no reason. The "Nicety" singer also said she doesn't know how many times a cosmetologist had to put extra make-up on her just to cover up her black eyes on the video set.
When Wendy Williams asked Michel'le why she stayed in the abusive relationship for so long, she replied, “I stayed because it was normal."
“After the first hit you don’t think they’re going to do it again. And it does escalate, but I stayed because it became normal," she continued. "I didn’t call the police because I didn’t want them to go to jail and it just was normal. I took it as a way of him showing me he loved me.”
Michel'le was also in a relationship with Suge Knight. She claims the Death Row Records founder only hit her one time. He later promised not to hit her agains because "she was too small."
Despite the alleged abuse she suffered at the hands of Dre, Michel'le insists that their relationship wasn't all bad. There were moments in her life that felt like a fairytale dream – a beautiful house, nice cars, clothes and money to spend. But she was also isolated from her friends, which can be attributed to Dre's jealous tendencies.
Michel'le has a 27-year-old son by Dre and a 16-year-old daughter by Suge. The 50-year-old singer said that she have a co-parenting relationship with either of the two rap moguls. But she harbors no ill-will towards them.
"I don’t have nothing bad to say about them and they don’t have nothing bad to say about me. And I think that’s why it works," she told Bossip. "You want your children to have that type of family feeling and bond. I don’t bad mouth them in front of my children. They have their own relationships with their fathers, which is amazing.”
Michel'le still struggles to understand her complex relationship with Dre but through therapy, she now realizes that none of it was her fault. With the TV One special, the veteran singer wants fans to remember that she was more than a just a battered girlfriend. She was an influential artist who opened the doors for Mary J. Blige, Beyoncé, and other female singer to stepped on through.
“I just wanted to tap back into the music side of it,” she said. “We had good times and bad times, and I just wanted to remind the fans about the music. There’s good music that came out of that era, and I’m appreciative of that.”
Unsung: Michel'le, which will be the show's season finale, will air tonight (July 15) at 9PM ET on TV One.