The Coming Full Circle of a ‘90s Musical Protégé


I’ve been told that San Pedro has been a place where the famous or the infamous — from artists to war criminals — come to lay low. I always assumed it was a tongue-in-cheek assessment. Then last summer, I met Rion Michael.

At first he was simply our office’s new next-door neighbor. I usually saw Michael in the afternoon, when I was leaving for lunch and he was sitting on his porch braiding his hair. We always exchanged salutations. Eventually, Michael asked if I worked at the newspaper on the corner.

When my “I do” confirmed his suspicion, Michael smiled almost as if he had been visited by providence. He asked if I would listen to his music and consider doing a story about him if I liked what I heard.

I’ve interviewed many talented up-and-coming artists over the years, “Sure,” I told him. “I’m game for it.”

Michael sent me two tracks, one called The Power of Love and the other titled Always. He warned me they were rough. They were actually highly polished, extremely well produced and lyrically well-crafted potential crossover hits. Either one was reason enough to interview Michael.

Both quickly made it apparent that Michael was altogether different from anyone I’d ever interviewed— the only person close was Anderson Paak, a.k.a Breezy Lovejoy, who was prominently featured on Dr. Dre’s Compton.

Michael told me his aim was to make timeless music on the level of Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and 1990s

hit makers such as Brandy and TLC. It didn’t sound far-fetched. He’d already told me he’d been groomed by the same people and steeped in the same context that produced Christina Aguilera, Xscape, TLC and other mainstream artists who are still making music.

Michael’s first single came out in 2006 under the stage name of Shamar Woods. It was a cut from an album he’d worked on with his cousin, Mr. Cheeks, a member of the Lost Boys. The album was distributed by Sony. Michael said it did well in Italy and Germany, but not in the United States. Eventually, he did a single, I Can’t Wait, with the 90s rhythm-and-blues group Blackstreet.

A short time after this interview I happened to see a mid-2000s biopic of TLC. As I watched it dawned on me that I was seeing the environment Michael had been describing when he recounted his grooming by 90s-era producers and pop stars.

A couple of months passed before I got an opportunity to interview him again. Meanwhile, he had fired his manager, negotiated a deal with Sony, formed a girl group called Lipstick. He was making music with them while working up more songs for his own debut album.

Michael recounted a mind game he played while growing up, assembling imaginary musical groups from artists he watched on television the way sports fans put together fantasy teams from professional players.

“I always watched the videos and watched the interviews so I would always know that type of stuff,” Michael said. “And on top of that I was around groups like Blaque and TLC and BlackStreet and NSync. It made me see the ins and outs of the groups and the ups and downs of those groups… what they needed to survive as a group. It just really intrigued me.”

In 2014, Michael began his search for the three women he imagined would be the right combination to form Lipstick by posting an ad on Craigslist. By December the group was recording.

“We were … recording up until Christmas, then after Christmas we went back to recording,” Michael explained. “I was writing, recording and producing the girls. I wanted to take a little break from it so that the girls could figure out if this is something they really, really wanted to do — which it is.”

Michael decided to raise the funds by releasing his music.

“When they made the decision and they said they wanted to do this, I made the CEO call of let me go get a new budget coming in for my stuff so that I can put it into the group so I’m not wasting their time. So we’re going to go into production on their album in a month or two,” he explained.

The result was the release of No More, a single off his new EP, Red. Lyrically, it reminded me of Ronald Isley’s 2001 collaboration, Contagious, which was written and produced by R. Kelly. And it turns out Michael used an old R. Kelly track for his single.

“There have been minor changes with the music,” Michael said. “I went in and used one of R. Kelly’s records. In 1997 he produced a record for a group, Changing Faces, called Get Out. So I said, ‘Well why don’t I do a buzz record really quick before I put out my original-original stuff out?’”

Michael said his album was tentatively scheduled to be released in October. Judging from his regular updates—in which he notified his Facebook followers the filming of music video of one of his singles and progress he’s making with LipStick—it appears he’s on track.

Check out his music on

Read more online about Rion Michael’s story of how he was discovered by Lisa Lopes and NFL star player Andre Rison as a teenager at

Listen to more music from Rion Michael such as Lay Down (Music Matters Version) and Untouchable on SoundCloud.


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