Monday, October 21, 2013

ARBITRARY RANKINGS: Get #CrazySexyCool with TLC All Over Again

Are you ready? Do you got your girls with you? Do you have your condom eyepieces handy? Do you have your popcorn? Because it's time to set things off (ooooooohhh...) on the TLC tip! Tonight marks the broadcast premiere of CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story on VH1 -- so what better time to reflect on arguably the best American female group of all time than right now?
T.Boz, Chilli and Left Eye were a huge part of my childhood. From the first time I heard "Waterfalls" in the mid-90's (when I was in single digits, you understand), I just knew there was something about these strong, confident ladies that made me want to sit down and listen. CrazySexyCool was one of the first albums I remember owning and loving, despite the subjects discussed ("Red Light Special", anyone?) being a little mature for my young ears. No matter -- I knew these women were on a whole other level.
The release of the group's "final" album, Fanmail, came in February of 1999. At the time, I was in middle school and convinced Justin Timberlake and I were destined for marriage (what exactly has changed, Mel?). While "No Scrubs" blew the roof off the US and ushered in a fresh new TLC takeover, the entire album became an utter staple for my 11 year-old ears. (Also, for you audiophiles, you might recall the group was originally offered Britney's "...Baby, One More Time"...which they turned down whilst recording Fanmail.)
The passing of Left Eye in a car accident in 2002 came on the heels of a rough few months which included the death of Aaliyah and 9/11. Many people say serious changes come in threes, and Left Eye's death very well could have been the third major change to further cement the end of my early childhood as I was in my first year of high school and was just beginning my teens. Despite the huge hole left in the industry, TLC's catalog (especially Fanmail) remained to be a crucial piece of work during a tumultuous time.
Tonight, we celebrate the story of TLC -- the highs & the lows. Their work has become iconic and it's for a reason. For you young pop nerds out there, pay attention. Their story is a Master Class in the rigors of the Music Industry and their music remains to this day as fresh as ever.
Here are my favorite TLC jams (and TLC-associated jams) as prepare get ready for tonight's main feature.
10. "Baby-Baby-Baby" (from Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip, 1992)
Co-written by two music heavyweights in their own rights (Dallas Austin and LA Reid), this midtempo jam was TLC's second official single and their first "official" #1 (albeit on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop Chart). It was a true harbinger of the sophisticated R&B melodies to come from a group who broke through to the masses with a slightly campy hip hop image a la "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg".
09. "Sumthin' Wicked This Way Comes" (from CrazySexyCool, 1993)
The final album track on TLC's iconic sophomore album and it features a young Andre 3000 pre-Outkast breakthrough, long before we were all shakin' it like a Polaroid picture. The harmonies in the chorus are so on point and Left Eye's rap is like poetry.
08. "I'm Good At Being Bad" (from Fanmail, 1999)
Soft ethereal romantic images are juxtaposed with harder beats and sassy, dirty hip hop and vocal. In a sense, it's a true conjuring of the group's two images -- the class and the sass. At 11, I didn't totally understand the slick bravado being spouted, but I sure knew it was naughty.
07. "Diggin' On You" (from CrazySexyCool, 1993)
The final single released from CrazySexyCool before what would be a long wait till Fanmail finally arrived. Written and produced by Babyface, this urban ballad has some of the most non-chalant romance lyrics ever written (It's on like that/I gotta be in love or something like that). I love the video version for the inclusion of the horns alone.
06. "Unpretty" (from Fanmail, 1999)
I didn't appreciate this one as much as I should have when it was first released but perhaps I was just too young to be properly touched by it. Had I been just a few years older, the meaning would have been so poignant -- even now, on the right kind of day, its hard not to get a little emotional. And remember, folks -- we're all beautiful. (On a totally unrelated note, at this point in my life, I was utterly obsessed with MAC makeup -- not because of this song but because there was real way to purchase it in my humble small town and I knew all the popstars I loved loved it. Sigh.)
05. "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" (from Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip, 1992)
Yoooooo, Mic Check, One-Two, One-Two. The song that started it all that remains to be a total party-starter to this day...21 years later.
04. "No Scrubs" (from Fanmail, 1999)
I knew every word and could spout off Left Eye's rap on command (still can, to be quite honest). All my friends knew every word. It introduced the word "scrub" as "a guy who thinks he's fly, also known as a busta". The music video remains iconic, leaps and bounds ahead of its time. I still want to rock those space-suits. I don't care what time of year it is. Fourteen years later, I still don't want no scrub.
03. "Creep" (from CrazySexyCool, 1993)
Dallas Austin at perhaps his finest with the 90's sex jam -- about cheating on your man after he cheats on you. Illicit revenge for affection never sounded so fluid. This was the first single from CrazySexyCool and the statement was clear -- TLC was all grown up.
02. "Fanmail" (from Fanmail, 1999)
Undoubtedly my favorite cut from their third album of the same name, it was a love letter to their fans who had waited so long for new music. It also inadvertently serves as a snapshot of the times -- vocoders and Y2K robot voices layered over smooth harmonies.
01. "Waterfalls" (from CrazySexyCool, 1993)
Well, I mean obviously. It's the definitive TLC jam -- the type of R&B with a message cut that rarely gets made (and is then thrust into the mainstream) anymore. I remember growing up I felt like the song was so utterly depressing, but as I grew older its appeal vastly changed to be a cautionary warning against blind optimism. Again -- Left Eye's rap (still remember it, word for word) is just on another level. Can we get back to that type of hip hop, please?
Also -- three more (not an accidental choice) for the road:

-*NSYNC "Space Cowboy (feat. Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes)" (2000)Left Eye's rap was included on my boys' sophomore album, No Strings Attached. Despite never becoming a single (the injustice still breathes in my veins to this day), the song was a fan favorite and a staple in their live show set lists.
-Little Mix "Red Planet (feat. Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins)" (2012)
An album cut co-written by T-Boz for Little Mix's debut album DNA, this marching ballad is massive and includes T-Boz on the second verse.
-Blaque (aka Blaque Ivory) "808" (1999)
A new TLC for the younger (read: my) generation, Left Eye signed this trio to her fledgling production company and they opened for TLC on the Fanmail tour. Their self-titled debut spawned three modest hits (including "Bring It All To Me", featuring JC Chasez of *NSYNC), but as they geared up for their sophomore album, Left Eye passed away. BeyoncĂ©'s dad-ager father Matthew Knowles and his entertainment company purchase the rights to the group's shelved second and third album releases. Word swirled of a potential reunion but in late 2012 rapper Natina Reed (inspired by and often compared to her mentor, Left Eye) also suffered a tragic fate and was hit by a car and killed (eerily enough, both Left Eye and Natina's deaths involved car accidents, roughly ten years apart from each other). So much of Blaque's catalog is underrated but for this, I choose "808" -- simply because it does sound like it could have been a TLC song itself.


Lilly said...

i am excited - tlc will always be my fave :)

Linus said...

Yeeeessss mama! TLC was my girl group of choice growing up, and CrazySexyCool was on constant repeat. I barely even spoke English, but I'd "sing" along to every word. :'-)

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