Sunday, 28 October 2012

Whatever Happened To RnB? - TLC

Remember when ‘Unbreak My Heart’ ruled the charts and Lil Kim was the biggest thing in female rap? In this weekly feature, I’m going to take a look back at some of the best RnB artists of yesteryear, sharing their signature videos and underrated hits, as well as looking at what they’re up to nowadays.

Previous posts have focussed on Cassie, Ciara, Missy ElliottBrandy and Monica. Today, the focus is on TLC, one of the biggest RnB groups of all time.

Hey TLC!

Billboard recently rated TLC as the 7th most popular act of the 90s and it's not hard to see why. With four grammy wins and four multi-platinum albums under their belt, Tionne 'T-Boz' Watkins, Lisa 'Left-Eye' Lopes and Rozonda 'Chilli' Thomas were pioneers of RnB music before the tragic passing of Left Eye cut their careers short. When the three of them were together, TLC were just effortless. T-Boz brought the cool, Chilli brought the sultry vibe and Left Eye brought the sass. Together, TLC were the most successful female RnB group of all time. Let's take a look back to see why.

It's hard to tell how influential the girls would become just by looking at this old promo pic - what the hell is on Left Eye's head? - but TLC started off strong back in 1992 with their popular debut 'Oooooooh...On The TLC Tip'. 

Everyone loved the unique mix of pop, hip-hop, RnB and jack swing that TLC mashed together with their youthful energy and provocative lyrics. The lead single 'Ain't Too Proud To Beg' perfectly sums up their appeal at the time.

It doesn't get more 90s than that!

The group followed up the success of their debut with 'CrazySexyCool' in 1994.

Instead of falling prey to the usually difficult second album syndrome, TLC came back with the biggest album of their careers and one of the most iconic releases of the decade. Unfortunately, Left Eye suffered a number of personal problems prior to its release so her presence was felt less on the album. It's hard to pick only one song to share from 'CrazySexyCool', due to its classic status, but the lead single 'Creep' would be a good one to start with.

Man I love those flowy pyjamas!

From lyrics describing booty calls to a more heartfelt vibe, TLC followed this massive hit with 'Waterfalls', easily one of the best sophomore singles of all time and a classic RnB track in every sense of the word. It would be criminal not to share this stunning song with you now, even though I'm sure you've all seen it a thousand times before. What else can I say?    

If you're one of the few RnB fans who didn't buy 'CrazySexyCool' upon its release, then here's my favourite track from the album that never made it as a single, 'Kick Your Game'. For me, it just sums up that classic TLC vibe which is perfectly encapsulated in the album's title. Enjoy.

It came as a shock to me researching this post when I discovered that the group filed for bankruptcy soon after this albums release, despite it being one of the few girl-group albums to ever achieve diamond certification. Renegotiations with their label meant that there was a five year gap between the release of 'CrazySexyCool' and the following album. In the meantime, each member pursued minor solo ventures. One of my favourite solo guest appearances from the girls during this period is the chorus T-Boz sang for Da Brat's single 'Ghetto Love'. Check it out.

Left Eye also branched out during the late 90s and early 2000s, collaborating with a host of other artists as diverse as Lil Kim, Mel C and NSync. My absolute favourite however would have to be the smooth jam 'U Know What's Up' from 1999, with Donnell Jones.

'Better holla if ya hear me cause Left Eye gon' shine!'

No one raps while walking down a corridor like Left-Eye!

In the same year, TLC returned with another monster of an album, 'Fanmail', which cemented the group's popularity worldwide and received eight grammy nominations.

The girls did it again with the perfect 1-2 of RnB classic 'No Scrubs', followed closely by the empowering anthem 'Unpretty'. 'No Scrubs' features my favourite Left-Eye rap of all time and some mental outfits in the Hype Williams directed promo. Even though we've all seen it a million times before, I just have to share this video again, as to me, it represents the very pinnacle of RnB. No one does it better. Enjoy.

'Satisfy my appetite with something spectacular, check your vernacular and then I get back to ya!'

'Unpretty' was the perfect follow-up, with some great production from Dallas Austin and a beautiful message imploring women to be happy with the way they are without the song ever descending into cheesy or patronising territory; something that a few pop stars these days could learn from.

I'd also recommend the Glee cover of this song, which mashes it up with the song 'I Feel Pretty' from 'Westside Story'. Seriously, I know it sounds terrible but if you give it a chance, Glee actually did a suprisingly great version of the songs.

I also thought it would be worth mentioning the third and final official single release from this album, 'Dear Lie'. Not only is it a sweet chilled out track that showcased another side from the girls but it is also the final video that the three members filmed together before Left-Eye's untimely death, which just makes the whole thing even more poignant. Here it is.

I love Lisa as she walks down the corridor with that amazing hair.

This has to be my favourite TLC album of all time and it is so hard to choose a favourite album track to share with you but if I had to pick one, then I would have to go with 'Silly Ho', which should definitely have been a single. I love the attittude behind the lyrics, which reminds me of their best tracks from 'CrazySexyCool'.

The song also features another killer rap from Left-Eye but as TLC kept releasing albums, Lisa's input was becoming more and more of a rarity. Understandably, Left-Eye became unhappy with the situation and issued a challenge to Chilli and T-Boz soon after this albums release, daring them all to make a solo album each to see whose would be most successful. While the three girls eventually seemed to resolve these differences, Left-Eye continued with her solo ventures, releasing her own album called 'Supernova' in 2001.

While it failed to sell in the US, Left-Eye saw some success internationally with the lead single, The Block Party', a fun chant-along track with a bonkers video from Hype Williams again. Check out the weird-ass cartoony opening.

'Oooh they're playing hopscotch!'

While Left-Eye was the only member of TLC to ever release a solo album, T-Boz recorded a single in 2000 for the 'Rugrats' film (!?) called 'My Getaway' which saw some limited success in the UK. Ok, so I know it's not great but I have a weird soft spot for it and I just can't get enough of T-Boz's voice so if you haven't heard it before, listen to it now. It might surprise you!

Tragedy struck the group on April 25th 2002 when Left-Eye died in a car accident during the recording of their fourth album. T-Boz and Chilli announced that they would go ahead with the release as planned, using the material that Lisa had already recorded to pay tribute to her legacy. '3D' was released six months after the accident and became the groups final album, with the decision made that Left-Eye would never be replaced.

The lead single 'Girl Talk' features Left-Eye rapping in animated segments while Chilli and T-Boz perform the track, which featured the girls cheekily returning to the sexy lyrics that personified much of their work in the 90s. I thought it was a good decision to show TLC doing what they did best, rather than lead the album with a sad tribute song. Here's the video.

'Just plain big but sex ain't worth a damn!'

Followup  single 'Hands Up' was good but felt more like an album track to me and 'Damaged' was a nice enough song but did not have much impact on the music-buying public. My other favourite single from '3D' then was the fourth and final release 'Turntable', a mid-tempo ballad written and recorded as a tribute to Left-Eye and her legacy. The video featured a collection of clips from previous videos filmed throughout the groups prolific career and is a nice homage to the group as they once were. Enjoy.

I think '3D' was a seriously underrated album and its average performance was not helped by some poor single choices. Were it up to me, I would have been torn between releasing three or four of my favourite album tracks which were all more reflective of what TLC was supposed to be about. 'Quickie' would have been a fantastic choice of single, with a new rap from Left-Eye and an edgy chorus, as well as a banging intro for each of the girls. I think 'Quickie' sums up the essence of what made TLC so appealing back when they debuted in the 90s. Here's the audio.

I was also obsessed with another upbeat track from the album, 'Dirty Dirty', which saw T-Boz and Chilli sing with plenty of sass over a Southern-style Timbaland beat. The song even manages to include a short tribute to Lisa - 'Left-Eye gets a moment of silence'. I love it!

Finally, 'Give It To Me While It's Hot' was a smooth late-night jam that featured a rap recycled from Lisa's solo album and seductive lyrics that had me hooked. Listen to it now to see if you agree that it could have been an awesome single choice!

In the following year, TLC released a greatest hits collection, 'Now and Forever: The Hits', which saw the majority of their singles compiled onto one disc. The album included a new track called 'Come Get Some', which featured Lil Jon and Sean P of YoungBloodZ. The song is an uptempo hip-hop track with elements of crunk, due to Lil Jon's production style of the time. It's worth giving it a listen but I find the track a bit disappointing all in all and would have rathered 'Dear Lie' be included on the greatest hits collection instead. Anyway, here's 'Come Get Some'.

While both Chilli and T-Boz continued to work in the music industry, little was seen of them until 2011, when they reunited to perform 'Waterfalls' and 'No Scrubs' on American Idol, to a standing ovation. It was great to see the girls back together again after so long and it made me happy to see how respected they still were after all these years.

Sorry about the average sound quality!

As of November 2012, it has been ten years since the death of Left-Eye and its been reported that Chilli and T-Boz are working on new material together in the studio, with a new release hopefully expected sometime next year. Their latest video appearance however sees the girls cameo in the promo for a cover of 'Waterfalls' by British girl-group Stooshe. I'll be up front; their interpretation is just appalling and it genuinely saddened me to see T-Boz and Chilli seemingly endorse one of their biggest hits being murdered like that.

I'm still crazy excited about their new studio material however! I hope you enjoyed looking back at classic TLC songs and make sure you return next Sunday for another edition of 'Whatever Happened To RnB?'.

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