You bet there was a shedding of nostalgic tears after taking in this week's premiere of VH1's CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story. The era of Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, and Rozanda "Chili" Thomas was a humongous chunk of my formative years and to revisit it was a treat and a half, as well as made me want to hop in a time machine to go back to the age of innocence called the 1990s. The flick's success (it was ranked as the #1 TV movie of the year, as well as VH1's most viewed original movie ever, ha-cha!) leads into why music channels now are stupid --- turns out we want to see these kinds of stories, these cautionary tales to learn about the push and shove of what it means to make music. Screw the brain draining reality shows, it was reality to see TLC reppin' sisterhood not just in their music, but in real life (something I've always admired them for), see them make music and rocket to stardom under extreme pressures and real life tragedies, and of course seeing them handle the the cutthroat fire and brimstone of the Cruella Deville of R&B, Pebbles --- I mean, that's all the reality you need. It also turns out that we want to see stuff that reminds us of our childhoods, and it's just damn silly that music channels aren't jumping at the chance to make bank by reveling in Millennial nostalgia. Well, that's where I guess I have to step in....
As much as "Diggin' On You", "Creep", "No Scrubs", "Baby-Baby-Baby" and "Unpretty" are some of my favorite TLC jams, I feel we tend to not give a lot of love to the songs that came in-between those big hits. You know those "filler" songs that are sometimes doomed by the flick of the skip button? Well, TLC had "filler" that was pretty worthwhile, and at times, overlooked. So for those of you who re-discovered TLC this week, or who are crazysexycool like me and loved them some TLC and just want to keep the nostalgia wheel a-rollin', I decided to compile a list of 10 of my favorite underrated TLC jams. Kick a little game with me after the cut...
In Your Arms Tonight
I could really put all of TLC's 3D album on this list, as after Left Eye's tragic passing, the energy for the project as a whole sort of fizzled out, never the mind that it received some Grammy nomination shine. By far this was my favorite song on the project, and mainly because it has The Neptunes at the production helm, who barely disappoint me with anything they stamp their Vans on. Pharrell's lounging lothario steeze was making traction in the early naught's and here was one of those smooth synth gems that sort of glided under the radar and should have been single worthy.
A great crackling opener that is so super dee duper late '90s right down those explanatory robotic vocals (provided by android Vic-E) and that garbling noise of a modem firing up the yee old Internet. It should be noted that FanMail was one of the first albums to give shouts to the burgeoning Internet age, and this track, sort of predicts its frosty future where as much as we are connected in with people more than ever we are still quite disconnected. Deep. Also only TLC could write a lament on loneliness, and have it come off so damn funky.
Case Of The Fake People
A sort of modern retelling of the O'Jay's 1972 classic "Backstabbers", that quietly bumps, but has some cunning kiss-off lyrics that are TLC at their most wittiest. Love a lot of the lines like "don't want you to win that race, cause if you do it's going to lessen their space" --- just good stuff.
Sumthin' Wicked This Way Comes
When I first bought CrazySexyCool, whenever this track came on (and being young and stupid), I promptly scrolled back to "Creep". Years later, I gave this track another go, and found out how compelling it really is. As much sex and girl power that romps around their iconic sophomore album, TLC's took a political stance on this track as they reflect on corruption in the world and how they are caught in the swirl in it. As a bonus, fellow Atlanta native Andre 3000 is just sharpening his chops here as he opens up the dialogue with a profound spoken word.
Latches onto some good ol' TLC aesthetics as it bubbles and pops along becoming my second favorite moment on 3D. Chili gets a nice glow in the vocal spotlight with this one making me wonder why her solo career never took off....
As mentioned, TLC was all about the sisterhood, and at the time, I got my first taste of feminism with them (along with watching a suffragette Mrs. Banks in Disney's Mary Poppins) and you bet my world was rocked. "His Story" is a tough track, as the ladies just lay it all out without batting lashes over a persistent hip-hop beat, snapping out great tell-all lines like: "it's hard for us to be ourselves without being used" and "his story will be his story, and my story is a waste of time". It's a perfectly polished finger towards patriarchy and its divine.
Technically not that underrated as this was released as a single, and yeah, it sounds like the first cousin of "Unpretty", but I always have a soft spot for TLC's self-esteem lifting numbers and this is one of those pep talks that gets you revved up in the best way. The song and it's accompanying visual also turned into a bittersweet send-off for Left Eye, and for the group itself, as it was the last single they released.
Take Our Time
TLC pick up where Janet Jackson left off on 1993's .janet as they dive into a pensive ocean of bedroom R&B that crawls along with upfront sensuality. As much as "Red Light Special" is touted as the most sensual number on CrazySexyCool, I find this one just a tad sexier.
Somethin' You Wanna Know
A '90s R&B-meets-Motown soap opera where Left Eye gives the run-down of a relationship going sour based on rumors, and T-Boz and Chili preach the truth choir. Listening to the switch-off between singing and rapping, reminds me of how agile and fun this format was, and how we've terribly ran it into the ground by the time the 21st Century rolled around. We used to have such nice things, didn't we? Also a short story is just waiting to be hatched from the line: "I'd eat a steak and potato while thinkin' it over later, leave a tip two quarters and a condom for the waiter". Toni Morrison has got nothin' on that....
The incorporation of telephone beeps and dial tones is quite genius on this (kudos to Dallas Austin), and it fits in perfectly with the electronic themes that revolved around Fanmail. I also like the gradual build up of this digital getdown and how the synths swell and decrease, plus you also gotta love the golden nugget mention of Ricki Lake in this. Man, I miss '90s talk shows...
For more TLC-ness, also take a peek at my assessment of Oooohhhh....On the TLC Tip! via SoulBounce