Golden Era: 20th Anniversary of TLC’s CrazySexyCool

We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to the musical Golden Era of 90’s music to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of one of the Greatest albums in R&B history. Twenty years from tomorrow, TLC fresh off the success of their debut album, released CrazySexyCool to the masses. Not only did it help raise the profile for R&B female groups as well as artists going forward, it became one of the highest selling albums in music history. As we celebrate CrazySexyCool, we break down the album and what it meant to the R&B genre. And so we Creep….

If It Wasn’t For That House Fire…..

I’m about to get my Sophia Petrillo on right now for the ones who don’t remember this story. Or Sophia Petrillo…..

Picture it. Atlanta, 1994. Back when the clay was red (well, still is), when Outkast was still the local act on their way up, when the Hawks decided to trade Dominique Wilkins for a bowl of grits and hamhocks (or in other words, for Danny Manning who left for Phoenix four months later) and where a weekend called Freaknik was as wild as you can even think of. The music was bumping, the rumps were shakened, & the sex was as wild and as free as it could get. It was like Black Woodstock, except they shut down the city and you could have sex just about anywhere. Either way, a lot of sperm lost, just a lot of sperm lost…..but I digress. Anyway, a young NFL player named Andre Rison & a young artist from an R&B group named, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, lived in Rison’s huge mansion together as a couple. One day after a huge physical fight between the two, Left Eye decided to get back at Rison by burning his sneakers in a bathtub.   Only, the fire sparked out of control & before she could blink, the whole house was on fire. Almost like a deleted scene from Waiting To Exhale, Left Eye literally burned her man’s house down in anger. To make this story even crazier, Rison still declared his love for her even after all his childhood mementos & personal belongings were burned to a crisp. Even though their love remained, that same love couldn’t shake the fact that she burned a house down & well, insurance companies and police departments are not so forgiving to people who make the decision to add arson to their portfolio.

I know what you’re thinking right now. What the f*** does this have to do with this album??? Well, A LOT actually!!!!!! Considering the legal ramifications of burning down a house that was started wilfully, Left Eye was sentenced to 5 years probation and was placed under house arrest. Well, not that house, but someone else’s house I’m sure. For that reason, she missed out on the opportunity to record the bulk of CrazySexyCool. In turn, because they didn’t have to accommodate the space for her verses for large chunks of the album, T-Boz & Chilli had to fill in her gaps. With them coming into their own as R&B artists, & as woman for that matter since the debut of their first album Ooooooh…..On the TLC Tip”, by happenstance the album had a more mature & smoother feel than their previous work. It had enough cool & swagger that catered to the younger generation (like mine at the time), but with songs like “Red Light Special”, and “If I was Your Girlfriend”, it was also able to appease their older audience and get the Quiet Storm radio love. Who knows what would have happened if Left Eye never set fire to some Nikes or doused the flames shortly after she set the blaze & walked away from the house. Would the album have been able to have that same feel with her rapping on 80% of the songs? Who knows? Honestly we’ll never know that for certain. What we do know for sure is due to the Left Eye-Rison argument/fight/fire & everything that ensued afterwards, it helped to create the most popular album the group has ever created, & cemented their status in the music industry as trailblazing superstars. No pun intended of course.

CrazySexyCool helped TLC to become the most relevant R&B Group of the 90s.

Think of how great their run was. They debuted in 1992 with their first album, sporting cross colored clothes and literally attaching condoms to themselves. I was a young teen when they came out & to this day, I still remember Chilli flirting & rubbing up on Arsenio Hall during their “Baby Baby Baby” performance. Boy did I want a piece of her back then……sorry, where was I? Oh yes. They had a major impact when they first jumped on the scene, then two years later releasing “Creep”, which completely took over the airwaves. By the time “Waterfalls” released & cratered the music industry a few months later, they were the biggest group in music, period. They were on every award show imaginable. They rode for the ladies & dominated the teenage girls demographic. Not only were the guys into their music, but it was a running conversation as to who you would sleep with between T-Boz, Chilli (mine), and Left Eye, kind of similar to the “Would you bone Rachel (mine) or Monica?” questions men had around that time. TLC locked down the clubs, the streets, most, if not all radio stations, and mainstream media. Considering they were the first female group to go Diamond (10 million+ albums sold) in the US alone, which is unheard of for most artists much less a black female group from Atlanta, the previous sentence shouldn’t be a surprise. The album was so huge they took a 4 1/2 year break between albums, & were still hot enough to end the decade making sure every lady wanted “No Scrubs” (and the men conversely yelling back “No Pigeons”) & that they loved themselves with “Unpretty” off of their Fanmail album. They left the 90’s as hot as they entered it by staying relevant with a whole generation that grew up with them from young teens to adults.

The only group that probably comes closest to them through the whole decade is Boyz II Men in terms of relevancy. They were powerhouses too, especially once they crossed over into the mainstream world with their ballads. Jodeci was an incredible group during the time that they were together, but by the end of the 90’s, K-Ci & JoJo Hailey had their own two-man group, singing songs that weren’t on the level of their Jodeci days.* SWV was hot for a good while, but they weren’t making any more material by the end of the decade. En Vogue had a long run as well starting from their “Hold On” debut song back in 1990, but definitely weren’t around by 1999. All these groups had classic material, but none of these groups had that one album that was as defining and as popular as CrazySexyCool. I’m not saying the albums from the other groups I mentioned weren’t as good. In fact, I’ll put Jodeci’s, Diary of a Mad Band, up against any R&B album that came out in the 90’s. This album helped TLC to sell more albums (40 million sold between their 3 albums worldwide, 23 million from CrazySexyCool alone) than any R&B group from their generation, & it wasn’t close.

* Have to mention this, but casting T-Boz as the fiancee/wife to Mr. Dalvin in the “Love You For Life” video was pure genius. It’s probably one of Jodeci’s most underappreciated classic songs, but having her play that role in the video gave the video & song an extra 25% in the coolness/swagger category (even if the group didn’t need it) and gave the video an official stamp of approval (again, even if the group didn’t need it). Even with the large, almost irrational amounts of hip hop my friends and I listened to &/or watched, you still watched that video from beginning to end. Well, that…. & let’s face it, it wasn’t like T-Boz was hard to look at either. Even if I still voted for Chilli.

The Top 5 songs from CrazySexyCool

5. Something Wicked This Way Comes

“Remember back in time when the only sign we had was pickets / But now in ’94 it be this way, something come wicked / G-angs killin’ others for colors / Thanks that we wear for fashion / Other brothers take it for a reason to be blastin’ / What the f*** is goin’ on?”

– Andre 3000

Why is this song in the top 5? Andre 3000 drops his verses on this track. Isn’t that enough? No? Ok, well I’ll also add that this is the most underrated song on the album. It’s the last song off of the album and quite frankly it’s also a great track to end the album with. Andre & T-Boz goes through the trials, tribulations, and obstacles of life, while Organize Noise produced a smooth song & lays the guitars down to give it that little bit of edge. This song normally isn’t discussed as much, because the remaining four songs on this list just eclipses this one in terms of popularity.

4. Diggin’ On You

Written and produced by the legendary Babyface, this song was made for radio. Can’t you imagine hearing this song while in your car around 1:30PM on some afternoon ride show, or better yet, the one black song that gets played every three hours on your local contemporary/easy rock station? It kinda fits the characteristics of one, with the song being about the beginnings of a relationship and having feelings for that person. The style of the song is easy & smooth, the chorus is melodic, it’s light on the bass, what more do you need? I can imagine the radio shock jock cutting into this song partway through the final chorus…..

“……….annnnnnnnnnnnd that was DIGGING-ON-YOU by T-L-C from their 1994 classic album Crazaaay Sexaaay AND Cool. Comingupnext with the Song of the Hour is Debbie Gibson with “Only In My Dreams“. Currently, it’s four degrees with flurries in the air, you better bundle up and dress warm while you ride with us ON 105.7FM Easy Riiiiiiiide….”

3. Red Light Special

This album’s official Quiet Storm-y song. This song was really made for guys in terms of letting us know what they wanted us to do to them & helping fulfill their “wants” & “needs”. At least that’s the interpretation that I got from it. So now when it comes to the video, why the hell do I see a bunch of dudes trying to rub up on Chili by a poker table and some dude with S-Curl juice sucking on T-Boz’s toes??? And worse, we have Left Eye dressed as a pimp & flipping over the poker table at the end? And why the hell are they even playing poker in the first place?? What does this have to do with a Red Light Special??? This is the definition of false advertising, or to keep in terms with this sexually suggestive song, a straight up cocktease. I’m sure the ladies would strongly disagree especially because Boris Kodjoe also plays the role of one of the male hoes (yes, I’m calling them that), but the last thing I was expecting to see when I heard this song was a bunch of glistening, oiled up dudes in boxer briefs trying to grind on T-Boz’s shoulders. It should have been more for us to watch than just Chilli dancing with the guitar player bottomless & her silk pajama top during the bridge. If there was any way to teleport TLC into 2014 & remake this video so that it could be “Worldstar Approved”, I would have flicked that switch yesterday.

2. Creep

The best record off of CrazySexyCool, plain and simple. As soon as you hear that trumpet come in, it’s a wrap. It’s the funkiest record that they have, and can still play in clubs today. This was a hot, hot record, and the video added more to the song. Looking back at it, the video wasn’t controversial or anything but back then, having them all dancing in silk pajamas for some reason was huge, and I know a lot of women who thought that video was iconic. Back then, the only thing my friends & I wanted to see was if one of their breasts would pop up from under those pajama tops. Hey, I didn’t say we weren’t morons.

As I said, this is the best song from this project in my mind. However, sometimes “the best” has to take a back seat to what is the “most important”…..

1. “Don’t go chasing waterfalls / Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to / I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothing at all / But I think you’re moving too fast”

– Waterfalls

……. & this song is the most important song not only for this album, but of their entire career. It took the group to a level that no one could fathom. The album was doing wonderful in terms of popularity and sales, but when this single was released, it took another life of its own. The song not only told a story from the eyes of a mother who tried to rein in & then eventually lose her son from the street life, but it had a message that spoke to the HIV/AIDS epidemic that was dominating our culture and society in the mid 90’s. The latter part of the song is what we all gravitated to the most.

We forget now just how large the epidemic was, but it was extremely polarizing to say the least. Most people were still so ignorant to the symptoms, how it was contracted, there was a general fear that people had about the disease. So when the video was released back in the summer of 1995, the second half of the song was as raw as it could get at the time without being graphic. It was groundbreaking not just in the fact that it was very socially conscious, but with TLC turning from water into themselves like superheroes and the Waterfall-choreographed dance routine, the whole five minutes looked like something that Michael Jackson or Janet Jackson would have done. The only songs that were as big as this was MJ’s “You Are Not Alone” and especially Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”. You can argue that it was my generation’s version of “What’s Going On?” or at the very least, it fell into that category with possibly a couple of others. There’s no question it was one of the biggest songs of that decade.

I personally think Creep is a better record musically, but it’s nowhere close to being as important, which is why Waterfalls gets the top spot.

Which Female Group in 2014 Can Be The Next TLC?

Hold on, lemme take a look and see……..

****searching****

Hold on, I’m still searching ya’ll……….gimma a minute………..

……………..I think I found one……I think………..hold on……….

***still searching***

……….. F***. No one I guess. Well damn….

Let me take a nose dive into why we won’t see another TLC again, & honestly, it doesn’t have as much to do with the lack of talent out there. The game overall has changed in the music business & it doesn’t have to do with obvious signs like the talent pool that was overflowing in 1994, compared to the shallowness of it nowadays. The internet, and more specifically, social media has changed everything for better and for worse. It’s a lot easier to obtain music now as compared previously.  With all the various websites, you can obtain everything for free with just the click of a button. It has also transformed regular people into stars, who normally may not have gotten a look and/or glance from a record label. The bad part of it, is most labels are not developing artists anymore, but instead are looking for artists who have already established a movement on their own. So if someone has some songs on Youtube with a catchy dance, & has about 500,000 followers on their account, a label will be quicker to scoop them up & ride that gravy train instead of putting in the time and money to developing an artist. It’s the same decision that TV networks use in choosing to develop a reality show rather than actually creating a real show. It’s cheaper & cost effective. Moreover, dealing with female groups can be expensive. Not only do you have to deal with booking studio time & nurturing the talent, you have to deal with make-up, wardrobe, dance choreographers (depending on what kind of group it is), etc. For record labels these days, it’s easier to just avoid that unless the talent knocks their socks off.

As for the artists, albums don’t sell like they did 20 years ago. As I mentioned before, TLC sold 23 million copies of CrazySexyCool, but even a group like Boyz II Men, sold 9 million & 12 million from their first two albums respectively. Our generation bought product. We would rush down to the local HMV or Tower Records to buy the albums of our favorite artists, & the pre-buzz before an album was released was amazing, as you would have to anticipate the release of said album. Once the album matched the pre-buzz hype, you became a superstar in a lot of cases. In 2014, we consume music different. If our favourite artist is dropping an album, if it’s not being downloaded on something like iTunes, you’re just getting it bootlegged. Gone is that pre-buzz feeling of buying an album, which in a lot of ways had its value. Album sales in general have nose dived across the industry in the last 10 years. Few artists are selling platinum albums these days, & no one is going Diamond. It’s just not happening. So if you’re an aspiring musician, in the land of dwindling sales and 360-recording deals, does it make sense to join a group and split the profits 3-4 ways anymore? You may as well get all the money you can get if you have the talent, and there’s a better chance you’d accomplish more on your own.

So in 2014, would TLC even be around? There’s a better chance that T-Boz & Chilli would have their own solo careers, while Left Eye would be trading bars & hooks with Rick Ross and Meek Mill on MMG (Maybach Music Group) than there would be of TLC joining together to influence a generation. The only way I can see a female group be as huge as TLC was, is if Rihanna, Nick Minaj, and Elle Varner were to make a female super group and put a couple of albums out. They are all attractive & talented artists (& even if Varner isn’t as known as RiRi or Nicki, she can definitely sing) & at their ages right now, they could possibly have that kind of impact on today’s generation if that were to happen. But that’s a well thought out pipedream. Good luck trying to recreate this group. TLC will remain the most popular female group in R&B history, & this album will forever be at the center of their success.

 

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

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2 thoughts on “Golden Era: 20th Anniversary of TLC’s CrazySexyCool

  1. Pingback: Golden Era: 20th Anniversary of Mary J. Blige’s My Life | The Baseline

  2. Pingback: Golden Era: Raekwon’s Only Built For Cuban Linx… (20th Anniversary-Ish) | The Baseline

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