The music of TLC taught three valuable lessons: How to navigate the changing waves of R&B with melodic pop hooks and swagged-out, hip-hop funk; the importance of sel- love, especially for women unafraid of expressing their rights, political concerns, or true desires; and most importantly, the definition of a “scrub.”
One of the most successful girl groups in the ’90s into the early ’00s, the trio consisting of Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas laid out a game changing formula for today’s R&B class. As Billboard’s July 1 feature on them points out, a legion of pop heavy-hitters and R&B supernovas have utilized the TLC tool box to achieve their own success.
In our current decade, the group’s influence is stronger than ever: Kehlani, Tinashe, and Sevyn Streeter joining Beyoncé and Rihanna as graduated pupils who grew up taking notes from the School of TLC. Here are 12 songs that most closely resemble TLC’s best classics — ultimately producing next-generation gems for today’s pop and R&B.
With a new jack swing flavor, “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” introduced TLCas a group of sexually confident women who didn’t let their pride get in the way of their conquests. Jump forward to the 2010s, Ariana Grande has no reservations about “making deals with the devil” in her Soul Cycle-themed boudoir on her Billboard Hot 100 top 5 hit “Side to Side.” Both tunes discuss enjoyable, consensual sex with a committed partner — despite what society or their friends may want to actually know. On Nicki Minaj’s end, similar to her femcee pioneer Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, she adds a few bars that leave nothing to the imagination — both rappers even nicknaming their significant other’s privates.
“What About Your Friends?” (1992) / Fifth Harmony‘s “That’s My Girl” (2016)
Although, the at-the-time quintet paid homage to Destiny’s Child in the lyrics of “That’s My Girl” the words remained true to what TLC preaches in their friendship anthem. “What About Your Friends?” is all about the importance of being supportive and loyal — as members of each group showcase in both songs. In hindsight, these spunky tunes have a little bit of irony to them: Later in their career, TLC had a falling out where Left Eye challenged T-Boz and Chili to a three-way solo album showdown; meanwhile, Camila Cabello actually left her girls for a solo career. In the end, all three TLC members weathered their storm and Left Eye’s idea never became a reality.
“Creep” (1994) / Kehlani’s “Do U Dirty” (2017)
Kehlani made the intentions for her debut album known when she constructed its SweetSexySavage title similarly to TLC’s classic sophomore effort, CrazySexyCool. Like “Creep,” “Do U Dirty” glides with a chilly effect, as the lyrics promote infidelity. While the members of TLC keep their sneaky behavior on the “down low” with suspicions of their partner being unfaithful, Kehlani is upfront with playing the role of a “mistress,” hoping to exact her own revenge.
“Red Light Special” (1995) / Tinashe’s “Feels Like Vegas” (2014)
With relaxed deeper registers and psychedelic guitar riffs, TLC’s CrazySexyCool slower-than-slow jam is just as sexy as the red-lit visuals of its music video. In 2014, Tinashe — whose style often borrows from the hypnotic alt-R&B vibes started by the likes of TLC — also informs her lover that she is at his service. Instead of evoking the sentiments of the red light district like her influencers, though, Tinashe opts for “the flashing lights” of Vegas.
“Waterfalls” (1995) / Solange‘s “Cranes In The Sky” (2016)
With a tranquil, breezy chorus and verses that serve as an important PSA about safe sex and the AIDS epidemic, “Waterfalls” was one of the greatest ’90s examples of woke pop. On “Cranes In The Sky,” Solange describes coping mechanisms — some good, others bad — to avoid the endless sorrow, pain, and injustice experienced by black women in America. Similar to “Waterfalls,” the song became a sign of the times: For “Cranes,” that was (and still remains) a period of persistent institutionalized racism and injustice for black lives. Another selling point on the allure of TLC’s “Waterfalls” is its VMAs-dominating visual, featuring the trio two-stepping in front of an actual waterfall. “Cranes” follows that example, with Solange’s Soul Train-fused dancing in nature’s various landscapes also making for a captivating music video.
In the depths of YouTube, there’s even a video of Sevyn Streeter singing “Diggin’ On You” a capella. She manages to hit the swing of the song’s chorus, adding her own soulful sound to the soft-rock&B jam. The most similar in Sevyn’s discography to her TLC favorite is her Hot 100 hit “It Won’t Stop,” which also features a hint of southern country twang, softly accompanying a slow R&B groove. Both songs relate to an endless infatuation with a lover, but feel more fun and flirty than obsessive.
“Silly Ho” (1998) / Kehlani’s “Too Much” (2017)
At this point, it’s safe to say that Kehlani is today’s poster child of TLC (and general ’90s R&B) nostalgia. This SweetSexySavage cut quotes Aaliyah’s “More Than A Woman,” which itself takes after the electro-hops of late-’90s R&B girl groups. “Silly Ho” — alongside Total’s “Trippin’” and 702’s “Where My Girls At” — lead a force of Timbaland/Missy and Puffy Combs-styled electro-R&B and hip-hop soul singles from girl groups, dissecting a woman’s place in a relationship. “Too Much” also succeeds at reclaiming the singer’s “bad bitch” status, while accepting the fact that some men aren’t capable of handling “too much of a woman”.
“No Scrubs” (1999) / RichGirl‘s “Swagger Right” (2010)
The flaws of a worthless scrub can now be spotted from a mile away — or even at a traffic light — thanks to TLC. So what happens when they walk into a nightclub? Sevyn Streeter and her former girl group RichGirl call out “love loners” qualifying as scrubs, their continuous punchlines informing targets to up their game and “get your swagger right” before attempting to hit on them. Truly a modern version of “No Scrubs,” offered by a fiery and promising girl group that should have gone a lot further than they actually did.
“Unpretty” (1999) / Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts” (2013)
This one is a no-brainer! While we’ve received other body-empowerment anthems over the course of time — all owing a debt of gratitude to TLC’s “Unpretty” — none come as close as “Pretty Hurts”. After starting her career in the late ’90s two albums after TLC, the former lead of Destiny’s Child also belts about her flaws and insecurities over a pop/rock beat, while calling out society’s standard of beauty.
“Girl Talk” (2002) / Rihanna feat. Nicki Minaj’s “Raining Men” (2010)
Don’t forget that one of these pupils actually feuded with her influencers. It still doesn’t mean that the Bad Gal hasn’t taken a page or two from their trend-setting ways, though — or their outspokenness. Usually Rihanna receives comparisons to the girl group for some of her style choices, but on “Raining Men” she exhibits their defiant “Girl Talk” attitude. On “Girl Talk,” T-Boz and Chilli warn men that if they’re lacking in the bedroom, it will spread on the street amongst the women. Rihanna and Nicki Minaj follow the chit-chatting, sing-rapping, girls-only locker room gossip of “Girl Talk,” telling potential suitors to bring it or else they’ll move on to the next without a problem.