The year was 1994, and R&B super group TLC followed up their debut Ooooooohhh….On the TLC Tip, with the now-iconic CrazySexyCool album. The album’s title represented each member’s onstage personality. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes (Crazy), Rozanda “Chilli” Thomas (Sexy) and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins (Cool) were already well known in urban markets thanks to their highly successful first album that included a string of Top 100 hits: “Ain’t To Proud To Beg,” “Baby Baby Baby,“ and “What About Your Friends.” But once CrazySexyCool hit with a one-two force, the music, fashion and pop worlds would never be the same.
With CrazySexyCool, TLC stepped into adulthood. Everything just clicked perfectly with the already-established R&B/Pop sound of the mid 90’s. TLC pulled off something very rare in the industry: they created a sound that was equally appealing to both men and women. The songs were super catchy, the group’s fashion sense was edgy and cool. An added plus: all three members had that around-the-way-girl look, or since it was ’94, a homey-lover-friend vibe about them that the guys all loved.
With this release, TLC earned sold more than 10 million albums with the RIAA, becoming the first all-girl group to achieve that accomplishment. The wildly successful album went on to sell over 23 million copies and earned TLC a spot in pop music history. Let’s take a look at why CrazySexyCool was such a big movement for TLC.
With noted producers such as Dallas Austin, Jermaine Dupri, Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs, the album was expected to crank out some monster hits, and it more than delivered. The trio’s first release from the album was the smooth, laid back-type jam “Creep.” It outlined T-Boz’s love for her man, but her desire not to hurt him knowing that she was really cheating on him. In effect, she was creeping around so she wouldn’t get caught. While the song’s groove was very cool and catchy, there were two other main takeaways from the single. The first was the introduction of the slang term, “creep.” The term took off in 1994, and is still popularly used today to refer to cheating partners. The second main takeaway was the video’s huge impact.
The public was used to seeing the trio all covered up in baggy jeans and hoodies, but TLC surprised everyone with sexy silk pajamas that showed off their bodies. Guys got a little tease of “what was under the hoodie” of the girls the first time around in the “Hat to Da Back” video in a daydream sequence where the girls wore form fitting dresses, but this was different altogether. More than a few guys recorded the video on BET or MTV and paused the tape when T-Boz pulled the move where you could see more of her – ahem – assets than she had ever shown before.
The group then followed up with the slow jam “Red Light Special,” that vaguely mirrored one of the group’s previous slow jam hits “Baby Baby Baby.” But this time around, the adult-like bedroom lyrics and raunchy-for-1995 video reversed roles a bit, where men stripped down to their underwear and played submissive roles to the trio in the clip.
Riding the success of “Creep” and “Red Light Special,” TLC then released what would become their biggest hit to date, “Waterfalls.” The main message of this bluesy song was to stay focused on your journey and not get caught up with other distractions, or it could cost you. “Waterfalls” was a big step for TLC as a group. Until this song, they were a mainly playful group. The song was actually written by Left Eye (and a member of Organized Noise, an Atlanta based production company responsible for writing hits for Outkast and Goodie Mob just to name a few). While tame by today’s standards, the song tackled once-taboo subjects such as drug dealing and catching the HIV virus from unsafe sex. TLC once again upped their video game by having movie-like 3D special effects rarely seen in the mid-90’s.
The trio would finally release the mid-tempo “Diggin on You” as the fourth and final single from the album.
One of the biggest things about TLC back when CrazySexyCool was released — maybe even more than their music itself— was the fashion. TLC hit the scene wearing the then-super-trendy, bright, and baggy Cross Colours as their main style source. They would then accent the outfits with anything from glasses with a condom wrapper for a lens to oversized hats with loads of condom wrappers taped to them. Hey, it was the ’90s. Not to mention the huge unlaced Timbs the group usually preferred as footwear. But with a more adult-like vibe to the music on CrazySexyCool, TLC’s fashion sense also evolved. While the overall look stayed somewhat similar (oversized and comfortable) TLC began to appear in photos with more midriff-baring outfits that showed off their toned abs and great bodies. Not to mention Left Eye began to rock the band-aid under her…..left eye…. starting a trend for teens all around the country. Between the fashion and flavor from the first and second albums, TLC showed they weren’t afraid to take risks to make the public take notice of their style.
CrazySexyCool was nominated six times and ended up winning two Grammys. Rolling Stone named the album one of the best 500 albums of all time and called TLC the best and most soulful R&B girl group since The Supremes. The 2013 VH1 movie CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story chronicled the group’s rise, and it was clear that CrazySexyCool was the high point of the legendary group’s career.
TLC remains one of the top-selling groups (male or female) of all time and the music and feeling we get when we listen the classic album today will always capture the time period perfectly.
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