Happy 25th Anniversary to TLC’s debut album Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip, originally released February 25, 1992.
Early into one of my favorite years of music, TLC released their debut album Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip. 25 years later, it stands as the musical proclamation from a group that emerged to become the valedictorians of a freshman class of artists eager to express the attitudes of the new decade.
The milestone year of 1992, which introduced the world to big name R&B acts such as R. Kelly and Mary J. Blige, marks the redefinition of the genre, as the new generation sought to break convention with sound and dress, and embrace more of the brash street influence of their hip-hop counterparts.
Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas burst onto the scene in late 1991 as a trio that had just recently formed in Atlanta, GA, packaged as LaFace Records’ female response to the success of Bell Biv DeVoe. Whetting our appetite with their first single “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg,” the fresh look and unique sound of the southern fried trio exploded with flavor that satisfied every taste bud as Chilli’s sweet soprano contrasted T-Boz’s tangy contralto, and Left Eye’s spicy lyrics and natural charisma brought all of the ingredients together. Throw in Dallas Austin’s production, and you had the perfect musical gumbo that listeners never imaged could be enjoyed in a single serving.
Occupying a space between Shanice’s cute ballad “I Like Your Smile” and SWV’s more lustful “Downtown,” “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” scored the ladies their very first top 10 hit and saw the baggy pants adorned bad girls step into the role of spokespersons for the ‘90s woman. Indeed, the single was an anthem of sexual assertiveness whereby young woman now set the terms of who, when, where, and how things would go down in the bedroom. Accessorizing their Cross Colours overalls with condoms instead of beads and medallions, TLC proposed a solution to what had become a growing epidemic, while the rest of America staggered around the awkward reality of STDs affecting the nation’s youth.
Most of the album is an early testament to the production genius of the aforementioned Austin, whose songwriting collaboration of with Left Eye proved the group had depth beyond the initial impression of an urban reboot of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” With a similar vibrancy as Cyndi Lauper, the girls’ sound nearly jumped through speakers as their voices permeated with as much color and boldness as their outfits did, while on display in their videos and live performances.
Adding yet another dimension to the mix, the lyrical content of the trio’s songs stuck to your ribs like fried catfish and buttered grits. “What About Your Friends” calls into question the topic of loyalty and true friendship, making you evaluate the character of those within your inner circle. The song also began the friendly debate among fans now torn between their preference for T-Boz or Chilli as the group’s top songbird, due in large part to the small-framed Chilli belting out “People say I act a little funny / I wouldn’t change not for no money / I’ll be a friend just as long as you’re a friend to me yeah yeah.”
Pumping out hit singles, one after another, TLC managed to keep themselves at the forefront of conversations about relevant youth culture, both in whispers throughout high school classrooms and as the soundtrack to college dorm parties across America.
Seeming to have been crafted around the playful creativity of Left Eye, the brightest moments of the album revisit the topic of young women pushing sexual boundaries during a conservative time in American culture. Lisa’s almost cartoonish nasal voice features prominently across most of the songs and humorous intermissions, but the album maintains a perfect balance by showcasing each individual talent in different arrangements along the track list. The even distribution of workload allowed the two songstresses an attempt to prove their B-girl skills over the Marley Marl produced track “Das da Way We Like ‘Em,” with Left Eye holding back her vocals on the ballad “Baby-Baby-Baby.”
For fans who followed the tumultuous career of the young ladies who would go on to sell more albums than any other American female group to date, Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip is an entertaining first chapter in the coming-of-age story of one of Hip-Hop/R&B’s most cherished groups. It’s a pleasant reminder not only of their raw talent, but of the happier times before their story takes the dramatic shift toward crime, illness, and inner turmoil before the tragic loss of the group’s heart and soul, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, in 2002.
The group’s unique chemistry merged together to blur the lines of musical genres, and their uncanny ability to allow their personal experiences to speak through the song lyrics helped propel shifts in social norms as we knew them. With their debut album in 1992, T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli made one of the most impactful entrances into music, individually sparking the ageless debate among boys as to who their favorite was among the three, and empowered girls to have confidence in their individual style and opinions. Twenty-five years later, TLC’s inaugural effort is a fun album to revisit, reminding us of the numerous anthems that helped to define the all-around sound and experience of the ‘90s.