Anniversary, Interview, Music, Review

20 Years of TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’

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Written by Sidney Madden for NPR

In 1998, songwriter Kandi Burruss — on hiatus from her R&B group, Xscape — took a drive around Atlanta with a girlfriend, looking for inspiration. In the car, Burruss was playing tracks she’d gotten from a fellow songwriter, Kevin “She’kspere” Briggs, a few days earlier.

“No lyrics, no melody, just the music,” Burruss says. “I always like to listen to tracks in my car because I come up with my best ideas when I’m driving.”

As Burruss tells it, she and her friend were also trash-talking the guys they were dating at the time. “So I started freestylin’ over the track,” she says. “And I was just like, ‘A scrub is a guy who thinks he’s fly, and is also known as a busta / Always talking about what he wants, and just sits on his fat ass.’ “

She knew she had something there. For a title, she remembered something she’d scribbled in her songwriting notebook. The phrase “No Scrubs” came from a term popular in Atlanta at the time, slang for a guy with no purpose, no prospects, no couth.

Burruss took her idea to fellow Xscape member Tameka “Tiny” Cottle, who loved the freestyle. Together, they quickly fleshed out the entire song and recorded a demo, thinking they’d keep it for their own upcoming joint project. But once the demo was passed to a few other industry figures, the two were persuaded to sell the song to a bigger group — who would end up running with it.

TLC, also from Atlanta, already had its own formula for success. Early hits like “Creep,” “Waterfalls” and “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” cultivated an image of being socially aware, and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes were known as bold, confident, independent young women. So when “No Scrubs” landed in their court, a few words were changed to suit that image and make the song their own. (Among them, “fat ass” became “broke ass,” making clear the group’s problem was with men who lacked not just coin, but ambition.)

“No Scrubs” was released Feb. 2, 1999, as the lead single of TLC’s third studio album, FanMail. The track locked up the No. 1 position on Billboard’s Hot 100 for four weeks and stayed on the chart for months. Chilli Thomas says she knew it would be a hit the first time she heard it, because even though the term was regional, the idea was universal. “A scrub is just a bum guy, you know?” she says. “You don’t want to bring him home.”

At the time TLC hadn’t dropped an album in over four years, but two things helped “No Scrubs” take off commercially. For one, it was bolstered by a dope, futuristic video helmed by director Hype Williams. The visual found the trio in a cruising spaceship and each lady, decked out in a swishy space suit, got the chance to show her individual personality. Chilli remembers the challenges of that now-iconic shoot, in which she performed her verses on a giant swinging platform.

“I was looking at it and it’s ginormous — I’m like, ‘Who’s supposed to get on the swing?’ ” Chilli says. “I was so intimidated, but eventually, I did it. I mean, I got on there and I got comfortable, and then I got realcomfortable.” The video would earn TLC a MTV Video Music Award for best group video, beating out the all-male competition in a category that included both ‘NSync and the Backstreet Boys at their height.

Second, LaFace Records was smart about marketing the single. “No Scrubs” was released in two versions, one with Left Eye’s rap verse and one without. This strategy ensured the song would get airplay on a variety of radio stations, regardless of format.

While some of the most popular late ’90s hip-hop and R&B tracks were saturated with misogyny and damsel-in-distress plotlines, Burruss says, “No Scrubs” helped flip the script. “This song almost made it to where guys felt they couldn’t ride to an event together anymore,” she remembers.

And men weren’t just stopping short of carpooling to the club. “No Scrubs” was a wake-up call for guys like Sean Armstrong, aka DJ Face of the radio station Majic 102.3. He remembers hearing the song for the first time at a Baltimore record store and spinning it at D.C.-area clubs when it first came out.

“Guys started checking themselves, like, ‘Am I a scrub?,’ ” Face remembers. “You had to really think: ‘I don’t really lean out the window, you know, hollerin’ at women. I have my own car. I got a job. I’m not a scrub.’ Like, you had to take yourself off the list.”

Chilli says it’s not guys like DJ Face who have to worry. “I always say, the guys getting upset are the scrubs. If you’re not a scrub, then … a hit dog will holler, right?” she laughs. “So, if that’s not who you are, then you shouldn’t be getting upset.”

The feathers of Yonkers, N.Y. rap group Sporty Thievz were so ruffled, the trio released its own response track, “No Pigeons,” in May 1999, a month after “No Scrubs” hit No. 1. But even if some perceived “No Pigeons” as a diss to the song’s originators, it used the same melody as “No Scrubs” — so Burruss, Briggs and Cottle still got paid.

“That was a check,” Burruss says. “I thought it was clever. I love the fact that they flipped the song and gave the male point of view. And plus, we ended up getting all the royalties from it.”

In the two decades since the song was released, it’s never really gone away. In 2017, Ed Sheeran added the songwriters of “No Scrubs” to the credits of his own No. 1 hit, “Shape of You,” after some drew comparisonsbetween the two songs’ melodies. And it’s inspired covers across all genres. British R&B singer Jorja Smith keeps her version stripped down, while country star Kacey Musgraves adds a bit of twang. In January, the four men of Weezer released a rock cover, with all gender pronouns left intact.

But at the end of the day, the original is still popular. On Spotify, “No Scrubs” has over 300 million streams to date. NPR intern Sophie Fouladi was born in the early 2000s and says the song was a hit at her junior prom in Northern Virginia just last spring.

“I thought it was really interesting that a throwback song was something that got everyone really excited,” Fouladi says. “There was just screams of recognition from a bunch of girls, and they were pulling each other to the dance floor. These are people who were born after the song was released.”

Chilli says she recognized the power of “No Scrubs” back when TLC first recorded it, and she’s proud of its legacy. “I feel really happy because I know that — even though you can jam to it, you dance to it — lyrically, I know that the girls are listening, you know? And the guys are, too,” she says.

Kandi Burruss agrees. “As women, we go through things every day, all day,” she says. “No matter where we go, somebody is gonna try to push up or try to holler at you, and they’re not always a gentleman about it. So I feel like this song put it out there … and it just made women be a little bit more outspoken.”

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Anniversary, Interview, Music

Chilli Approves Weezer’s ‘No Scrubs’ And Wants TLC To Perform With Them

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On Thursday, Weezer followed up the surprising success of their 2018 cover of Toto’s persistent hit “Africa” with The Teal Album, a collection of 10 faithful covers by the rock band ranging from Black Sabbath (“Paranoid”) to Michael Jackson (“Billie Jean”). The most surprising — and immediate fan favorite — has been the group’s take on TLC’s 1999 megahit “No Scrubs.” Speaking to Rolling Stone, TLC’s Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas co-signed the ebullient cover.

“When I heard it, I loved it! They did a great job,” Chilli tells Rolling Stone. She hadn’t heard about Weezer’s plans to cover the track until the album dropped and has witnessed a “flood” of opinions from her trio’s fans. “I hope we can perform it together.”

Prior to hearing the fuzzy, alt-rock take on the Fanmail single, Chilli has not exactly followed Weezer. She was as surprised as anyone by the group’s choice to tackle the R&B track amidst mostly classic rock reinterpretations.

“I’m definitely familiar with the group,” she adds, though she laughs off the possibility of TLC ever swapping positions with Weezer and covering one of their songs. “I totally get why any girl would do it, but when guys do it I go, ‘Clearly, they’re not scrubs.’ If they were scrubs, they wouldn’t sing the song with this type of confidence,” she adds. It reflects a similar sentiment to singer Rivers Cuomo’s own explanation for how the band chose to approach the song in the album breakdown on Apple Music.

“I just thought it was one of those songs that’s freakishly popular,” he said. “I was trying to decide which gender perspective to sing it from, then I saw this tweet that said, ‘If you’re a guy covering a song by a girl, you gotta keep the pronouns. For those three minutes, you’re gay.’ So I was like, ‘Cool, let’s try this.’”

She also expressed admiration for the group’s tenacity when it came to singing a Jackson hit like “Billie Jean” for the album. “You gotta be pretty brave to do any of his songs, no matter who you are,” she says, jokingly referring to the late pop star as “the only husband I’ve ever had.”

Prior to Weezer’s cover, Chilli has appreciated Bette Midler’s “Waterfalls” as well as any time Hanson has tackled the girl group’s discography. She’s honored that new life continues to be breathed into all of their music.

“It feels really good because when you’re in the studio working, you hope and pray that you make songs that have longevity. And we have, so that’s a blessing. I’m telling you, I wanna reach out to [Weezer] and try to make this performance happen!”

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Source: Rolling Stone

Anniversary, Archives, Fashion, Interview, Relationships

TLC Talk Self-Esteem, Turn-Offs and Offer Some Dating Tips!

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They’re the sexiest female stars in the world, making, yes, even All Saints look a little ordinary. We talk to TLC about men, ‘scrubs’ and erm, condoms as fashion accessories.

By Pete Robinson | September 11, 1999

TLC are exhausted. The whirlwind campaign for “No Scrubs”  the album “Fanmail” and new single “Unpretty”, has all come to a head and now, for a few minutes at least, R&B’s foremost sex symbols can have a little sitdown, sip a few drinks, and talk dirty for The Sex Issue.

But first there is something to clear up. “Unpretty” has caused widespread confusion, to the point where respected music pundits such as, erm, Doctor Fox have spluttered comments along the lines of  “Hey! But these babes are hot!”. What Foxy hasn’t considered, of course, is this is the point: that the insecurity in the song must be really bad for three (ahem) “beauties” to feel worthless. Except, as Left Eye explains, “that’s not what the song’s about at all, either.”

“It doesn’t have anything to do with good-looking people or bad-looking people,” she elucidates. “You can make me feel Unpretty, depending on how you see me through your eyes, but it shouldn’t be that way. What it all boils down to is being able to see inside of yourself and of other people, without necessarily using your physical eyes. We’re saying that we limit ourselves to our physical senses, but in fact there’s a life force, there’s an energy behind all of us and that’s what counts the most. We get too distracted by our physical senses to see and hear what’s real”.

But while “No Scrubs” has it’s precursors in musical history, there aren’t that many songs that challenge the listener with such a tricky subject matter as “Unpretty” — there must have been some catalyst for the single being recorded in the first place?

“Well, part of it”, concludes Chilli, “is that one day we were talking about breast implants in young girls. I feel really strong about that. Big breasts doesn’t mean you’re beautiful  — it has nothing to do with beauty. If you naturally have them, then that’s one thing, but if you don’t, that’s okay, y’know?”.

“It originally came from a book of poetry I’ve written called ‘Thoughts‘”, T-Boz clarifies. “Actually, ‘Unpretty’ was the first poem I had ever wrote — then Dallas Austin, our producer, read it and he was like, ‘let’s make this into a song’. So we took a lot of the words from the poetry and made it into a song. So yes (claps) ‘Unpretty’ is my work! My little poem!”

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House-burnings, bust-ups, ding-dongs and argy-bargies have plagued TLC ever since they stomped onto the pop scene in 1992 with the proto-Girl Power anthem “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg“, yet despite even bankruptcy a couple of years ago, they’re back on the toppest of all forms, and one can’t help but imagine (especially with the “stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to” aspect of ‘Waterfalls‘) that if Britain could call them their own, they’d be tabloid agony aunts by now: kind of a three-headed, PVC-catsuited Marje Proops.

But is there any romantic advice the girls have themselves been given, or that they can offer to those plotting their first expedition into the choppy seas of love and rumpo?

“I don’t know”, thinks Left Eye, who once torched a beau’s house, but who’s currently very much ‘with’ a new boyfriend. She pauses. “Uhhh… I’ve been given lots of advice. Um, oh man! I don’t know. Live and let live. I don’t know anyone who actually gave me that advice. (Laughs) but I do live by that!”

“You know what?”, squeals Chilli, jumping back into the conversation. “I’ve got my mom to thank for so much advice — I’m really sensitive now, but no way near as sensitive as I used to be when I was growing up. I mean, you’d just look at me and I’d cry. I would cry at the drop of a hat and at the time I always felt like my mom was too hard on me — kind of ‘Im only doing this because I love you’ stuff. My mom always told me to be strong and I always knew she was right there for me. She’s the reason I’m the woman I am today. All her advice was the best and I’d pass that on to anyone”.

T-Boz has the final tip. “Treat people how you wanna be treated”, she reasons. “Respect yourself, because if you don’t respect yourself, nobody else will. If you treat people good, that means you’re trying to be a good person. If you respect yourself, then you’ll do right by yourself”.

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By now, you’ll be a little concerned about your chances of bagging a date with a member of TLC. Last year it would have been easy — why didn’t you give them a call then? Nowadays you’ll only need to hold a door open for them and they’ll deck you and call you a scrub. So how, exactly, might one chat up T-Boz, Left Eye or Chilli?

Best to cut to the quick: and while Chilli remains tight-lipped, her bandmates are happy to offer some quick, at-a-glance guides to their psyches.

“I am creative, intuitive, mental, physical and spiritual”, Left Eye announces.

“While I”, T-Boz adds, “am stubborn, funny, blunt, outgoing and a sweetheart. That’s me!”

TLC can almost boast an image that is very much their own. Yet for every ultra-cool item of clothing the girls have sported in their career, there must have been some hidden disasters. T-Boz, for example, has her own fashion crime: “An afro. I can’t believe my momma did me like that. It was so ugly! Ha ha! The afro did not look right on me. I look right in a haircut. “

“The worst thing that I have ever worn?”, Left Eye flams, clearly with something in mind. Probably the condom she used to wear under her (hence the name, etc) left eye. “Mmm..  that’s a toughie, because if I don’t look right, I won’t walk out the front door, mmh hmm hmm hmm. Um, and no one can make me wear anything that I don’t think looks right. There’s nothing I look back in TLC that looks bad. I’m pretty open-minded. I just try to be comfortable. Eww…!”

So what happened to the condom? She pauses, then laughs, “It’s the same reason why someone like Prince needs to take ‘Slave’ off his face. It’s just that people like fresh, new and innovative artists, so as long as you keep innovating and changing their ideas, people will keep looking to you for guidance”.

Do you still get recognised without the condom?

“Heh heh heh!”, she giggles, “TLC are too cool to not be recognised! Not be re-cog-nised!”

T-Boz, today, the picture of un-unprettiness, must at some point have looked f***ing awful. We all have at some point. When was the last time you went out looking an absolute wreck, when nobody would touch you with a bargepole?

“The last time? Well, that weren’t that long ago, honey! Umm (laughs) I don’t know, I feel like that occasionally. Sometimes you just have bad days and I just don’t feel I look good, which was probably last week! I’m the type of person if I’m tired or if I’m sick I have bags and dark circles — it runs in the family, so I think I look like a raccoon. A lot of people have complexes no matter who they are, but that’s my definition of feeling Unpretty”.

Looking like a raccoon. There we have it.

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“So you liked the bit where we rubbed our butts?”, guffaws T-Boz, when the climax of the “No Scrubs” video — the trio backing up to the camera and patting their behinds — is brought up. “Really? Good, I’m glad you picked that part (laughs)”.

Yes, a saucy trio of vixens and no mistaking. Have they ever gone too far in their overt sexuality?

“I shocked my grandmother, I have to say!”, reveals T-Boz. Explain? “There’s this song called ‘Oh Honey‘ — it’s one of her favourites, but it’s nasty and she was like, ‘Oh dear! Oh my! I like this song but…’ cos the breakdown is really raunchy. Yeah, it blows her away, but I don’t really do anything that vulgar…”

OK. But what do TLC find really vulgar in other people? What would be the turn-off if a reader accosted you?

Left Eye: “That’s a hard one, because I can’t think of anybody who.. wait a minute. (Thinks). See, if I say that (thinks more). Uhhh… I don’t know. I don’t know, there’s a lot of sick people in the world”.

Who’s the worst? Who do you really, really horribly hate? Who’s the worst thing ever?

“I was gonna say Hitler”, she begins, not entirely unreasonably. “But I don’t even know the man, I don’t know. (Quiet laugh) there’s a lot of people who don’t have any respect for life and that’s a long list of people. Y’know, the mass murderers,  the genocides… all those evil spirits”.

This hasn’t been much help. What about the perfect date — where could we take you? The movies?

“You know, I have a baby now,” states Chilli, flatly. “I don’t get to see movies. Dancing! Uh! Old school. Really bootie-shaking music. I love booty-shake music. There’s an artist out — JT Money — have you heard of him? JT Money is the bomb — I love his music. It’s a touch of bootie music. Are you familiar with Luke? That would definitely get me on the floor — dancing.”

Just — potential scrubs, take note! — don’t ask them to lend you a fiver when you go to the bar.

Was there much in the way of a backlash over the ideology behind “No Scrubs”?

“No”, Left Eye states, “but there was that Sporty Thievz song (‘No Pigeons‘). Which was pretty funny. But no, we haven’t been criticised at all. I mean when it comes down to it, there are so many female artists who have come out and sang songs with the same subject matter — (sings ‘Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ on but the Rent’ by Gwen Guthrie) ‘Gotta have a J-O-B if you wanna be with me…’ It’s not like we started anything new, heh heh”, she adds mischievously.

Sporty Thievz wanted you to pay for stuff, though.

“Erm, they said that, really? That they’d expect us to pay? Well, being that they want to go on the dates with us, I’d expect that they’d pay.”

Which is only polite.

“But if I was interested in going a date with the Sporty Thievz,” which judging from her tone she clearly isn’t, “I wouldn’t mind paying”. Cool!

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So, date successfully over (hey, we can dream, can’t we?) we move on to… well, the interview is almost over. Let’s just go the whole hog. To the bedroom.

“The bad dream?” Left Eye mishears, though she’s probably along the right lines. “Oh, my bedroom! You wanna know what it’s like? Um, it’s eclectic and it looks like an oversized doll house”.

Crikey a-lordy!

“My mom, you see, is an interior decorator and when I was a little girl and we couldn’t afford really nice things, she’d decorate our rooms with sheer pink material. She’d drape it from one corner of the ceiling to the other, she’d have it coming down and she’d have all different shades. She decorated for a lot of people in the industry, and she did my house so it looks like a princess’ castle”.

“Everything in my house is natural tone,” adds T-Boz. “Everything matches with my hair — even my dogs! Haha! I have a canopy bed with silk material hanging down, a whole bunch of pillows — I love pillows, and everything’s cream, tan and beige. And I love curtains — real elegant, like the fabric’s real thick, a silk type… and I have a real big TV”.

And, to conclude, one of the worst chat-up lines ever invented must be resurrected.

T-Boz, what do you like for breakfast?

“I don’t.”

Blown out!

“Well, I do like breakfast, but I’m just never up that early…”

Result!

“…Actually, today I ate French toast. And I love Pop Tarts.”

So with the image of T-Boz biting into a pastry snack and spontaneously spitting lava-hot jam across her posh kitchen, it’s time to leave TLC. Hopefully, readers, you’re now fully equipped with the knowledge to accompany the girls on a date. Keep us posted on your progress — but we can’t cover any medical costs.

Anniversary, Music, Review

TLC Finally Made Christmas Sound Fun on “Sleigh Ride” 25 Years Ago!

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On their 1993 Christmas single, the trio reworked every part of a chirpy classic and came out with something unique.

By Alex Robert Ross
To make absolutely sure that a song registers as Christmas music, a pop producer can follow a few basic rules. Sleigh bells on the downbeat and some scattered church bells are the obvious shortcuts; high-up strings and canned choirs certainly help. Most truly mainstream musicians are shooting for tinseled whimsy, warm fuzzies, and a picture of mittened masses tipping their hats to each other on their way to a family gathering. A few frills will get you there without too much sweat.
If this isn’t enough, an artist can always faithfully cover one of the early-to-mid-20th Century classics – “White Christmas” or “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” or anything else that Phil Spector perfected in 1963 – and have done with it. Christmas thrives on nostalgia, a reminder of a time when at least some people woke up thrilled by the prospect of presents and an eternity away from school. There’s some sense in going back in time, dusting something off, and adding a coat of fresh lacquer.
Twenty-five years ago, TLC did all of this on “Sleigh Ride.” It was, at least in theory, a cover of a well-known light orchestra standard. There was the reassuring rattle of jingle bells above the hi-hat and some background church chimes over the synths. But “Sleigh Ride” was so much more than that. It was a song warped so far beyond recognition that it became uniquely their own. It was full of frivolous jokes and messy happiness, and it did something that so many modern holiday songs have strived to do before failing so horribly – it made Christmas sound fun.
The original “Sleigh Ride,” a chirpy instrumental, was penned by Leroy Anderson in 1948 and became an immediate hit when it was released a year later. The Andrews Sisters recorded the first vocal performance of the song in 1950, using lyrics written by Mitchell Parish—the same man behind the words to jazz standards like “Stardust” and “Deep Purple.” The Ronettes’ version of the song on the practically flawless A Christmas Gift to You From Phil Spector in 1963 is the most popular, but there have been dozens of “Sleigh Ride”s over the years. It’s in the canon.
TLC took a novel approach to the song in 1993. Rather than borrowing from The Ronettes or even commissioning a remix of an older cut, they basically ignored the original altogether. They worked around an entirely new vocal hook, a beat produced by Organized Noize and co-produced by their then-manager Pebbles, and pretty much a whole new set of lyrics. The hook is so classically festive that you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was there in the 1950 version: “Let’s have a very merry Christmas / And a happy New Year / Give with love and joy and happiness / And lots of good cheer.” But Parish’s lyrics didn’t even mention Christmas. The only call-back to the original comes from T-Boz, who sings to an entirely unfamiliar melody: “Just hear those sleigh bells jing-a-ling / Ring-ting-ting-a-ling too / It’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.”
(All of which might make you think that this isn’t a cover at all, and I get it. If you all but rewrite a song’s lyrics and sing those lyrics to a whole new tune over an entirely different beat, isn’t it just a new song? The answer is obviously yes, in the same way that an old broom with a new head and a new handle is just a new broom. But go back in time and tell that to LaFace Records, who listed only two songwriters on the original CD copy of the track: Anderson and Parish.)
TLC’s “version” is best appreciated alongside its video, which features T-Boz, Chilli, and Left Eye wearing baggy overalls, working through some awkward treeside encounters with boyfriends, helping the needy, and leading a half-decent dance party. “I want T-Boz to get me some headphone sets, and I want Left Eye to make me a fly dress,” Chilli says, beaming, at the top of the song. Left Eye’s verse is an open challenge to anyone who wants to hang out with her, opening with a too-cool-for-this-shit lead-in—”Uh-huh reindeer, presents, happiness… yeah right, check it out…”—and then using the “sleigh ride” as a metaphor for what I’m guessing was simply romance, because this was a PG-13 Christmas track. (The B-side to the single, “All I Want for Christmas“—no relation—is less ambiguous.)
This was just before TLC’s peak, a year beforeCrazySexyCool and years before outside pressures would make things tense, so it’s safe to assume that a lot of the trio’s chemistry was natural and unforced here. In an interview with Pitchfork earlier this year, Chilli even said that the verse was her favorite Left Eye moment: “I really love how she rapped in our Christmas song,'” she said. “I miss how silly we all used to be together. It was just how we interacted, at least when we were all liking each other at the same time—you know how sisters are!” They were gunning for airplay here (and a featured spot on the Home Alone 2 soundtrack didn’t hurt), but TLC were genuinely enjoying themselves.
“Sleigh Ride” is unquestionably of its time, but that’s its greatest asset—where most pop musicians try to tap into familiar moods and melodies at Christmas, TLC decided to sound like themselves, then threw a few bells on there. There’s more than one way to access warm holiday vibes. Sometimes you just have to rewrite the songs from scratch.
TLC finally gave us a live rendition of the hit in 2016, 23 years after it’s release, on the festive television show Taraji’s White Hot Holidays. Missy Elliott made a surprise appearance and paid homage to the late Left Eye by performing Lisa’s verse with the girls. Magic.
Original article posted on Noisey