History, Interview, News

Jermaine Dupri: “Xscape Sang Low On First Single To Sound Like TLC”

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In the second episode of T.I.‘s ExpidiTIously with Jermaine Dupri (April 9), he reminisces about the early days of his career and how he first became to work with Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, whom he met through his close friend Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, who was sleeping in his closet at the time.

The girls were in a girl group — but it wasn’t the TLC we currently know and love. T-Boz and Left Eye were in another group, calling themselves Second Nature. “I started cutting songs with ‘TL’ in my house, way before L.A. and Babyface came onto the scene”, Jermaine recalls.

“I was writing R&B songs for them, and they were like, ‘okay, let’s do it’. So, I wrote these songs for ‘TL’ and one was called “I Got It Goin’ On“, he continues. “The way I was singing on the demo, I said I want you to sing it like this. Tionne was like ‘that’s low, don’t nobody wanna hear me sing like that, they wanna hear me sang’.”

“I was like ‘nah, you’ve gotta be cool. You’ve gotta sing down here where I’m at. You hear where I’m at?'”, Jermaine said. “So, Tionne started mimicking my demo, and that’s how she got that T-Boz sound that people know of today “.

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TLC as 2nd Nature in 1990

Before TLC signed a record deal with LaFace Records, Left Eye called Jermaine to tell him about a meeting she had scheduled with Pebbles. “She said ‘JD, we’re having this meeting with Pebbles, should I take the meeting?’ I could have told her don’t go.”, he recalls. “But I didn’t have a label or an outlet to tell her to say no at the time. I couldn’t replace the opportunity. So I told her to go to the meeting, because if you get signed I’m going to do the songs. So, I was thinking as a producer as opposed to the CEO of a record company. I was thinking if they get a deal bigger than I had, then I can produce on these bigger records. So, I encouraged her to have this meeting with Pebbles, and basically said I’m caught up with Kris Kross, I don’t have the means to do both.”

Jermaine points out that if he had signed TLC at the time when he had the opportunity, it would have been a slightly different TLC with a former member instead of Chilli. “The C at that time was a girl named Crystal, who was the girlfriend of Headliner, a DJ from the group Arrested Development, another one of Ian Burke‘s groups, which is how Crystal got in the group. I don’t know what happened in that meeting with Pebbles, but she got rid of Crystal and added a girl she knew, which was Chilli, and introduced them to L.A. and Babyface.”

He is grateful for how TLC have always had his back throughout their career, never forgetting where they came from and keep him involved in their projects. He said, “I did the “Hat 2 Da Back” remix, which is the version that came out, and a couple of songs on ‘CrazySexyCool‘ including the intro with Phife Dogg, rest in peace. But they always kept me in the mix, they really remembered and never acted like that shit came from somewhere else, they remember how it started. So I was cool; I’ve got TLC. I’ve got Kris Kross. I’ve got Xscape”.

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T-Boz with Jermaine Dupri on the video set to TLC “Baby-Baby-Baby” in 1992

Jermaine mostly wrote his R&B songs with a low register in mind based on the T-Boz sound. “I was making these records with Tionne and she was singing low, so that’s all I knew when it came to R&B, as far as me writing it”, Jermaine explains. This sound went on to influence Xscape, the first group he signed to his So So Def label.

Although Xscape already had cemented their sound with LaTocha Scott as the lead singer, Jermaine wanted to inject some songs with a low register lead vocal like TLC. He presented the track, “Just Kickin’ It” to the girls, which was also the debut single for the group. However, it featured Kandi Burruss on the lead vocal, as Jermaine felt she had the lower register that LaTocha couldn’t achieve. “I had LaTocha sing on it but it didn’t sound right for what I wanted”, he admits.

Jermaine notes he feels that his influence on changing the original vocal dynamics of Xscape led to their problems with each other later on in group, which ended with the original line-up of the group going on a lengthy hiatus for 18 years before reuniting to go on tour in 2017.

“I was against them being just another En Vogue, there needs to be an edge to it than just four girls singing, all of them need to sing” Jermaine explains. “If “Just Kickin’ It” wasn’t successful, Kandi probably wouldn’t have been lead on the second album. If people liked her singing on lead, then okay”.

Do you think Kandi and T-Boz sound alike vocally? Would a TLC and Xscape collab be good? 

Catch up on the first part of the JD interview here

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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.”