August 17, 2022

In The Quantity Ones, I’m reviewing each single #1 single within the historical past of the Billboard Sizzling 100, beginning with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my means up into the current.

Robert’s mom received uncomfortable each time Robert would sing “No Scrubs.” Robert was a bit boy with autism, and he had a behavior of singing each tune on the radio in a ravishing, crystalline, barely unearthly voice. In the summertime of 1999, that meant that Robert was singing “No Scrubs” quite a bit. I knew Robert as a result of I spent a bunch of summers working at a camp for folks with disabilities within the Western Maryland mountains. Robert and his mother each stayed on the camp that summer time, and Robert’s mom appeared blissful when the entire employees would marvel over Robert’s singing voice. However she she did not prefer it when he sang “No Scrubs.”

One afternoon, Robert’s mother requested me, “Are you aware what a scrub means?” This was a rhetorical query. She didn’t reply it. That query has been lingering in my head for the previous 23 years as a result of I knew precisely what “scrub” meant. Everyone did. I knew “scrub” as a basketball-court insult; anybody who bricked a layup was a scrub. However even when I hadn’t had that have, TLC helpfully outlined the phrase scrub on the very first verse of “No Scrubs”: “A scrub is a man who thinks he’s fly and is also referred to as a busta — all the time speaking ’bout what he needs and simply sits on his broke ass.” What was ambiguous about that?

Perhaps the “No Scrubs” lyrics signify an uncharitable means of taking a look at folks with out cash, however there’s nothing filthy or degrading concerning the tune. How did Robert’s mother not know that? Ever since, that complete interplay has stood out in my thoughts as a testomony to the methods wherein sure mother and father will all the time regard the music that their children like. They’ll all the time hear one thing objectionable in a tune, regardless of how anodyne. It doesn’t matter if the tune opens by clearly defining its phrases. It doesn’t matter if the tune acts as its personal Genius annotation web page. It nonetheless gained’t get no love from a sure sort of guardian. That’s too unhealthy. Robert’s mother was a pleasant woman, and he or she was lacking out as a result of “No Scrubs” is a superb tune.

There is a purpose to listen to “No Scrubs” and get upset, however to acknowledge that, it’s a must to confront the chance that you are a scrub. When TLC recorded “No Scrubs,” they have been the preferred woman group on the planet. Their final album CrazySexyCool had despatched two singles to #1, and it had gone diamond. TLC took greater than 4 years to comply with that album as a result of they have been caught in a really exploitative contract, by some means dropping cash for each report that they bought. TLC declared chapter in 1995, when their songs have been on high of the world, and so they renegotiated their cope with their label LaFace. On the time, folks reacted with disbelief {that a} group as standard as TLC may go broke, however no person ever accused T-Boz, Left Eye, or Chili of being scrubs.

Earlier than releasing FanMail, the 1999 album that gave us “No Scrubs,” TLC got here perilously near breaking apart. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes had already gone by means of a tough time along with her arson conviction and along with her court-ordered rehab stint, and he or she was mad at being left off of TLC’s personal information, not even being included on the songs the place she didn’t have a rap verse. Rozonda “Chili” Thomas had a child with Dallas Austin, the producer who’d overseen TLC’s first two albums, and Austin held up the manufacturing of FanMail by demanding a complete lot of cash and complete artistic management.

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Within the years between albums, the members of TLC considered what it could be prefer to go solo or to try some type of public life outdoors the group. Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins launched the solo soundtrack single “Contact Myself” in 1996, and it peaked at #40. Left Eye rapped on the all-star remix of Lil Kim’s “Not Tonight,” which peaked at #6. (It’s an 8.) Chili and T-Boz each tried performing — Chili in a cameo look within the indie movie Hav A lot, T-Boz with a fairly large function in Hype Williams’ visually hypnotic Stomach. Left Eye began a manufacturing firm and signed the Atlanta woman group Blaque, who made a few massive hits. (Blaque’s highest-charting single, 1999’s “Convey It All To Me,” peaked at #5. It’s a 7.)

When TLC began making FanMail, they labored with a complete lot of big-deal producers and songwriters: Dallas Austin, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Babyface, Jermaine Dupri, Diane Warren. However the album’s first single and largest hit got here from a comparatively untested staff. Kevin “She’kspere” Briggs was a producer who labored at LaFace and who was actually simply getting began; he hadn’t made successful but. She’kspere produced “No Scrubs,” and he co-wrote the tune with two former members of a woman group that had made a couple of hits within the ’90s however who have been on the verge of irrelevance.

Today, Kandi Burruss is best-known as one of many long-running stars of the entire Actual Housewives universe, and he or she’s been in that function since 2009. (These Actual Housewives exhibits, it’s value mentioning, are on Bravo, not on TLC.) Tameka “Tiny” Cottle, in the meantime, is best-known for being married to T.I. and for being below investigation after dozens of girls got here ahead to accuse T.I. and Cottle of drugging and sexually assaulting them. (T.I. will finally seem on this column, so we’ll get into that complete story one other day.) For a lot of the ’90s, although, Burruss and Cottle have been members of the Atlanta R&B group Xscape. When Burruss and Cottle have been each youngsters, Jermaine Dupri found Xscape and signed them to his So So Def label, and their 1993 debut single “Simply Kickin’ It” peaked at #2. (It’s a 5.)

Xscape by no means made one other tune as massive as “Simply Kickin’ It,” however they landed three extra top-10 hits and launched three platinum albums. After their 1998 LP Traces Of My Lipstick, LaTocha Scott left the group to start out a solo profession, and Xscape principally broke up. Burruss and Cottle had plans to start out a by-product duo referred to as KAT, for Kandi And Tiny. They’d by no means had artistic management in Xscape, and so they wished it, in order that they set to work writing their very own songs. After assembly She’kspere, Burruss heard a observe that he’d written, which already had lyrics. Burruss thought that she may do higher. She drove round listening to the beat, writing down traces about completely different ex-boyfriends. Fairly quickly, she had a primary verse and a refrain.

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Tameka Cottle thought that Burruss’ tune concept was ridiculous and humorous, and he or she and She’kspere helped Burruss end writing the observe. Burruss supposed “No Scrubs” to be a KAT tune, however when She’kspere performed it for Dallas Austin, he wished it for TLC. Burruss knew that this was a possibility, and he or she let the tune go. On the “No Scrubs” single, Burruss, Cottle, and common TLC collaborator Debra Killings all sing backup. KAT by no means ended up releasing something.

T-Boz had sung lead on each TLC tune earlier than “No Scrubs,” however Dallas Austin thought that Chili ought to take the lead vocal for the brand new single. I’m fairly positive T-Boz’s voice isn’t really on “No Scrubs” in any respect. Within the album model, Left Eye isn’t on it both. For the one, Left Eye wrote a rap verse, a enjoyable chattery burst of verbiage that’s stuffed with SAT phrases: “With diamond-like precision, insatiable is what I envision/ Can’t detect acquisition out of your good friend’s Expedition.” LaFace and Arista despatched out variations of “No Scrubs” to completely different radio stations, since numerous stations nonetheless wouldn’t play something that included rapping. However “No Scrubs” works quite a bit higher with Left Eye’s verse, so I’m blissful to report that the video model leaves her verse intact.

TLC’s complete FanMail album could be very a lot a product of its second, a time that I affiliate with AOL free-10-hours CD mailers and The Matrix, which opened in theaters a few weeks earlier than “No Scrubs” hit #1. TLC didn’t work with Timbaland on FanMail, however they did get closely into the modern alien textures and jittery herky-jerk drum programming that Timbaland delivered to the R&B mainstream. “No Scrubs” is a gleaming, attractive instance of that type of factor. A fluttering acoustic guitar line dissolves right into a frantic popping sound. When the beat kicks in, the layers of sound pile up — the buzzing synth-strings, the stop-start drums, the dancing hi-hat. As a lead singer, Chili doesn’t have T-Boz’s all-consuming languor, and he or she doesn’t want it. She simply must venture authority, and he or she does that fantastically.

“No Scrubs” works so properly as a result of it’s direct. There’s no room for interpretation. The members of TLC are sick of listening to pickup traces from chumps, and so they spend the tune telling the world precisely what they don’t need — deadbeats, guys who appear like trash, anybody with the temerity to hang around the aspect of his greatest good friend’s journey attempting to holler at them. On the bridge, Chili additional eliminates ambiguity by calling out anybody who could be listening. Should you don’t have a automobile and also you’re strolling? Should you stay at dwelling along with your mama? If in case you have a shorty however you don’t present love? Oh sure, son, she’s speaking to you.

“No Scrubs” sits on the intersection of economics and gender politics. It suggests a world the place all intercourse is transactional, the place it is advisable to get your checking account to a sure degree earlier than you possibly can even take into consideration approaching any of the members of TLC. As outlined on “No Scrubs,” the “scrub” class most likely got here to incorporate an amazing lots of the individuals who would’ve heard the tune, and it most likely pissed loads of folks off — sufficient to encourage the answer-song hit within the Bonus Beats part under. Perhaps it’s shitty to musically insult anybody who makes much less cash than you, however I by no means heard “No Scrubs” as a vicious tune. As a substitute, it’s playfully aspirational and possibly even motivational. After I heard “No Scrubs,” I wished to work more durable and earn more money — not as a result of I wished to get with anybody in TLC however as a result of I simply didn’t need to be a scrub.

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A tune as forthright as “No Scrubs” can actually seize imaginations. The tune works on a number of ranges. It’s imply however fairly. It disrupts and soothes on the identical time. There’s a wierd magnificence to the best way these voices drift over the difficult drum patterns and sparkly chopped-up guitar notes. When the backup singers come collectively to softly murmur the tune’s title many times, they sound virtually mystical. The tune represents an insane execution of a easy concept, and it stands as a basic of that spaced-out futuristic circa-Y2K R&B period. On the finish of the yr, the critics who voted within the Village Voice‘s Pazz & Jop ballot named “No Scrubs” the #1 single of 1999. (I used to be an excessive amount of of a scrub to vote in that one; I didn’t get my first Pazz & Jop poll till 2004. A yr after that, although, I used to be working on the Voice. See? That “No Scrubs” motivation works.)

“No Scrubs” additionally received a lift from its Hype Williams video, which makes a futuristic and hypnotic tune appear much more futuristic and hypnotic. This was a complete period of R&B movies that came about on what gave the impression to be spaceships, and the “No Scrubs” video is definitely essentially the most iconic of that complete group. The units are all sparse and angular and geometric, and the members of TLC are the one human beings within the body. They dance, and Hype does pace tips with the digicam to make their actions appear liquid and alien. The three singers all rock shiny coordinated outfits, and so they look unbelievable. I want the folks of our present future actually dressed like that. As a substitute, all of us appear like scrubs.

A complete lot of huge, essential pop songs got here out in 1999. A few them have already appeared on this column, and extra will present up right here within the days forward. However “No Scrubs” feels extra current than most of them. Eighteen years after the discharge of “No Scrubs,” the most important hit of 2017 had a hook that was so near “No Scrubs” that the writers of “No Scrubs” got songwriting credit score, and the phrase “scrub” nonetheless has a sure energy. In 2017, the surviving members of TLC knowledgeable Paul F. Tomkins that their place relating to scrubs had not modified.

TLC’s place in pop historical past was already safe earlier than “No Scrubs,” however the tune confirmed the type of magic that would occur when a longtime group embraced new sounds whereas protecting its sensibility intact. Extra hits adopted. As songwriters, Kevin “She’kspere” Briggs and Kandi Burruss will seem on this column once more. We’ll additionally see TLC another time.

GRADE: 9/10