Scenes Lists & Things

Sisters With Voices: R&B Girl Groups in the 90s

Sisters With Voices. Total. Destiny’s Child. You didn’t need a lyric sheet to understand the legion of R&B girl groups who dominated urban pop music in the 1990s. It was plain to hear, from the coquettishly sexual lyrics to their sassy, irreverent tones and lovely multi-part harmonies. Sadly, music critics often gave them cursory attention while devoting their time to untangling rap music that often required a degree in regional slang to understand. And between the breakup of Destiny’s Child and the emergence (and quick dissolution) of Danity Kane, the R&B girl group phenomenon seems like it’s over. Perhaps there can only be one diva in today’s gladiatorial fame Matrix, leaving little room for sisterhood.

It’s too bad, because the 90s R&B girl groups arrived and left before their time (though a few of the best-known acts like SWV and En Vogue still perform together). Now that our critical energies have turned to analyzing all things Pop (for better or worse), we can better appreciate the uncomplicated joys of Jade’s “Don’t Walk Away” and Xscape’s “Just Kickin’ It.” Instead of wondering whether Changing Faces’ From the Bottom Up was a solid debut album, we can simply delight in its lead single, “Stroke You Up,” and R. Kelly’s pillow-soft grooves.

The R&B girl group era arguably kicked off with En Vogue’s classic 1990 debut Born To Sing before hitting a mid-decade peak in TLC’s Crazy Sexy Cool, and a final epiphany with Destiny’s Child, which brought the world Beyoncé Knowles. As inheritors of a tradition that stretches back to the Brill Building and doo-wop glory days, these women evoked romance from a female perspective, and their stories served as a counter-narrative to hip-hop’s vaunted golden age. You can’t separate the two since R&B groups and rappers frequently worked together–check Wu-Tang Clan’s appearance on SWV’s 1994 hit “Anything (Remix).” And it wasn’t uncommon for dudes to give it up for Zhane’s “Hey Mr. DJ” (and its beat by Naughty by Nature’s Kay Gee) and Total’s “Can’t You See” (with its guest verse from the Notorious B.I.G.). But while the heroes of old-school rap are noticeably present among us, whether through Rock the Bells tours or “VH-1 Hip-Hop Honors” showcases, we can only pine for the 90s girls and their lovelorn dreams.

Recommended:

  • Jade, “Don’t Walk Away”
  • En Vogue, “You Don’t Have to Worry”
  • Zhane, “Hey Mr. DJ”
  • TLC, “Ain’t 2 Proud to Beg”
  • SWV, “Anything (Remix)”
  • Trina & Tamara, “What’d You Come Here For?”
  • 702, “Where My Girls At?”
  • Total, “Can’t You See”
  • Changing Faces, “Stroke You Up”
  • Xscape, “Just Kickin’ It”
  • Blaque, “808”
  • Destiny’s Child, “No, No, No Part 2”
  • 3LW, “No More (Baby I’ma Do Right)”
  • Before Dark, “Baby”
  • Mokenstef, “I Got Him All the Time”
  • Nuttin’ Nyce, “Froggy Style”
  • Brownstone, “If You Love Me”
  • Kut Klose, “I Like”
  • Divine, “Lately”
  • K.P. & Envyi, “Swing My Way”
  • Mary Mary, “Shackles (Praise You)”

(Rhapsody – June 26, 2011)

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