Everyone has heard singers, songwriters, and producers reference and use samples from the girl groups of the 90s, but it’s time a proper light was shed on how and why these women had the cultural impact that they did both in their respective eras as well as today’s popular culture.
- “Don’t Walk Away” – Jade (1992)
Ok sure, Jade might have been a “one hit wonder” type of group, but the key word here is “wonder.” The group had a few hits on the radio in the early 90s, but none bigger than “Don’t Walk Away,” which was an underrated song in 1992, and an underrated song now. With a spirited and dramatic video that matches those very same qualities of the song, Jade had brought so many trends to the table. Cropped sweatshirts, black combat boots, low cut white tees, and high waisted everything, just to name a few.
You might have heard the chorus sampled on Diplo’s 2015 EDM single “Be Right There,” or Maybe R&B singer ELHAE’s, “Don’t Walk Away” off his 2016 All Have Fallen mixtape. Either way, Jade created one of the catchiest harmonies of the era and was able to create one song that would play a huge role in shaping the sound and energy of the 90s girl groups that would directly follow, and even played a role in shaping some of the music of today.
In other words, maybe they weren’t a “one hit wonder” – maybe one song was all they needed.
- “I’m So Into You” – SWV (1992)
But who came before them? SWV did. With hits like “Right Here,” “I’m So Into You,” and “Weak,” this trio owned the radio in the years 1993 and 1994. The group’s stellar harmonies and stunningly powerful lead vocalist, Coko, are what set them apart and made them one of the best selling groups of all time. Although the group eventually split in 1998 to pursue solo careers, they left a legacy that explains a lot of the sounds heard in R&B today.
Bryson Tiller credited the group as one of the main sources of inspiration behind his most recent release True To Self (2017). The group’s influence appears most directly on the album’s first song “Rain on Me (Intro).” In this song, Tiller opens with one of SWV’s most spine tingling harmonies, “Just rain on me,” from their 1997 slow jam ballad “Rain.” In that moment, Tiller is able to give a nod of acknowledgment to the R&B legends that came before him while simultaneously establishing the mood for the album.
Drake also samples SWV and references lyrics in a few of his songs. The most recognizable is on “Shot For Me,” the second track on his masterpiece of an album, Take Care (2011). Drake uses a part of SWV’s vocals on “Anything- Old Skool Version” looping them and incorporating them into the beat; the sample is so stripped down that it would be difficult to catch on the first listen. It’s almost as if Drake’s rhymes were built around SWV’s harmonious plea, “Anything you want me to, I’ll do it.” Drake’s very selective use of 90s samples have always been purposeful, underscoring the meaning of the song in an innovative and subtle way.
- “Bring it All To Me” – Blaque (1999)
“Bring It All to Me” was the video to end all videos performed by one of the most underrated girl groups of all time, Blaque. Blaque was a trio of icons: Shamari, Brandi, and Natina (may she rest in peace).
This hit’s a timeless classic, thanks to the monochrome outfits, the 90s signature blue tint, The *NYSNC feature, and theme of teleportation. In addition, the group’s founding principles of empowerment and unity make them one of the best and it’s a song and video like this that serve as confirmation. Under the guidance of TLC’s Left-Eye and her creative vision, Blaque never went on to gain the numbers that earned them a similar presence in the game. Although they were severely underrated and majorly slept on, this trio always served the best looks and had the most fun.
- “Bills, Bills, Bills” – Destiny’s Child (1999)
To be honest, if I could have made this whole list Destiny’s Child videos I would have. Their visuals have been and always will be some of the most iconic visuals to date. From the original four members and their diverse set of attitudes and attire as seen in the video for their breakout hit, “No, No, No Part 1,” released in 1998, to their evolution into a fierce, yet sexy trio coming for the top of the charts dressed in miniskirts and crop tops with their “Soldier” video in 2004, Destiny’s Child has always been the group.
On “Flawless,” when Beyoncé says “When you were little girls you dreamt of being in my world,” she wasn’t lying…we really did. But more specifically we all wished we could be in the “Bills, Bills, Bills” video. Every outfit is snatched and the hair is of course, laid.
Drake has never been one to shy away from a 90s sample, nor has he been one to shy away from publicly idolizing female figures of the era, and yes I’m talking about the Aaliyah tattoo on his back. So it makes sense that the 21st century king of R&B himself chooses to sample Destiny’s Child’s 1999 classic “Say My Name” on his 2013 surprise release “Girls Love Beyonce,” while paying homage to her consistent influence on the industry. With the help of the Destiny’s Child sample, Drake dives deep into his feelings and delivers one of the most emotionally charged verses of his career:
“I’m just trying to find a reason to not go out every evening, I need someone to help me think of someone besides myself.” (“Girls Love Beyonce,” Drake)
Not to mention the fact that Drake’s main producer and right-hand man, 40, really took his time perfecting this beat– deepening the pitch of the 1999 hit song and creating one of the smoothest and most sensual beats ever heard on a Drake track. Although the song never made it to an official album, it will still always be noted as one of Drake’s best by true Aubrey fans everywhere.
- “No Scrubs” – TLC (1999)
So you probably haven’t forgotten about this 90s female empowerment classic. TLC was the group to truly embody the essence of the era. Carefully paving the way for girl groups like Destiny’s Child, 3LW, and the Pussycat Dolls, TLC was responsible for many of the music and fashion trends we see on the female pop icons of today. Baggy pants and a tight fitted top? Yeah, that was them.
Pulling all the stops of a quality 90s pop video, “No Scrubs” presents futuristic concepts, flashy metallic outfits, stunning choreography, and baby hairs laid to the nines.
But TLC didn’t stop making hits in the 90s. In 2013, J. Cole teamed up with them to create an uplifting and soulful track titled “Crooked Smile” for his second full length project Born Sinner, which — despite the songs lack of misogyny and derogatory commentary — peaked at 27 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 charts late 2013. J. Cole beautifully brings everyone down memory lane by utilizing TLC’s reputation as the female empowerment icons of 1999 to create a song meant to inspire a new set of women in 2013.
With TLC’s well-known status as the “it girls of the 90s” it’s no surprise that the 20 year old fashion icon and Disney Channel star Zendaya also wanted to pay tribute to their legacy by sampling their hit song “Creep” on her flirtatious single “Something New” featuring Chris Brown released in 2016. With production credits from Babyface, Zendaya and Chris Brown are able to effortlessly extract all the sexiness from of the TLC sample and use it to the song’s advantage by communicating a clear chemistry.
TLC made simple, yet timeless classics that will probably be referenced in modern music forever.
There’s a few possible explanations as to why we constantly look to the 90s as a source of inspiration in modern music, fashion, and culture. Maybe it’s because we’re too scared to look forward. Maybe the 90s were just that good. Or maybe nostalgia is just a common human tendency.
At any rate, the 90s will always be remembered as a golden period for R&B, and we have the powerful all female groups to thank in part for that. Girl groups like the ones mentioned here are icons of female empowerment because they pushed the envelope. They have all contributed to the never-ending fight for the liberation of women via their style, music videos, and lyrical content.
Breaking down the walls of a male dominated space, they showed us that women could be crazy, sexy, cool, and powerful all at the same time.
Written by Shelby Mayes