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From The Vault: TLC – ‘Red Light Special’

“Don’t go too fast, don’t go too slow, you got to let your body flow”

As baby-making bangers go, few can rival the timeless sensuality served up on TLC’s 1995 smash ‘Red Light Special.’ For that reason and many more, the bedroom masterpiece is this week’ selection for From This Vault.

Written and produced by the the legendary Babyface, ‘Special’ was serviced as the second single from the group blockbuster record-breaking sophomore set ‘CrazySexyCool.’

After flipping the gender script with ‘Creep’, the girls made way for some sexy time with the release of this track (which itself preceded the educational tone of follow-up ‘Waterfalls’.)

Missing out on the #1 spot due to Montell Jordan’s monumental ‘This Is How We Do It’, ‘Special’ peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 and #3 on the R&B tally. The cut was also a Top 20 hit in the UK.

Re-affirming their commitment to breaking the norm, the trio skewed edgy with the track’s accompanying video. In TLC’s world, prostitutes are males and Left-Eye is the pimp. A point that is often overlooked, yet one that was a powerful way of furthering their female-empowerment mantra. Matthew Rolston directed the visual, which was set in a brothel and featured then-model Boris Kodjoe.

Fittingly, there are no better words to describe TLC than “crazy, sexy, and cool”. Whether they were tackling social issues or goofing around, those three components were ever present. And now, years on, their message is ever-during.

These days, there are many a crazy, sexy and cool act. Yet, sadly so few have anything interesting to say. Different times, right?

In any case: TLC, we salute you!

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From The Vault: Rihanna – ‘Unfaithful’

Looking at Rihanna‘s post ‘Umbrella’ success, it’s hard to believe she was once labelled a one-hit-wonder. Today we journey back to 2006 – just before she cemented her “here to stay” status.

This week’s From The Vault pick is ‘Unfaithful’.

The follow up to 80’s kissed ’S.O.S,’ ‘Unfaithful’ was the work of winning squad Stargate and Ne-Yo; a collective who’d craft a slew of other hits for her down the line.

Serviced as Ms. Fenty’s first ballad single, it was quite a risk given the domination of danceable cuts.  Yet, it would quickly become apparent, the pick paid off as the track became the stunner’s third US and UK Top 10 – peaking at #6 and #2 respectively during Summer 2006. With the single reaching the Top 10 of several European countries, it was safe to say RiRi had almost completely done away with the notion of being a novelty act.

Based on the 2002 movie of the same name – starring Richard Gere, the song’s accompanying visual saw Ri stray on her boyfriend. A visual mirroring of the lyrics, she is depicted feeling remorseful about the act. The cinematic piece showcased a more mature side of the star; one that would only heighten comparisons to idol-turned-rival Beyonce (who is routinely praised for being able to do it all).  It was the first of many Rihanna videos directed by Anthony Mandler.

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Kudos to Def Jam for releasing this track as a single; for not only did the gamble paid off,  it was a huge brick in the wall that is RiRi’s giant sized career.

The song reclaimed the narrative concerning her voice (or lack-thereof) and made her an act capable of selling an “emotional” ballad. This, in spite of whether folk thought her vocals  fit or not. Most importantly, they gave her that real, raw and relatable appeal that’s been her unique selling point ever since. Indeed, she wasn’t the scorned female, the victim, instead she was the abuser, the guilty one, the bad girl.

And just like that, a star was really born and – as they say – the rest is history.

After a decade and some change in the game, how much more mileage do you think “that Rihanna reign” has left in it?

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From The Vault: Beyonce – ‘Deja Vu’

2016 saw Beyonce get all the ladies and fellows in fiery ‘Formation.’ However, a decade earlier, it was all about the Funk.

2006’s ‘Deja Vu’ is this week’s selection for From The Vault.

After eliminating the competition and doubt about her solo viability with a perfect run of singles from her first LP and announcing the end of Destiny’s Child, expectations were rather high for Ms. Knowles to deliver with her sophomore set ‘B’Day’.

With ‘Deja Vu’ she managed to swiftly come back swinging. Sonically similar to ‘Crazy In Love’ thematically and musically (with a guest feature Jay Z to boot), the cut was produced by Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins.

A Stateside hit, the track peaked #4 and was also a smash overseas, topping the UK charts and reaching Top 20 status in numerous European countries.

[Sidenote: Surely we’re not alone in longing for a Bey x Darkchild reunion?]

Just like ‘Lemonade’ 10 years later, the song’s visual was shot in New Orleans and depicted the diva in various high fashion ensembles. Directed by Sophie Muller, the editorial piece saw a boisterous Bey striking many a pose and dancing up a storm.

Prior to then, the singer – still under 25 – had only scratch the surface when it comes to her sensuality. As such, the video was deemed “controversial” due to its not-so-subtle interaction between her and then-boyfriend Jay.

It’s funny what a difference a decade can make: from premium Pop diva to music royalty, the past 10 years have seen Mrs Carter go from strength to strength and establish herself as a trailblazer, an artist cemented in Pop culture eternally.

Will the next 10 years see her join the likes of Michael, Janet, Whitney, Madonna and Prince?  Untouchable figures; the rare breed whose star’s have soared past the highest skies into Pop Nirvana. We firmly believe so.

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From The Vault: Michael Jackson – ‘Human Nature’

It’s difficult to digest that seven years have passed since music lost its largest and most luminous star.

This week’s From The Vault is dedicated to the one and only King Of Pop, Michael Jackson. Our selection comes in the form of 1982’s ‘Human Nature.’

Released as the fifth single from the monumental ‘Thriller’ LP, the cut was penned by by Toto’s Steve Porcaro and John Bettis. Production, as like was of its housing album, was helmed by musical genius Quincy Jones.

Peaking at #7 in the US, it was ‘Thriller’’s fifth Top 10 single. Unfortunately it was not officially released in the UK, but didn’t dent it’s popularity in the region.

With its mesmerizing production and melodies, ‘Nature’ has been sampled many times over the past 30 years, most recently by Chris Brown in ‘She Ain’t You’ and of course by SWV for the remix to ‘Right Here’ back in 1992.

Uniquely, a video was never shot but numerous are the live performances which make for very emotional moments. Michael showcased that he didn’t always need an army of dancers and fast-paced music to make people “feel”, he could also rely on his voice and a magical musical arrangement and let the magic happen.

Seven years after his passing, with today’s biggest artists struggling to bring anything new to the table, it’s becoming more and more clear why Michael was and still is the King Of Pop. And no we’re not saying that to diminish them. We simply mean that in his lifetime, as an artist MJ, has done EVERYTHING there was to do with a precision and a determination that only he possessed. Thus making it hard for anybody to keep up.

From reinventing himself, to using shock tactics to make people listen, to experimenting with different genres, and writing socially woken music, he will always be the ultimate star. One whose impact is resonates both music and pop culture.

Mike, we loved you then, we love you now, we’ll love you forever. Long live the King!

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From The Vault: Keri Hilson – ‘Turnin’ Me On’

This week’s From The Vault comes courtesy of an artist who hasn’t released new music in six years. ‘Turnin Me On’ by Keri Hilson is our latest selection.

After penning songs for your favorite artists and enjoying worldwide success with Timbaland thanks to monster hit ‘The Way I Are’ in 2007, the tide was oh so high for Hilson when time came to prove herself as a bonafide solo act.

Following two false starts (see: ‘Return The Favor’ and ‘Energy’), she finally struck gold with edgy cut ‘Turnin Me On.’ If ‘Energy’ saw the beauty keeping it classily clean, ‘Turnin’ saw her play dangerously dirty.

Produced by Polow Da Don with additional production from Danja, the slice of gritty R&B featured Lil’ Wayne and finally garnered Keri her first solo hit after peaking at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on the Hot Hip-Hop/R&B.

Erik White was chosen to direct the track’s visual and came up with a simple yet effective performance video which showed Ms. Hilson serving attitude, sass and commendable choreography.

With cameos from Rich Boy, Polow and Leah Labelle, the clip drew comparisons to Aaliyah’s work as well as Destiny’s Child’s ‘Soldier’.

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It’s hard to believe that it’s already six years since Ms. Keri Baby was doing the ‘Pretty Girl Rock.’ A tad too long ago if you ask us. In order to keep the masses “turned on,” one shouldn’t step away from the spotlight for too long.

With a new project in the pipeline to be released this year, let’s hope Keri can remind the world – and by the world we mean her fanbase, radio and iTunes – why they chose to ride with her in the first place.

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From The Vault: Christina Milian – ‘AM To PM’

Christina Milian‘s debut single ‘AM To PM’ serves as this week’s From The Vault pick. Join us as we journey back in time to when the beauty was one of her generation’s most promising up-and-comers.

Produced by Swedish maestros Bloodshy & Avant and written by the then-19 year old in 2001, it was the first taste of her self-titled debut.

With its Pop-Urban flavor, it introduced the masses to the singer “Christina Milian” as opposed to the MTV VJ. It reached the 27th spot of the Hot 100 in the US and #3 in the UK.

‘AM’s visual was helmed by director extraordinaire Dave Meyers and featured Milian scheming her way out from the family home to go party with her friends. Honing in on the era’s near necessity for “performance,” the clip boasted synchronised choreography and a dynamite dance-break too. All very early 00s.

Granted the whole affair was coated in dollops of Disney realness, it made for wholly enjoyable (and memorable) video.

Ms Milian never quite became the Pop star she was poised to be; which is a shame if you ask us. She ticks all the boxes requisite for break-out stars at the time – radio-ready music, serviceable vocals, a stunning look and engaging visuals.

Still, when all is said and done, the one thing that C. Mili is not is a flop – as evidenced by her arguable omnipresence in music, TV, and cinema.

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From The Vault: Britney Spears – ‘Overprotected’

“I don’t need nobody telling what I’m gonna do about my destiny”

These were the words Britney Spears sassily sung to the world in 2001 on her hit ‘Overprotected’ – this week’s From The Vault Pick.

Its selection is timely too, as the pop star gears up to take center stage at tonight’s Billboard Music Awards to perform and receive the Artist of the Millennium honor.

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Serviced as the second single from Spears self-titled third album, the track was considered a return to Pop-i-er form for the singer after the release of the Urban-kissed ‘Slave 4 U’. Hitmaker Max Martin produced the cut, which narrates a girl’s need to break free and find herself. A remix courtesy of  Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins was released as well.

Surprisingly, the album version did not chart inside the Billboard Hot 100 – although the remix managed a peak of #86. Still, success awaited across the pond in Europe, where the song reached #2 in Sweden, #5 in Italy and #15 in France, and performed well in Australia and Canada charting at respectively #16 and #22.

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In its accompanying video, Spears is seen escaping the paparazzi by entering an abandoned warehouse – where she is joined by her trademark troop of dancers. Billie Woodruff directed the visual and Brian Friedman choreographed.

Referenced in Rihanna’s ‘S&M’ video a decade later, the singer appears in a room where the walls are plastered with pictures and articles about herself; those same walls are moving in and out, symbolizing the oppression expressed in the lyrics.

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The Britney Spears journey, with its glorious ups and saddening downs, has been quite the roller-coaster. One thing is level to see – her career has never been “boring” (sans “that” ‘Britney Jean’ album).

Could tonight be the beginning of a new exciting chapter? We truly hope so!

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