Let’s be honest. Nineties R&B remains one of the only genres in music where, “Oh, girl! That’s my song,” is said compulsively without a trace of irony. But while three- to five-part harmonies reigned supreme back in the day, so did bitter fallings out between members and labels. Even TLC was touched by group conflict before the unexpected death of their beloved bandmate Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. But through the loss, remaining members T-Boz and Chilli stuck it out to the tune of 20 years as their latest compilation album suggests. Meanwhile the shelf life for most groups born in that glorious era was over before you could say 1999. We count down the ones that devastated us and our tape decks most.
#10 Brownstone (1994-1998)
Original Members: Mimi Doby, Maxee Maxwell and Nicci Gilbert
Known For: “If You Love Me”
The Breakup: Mimi left the group in 1995, almost immediately after tour for their debut album. Bronchitis was the official cause and Kina Cosper quickly replaced the founding member of the trio. Years later Mimi started saying that personal problems with the others girls made her exit quicker than rain on a parade. A second album Still Climbing was released under the Brownstone name in 1997 but never prospered under a new lineup.
#9 Jade (1992-1995)
Original Members: Tonya Kelly, Joi Marshall, and Di Reed
Known For: “Don’t Walk Away”
The Breakup: They released only two albums, but their song “Don’t Walk Away” reached #4 on the Billboard charts. So why’d the trio walk away so soon after achieving success? According to Joi Marshall, label struggles forced the girls into hiatus, which turned into full-blown retirement after everyone soured on each other and the industry all together.
#8 Total (1996-2000)
Original Members: Kima Raynor, Keisha Spivey, and Pam Long
Known For: “Can’t You See”
The Breakup: By the release of their 1998 sophomore cut Kima, Keisha, and Pam, Total had amassed a platinum debut, four gold certified singles and several high-profile guest spots on hit songs by Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J and more. So why split? Well, former frontwoman Pam sited vague personal issues for the “calamity” that befell the trio. She also alluded to internal label strife in a February 2011 interview. Lest you point the finger at Diddy Combs for causing a rift in the Bad Boy girl group (wouldn’t be the first time), Pam’s got nothin’ but love for the self-crowned King of New York.
#7 Color Me Badd (1991-2000)
Original Members: Bryan Adams, Kevin Thorton, Mark Calderone and Sam Watters
The Breakup: How do you “do it” until you wake up? I don’t know, but Color Me Badd had everyone wanting to find out when the multicultural group from Oklahoma hit the scene with some serious New Jack Swing swagger. By today’s standards they look like an SNL parody, but boy could they get it when they hit that a capella refrain at the start of “I Adore Mi Amor.” By 1998, a label change, drinking, jealousy and “disunity” made the band go bust, says co-founder Bryan Abrams’. Well, that, and, I don’t know, living in a Long Island house together while Bryan’s alcoholism raged out of control after their fourth album flopped.
#6 Dru Hill (1996 – 2000)
Original Members: Mark “Sisqó” Andrews, Larry “Jazz” Anthony, Tamir “Nokio” Ruffin, James “Woody Rock” Green
Known For: ”In My Bed”
The Breakup: Hearts exploded all over the country when newcomers Dru Hill performed debut single “Tell Me” on Ricki Lake in 1996, but five years ago it was nothing but tempers exploding when they tried and failed to reunite in 2008. Woody embarrassingly quit (again) live on the radio and the once harmonizing bros nearly came to blows! Yet, before ’bows were thrown, it was solo ambitions that really put the hurt on the multi-platinum-selling quartet. Sisqó, Woody and Nokio all released solo projects between 1999 and 2000. As frontman Sisqo put it to Vibe in 2011, “When we left our old distribution, everybody went their separate ways and in doing that, that separated us.” They were never the original four again.
Read on for the beefs behind En Vogue, Jodeci, SWV and more ’90s R&B groups.
#5 Tony! Toni! Toné! (1988-1997)
Original Members: Dwayne Wiggins, Charles Ray Wiggins (a.k.a Raphael Saadiq), and Timothy Christian Riley
Known For: “Feels Good”
The Breakup: The family affair from Oakland, CA gave us some of the best R&B soul for the better part of a decade. But shortly after the release of their platinum hit fourth and final album together, bassist/lead singer Raphael Saadiq ditched his brother and cousin due to rumored bad blood stemming from money issues. Regardless, there is no disputing Raphael Saadiq simply wanted to continue embarking on projects without the Tonys, forming Lucy Pearl (with ex-En Voguer Dawn Robinson) a couple years later. Now that probably made for an awkward Thanksgiving.
#4 Jodeci (1991-1996)
Original Members: Cedric “K-Ci” Hailey, Joel “JoJo” Hailey, Donald “Devante Swing” DeGrate, and “Mr. Dalvin” DeGrate
Known For: “Forever My Lady”
The Breakup: Solo (duo?) ambitions and drugs were the main reasons behind the breakup of these tatted up R&B lotharios. Their hip hop style and unabashed lyrics about “Freek’n You” was the stuff of fantasies for girls looking for a bad boy to make good with when their 1991 debut Forever My Lady dropped. The two sets of brothers went on to have three platinum-selling albums until K-Ci & JoJo put the group on hiatus to do their own thing. Devante Swing’s well-documented substance abuse problems aided that decision rumor has it. The Hailey half of the quartet went on to have three more platinum-selling records as a twosome before their own addictions halted the career.
#3 En Vogue (1989-1997)
Original Members: Cindy Herron, Maxine Jones, Dawn Robinson and Terry Ellis
Known For: “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)”
The Breakup: Any group that titles an album Funky Divas is asking for drama. But the Oakland women ultimately avoided all that by churning out triple platinum albums instead. But when Dawn Robinson left the fab foursome in the middle of production of their third LP, rumors of attitudes and catfights surfaced. Ultimately, it came to light that at the basis for all the tension amounted to dollar bills and solo ambitions. Dawn said the girls were getting shafted by the label and refused to back down on renegotiating the group’s contract to the others’ frustration. But she continued to work on EV4 (eventually turned EV3)…until the label gave Terry a solo deal and told D-Rob she was never gonna get one. En Vogue continued as a threesome then replaced Dawn, but never matched the success of the original quartet.
#2 Xscape (1993-1998)
Original Members: Tameka “Tiny” Cottle, Kandi Burruss, LaTocha Scott, and Tamika Scott,
Known For: “Just Kickin’ It”
The Breakup: “We never had a flop album, we couldn’t get along,” said Kandi about the dissolution of Xscape after three platinum albums since their baggy pants-wearing debut. In fact, the Atlanta ladies went into recording their third LP Traces of My Lipstick knowing they were about to get the kiss-off from oft-lead Latocha, who wanted to go solo in 1998. Um, I think we all know how that all went down. All said and done, T.I.’s boo Tiny and Kandi got the better end of the deal with hit reality-TV shows, plus Ms. Burruss penning more platinum hits for everyone from Destiny’s Child to TLC.
#1 SWV (1992-1997)
Original Members: Cheryl “Coko” Clemons, Tamara “Taj” Johnson-George and Leanne “Lelee” Lyons
Known For: “Weak”
The Breakup: Sure they were “Sisters” With Voices but what’s in a name after five years, four albums and a whole mess of tension? By 1997, any sense of unity and friendship between the girls was gone according to an interview Coko did with MTV a couple of years after the split. “It was either we were gonna get it together or we weren’t. And we couldn’t get it together, so we had to go,” she said. Pretty blunt but not surprising considering the lead singer already had a solo deal in play before the break-up. Besides, the girls started hating each other long before then. So much for sisterhood.
They’re over now (or reuniting much older and with replacements), but you can still reminisce on the love they once had through our epic playlist below. And don’t forget to catch the story of one of the greatest R&B groups to come out of the ’90s CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story Monday, October 22 9P/8C.