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The 1990s’ Game Changer: ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’

Written by Tonya Pendleton, Thursday, 23 June 2011 04:57


“Doo Wop (That Thing)” was the clear line of demarcation between the classic R&B of the past and the R&B/hip-hop hybrid that was on its way.


Lauryn Hill’s debut solo single “Doo Wop (That Thing),” from her 18 million-selling solo album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” wasn’t the biggest selling hit of the decade, though it was was a number-one Billboard hit and earned two Grammys. Instead, the song was a watershed moment in music history that ushered in a major change in R&B, paving the way for the decade on the horizon. That is why “Doo Wop (That Thing)” is arguably the 1990s’ most important hit.

In October 1998, anticipation was high for Hill’s solo offering, and the LP’s first single delivered, becoming one of only 10 singles at that time to debut at number one. Hill was fresh off her triumphant run with The Fugees, the biggest hip-hop group of the era. She and the group’s potent mix of lyrical songcraft and conscious hip-hop turned them into a huge global sensation. Fans clamored for a project from the charismatic Hill; she granted their wishes, and “Doo Wop (That Thing)” set up her solo debut well.

The song’s lyrics took on dysfunctional relationships and the dysfunctional people of both genders who made them happen. “How you gonna win if you ain’t right within?” was the rallying cry and major question, while Hill took on the men that loved their rims and Timbs more than their women and the women who rocked hairweaves like Europeans with fake nails done by Koreans.

“Doo Wop (That Thing)” was the clear line of demarcation between the classic R&B of the past and the R&B/hip-hop hybrid that was on its way in the future. Since 1998, R&B has taken on more of pop/rap component, and Hill’s song previewed it. In the video, Hill played two roles via split screen – the female singer in a doo-wop group and the contemporary rapper on the streets of New York. It made sense, as the song borrowed from both traditions while creating its own new sound.

Hill would go on to have several hits from her debut album and become the first woman to earn five Grammy Awards in one night – a feat later duplicated by Norah Jones, Beyonce, Amy Winehouse and Alicia Keys. It’s not bad company to be in, as each of those women brought something strong to music’s diverse palette. For Hill, her brief moment on top of the music game would be a harbinger of things to come in music, though no one has done it quite like her before or since.

With “Doo Wop (That Thing),” Hill promised us an artistic greatness that she could not quite sustain. But oh, the attempt was a beautiful thing.

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