By design, our Music Monuments feature is designed to spotlight some of the more overlooked, underrated and/or unappreciated R&B albums over the last couple decades. However, with its 25th anniversary upon us, we couldn’t help but take a moment to profess our love and break down the understanding as to why En Vogue’s sophomore album, Funky Divas, is the girl group album bible!
EV’s debut album, Born to Sing, set a fine foundation in 1990 by establishing their vocal prowess and demonstrating their ability to churn out contemporary hits. It was a perfect stage set for Funky Divas to do what all great sophomore albums should: elevate the artistry and success to the next level. As far as girl group albums are concerned, all of the essential elements were in place. The vocal chemistry was impeccable, which made for flawless harmonies and powerful performances; the artist/producer synergy between En Vogue and Foster/McElroy was unmatched; the musical versatility was impressive as they hopped, skipped and jumped around so many different styles and genres effortlessly; and the commercial viability enviable as they kept in line with the popular trends at the time without chasing them or losing their creative identity.
Pound for pound, Funky Divas established a new benchmark that very few girl group albums after have successfully reached. Revisit the iconic album track by track below for reminders of the new standard that was set in 1992!
1. This Is Your Life
Doubling as an intro with unforgettable backstage banter between the four ladies, it segues into a “live” new jack swing jam that echoes the funky groove of their previous hits and quickly sparks interest into where the rest of the album will take us.
2. My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It) – #1 Hot R&B Singles; #2 Hot 100; certified Gold
From that acapella intro to the sassy lyrics to the funked-out James Brown Sample, “My Lovin'” was everything a lead single should be – catchy, signature and unforgettable!
3. Hip-Hop Lover
Preceding the hip-hop/soul boom of the mid-90s, EV used the title as a play on the groove, turning up the boom-bap as they threw smooth attitude on top of a bass heavy beat and shot down the juvenile advances of a “hip hop lover”.
4. Free Your Mind – #8 Hot 100; #23 Hot R&B Singles; Grammy nominated for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group and Best Short Form Music Video
Only four tracks and the ladies make a creative 180 into socially conscious territory with this pounding anthem for racial equality. Groundbreaking as it was at the time to have four black women using their big voices to deliver a pure hard rock performance (with a high fashion music video, no less), the societal relevance of the track 25 years later is also a testament to the classic nature of the material En Vogue and their producers were crafting at the time.
The album finally takes a moment to cool down with “Desire”, which sounds every bit of 1992 thanks to the smooth sounds of the saxophone matching the hypnotic groove of the track and the ladies’ seductive chants in the background. But a good kind of 1992; vintage and aged just like a fine wine.
6. Giving Him Something He Can Feel – #1 Hot R&B Singles; #6 Hot 100
That fast, the quartet makes another creative 180 towards Motown soul with their rendition of “Giving Him Something He Can Feel”. Putting their individualized stamp on such an iconic record was a challenge they conquered beautifully while also highlighting another one of their strengths as a group: allowing the tracks to breathe. Despite having four vocal powerhouses in one studio, En Vogue nor their producers felt compelled to overload their records by requiring four solo performances on every track. Sometimes all it took was one incredible lead (Dawn in this case) being supported by flawless harmony to make magic happen.
7. It Ain’t Over ’til the Fat Lady Sings
Things get kicked back up a notch with another foray into hip-hop, this time Dawn actually spitting several hot 16s over another original (sample-free) booming beat that many an emcee at the time would have probably ripping to shreds. Again, they demonstrated how they had their finger on the pulse of trends at the time yet never sounded as if they were trying too hard to fit in.
8. Give It Up, Turn It Loose – #15 Hot 100; #16 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs
Based on their debut, “Give It Up, Turn It Loose” was the most “signature” En Vogue single released from the album and a pleasant reminder of how even their more simple, straightforward records still had a dynamic energy that was undeniable.
“Yesterday” by The Beatles is one of the most covered songs in the history of recorded music (2,200 and counting) but it’d be a difficult task to find a rendition as warm and soulful as En Vogue’s.
10. Hooked On Your Love
Vocal quartet meets R&B meets big band pop (thanks to a bold and brassy horn section). Definitely one of the brightest gems hidden in their catalog.
11. Love Don’t Love You
Immediately calling to mind “Lies” from their debut, “Love Don’t Love You” plays out as a funkier, feistier sequel with the beat, vocals and dismissive lyrics all packing that much more of a punch.
12. What Is Love
Originally born as a dance remix of “Hold On”, EV and their producers once again took unexpected elements – socially conscious lyrics and house music – and turned out “What Is Love”, a funky grand finale that ends far too soon.
As successful as Funky Divas became, selling five million copies worldwide, earning two American Music Awards, four MTV Video Music Awards, two Soul Train Music Awards and four Grammy nominations still doesn’t seem like enough of a reward for the new standard that En Vogue set. Fight us!
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