While most of my interests have waxed and waned in intensity throughout the years (I assume that’s generally the way people’s interests go), my love of music is one that has remained strong since childhood. Whether I’m reading the stories behind my favorite songs or racking my brain to create the perfect playlist, the countless forms of music appreciation permanently reside at the front of my mind.
These days, my music consumption is largely reserved for times I’m driving somewhere, and try as Spotify might to help me stay in tune with emerging artists, I’m comfortable admitting that my tastes are rapidly falling behind. I’ve long since entered “washed” territory, and “New rapper or guy who’s famous for doing something on Youtube?” is a test I imagine I’d pass only by dumb luck. On the other hand, when I was a kid in the early ’90s, I was absolutely consumed by the day’s hottest new music. When I wasn’t watching music videos in the living room, I was sitting on my bed with my AM/FM clock radio locked on the local hip-hop and R&B station, blasting the day’s top hits until the 10 pm “Quiet Storm” music meant it was time for bed. Even to this day, I can still remember every word.
Well, not every word.
See, here’s the thing: I listened to the same songs over and over again, but whenever I encountered some lyrics I didn’t know or understand, apparently I just smoothed over those rough spots and kept it moving. Sometimes I’d mumble my way through it, other times I’d say what I thought was correct, and either way, I never received any official clarification. This sort of thing certainly isn’t reserved for children, it’s just more likely to occur when we’re young, as the gap between the songs we hear and the situations we understand will never be greater. Six-year-old Me wasn’t citing Law and Order court cases when trying to avoid being grounded, because six-year-old Me was watching cartoons made for six-year-olds. It’s different with music, however, and assuming you grew up prior to the Kidz Bop/Radio Disney era, the songs you heard on the radio were the same ones largely being created for and consumed by grown adults. As a result, children often consume a product they only kind of understand, and to further illustrate this disparity, please welcome my special guest, Me From 1992.
In this piece, I’ll introduce a few of Me From 1992’s favorite songs, then he’ll explain the songs’ lyrics and messages as he understands them. Me From 1992, thanks for joining me.
Me From 1992: Oh snap, I’m in 2021! This is so dope! It’s like the milk commercial where the guy visits his younger self and is like “I drank milk so now I’m big and strong and the cheerleader likes me,” only I’m not really that much bigger in the future. I mean, I’ve clearly gained a bunch of weight, but I’m almost the same height in 2021 as I am right now. Huh, I could’ve sworn I was going to be way taller.
Me: Well, anyway -
Me From 1992: I’m sorry, what happened with that, exactly? Was it because I didn’t drink enough milk? I mean, we’re lactose intolerant and all, but don’t get me wrong, I would’ve taken one for the team if it meant I’d be able to dunk at some point. I assume I can’t dunk?
Me: You can’t dunk. Now, can we get started?
Me From 1992: Yeah, I guess. Wait, how exactly am I here right now?
Me: Well, it’s all very scientific and complicated. I’ll explain the whole process later if there’s time, but first things first, we need to talk about song lyrics from the ‘90s
Note: The following are 100% real assumptions I made about these songs when I was a kid.
TLC — “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg”
Me: In 1991, Atlanta-based trio TLC burst onto the scene with their debut album “Oooooooh…On the TLC Tip,” and while I’m not quite sure why they needed exactly seven O’s in that title, it certainly worked out for the best. “Oooooooh…On the TLC Tip” sold over four million copies and featured three top ten singles, the first being “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg.”
The song’s chorus went as follows:
“If I need it in the morning or the middle of the night,
Ain’t too proud to beg
If the lovin is strong, then, you got it going on
Ain’t too proud to beg
Two inches or a yard, Rock hard or with it saggin’
Ain’t too proud to beg
So it ain’t like I’m bragging just join the paddy wagon ‘cause
I ain’t too proud to beg”
And I feel like I had a fairly decent idea what the “it” was that Left Eye might have needed to access at any given time of day (i.e., lovin that she considered especially strong), so there’s no real need for further clarification regarding that portion of the chorus. As for the next part? Take it away, Me From 1992.
Me From 1992: Thanks, Old Man Me, I’ll be happy to help. It’s quite simple, really. In addition to lovin, as you previously mentioned, TLC’s “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” is about pants, more specifically, the wide-ranging size of men’s pants during the early ’90s. I don’t know if the price of denim is plummeting or what, but straight-legged blue jeans are quickly becoming straight-up whack. People are going big and baggy these days, even in different colors if you’re brave enough to wear them. I’m not brave enough, so I only wear blue jeans, but the options are there. You guys still wear Cross Colours jeans, right? Well I assume you do, because those things are amazing. Man, TLC loves wearing Cross Colours. Oh, and giant floppy hats and condoms. Well, the hats are giant and floppy, the condoms are neither (I assume), and they don’t wear them wear them, they wear them on their clothes and stuff. But anyway, as I was saying, the song is about pants. Seeing as that Mom buys my pants, I have to admit that I don’t really know all the standard measurements. That being said, I can understand context just fine, because I’m no dummy, and judging from the chorus to “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg,” I’m guessing two inches is enough room for pants to be fashionable yet maintain a professional look, while a yard is obviously far too baggy for say, a nice dinner or job interview. Maybe the big-time rappers can wear pants that are a yard, but since Another Bad Creation’s mom isn’t taking them back-to-school shopping in the kids’ section of J.C. Penney, we’re clearly approaching this trend from different angles. So there you have it: Whether you wear your pants tight or baggy, two inches or an entire yard, the ladies of TLC ain’t 2 proud 2 beg for your love. How’s that?
Me: Well, this isn’t really a test, it’s more like an interview. Either way, that was perfect. Let’s try another one.
Naughty by Nature — “OPP”
Me: Speaking of successful ’90s hip-hop trios, Naughty by Nature’s self-titled 1990 album featured the hit “O.P.P.,” which reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 on its way to becoming the most popular original abbreviation in music history (second overall to the Village Peoples’ “YMCA”).
In the song’s first verse, Treach explains the meaning of O.P.P. from the male perspective. Let’s skip ahead to the second verse, where I think there may have been a bit of a misunderstanding.
“Well, for the ladies O.P.P. means something gifted
The first two letters’ the same but the last is something different
It’s the longest, loveliest, lean, I call it the leanest
It’s another five-letter word rhyming with ‘cleanness’ or ‘meanness’
I won’t get into that, I’ll do it ah sort of properly
I’ll say the last P, hmmm, stands for “property”
Me From 1992, can you explain what’s going on here?
Me From 1992: Well, yes and no, I’m afraid. This one’s a little tricky. He gives you clues all over the song, but it’s also a little tough to figure out. The problem is he says it rhymes with Cleatus the Meanest, and I’m not entirely sure who that is. I haven’t studied him in school yet, but I assume he’s a bad guy in history, like Ivan the Terrible or Hagar the Horrible. Who exactly was Cleatus the Meanest, and what inspired his reign of terror? I’ve got no clue, and he’s not in my encyclopedia either. I wish I could use my computer to look things like that up, but unfortunately I can only type on it or play a few games, and I can’t really use it for anything else. Maybe someday soon, who knows. So, I know there’s a five letter word involved, and I know it starts with P, but I’m lost on the historical reference, so it’s still kind of a mystery, especially since he also says it stands for property. Honestly, he’s kind of all over the place here. Crack that code though, and you should be well on your way. Sorry, I hope that helped.
Me: Don’t worry about it, it definitely did. I’ll ask around, I’m sure someone’s gotten to the bottom of it by now. Let’s try rebounding with this next one.
Digital Underground — “The Humpty Dance”
Me: Like many of the artists discussed in this piece, Oakland’s Digital Underground struck it big right out the gate, as their 1990 debut Sex Packets featured the timeless party classic known as “The Humpty Dance.” Performed by Shock G’s Groucho Marx-looking alter ego Humpty Hump (as many of us discovered long after the fact, Humpty Hump was not a real guy), “The Humpty Dance” is the tale of a hyper-confident oatmeal enthusiast who, despite his unconventional appearance, overcame all odds to rock the crowd, win the hearts of countless women, and get busy in the restroom of a popular fast food establishment.
Let’s start things off with the first verse, shall we? We’ll pick things up right after Humpty tells us that he’s the new fool in town, and that his sound’s laid down by the Underground. Me From 1992, what do you make of the following lines?
“I drink up all the Hennessy ya got on ya shelf
So just let me introduce myself
My name is Humpty, pronounced with a ‘umpty’
Yo ladies, oh how I like to funk thee”
Me From 1992: Look, I know I dropped the ball a little on the last one, but this one’s so easy, I’m almost insulted that you’re asking me. Humpty says he drinks up all the MC’s you’ve got on your shelf, and I assume “drinking someone up” is probably the same as eating someone up — you know, like kicking their butts. Like “Man, 250 yards and three touchdowns? Barry Sanders really ate that defense up.” As for the part about your shelf, that’s where you keep your CDs and cassettes, right? So you put it all together, and he’s saying that he’s better than all the rappers whose albums you already bought. Swish. Next question.
Me: Well done. How about this one? Same song, second verse:
“People say ‘Yo, Humpty, you’re really funny lookin’
That’s all right ‘cause I get things cookin’
Ya stare, ya glare, ya constantly try to compare me
But ya can’t get near me
I give ’em more, see, and on the floor, B
All the girls they adore me
Oh yes ladies, I’m really being sincere
Cause in a 69 my Humpty nose will tickle ya rear”
Me From 1992: This one’s a little bit more grown up, but it’s still pretty obvious as long as you know about the things adults typically discuss. And what do adults talk about that kids usually don’t? That’s right, cars. Humpty said that all the girls adore him, so you’d have to assume he goes out on a lot of dates. If you go on a lot of dates, you probably do a lot of making out in the back seat of your car, right? I mean, I’ve never been on a date, but that’s what they’re always doing on TV, so, I assume that’s what happens. So, when you go out on a date with Humpty Hump, you end up necking in the back of his ’69 Chevy, and since his nose is so big, it probably ends up rubbing against your ear — therefore in a ’69 his Humpty nose will tickle your ear. I hope to someday tickle an ear or two in a ’69 as well, maybe when I’m in high school and I can get my driver’s license and a letter jacket.
Me: Man, I forgot how much you loved letter jackets.
Me from 1992: Dude, they’re so dope. When you get a letter jacket, that’s when you know you’re like, grown up for real. I mean, you’re probably way too old to wear one now, everybody would laugh at you like when Al Bundy wears his old Polk High jacket on Married with Children, but you wore one, like, 20 years ago, right? Wait, who’s older, Al Bundy then, or you right now?
Me: You know what? Why don’t we just go to the next song.
A Tribe Called Quest — “Scenario”
Me: The third single off A Tribe Called Quest’s 1992 album The Low End Theory, “Scenario” introduced much of the world to a teenager by the name of Busta Rhymes. Busta’s guest verse stole the show and went straight to the Guest Verse Hall of Fame, inspiring compositions from artists ranging from Nikki Minaj to Barenaked Ladies along the way. As someone who was actively playing Dungeons & Dragons right around this time, I especially enjoyed Busta’s famous “Rawr rawr like a dungeon dragon” line, as Dungeons & Dragons aficionados were, and sadly continue to be, a demographic often ignored by many of rap’s most prominent lyricists.
“I’m all that and then some, short dark and handsome
Bust a nut inside your eye, to show you where I come from.”
Me From 1992, what exactly do you suppose Phife Dawg meant by that line?
Me From 1992: That’s a great question, Way Shorter Than I Thought I’d Be As An Adult Me, I’m glad you asked. This one’s a little more sophisticated than some of the others, but luckily I’m in sixth grade now, so I have a much better understanding of the way the world works. Let’s break this down, shall we? First of all, what’s a “nut?” It’s a hard thing that’s got a seed inside. Like an acorn, for example. When squirrels plant acorns, they put them under the ground, and as long as they’ve got the right nutrients and sunlight and everything, a plant eventually cracks through. Now, when that plant cracks the acorn shell? Well, I’m sure there’s some more scientific terminology, but I imagine the process can be more casually referred to as “Busting a nut.” You’ve got the nut, the plant busts through it, and there you have it — busting a nut.
Me: Well sure, that all makes sense, but what about the second part of that sentence? How exactly would one do that inside someone’s eye?
Me From 1992: Well, what’s behind your eye? Your brain, of course. Wait — you know this isn’t literal, right? I mean, he’s not busting a real nut inside someone’s eye, he’s busting a metaphorical nut. Am I using that word right, metaphorical? Figurative? Well, either way, that’s what he’s doing. Busting a nut inside someone’s eye is like planting a seed of knowledge that grows into their brain. When Phife Dawg is teaching us about his experiences, aka showing us where he comes from, he’s busting a nut right in our collective eyes. It’s a little more philosophical than some of your traditional rap lyrics, but A Tribe Called Quest is a philosophical kind of group.
Me: Couldn’t agree more. So there you have it, folks: Some of the lyrical mysteries behind the biggest hits of the ’90s, no longer a mystery. Me From 1992, thank you so much for joining me.
Me From 1992: My pleasure. Hey, before I go, can I ask you about life in the 21st century?
Me: You do, eventually, see a boob. Were there any other questions?
Me From 1992: Nope, that’s gonna do it. I’m Audi 5000, peace.