Have you ever just been sitting around and thought to yourself, “Self, there were several music groups—both in hip-hop and R&B—that went by a three-letter acronym. Somebody should rank them.”? No? Just me. I’m self. Hello.
That’s exactly what happened to me yesterday. I was doing something—look, it’s not in my nature to be mysterious but I can’t tell you what (I was doing) and I can’t tell you why (I was doing it). But in the midst of doing the thing that I can’t tell you about (or why, natch), I started thinking about SWV. And then I started thinking about TLC. And then I was like, “Boyz II Men, ABC, BBD.” After I said that last one, I said, mmhmm. And because of all of that, I was like, I wonder if anybody has ever taken the time to rank Black music groups that rested their laurels on a three-letter acronym of a name. It turns out that I can’t find any place that’s done it. So I decided to take up the mantle. I believe that sometimes you have to do the thing that nobody else will do. It’s like, I never told you to sell drugs. No, Hov did that so hopefully, you (we, oui) won’t have to go through that.
So that’s what we’re going to do today—the thing that came to me yesterday. I’m going to rank the Black music groups with three-letter acronyms for names. But first, let’s lay some quick ground rules: For the reading-ignorers, I said “groups.” No matter how many lives DMX has lived, he is not a group—he is one person. If you are still interested in discussing DMX further, I’m sure he will provide plenty of fodder for discussion after Wednesday night’s Verzuz against Snoop Dogg.
Also, I will not be including groups whose three-letters are actually numbers. Like, I will not be including 702 or 112. I will, however, be including a group that has more letters than numbers (that would be two since we’re doing three-letter combos). I feel like because the letters present a majority, for one brief moment in time, we will make an exception, hence the asterisk (*, that’s an asterisk) in the headline. It’s my party, I will cry if I want to.
Lastly, I will probably not include every Black music group with a three-letter acronym name. Frankly, that deep dive proved harder than I wanted it to be. Plus, I had to take some liberties already, so I stopped at 11. Black liberation is pretty much my oyster. Besides, the groups that I’m including were hard enough to rank. So let’s get to it. Also, this was a lot harder than I anticipated. Two plus two equals fish.
I’m not a woman so I can’t really speak on whether or not this Ruthless Records vehicle, shorthand for Hoez With Attitude (taking a cue from their label counterparts, N.W.A., soon come) was empowering or took power and ownership over the word “hoe/ho,” like we claim to have done with the word “nigga.” So their inclusion here in the 11th spot has nothing to do with their name. It is entirely because I literally can’t name a single song of theirs off the top of my head. Until today, I couldn’t say that I’ve ever actually heard one of their songs. You may have them higher, I will never.
So, the only reason I have 3LW (3 Little Women) in the 10 spot is that I thought they did the song “As If,” which is actually a Blaque song. This means that I can’t name any 3LW song, though it turns out they were quite successful or at least successful enough to have their own separate “3LW discography” page on Wikipedia. But this group gave us Naturi Naughton, who played the character Tasha on Power. I enjoyed Power so they get to stay in the 10 spot. Also, this is my “group with majority letters so it’s a three-letter group name” exception if it wasn’t obvious. As if.
Short for Another Bad Creation, this Michael Bivins of New Edition and BBD kid-group gave us hits like “Iesha” (probably annoying every young girl with that name, no matter how it was spelled in the early ’90s) and “Playground.” They were also on the losing end of a fight they didn’t start with Kriss Kross. ABC wore their clothes inside out and Kriss Kross let us know that inside out was wiggedy wiggedy wiggedy wack. The Notorious B.I.G. would use a similar tactic on Kwame the Boy Genius a few years later when he told us that “your style is played out like those fuckin’ polka dots.” Kwame, who was known for polka dots, had to reinvent himself. Kwame is not on this list. His name isn’t a three-letter acronym.
Brownsville, Brooklyn’s finest, the Mash Out Posse, is an acquired taste. I’ve never fully acquired this taste. At the same time, they have one of the greatest robbery songs of all time in “Ante Up,” whose remix is an even better jam to get robbed to. Seriously, if you’ve never been robbed to “Ante Up” you’re missing out. It’s an adrenaline rush like a mug. I was just telling a youngster in my neighborhood who I saw stick up somebody while playing Roddy Ricch over his iPhone that he should really pull up MOP next time. I’ll report back on his progress.
Levert Sweat Gill was a group formed by Gerald Levert, Keith Sweat and Johnny Gill. I’d say they ordered the names in order of singing ability but then Keith Sweat would definitely be last. I also wish I could have been there to see them argue about whose initial should go first. They gave us a classic record in “My Body,” and sleeper hits with “Curious” and “All The Times.” That’s all I have really. “My Body” morphed into Silk’s record “Meeting In My Bedroom.” Silk, like Kwame, is also not on this list.
The UnderGround Kingz are both underdogs and popular, especially amongst rappers. Pimp C (R.I.P.), was like everybody’s favorite rapper and producer, and Bun B is an amazing lyricist who even managed to flip his talents into teaching classes at Rice University. If not for the tremendous accomplishments of the remaining groups, both on the charts and most importantly, in my heart, they’d be higher.
This is where shit starts getting really hard. Ricky (B)ell, Michael (Biv)ins and Ronny (D)evoe, the three-man offshoot of New Edition once Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill all went solo managed to release the song with the most staying power of all the non-New Edition projects. “Poison” will be on playlists in 3275. “Poison” is a cockroach, it will outlive us all. That is good enough to make it towards the top of this list.
LTD started out as Love, Togetherness, Devotion, but morphed singularly into L.T.D. Why is this group, right here? Four words. Jeffrey Osborne. “Love Ballad.”
Probably the most famous acronym Black music group of all time, they’re also the most nihilistic and misogynistic, and frankly, ridiculous. The group, as N.W.A. is, is what happens when great talent is used for pure fuckery. At the same time, they created avenues for more rich Black people than any other Black music group on this list, probably period (I did not fact check this). I think we can agree this is mostly a good thing.
TLC, shortened from the names of the group members—T-Boz, Left Eye and Chili—is arguably the most successful girl group/band of all time; they’re definitely one of the highest-selling. They’ve done it all. They successfully chased waterfalls even though they told the rest of us not to. They’re the group that caught the leprechaun at the end of the rainbow and possibly in Alabama.
TLC is the shit. They have cheat jams, love jams, jam jams and they’re not too proud to beg. When Khaled says “We the best,” he’s really speaking for TLC.
Given TLC’s greatness, why is SWV (Sisters With Voices), at No. 1 and not TLC? Simple: while TLC was bigger in every possible way, SWV made better songs and perfected hip-hop R&B in a way that will jam forever. You can throw a party and play multiple SWV songs. Their songs jam harder, remix harder and bop harder. SWV is my favorite girl group ever. My “we’re No. 1” foam hand raises for SWV. It’s the S (S) Dubba (Dubba) U (U) to the (V) V.
(Updated 3/3/22 with new details)