Looking Back On The Original Bad Girls

total-badgirls.jpgIt goes without saying that my favorite girl group of all time is Total, and after stanning for them for a solid 14 years, I cannot begin to tell you why. That isn't to say they weren't dope, but if this group came out today, amid most of the garbage I so easily dismiss or bag on, then you wouldn't see them mentioned here other than to facilitate a punchline. But there was something so fresh about them when they dropped back then. They possessed a blend of elements that no group before or since has managed to capture, all without the presence of any tremendous vocal dexterity. 

Sex appeal & style: Total's brand of sex appeal differed from other groups since they didn't seem to be going out of their way to be ladylike but stopped short of being complete tramps. They could be very direct in their lyrics, but in their videos, they were almost always completely covered up. Not to mention, they had the best stylist in the business at the time, Sybil Pennix, who was able to capture the kind of Hip Hop cool cultivated by Jodeci and apply it to a group of females. Perhaps one of the sexiest, coolest songs of theirs to embody this aesthetic was "Do You Think About Us," produced by Raphael Saadiq.
"Do You Think About Us"

Sexual ambiguity: You would never catch En Vogue slapping each other's behinds in a video, but Total had no such qualms. To their credit, when people made assumptions about their private proclivities, they took it and ran with it. In "Rock Track," Pam has no problem welcoming a female party to a hookup. (Not for nothing, but this song started off as a St. Ides radio ad.)

"Rock Track"

Fat beats: Total was fortunate to work with some of the best producers in the industry at the time. Aside from your Bad Boy regulars like Stevie J and Chucky Thompson, they also employed the services of Raphael Saadiq, Timbaland, Rodney Jerkins and The Neptunes. A lot of folks don't realize a pre-"Superthug" Chad and Pharrell contributed a song to their debut called "When Boy Meets Girl," on which 112 does a masterful job of invoking the Bee Gees.
"When Boy Meets Girl"

Golden Age Bad Boy: It goes without question that the main thing that will always set Total apart is that they benefited from being a part of the early Bad Boy era. During this time, Puffy was cultivating a specific sound with his R&B output ("Hip Hop Soul") and no group since (Dream nor Danity Kane) can boast this. Total was an integral part of the "Bad Boy Sound," since their vocals (namely Pam's) can be heard on lead singles from both Biggie albums ("Juicy," "Hypnotize), they share three songs with Mase ("What You Want," "If You Want Me," "Stay Out My Way") and provide guests vocals on tracks produced in conjunction with Bad Boy ("Dolly Baby" by Lil' Cease, "Do You See" by Sauce Money). 
The fact they didn't make it past two albums with the label is sobering (though not surprising), and one of my favorite videos of theirs was the remix to "Kissing You," in which the Bad Boy family really looked like a family. Biggie, Craig Mack and a bunch of Puffy-like kids made cameos. Can you imagine a "Bad Boy Family BBQ" happening today? Probably not without someone being forced to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge for dessert.
"Kissin' You / Oh Honey"

Total rocked sofa king hard.

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26 Responses

  1. I dig it! Total is my fave girl group as well! and I love allll the songs posted. Rock track is my jam from Kima Keisha Pam...but of course I can bang the entire joint beginning to end. LOVE TOTAL!

  2. Nov, you hit it right on the head homey. Total had me wide open back in the day, I know Omar Epps wifed one of them but I always wondered what happened to the other two....................

  3. This post has sucked all of the credibility of this site in one fail swoop. I will not be coming here again. I've had fun. It's been great. G'bye.

  4. Avatar

    Wow this group was terrible, one of them always looked like she was trying to pinch a loaf when she sang in their videos, their music was beyond whack, and their vocals were terrible. Considering this was prior to wide spread use of pitch correction, I'm sure they sang those parts 50 times to sound the way they did. That first single, with the "Payback" sample was OK... More of a swept up in the whole "Bad Boy Era" so we tolerated them and liked the Hitmen production... kind of OK..

  5. I LOVE TOTAL. someone reunite these heffas. pam probably a housewife somewhere. keisha married to omar epps. last I saw pam she was kinda a mess but thats okay! I love total.
    I loved that they toed the line in every way. are they straight or no? are they all f*ckin or no? would they ever f*ck us? their swagger and teasing ambiguity made the 90s. yes lawd.
    lookadeez - as for you - this is a MUSIC LOVERS SITE. if one post of genuine appreciation for one group makes you not wanna come back get the HELL ON. BYE.

  6. Mmm...not sure what to make of that first post... o_O anyway...
    Good post! Total was definitely my #1 girl group back then. "When Boy Meets Girl" is such a GOOD song! I never get tired of Total. Oh man...they were THE group to put on your hook if you were a rapper. LL did it, Mase, B.I.G., good...the 90s had some fun times.

  7. I was a TOTAL loving fool & had a hellish crush on Keyshia. (don't judge me) Total personified what the 90s were about... faux edginess wrapped in leather. I ate that ish up. I stick rock Kissing You when I'm crushing on someone.

  8. Wait, goodbye comments? Really?
    To me the appeal of Total had everything to do with their image and NOTHING to do their vocal prowess. I mean, could Kima even speak? I have no memory of her voice on any track. She did hold the guitar in the "Kissing You" video...
    I really like the Heavy D. track from their second album, "The Most Beautiful...

  9. @lookadeez: Your loss. Bye.
    Great post, nOva! I almost forgot how dope Total truly was. Golden Age Bad Boy was the ISH!
    *pulls out Total album & reminisces *

  10. This was satire, right?

  11. This group was a TOTAL insult to music and so long as they are tributed by the complimentary tone of this writer, or anyone else, will remain an enduring insult to legitimate musical sensibilities.
    The only time I'm smiling from a Total rendition is by 1:45a when I'm 3 or 4 drinks in at the club on a Saturday night (and even then I'm trying way too hard).
    Should we be so caught up in nostalgia that everything is 'great' no matter how awful the musical transgression??? I've read writings on this very blogsite mocking trendy mainstream artists like SouljaBoy, Young Berg or Pretty Ricky...but now you're paying tribute to to the disaster that was, and unfortunately is, TOTAL???

  12. Oh good Lord! Why the hell are folks so serious? People leavin' and what have you. LOL. Dang Nova! You scarin' people away. LMAO!
    Total was alot of fun. Loved them. They couldn't SANG, but I never cared. It was all about the visual and these ladies were cool as hell.

  13. .........seriously, enough with the sandy underpants. Liking Total isn't hypocritical at all, considering that this is a group with an EXCELLENT overall product.
    Me being a fan of Total kinda snuck up on me.
    I was a junior in HS when "Can't You See" first hit in '95. I thought that the song was made in the first 10 seconds, because by the time Biggie said, "Gimme all the chickenheads from Pasadena to Medina...", the song could've been over. But sadly, the girls didn't have anything to do with that. So I paid them no mind.
    I remember when they were on Apollo in '96, and they did "No One Else." and they were almost booed off the stage, until Da Brat came in and saved them with her rap. I was a little shocked, because that's the first time I've seen a MAIN ACT almost get the Sandman treatment.
    I wrote them off.
    Then my boy picked me up to go see his g/f and her sister, and he turned on "Kissing You." I was intrigued then.
    Then my OTHER dude kept raving about "When Boy Meets Girl." I was then a straight-up fan.
    Other than the reasons stated in this entry, Total's first album was a perfect storm of sorts. They came along at EXACTLY the right time, because the Hitmen had already worked out any kinks with Faith's first album, along with working on Mary's "My Life." So they were able to perfect their sound. I still maintain to this day to anyone who will listen that this was the APEX of BB's "Hip-Hop Soul" at that time. It didn't hurt that the label was red-hot, and they'd actually started a strong buzz for themselves.
    They also played to their strengths REALLY well, and didn't try to do too much. A song like "Do You Know" exhibits this, as the harmonizing isn't earth-shattering, but it isn't terrible either. Sorry to some of ya'll, but I don't need to be blown away or overwhelmed all the time when a musical group opens their mouths. Sometimes I just want to hear a good melody, decent to good lyrics, and a cool instrumental/background track or whatever. Total was able to get this just right IMO.
    Also, I can't front, I remember the backlash back then as well. Pretty young girls who could sing from my school used Total in every "today's music sucks" argument like we often use Soulja Boy and Jim Jones in our arguments, and they would cite groups like For Real as criminally slept-on. I agreed....till I heard "Kissing You."
    And shooot, I could talk about the greatness of "When Boy Meets Girl." Just a perfect song. Tammy Lucas did her thing with the vocal coaching and harmonies on this song.
    Sex Appeal? Honestly, I just remember one of them in that way, and that was because of two things: PAW PRINT TATTOO and BIG YELLOW THIGH. Gotta be honest. Kima actually was married to a guy that had family around my old way, and when she came around, she was always cool and down to earth.
    Anyways, good post. I think I'm going to put the first album BACK in the rotation this weekend....if I can ever stop playing "When Boy Meets Girl" tonight!

  14. I LOVED a few of totals songs & they had some solid work bur there were a few girl groups pout then that had hot shit. SWV & Brown Stone to name a couple.
    I laughed when I read JusticeBorn7 comment "This was satire, right?" because I was wondering the same thing.
    Im just saying.

  15. @SDG: I know right? Maybe we should do more hypocritical posts to get folks talking. A click is a click. 🙂

  16. music fans are so disgustingly snobbish and self important. its hilarious how serious everybody takes their own opinion lol

  17. Total definitely was one of the best female R&B groups in the late 90s. Sure they didn't sound like En Vogue or SWV, but that was what made them who they were. I may be dubbed as someone with poor music taste; but in the end, music is all about what you can relate to and help you reflect on different periods in your life.
    If they aren't/weren't for you, that's fine. Move on.

  18. TOTAL was that girl group back in the day. En Vogue was as well. But En Vogue was on a completely different level and vision. TOTAL came out at the right time, when Bad Boy was jumpin'. 90s music was fun so much so that I really miss those days. It was a good period in my life.
    Nowadays, I tend to stick with the Independents and the Oldie Goodies (i.e.: Maxwell *swoon*). And I STILL rock Loungin' and Come See Me hard. *smirks* Can't tell me naythin'! ^_~.

  19. Man Nova you brought the memories flooding in!!! It was Total's Total package that made them so appealling. Yea we all knew they couldn't sing but hell we didn't care!!

  20. Total was dope for all those reasons stated above by nOva.
    Sex appeal and style: If you were a kid (like i was) back in the early and mid 90s....the dark shades(a la 90s greats like Aaliyah and Jodeci), plus the leather, plus the tougher than leather attitudes was fly to you. That was just what signified cool and "bad girl" at that time.
    Sexual Ambiguity: I remember when Pam acts like she is slapping Keisha's ass at the end of LL Cool J's Loungin' Remix video. It was like OMG....she's gay! I totally thought she had something going on with her bandmates or something....but....we never knew Pam's sexual orientation, so it was cool to have something of a mystery behind the group...and as nOva pointed out, how hot is that to have them run with the rumors and add more fuel to the speculation with their racy lyrics.
    Fat Beats: Yes, Total had superb production. Think: What About Us from the Soul Food Soundtrack by Timbaland. Think: Sitting Home from the Kima, Keisha, Pam album. Nuff said.
    Golden Age Bad Boy: Total was lucky enough to be hot at the right time. When Bad Boy was still poppin' and Puff was many years away from Making the Band. Its hard to find at least one Bad Boy era song by artists at that time that was not hot.....
    So, yea good post nOva. Total exemplified that slick Bad Boy-ness that was poppin' at that time. And no not everything they created was musically magnificent, or conversely. musical garbage. So don't feel bad nOva about liking Total. Think: Kissin' You. Nuff said.

  21. Lol ... well this certainly got people talking!
    Personally, I loved Total and still listen to both albums when i'm in the mood for something 90s and something fun. As has been stated numerous times, they were not the best singers but that wasn't the POINT. They made catchy hip-hop soul that people still spin today.

  22. Thank you, SoulUK. I don't get how this post is hypocritical when it clearly states in the entry that if Total came out today I wouldn't be a fan. Some people like to cherry-pick snippets in order to enforce some lame position rather than reading things in their entirety BEFORE leaving feedback.

  23. Total was so underrated. Never really thought they were technically great vocalist but there was just something about them.You are taking me back to middle school! lol

  24. I had this very conversation with someone on a roadtrip the other weekend! Total had swagger before the word became part of the common lexicon. No amazing skills, just a vibe and a look that made you take notice. Still love them chicks...

  25. Nice to see that I'm not the only one who still stans a bit for Total...The only group out today that reminds me of them would be Electrik Red. Insane production., potty mouths., ooozing sex appeal..and the ability to carry on the "Bad Girl" image...