The Amber Ruffin Show returned from hiatus on Friday, bringing back the ebullient host’s signature bright-eyed comic anger at everything that’s going on in the world. Which is a lot. Perhaps too much, as it turns out, for Ruffin’s trusty sideman, Tarik Davis, who interrupted Amber’s planned story about yet another evil of modern American society (something involving balloons) with a couple of exaggeratedly drawn-out sighs of already-exhausted world-weariness.
“There’s so much bad stuff happening in the world right now, it makes me mad,” apologized Tarik, asking, “You seem fine. How do you deal with it?” Beaming, Ruffin explained her strategy for 2021 mental survival, “I focus all my anger on one small trivial thing from he past!” Can Amber give us an example? You know she can, and it involves the travesty that was the radio edit of TLC’s smash hit “Waterfalls.”
Explaining that the song was not only a favorite of her younger days, but also a banger with deceptively deep lyrics about HIV and drugs, Ruffin introduced her newest segment, “Being Mad Like It’s 1995.” Here’s the thing, though—everybody loves “Waterfalls,” and pretty much all of CrazySexyCool, so what could be the problem? Well, as Ruffin noted, you could ask about the fact that the album version of the song contains a rap break from Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, while the radio edit—sent out to stations and therefore heard more widely—cut those 45 seconds entirely. (Also, Ruffin got a little miffed that her audience needed to be reminded of other formative 90s things like MTV, the concept of music videos, and FUBU. She also probably could have dropped in a primer on what a radio station is.)
“It is my personal belief,” stated the heating-up Ruffin, “that the removal of Left Eye’s rap from the radio edit is what stopped the song from becoming the national anthem.” Bold words, but, as Ruffin noted (and Davis agreed), the way that corporate-clipped “radio edits” always suspiciously seem to cut out the rap parts of songs is some insidious bullshit. “Y’all ain’t slick,” ranted Ruffin, “Cutting the raps out of songs and calling it the radio edit.” For further insult, Ruffin brought up the still-sore fact that TLC lost the Grammy for Best Duo Or Group that year to Hootie And The Blowfish, for the decidedly not “Waterfalls,” “Let Her Cry.” “That group only had one song and that wasn’t it!,” cried Ruffin in decades-too-late dudgeon.
Still, the real issue here isn’t that Ruffin’s audience didn’t pep up at the mention of other 90s hits that included a killer rap verse like “No Diggity” or “Stutter.” (“These motherfuckers have not heard a-one of these things,” Ruffin moaned to Davis.) No, it’s that, in the name of “relatability” (to white listeners), record companies have traditionally given radio listeners “the watered-down version to stifle Black excellence.” After all, asked Ruffin, what’s the worst outcome of letting white kids listen to a 45-second rap break? She then played that clip of a very white elementary school choir singing (and dancing) to “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae),” and had to concede some ground. Still, though.