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TLC 90s

Let’s talk about safe sex, baby

TLC and Lil Mama want you to wrap it up – why isn’t hip hop more bothered about putting one on?

Safe sex isn't a lyrical topic that's considered particularly glamorous in the world of music. On the rare occasion that it is broached, it's too often with the attitude that women love nothing more than passing on a plethora of STDs to poor, unsuspecting men – "I went to the bathroom and said 'Mama Mia! I’m a kill that girl next time I see her!'" for example, from Kool Moe Dee's "Go See The Doctor" (of which Jessica Hynes did a stellar rendition for Graham Norton last week) or, "And before me dig out a bitch I have ta’ find a contraceptive / You never know she could be earnin’ her man / and learnin’ her man – and at the same time burnin’ her man" from Dr Dre's "Nuthin But A 'G' Thang".

At the other end of the spectrum, hip hop big hitters like Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa, Eminem and Ty Dolla $ign boast about "hitting it raw" – the meaning of which is probably fairly obvious. But why is there so little inbetween? Could we not sing about safe sex in a way that doesn't throw the whole of womankind under the bus?

Step forward Lil Mama, who has burst unexpectedly and triumphantly back onto the scene with her meme-filled, safe-sex preaching new song "Sausage" - which hearkens back to the heady days of the '90s, when public service announcements and music went hand in hand without a hint of cynicism. In its ridiculous and brilliant chorus, Lil Mama flips the viral original’s lyric to create a tongue-in-cheek anthem for safe sex: "Eggs, bacon, grits (sausage) / You better use a condom if you taking that (sausage)". Gotta look after number one.

This sentiment is rare. So rare, in fact, that you'll struggle to find more than a handful of other instances in R&B history in which the topic is brought up, particularly in a way that wholeheartedly refuses to beat around the bush.

There's Salt N' Pepa's 1991 hit "Let's Talk About Sex" – about as direct as you can get, with its lyrics “Don't decoy, avoid, or make void the topic / Cuz that ain't gonna stop it”. It doesn’t directly address wrapping up your junk, but you can’t deny the noble intent – especially with the band’s subsequent spin-off "Let's Talk About AIDS".

Then there's TLC's "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" – also released in 1991. The video to this unabashedly explicit song sees TLC wearing condoms pinned to their clothes, and Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes (who was played by Lil Mama herself in the recent TLC biopic CrazySexyCool) wearing one as an eye patch. "Too many kids think condoms are nasty and vulgar", she told the Orlando Sentinel, "instead of as something that can save your life... By making it a fashion statement we're doing something more important – making a social statement." She went on to assure fans that the band were "not hard-core feminists" because they "like men." Phew.

So it's little surprise that Lil Mama's safe sex massage went viral – the precedent for it is so minuscule. It's been 24 years since TLC and Salt 'N Pepa's admirable attempts to tackle society's prudishness, and yet nearly a quarter of a century later, any reference to safe sex in music still makes people double take. Maybe Spice Girls imploring us to “put it on” was more subversive than most people realised. Either way, here's to Lil Mama's sausage revolution.