by Genesis Merritt
TLC were one of the biggest-selling female R&B groups of all time, riding a blend of pop, hip-hop, and urban soul to superstardom during the '90s.
Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, rapper Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas managed to appeal equally to pop and R&B audiences, blending catchy hooks and bouncy funk with a sassy, sexy attitude. Initially, their image was equal parts style and spirit, bolstered by a flamboyant, outrageous wardrobe. As time passed, they became equally well known for their chaotic personal lives, leaving a trail of headlines that read like a soap opera plot: arson, rehab, bankruptcy, serious illness, high-profile romances, and countless intragroup squabbles. After their star-making second album, CrazySexyCool, TLC fell into disarray, taking over four years to record the follow-up, Fanmail; even so, they returned more popular than ever, and the hits kept on coming. Unfortunately, tragedy struck in early 2002, when Lopes was killed in a car accident in Honduras.
TLC were formed in Atlanta, GA, in 1991, when Watkins and Lopes decided to split off from another all-female group. In short order, they met Thomas, locally based producer Dallas Austin, and '80s R&B singer Pebbles, who became their manager. They quickly scored a record deal with L.A. Reid and Babyface's new label, LaFace, and in 1992 issued their new jack-styled debut album, Ooooooohhh...On the TLC Tip. The video for the sexy, aggressive lead single, "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg," established their quirky, colorful fashion sense, and true to her nickname, Lopes stirred some attention by wearing a condom over her left eye to promote safe sex. The song became a Top Ten hit as did its follow-ups, the ballad "Baby-Baby-Baby" (a number two hit) and "What About Your Friends." TLC were definitely a success, but they weren't quite stars yet, and it remained to be seen whether they could maintain their momentum over the long haul.
Not long before the release of their second album in late 1994, Lisa Lopes was arrested on arson charges. In an alcohol-fueled fit of rage, Lopes vented all the frustrations from her often-stormy relationship with NFL wide receiver Andre Rison, burning his Atlanta mansion to the ground and vandalizing several of his cars. Lopes' lawyers claimed that she had a drinking problem, and while Lopes herself wasn't happy with that defense, she avoided jail time with a sentence of five years' probation; she was also later admitted to an alcohol rehab program. All the publicity certainly didn't hurt CrazySexyCool, which became a blockbuster success, albeit for other reasons. Taking a cue from Salt-n-Pepa's makeover on Very Necessary, CrazySexyCool toned down the boisterousness of their first record in favor of a smoother, more mature presentation; they were still strong and sexual, but now fully adult as well, and were more involved (especially Lopes) in crafting their own material. The slinky lead single, "Creep," became TLC's first number one pop hit, topping the charts for four weeks. It was followed by three more Top Five singles: "Red Light Special," "Waterfalls" (which became their biggest hit ever, spending seven weeks at number one), and "Diggin' on You." TLC were a bona fide phenomenon, and their stylish videos and live performances kept upping the ante for outrageous fashion sense. CrazySexyCool eventually sold over 11 million copies in the U.S. alone, and won a Grammy for Best R&B Album.
All was not well, however. In 1995, TLC filed for bankruptcy, claiming debts of over 3.5 million dollars, in part stemming from Lopes' insurance payments over the arson incident. They also claimed they hadn't seen their fair share of royalties from CrazySexyCool; LaFace countered that they were simply trying to get a bigger contract. TLC did wind up splitting from Pebbles' management company over the money issues (not helped by the fact that Pebbles' marriage to LaFace head L.A. Reid had gone through a nasty breakup). What was more, it was announced that for some time Watkins had been battling sickle cell anemia, which sapped her energy and often made performing difficult. TLC spent much of 1996 getting their financial affairs in order, and were set to re-enter the studio in the summer of 1997. The sessions had trouble getting off the ground, though, thanks to the group's public spat with producer Dallas Austin, claiming that his fee was far too high; not only had Austin played a significant role in the creation of their music, but the split was all the more awkward because he and Thomas had just had a son together. It took until early 1998 to finally resolve the producer situation, and Austin wound up handling the vast majority of the record. Still, it took quite some time to put together; Lopes announced in the summer of 1998 that she was working on a solo record, and Watkins tried her hand at acting with an appearance in the Hype Williams-directed Belly. All the delays, tension, and side projects fueled rumors of the group's impending breakup.
TLC's third album was finally released at the beginning of 1999. The hotly anticipated Fanmail debuted at number one, and its first single, "No Scrubs" -- a dismissal of men who didn't measure up -- topped the charts as well for four weeks. The critically acclaimed follow-up, "Unpretty," tackled unrealistic beauty standards and spent three weeks at number one. Fanmail wound up going six times platinum, and won another Best R&B Album Grammy. As TLC prepared to tour in late 1999, tensions between the individual members spilled over into a public feud; Watkins and Thomas criticized Lopes for putting herself before the group, and Lopes responded by blasting TLC's recent music and challenging her bandmates to record solo albums, so that fans could see who the real talent lay with. The blowup was only temporary, but rumors about TLC's future continued to swirl. Lopes continued to publicize her upcoming solo project, and Thomas eventually began working on her own album as well. Watkins married rapper Mack 10 in the summer of 2000 and had their first child not long after. Meanwhile, tabloid favorite Lopes continued to make headlines when she disappeared for over a week, missing a family function and a press conference (she turned out to be with a new boyfriend).
In 2001, TLC somehow managed to regroup and enter the studio together to work on material for a new album. That summer, a report surfaced that Lopes had postponed a wedding with, of all people, Andre Rison. Meanwhile, her solo debut, Supernova, was scheduled for release and then scrapped on several occasions; it eventually came out overseas, but domestically Arista pulled the plug. Meanwhile, TLC's recording halted while Watkins was hospitalized from complications with her anemia. At the beginning of 2002, Lopes announced that she had signed a solo deal with the infamous Suge Knight's new label Tha Row, for which she would begin recording a follow-up to the unreleased Supernova under the name N.I.N.A. (New Identity Non-Applicable). Sadly, she would never get the chance. Vacationing in her favorite getaway spot, Honduras, Lopes was driving a rented SUV with at least seven (possibly eight) passengers. Reportedly speeding, she lost control of the vehicle, which flipped over; she was the only member of the party to be seriously injured, and died from severe head trauma on April 25, 2002. The surviving members of TLC announced their intention to complete the album they'd begun, though without their most vibrant character the group's long-term future remained in doubt.
Thanks to Janet for submitting the biography.
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I REALLY REALLY MISS TLC | Reviewer: margaret O | 1/28/11
I've not seen any group like TLC; their singing combination, their concepts....especially their fashion style of dressing.
It will take the next generation to get another TLC. For their song 'waterfall',every second from the beginning to the end of the song is an ever green lesson for everyone to learn especially the youth.
If GOD could give the opportunity to change an event of the past into the present, it will be T....L....C to come back together as one to make we, young women proud again.
Lisa Lopes, you remain fresh in my memory.....and TLC, I REALLY, REALLY & REALLY YOU ALL.
The ones who really knew | Reviewer: shelby | 1/12/10
When I was growing up, I had some really hard times. I am a child of divorced parents. But everytime I heard one of their songs, I felt like someone really knew how I felt. I was surprised and sad when I heard about Left Eyes death. It is a sad to lose someone so wonderful. But she will always be missed and remembered as a wonderful person R.I.P
THE TLC FANMAIL | Reviewer: jamie nowden | 6/10/09
I love TLC its my favorite female band of all time.Also,I really miss Lisa Lopez she was a great R&B female.But,you know that sometimes you have to die in your life but Lisa did not have the right to die.I love you TLC thank you for encouraging people and thanking them because without fans we will be nothing.THANK YOU T-BOZ,LEFT EYE,AND CHILLI.OH, BEFORE I SEND THE MESSAGE I KNOW WHAT TLC STANDS FOR TENDER,LOVE,AND CARE AND TLC STANDS FOR T-BOZ, LEFT EYE AND CHILLI.I LOVE YOU SEND ME BACK A MESSAGE. THANK YOU SO MUCH TLC.
i love TLC! | Reviewer: Destiny | 4/1/09
i really enjoy tlc's music i have al there cd's and as a big fan heren left eye passed really hurt me because i am such a big fan they are one of the best female groups and i just dont want them to give up on there music i just want to let tlc know that yall still have fans and we still love you! R.I.P Left eye, gone but never forgotten
lisa "left eye" lopes | Reviewer: Anonymous | 9/8/08
there is not a day i go by without me hearing a TLC song, brings back so many childhood memories, i still can't believe left eye is gone after 6 years, but she still lives on everytime i put on a TLC joint. R.I.P. Lisa "left eye" Lopes.TLC lives 4ever
Never be forgotten | Reviewer: Mass Appeal | 7/26/08
Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes was a talented individual who will never be forgotten. Her life was taken way before her time. She will always be remembered for her spunky attitude, outgoing and outspoken personality.
Mass Appeal Entertainment
i miss left eye | Reviewer: ahjalah | 7/2/08
she is like thee one i like thee most i love her to much ..too young of dieing but i kno in mee heart she is ok and i kno she is cuz she is in a better place..but everybody will miss u nd i kno u still a creative wommen in heaven lol i love you and u should no i go u on mee myspace page dusces&&love
GOD takes his favorite ANGELS first | Reviewer: lil'e (from cyprus) |3/31/08
first r.i.p left eye lopes,god wanted you in a very young age next to him for one reason.(it was your time to join him and get crazy up there):)!!!!
i read a book the other day,from a women who lost her daughter very soon, in a car accident, and she wrote in one chapter: we have to be worry about us still leavin on earth-not about the angels in heaven! we have to face every single day with somethin new,we are struggelin to get throu in life. but you lisa, now live in peace and harmony watchin us from above. (i bet you wouldnt change your place, in which you are now, for nothin)you just got there a bit earlier than us,one day we all join you, and i maybe can finaly meet you! YOU ARE IN GOOD HANDS BABY GIRL!!big shout out to t-boz and chilli you keep on being strong. i'm really waitin to hear from you guys a good song again!!!! t-boz you are my favorite!!! love & respect girls!!!!!!!
I LUV TLC | Reviewer: Shanice Brinkley | 11/27/07
I reaaly like TLC and R.I.P to Left Eye I really liek her style every day I listen to their music!!!! they really inspire me as a young lady, everything and its ironic how a female group put so much of an impact on society!! i really admire TLC!!!
RestInPeace | Reviewer: BabiJ | 10/8/07
TLC Is The Greatest R&B Group! Making Hit Songs After Hit Songs And Relaying Messages That Actually Meant Something May TLC Live On Forever! Rest Forever In Our Hearts Left Eye You Will Always Be Remembered By Your Fans!