VH1 is kicking off TLC week with a guide to the group’s lives and musical career. The second best selling female group of all time (only behind the Spice Girls) sold over 23 million albums and 6.5 million singles in the United States alone. Without Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, fans would not have “Waterfalls,” “No Scrubs” or “Baby-Baby-Baby,” all of which served as the soundtrack to the ’90s.
You can’t write about TLC and not mention the flaming elephant in the room. In 1994 (a big year for the group, see: H, N), Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes tossed a bunch of Atlanta Falcons player Andre Rison’s shoes into a bathtub, covered them in lighter fluid and lit them on fire. The flames quickly spread, burning down Rison’s home. Charged with arson, Lopes was forced into rehab but let out for recording sessions for CrazySexyCool. Her recovery served as her inspiration for the iconic verse in their mega-hit, “Waterfalls.”
Signed by Lopes, the group was modeled after TLC. Blaque was comprised of three members, one of them – Natina Reed – a rapper. They broke onto the scene in the late ’90s with “808” and “Bring It All To Me.” Unfortunately their path also followed Lopes’ tragic fate when Reed died in a car accident.
Condoms became an unexpected fashion accessory for the group in their early days. Lopes famously wore one as an eyepatch over her left eye. The condoms were part of the goal to promote safe sex. “The point is to make condoms something kids aren’t afraid of or ashamed of,” Lopes said in 1992.
Totaling in $3.5 million, TLC found itself swimming in debt in 1995. The group eventually filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the middle of the success of CrazySexyCool. The group cited Lopes’ rising insurance payments, Watkins’ medical bills and only taking home $35,000 a year as reason for their financial problems. They claimed they were unfairly paid by their label receiving only seven percent of revenues from album sales.
E: Edmonds, Kenneth “Babyface”
Babyface, who alongside L.A. Reid, signed TLC to LaFace Records also served as a producer for much of their career. Him, Reid, Dallas Austin and Jermaine Dupri were pivotal in shaping the group’s sound, which evolved from New Jack Swing to sultry R&B to futuristic pop.
F: Female Empowerment
Much of TLC’s music has been centered around one theme: Female empowerment. Throughout their career, the group produced songs about body image (“Unpretty”). safe sex (“Waterfalls”) and sisterhood (“What About Your Friends”). If that wasn’t enough, they gave fans plenty of anthems to stand up to their men who had done them wrong.
Georgia, in particular Atlanta, was a hotbed of urban music in the ’90s. Many of hip-hop/R&B’s most influential acts came out of the ATL. On the hip-hop side, OutKast, Ludacris, T.I. and Arrested Development. Meanwhile on the R&B side, in addition to TLC, Atlanta was home to Cee-Lo Green, Ciara, Monica, Toni Braxton and Usher.
H: House Party 3
In 1994, TLC had a cameo in House Party 3. They appeared as the group Sex As A Weapon in the romper comedy starring Kid ’n Play.
I: “I Challenge…”
In 1999, tensions among the group became public as Lopes turned to the media to vocalize her frustrations. Most shockingly, the singer penned an open letter published by Entertainment Weekly that challenged the other members to a solo album competition:
I challenge Tionne ‘Player’ Watkins (T-boz) and Rozonda ‘Hater’ Thomas (Chilli) to an album entitled The Challenge… a 3-CD set that contains three solo albums. Each (album)… will be due to the record label by October 1, 2000… I also challenge producer Dallas ‘The Manipulator’ Austin to produce all of the material and do it at a fraction of his normal rate. As I think about it, I’m sure LaFace would not mind throwing in a $1.5 million dollar prize for the winner.
The challenge never did take place.
J: Jones, Crystal
Without Crystal Jones there would be no TLC. Unfortunately for her, the only reason people know her name is because of Behind The Music when it was revealed that she was the one who put out a call for two more girls to join her group, 2nd Nature. Tionne Watkins and Lisa Lopes responded and eventually joined the group, which was renamed by their then-manager Perri “Pebbles” Reid (see: P). After auditioning for L.A. Reid (Pebbles then-husband), it was decided that Jones didn’t have enough potential. She was replaced by Rozonda Thomas who adopted the nickname, Chilli, to maintain the group’s name.
K: Killings, Debra
Debra Killings should be cited as the fourth member of TLC. Killings sang on a number of TLC’s biggest hits throughout the years, serving as a background vocalist and often standing in for Lopes, whose vocals was reduced in later years. Most notably, she appeared on “Waterfalls,” which during the recording of Lopes was in rehab. Fun fact: Cee-Lo Green also sang back up on the hit single.
L: LaFace Records
LaFace Records was TLC’s original label and responsible for several other major acts of the 1990s. The group’s label mates included Toni Braxton, Goodie Mob, OutKast. and Usher. The label was a joint venture between Reid and Edmonds, who were both pivotal in TLC’s music career producing a large number of their hits.
M: MTV 20
A 2001 celebration of the network’s twentieth anniversary also served as the last time the group’s original incarnation performing together. The group was already dissolving, with Lopes working on solo projects and fighting with Watkins and Thomas. Lopes died in a car crash in Honduras while filming a documentary that later aired on VH1 (see: V).
It’s all that and some more! In 1994, the group recorded the theme song for Nickelodeon’s sketch comedy show, All That, which introduced fans to Amanda Bynes and Nick Cannon during its ten year run. This is the moment where we somehow blame TLC for the Bynes we have today. Just kidding! No one is responsible for that train wreck.
O: Organized Noise
The Atlanta-based hip-hop production team was behind TLC’s biggest hit, “Waterfalls.” They have also produced for En Vogue, Ludacris, Goodie Mob and, most notably, OutKast. The last two groups were part of Organized Noise’s collective, Dungeon Family.
An ’80s dance singer, Pebbles sang the hits “Girlfriend” and “Mercedes Boy.” By the early ’90s, the singer started going by her real name, Perri Reid, and transitioned into management and signed TLC to her Altanta-based production company Pebbitone. Despite the group’s initial success, tensions rose between Reid and TLC over financial disputes resulting in bankruptcy (see: D).
R: R U The Girl
In 2005, Watkins and Thomas served as judges on the singing reality competition, R U The Girl. The show was initially promoted as a contest to find a replacement for Left Eye, who was already deceased. The group ultimately walked back the grand prize and said the winner would just collaborate on one song with the singers.
S: Sickle-cell Anemia
When she was a child, Watkins was diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia, something she kept secret from her group. The singer was finally forced to reveal her diagnosis when she became violently ill while they were tour with MC Hammer. Watkins would later become a spokesperson for the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America helping others afflicted by the disease.
In November of 1994, the group appeared on the cover of Vibe. Though, the real excitement (and controversy) was the group’s topless photo shoot inside the magazine. With the release of CrazySexyCool, the group pushed a sexier image that saw them in revealing outfits, singing more sexual aggressive songs (“Creep”) and owning their womanhood.
Among the men in their lives, Usher served as Thomas’ boyfriend in the ’00s. He was the second major man in her life after Dallas Austin, who she had a child with in 1997. Though, Thomas became pregnant with Austin’s child when she was 20. However, she terminated the pregnancy due to outside pressures of her career.
If there’s one network that stuck by the group through all their ups and downs it was VH1. The network was responsible for Behind The Music, which ran a huge popular episode focused on TLC. The network also aired the documentary (retitled The Last Days of Left Eye) that Lopes was filming when she died. And on October 21st, VH1 will premiere CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story.
W: Williams, Hype
Williams has two major connections with TLC. He directed the video for their comeback single, “No Scrubs,” which took home the 1999 VMA for Best Group Video. Additionally, Williams directed Watkins in his 1998 film debut, Belly. The movie co-starred DMX and Nas but was poorly received at the box office.
Xscape was a ’90s R&B group behind the songs, “Just Kickin’ It” and “Understanding.” Two of the group’s original members, Kandi Burruss and Tameka “Tiny” Cottle, would later go on to write and sing back up on TLC’s comeback single, “No Scrubs.” The song sat atop of the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks in the spring of 1999.
In June of 2003, over a year after Lopes’ death, TLC appeared in what was announced as the group’s final performance at Zootopia. While the last time the original line up performed together was at MTV20, this was said to be the last for the remaining two members. The group was eventually brought back out of hiatus in 2008 when they performed at the BET Awards and later in 2011 on American Idol.
[Photo: Getty, Vibe Magazine]