Archives, Interview, Music

TLC: “It’s Hard To Be Happy About CrazySexyCool When We’re Bankrupt” (1995)

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Arson, bankruptcy, alcohol, abuse. For a group who used to dress like teenage girls, TLC have had to face some grown-up problems…

In the far corner of a London photographic studio, the three members of TLC are busy playing at being school girls. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas certainly look the part. Running through a selection of nursery rhymes, hand jives, and the occasional high pitched shriek, the girls could feasibly pass for 13-year-old teenagers and not the mid-twenty-something adults they actually all are. But then it’s easy to misjudge TLC.

Quite simple just to file them with SWV and Eternal, or the multitude of other vocal troupes in the business. But TLC are different. You can sense it in the intensity and emotion in all three girls’ voices when they drag themselves away from their playground games and finally to sit down to speak. You can sense it in their refusal to dwell on familiar themes of love and romance. And when, in a break for photographs, the trio begin singing to the tape that plays the first three tracks from Nirvana‘s “Nevermind” LP — not just like fans, but with obvious empathy for the sentiments expressed by Mr Cobain — it’s also obvious that something’s not quite right.

In many ways, TLC are your archetypal American pop group. One of the foremost examples of how a black musical sound, R&B, has infiltrated the mainstream consciousness of a nation and proceeded to sell in the sort of numbers — 7 million copies worldwide for their second album, “Crazysexycool” — not seen since the halcyon days of Motown.

Shortly into my conversation with the group, I realise TLC could do without all the theorising about their success. “Sometimes it seems like the people we’d least like to give credit to are the ones taking all the praise”,  insists Lisa Lopes. “And that hurts”.

So who really deserves credit for TLC’s success? For starters, a young woman called Crystal. It was Crystal who trawled the streets of Atlanta in a search for two girls to start her own group. And some time in 1990, Lisa Lopes and Tionne Watkins accepted her offer. Lisa was a rapper. She’d grown up in Philadelphia, but fled to Atlanta to escape family problems. Tionne had also experienced life in a broken home. First in Iowa and then in Atlanta. She worked as a manicurist, a shampoo girl and a hair model. She’d never really wanted a regular job. Besides, she could sing. “We all had very definite ideas about where we wanted to take it, you know?” says Tionne. “But it would have been a whole lot easier if both of us could have got on with Crystal. But it wasn’t meant to be. Me and Lisa, we decided to go off on our own”.

A friend of a friend introduced Lisa and Tionne to Pebbles — the wife of superstar producer LA Reid, and a moderately successful singer in her own right. Pebbles became the girls’ manager. It all made perfectly good sense. As did the entrance into the group of a third singer, Rozonda Thomas, whose sweet, child-like voice complemented the other two perfectly.

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When TLC signed to LaFace Records — LA Reid and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds’ newish label imprint — under the management of Pebbles, “we couldn’t have dreamed that things would work out better,” says Tionne. “We were three girls with plenty of ideas, with a woman manager who we thought could understand all about problems and look after all our needs. We really felt we were in control. TLC was always going to be about three female singers in the group getting their viewpoint across. That’s why we are happy. Maybe a little bit too happy, in fact.”

TLC’s 1992 album, “Ooooooohhh… on the TLC tip“, was, it has to be said, not a triumphant debut. The album contained two decent singles, “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” and “Baby-Baby-Baby”. Beyond that, the group were more notable for their image than their music. Dressed in ultra baggy, Day-Glo costumes, and with Lisa Lopes sporting glasses featuring a condom attached to the left lens, in an attempt to promote safe sex, they looked tomboyish and quite ridiculous at the same time; the very antithesis of the airbrushed, pouting genre of a female band. As if they weren’t yet ready to grow up.

It was in 1992 when TLC went off on a huge tour of the States, alongside Hammer, Boyz II Men and Jodeci. Already the cracks were beginning to appear. Arguments flared over management, money and the future direction of the group. The debut album had sold over three million copies, and yet TLC (particularly Lisa Lopes) were far from happy about their role in all of this. It was producer/songwriter Dallas Austin who’d written most of the tracks for the debut. TLC wanted more of a say in their future. Increasingly, they wanted more money too.

So exactly what were the main arguments that blew up on tour?

“We found out what the other groups on the tour were earning,” says Lisa abruptly.

“When you’ve come from nothing, even $4,000 seems like a lot of money,” argues Rozonda. “But when you start to realise you’re part of a very successful group, you start to wonder what’s happening to the rest of the money that your record and tour is making”.

“You start to get angry about being told that you always have to mention the names of certain people that we were working with in interviews,” explains Tionne.

But throughout the years since the group’s formation, Lisa Lopes had had her own personal problems too. In 1991 her physically abusive father died. Lisa’s subsequent success left her shouldering responsibility for the rest of her family. She bought cars for her mother and paid the college tuition fees for her brother and sister. And she also began to drink excessively. Lisa admits that for a while drinking affected her career. But most of all, it almost destroyed her relationship with her boyfriend and soon-to-be husband, American football player, Andre Rison.

“My father was an alcoholic, so I became an alcoholic”, Lisa says. “There was a drink around me all of the time. But then in other ways he was really strict. He’d beat me and my mother. So when I decided to run away from home, it was alcohol that I looked to for support.”

Lisa’s relationship with Andre Rison was anything but conventional. She’d met the sporting hero when she was 17. Violent altercations between the couple were common. In September 1993 passers-by claimed to have witnessed Andre striking Lisa and then firing a 9mm handgun into the air when they tried to intervene. Charges were dropped, but the stormy relationship lived on. Ten months later, Andre Rison’s $2 million mansion was destroyed by a fire in the early hours of the morning and Lisa Lopes was involved in the incident. “I started a small fire, but I didn’t expect to burn down a whole house”, admits Lisa today.

Whatever the reasons for the fire — the most popular thesis being that Lisa was drunk and that Andre was violent — it was settled in  court. Lisa received a suspended sentence for arson and a stint in Charter Peachford, an alcohol rehabilitation clinic. Remarkably, the couple’s relationship lives on. They are due to wed next July.

Against this catalogue of disasters — the group ditched Pebbles in the process as well — it’s a near miracle TLC got around to recording their second LP. Even more so that “Crazysexycool”, with tracks like the poignant, elegaic “Waterfalls”, turned out to be the near-perfect example of R&B-influenced pop that it was. Although half the tracks were again written by producer Dallas Austin, this time around the personalities of all three members seemed to shine through far more strongly.

Ironic then, that today, almost one year after it’s release, TLC wish to distance themselves almost entirely from “Crazysexycool”. And that despite the album’s multi-platimum success,  the trio announced that they were bankrupt three months ago, citing liabilities in excess of $3.5 million. Debts incurred, they claim, from attempting to live perpetually on advances. Lisa, Tionne and Rozonda each owe their production company, Pebbitone (owned by ex-manager Pebbles), $566,434. The trio also owe a further £387,000 to their label LaFace.

You seem to pride yourselves on the control you exercised over your career — doesn’t bankruptcy prove you were in no control at all?

“Of course, I can see how people will think that”, says Tionne. “I can see that people will probably be laughing at TLC. But until those people have been put in the situation we’ve been through, those people will never understand”.

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For a group who’ve been as successful as TLC, the announcement that you are bankrupt still sounds rather absurd.

“You try surviving off of advances”, reasons Lisa. “One advance after another — all of which has to be repaid”.

Were you happy with “Crazysexycool” as an album?

“We were happy that the original concept for the album — the idea that the album title was meant to describe something every single woman felt — was our concepts”, Lisa insists. “But it’s hard to be happy about an album once you’ve declared yourselves bankrupt.”

“I went to the producers with a set of tracks I’d written and not a single one got used for the album”, bemoans Lisa.

TLC are your archetypal female American pop group. From the Sixties, when groups like The Ronnettes and The Supremes began to enjoy major-league success, through to modern times with bands like SWV and En Vogue, it’s almost always been the male producers who’ve held the upper hand and influenced the final direction taken.

Lisa Lopes claims she presented her producers with several new songs she’d written for “Crazysexycool”, none of which were used. One in particular, dealt with her relationship with her father. It hurt immensely when her producers knocked it back. Where do TLC go from here?

“Back to the court to get the money we’re all owed,” says Tionne defiantly.

“Hopefully a career in acting”, says Rozonda.

“Who knows?”, sighs Lisa.

by Lee Harpin / London / November 1995
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Interview, Music, Review, Tribute

Left Eye: “I Don’t Ever See Myself as a Smaller Piece of a Bigger Wheel. I Wanna Be The Wheel”

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After the booze, the bankruptcy, the arson, the self-inflicted scarring and the multi-million sales, the ‘crazy’ member of TLC has made her own record. Is teeny, tiny Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes the new Lauryn Hill? Or will her miseducation get in the way of solo superstardom?

Precious Williams, October 2001

Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes is a surreal affair. First off, Lopes — the TLC member who put the ‘Crazy’ into the group’s ‘CrazySexyCool’ mantra — can’t eat ‘solid food’. Or drink coffee. Or tea. She is on day 38 of a 40-day fast and her idea of a substantial meal is a big glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. On the rocks.

We are in a vast warehouse studio in midtown Manhattan with Bob Marley blaring out of the stereo and Lopes’s publicists and record label execs fitting around. Lopes seems oblivious to the commotion as she sits on a stool at her dressing table, clad in jeans, a black vest and a pair of yellow fluffy slippers.

‘Too many of us eat to satisfy our hunger when we really don’t need that much food to survive’, she says, staring serenely at her reflection in the huge mirror in front of her. ‘We need to eat to live, not live to eat’.

Make-up free and with a cotton bandana covering her hair, Lopes is not the statuesque babe you’ve seen in TLC videos alongside bandmates Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins and Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas. She is petite and elfin, with daintily pretty features, glowing skin and huge, soulful brown eyes.

At five foot one and six and a half stone (she’s lost a stone during the fast), she is formidably toned, but tiny. She is 30, but fulfils the cliche of looking half her age. It’s hard to believe that this delicate-looking creature once burnt her boyfriend’s (Andre Rison, a player with American football team the Oakland Raiders) house down in a drunken stupor.

Her screwed-up behaviour was a result of immaturity and guzzling too much booze, she says now. ‘I’ve been through a lot of experiences’, she sighs. ‘The way that I chose to deal with things had to do with my parents and how I was raised. But I’m tired of all that stuff.’

So Lopes kicked the booze. She claims she gave it up ‘absolutely alone’ with no help from friends or Alcoholics Anonymous. ‘I’m a strong-willed person’, she says. ‘I am so in tune with my body right now that if I was to take a drink of wine, I could literally feel it burning my stomach, like acid. I could feel it. It doesn’t feel good at all’.

While admitting minutes later that ‘occasionally I do give in to peer pressure and break down and drink wine – but it will be just one glass’, Lopes’s idea of fun these days is to flit away to a secluded holistic ‘healing’ village in Honduras. ‘Everything there is natural, she says dreamily. ‘There are huts made out of mud and they are gonna last for hundreds of years. But when they finally do crumble and fall to the earth, they are mud, so they will blend back into nature.’

She sighs again. ‘I just got tired of the pain. You get to a point when you decide there are only a couple of directions you can go in. You know what I’m saying? I chose to go in a direction that would help me free my mind. And now I’ve achieved what I’ve wanted to do since the first TLC album: I’ve finished my own album.’

Lopes’s distinctive rap style —  all languidly drawled vowels and bouncy delivery — has helped make hits for a range of artists, from Melanie C (Spice Girls) to Method Man. But with her long-promised solo album, it’s all her shout.

‘Supernova’ is a blatantly autobiographical pop/rap ride which combines the eclecticism and beats of Missy Elliott with the soulful uplift of Lauryn Hill. Free of collaborations (Lopes had suggested there might be duets with Madonna, Prince and Lil’ Kim), the album showcases Lopes’s production and writing prowess, as well as her MC-ing skills.

First single, ‘The Block Party‘, takes a slinky, Eastern-inspired beat and laces it with a rap about shell-toe Adidas and fat gold chains. ‘I Believe In Me‘, with it’s feel-good chorus and self-affirming lyrics, is more reminiscent of a TLC tune, but the song’s lyrics are strictly about Lopes. ‘I am Diana Ross/And not a Supreme‘, she raps gleefully, before adding that she loves TLC and that people underestimate –  or simply don’t know or understand – the real Left Eye.

‘This album is very personal and special to me. I’ve been talking about and wanting to do a solo project since after TLC’s first album. Just to show everyone what I can do and to really challenge myself.’

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When TLC emerged in 1992 with the single ‘Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg’, from the platinum selling ‘Ooooooohhh… On The TLC Tip’, Lopes was, to most observers, the pretty, hyperactive little rapper with the trio. She has claimed since that she is in fact, ‘the creative force’ behind the group. Regardless of which band member had the most creative input, TLC topped the charts with their ground-breaking hybrid of pop, rap and R&B at a time when Destiny’s Child were still in junior high school.

TLC served up feminist ideology in a sexy wrapping, quickly becoming as famous for their surreal videos and out-there outfits (in the early days they wore Day-Glo condoms as accessories) as for the uncompromising, do-it-yourself lyrics of songs like ‘Waterfalls’ and ‘Creep’ from 1994’s ‘CrazySexyCool’. As well as earning TLC three MTV Video Music Awards for Best Video, ‘Waterfalls’ catapulted the trio from R&B leaders to mainstream pop mega-stardom.

Then everything went pear-shaped. Although they had sold over six million albums, Lopes, T-Boz and Chilli filed for bankruptcy in 1995, listing over $3.5 million in liabilities (including mortgages, production costs and a $1.5 million bill for torching Rison’s mansion). Lopes pleaded guilty to a charge or arson and was locked up in a detention centre for six months.

TLC looked almost certain to split and the three formerly close bandmates began to focus on carving out their own niches in the world. Chilli settled down with former TLC producer Dallas Austin, had a baby and then announced that she wanted to leave TLC to spend more time raising her son.

T-Boz launched a fashion line, Grungy Glamour, starred in Hype Williams’ hip-hop flick Belly and wrote an autobiography ‘Thoughts’, before marrying rapper Mack 10 and giving birth to a daughter.

Lopes got a job at MTV, presenting the daily talent show The Cut. And then in 1999, the trio bounced back with the hugely acclaimed ‘FanMail’ and the singles ‘No Scrubs’ and ‘Unpretty’.

‘FanMail’ won them three Grammys and made TLC best-selling female trio of all time. But the success was blighted by tension. T-Boz announced that she had sickle cell anaemia and couldn’t travel to promote the album. Meanwhile, the trio were arguing over who had contributed most to the writing of the album.

‘I didn’t care for ‘FanMail’, Lopes says flatly. ‘I was disappointed with it. If fans hated it, then I understand why. Lots of fans loved it and I don’t know why’, she chuckles loudly.

‘There are some great songs on the album, but overall, y’know, everybody has their opinion and mine is that ‘FanMail’ is not good. I just don’t care for it.’

The ‘FanMail’ fallout culminated with Lopes calling on her bandmates to ‘show and prove’ their talents — they should find out who was the most popular member of TLC by each recording solo albums. At the time of the challenge, Chilli retorted: ‘I thought it was ridiculous. Why would I compete with my own group member? I didn’t understand the mentality’.

Today, Lopes simply says that T-Boz and Chilli are ‘relieved’ that she has now finished the solo project she has talked of working on for close to a decade. Things are ‘cool’ with the group, she insists, and they are currently working on their fourth album.

‘We don’t hang out much but that’s not a reflection on anything we’ve gone through. Even before all of the problems, we weren’t really hanging-out types. We spent so much time together on the road that we needed space.’

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Lopes leans forward and reaches into her beaten up little rucksack and pulls out what looks like a giant paper Rubik’s cube.

‘Here’, she breathes, handing me the cube. ‘This is a dodecahedron I made to go with ‘Supernova’. It’s got 12 sides, and each side represents a song on my album. You need to throw it and see where it lands.’ Each side of Lopes’s dodecahedron bears a song title and mantra, in her own scrawl.

As she puts the cube back into her bag, I see her left forearm clearly for the first time. The word ‘hate’ has been savagely carved into her arm in capitals, the raised reddish-brown letters standing out angrily against cafe au lait skin. Lopes smiles disarmingly as she fingers the scar.

‘I did this seven years ago’, she says matter-of-factly. ‘It was a bad time for me. I was in the detention centre, and I’d got this overnight pass to go visit Andre’.

‘But it wasn’t a good visit. So I guess I was in need of a lot of attention that night’, she continues, with a strange gurgling little laugh obviously masking a lot of pain. ‘It was just like the movies, I wanted them to come in and find me and rescue and bandage me up and give me some comfort. There was blood everywhere.’

Lopes was undoubtedly driven to arson by Rison’s well-reported anti-social behaviour. He allegedly cheated on Lopes, slapped her around and even fired a gun during a fight with her in a parking lot. Then Lopes split with Rison and began dating model Sean Newman. Last year, however, to widespread incredulousness, Lopes and Rison got back together and announced to the world that this time it was forever. Rison even raps on one of Lopes’s favourite tracks on ‘Supernova’, the autobiographical ‘Rags To Riches’.

‘He’s a producer and I asked him to produce a song on my album. Once he came to do that, one thing led to another. We want to be together. We’re spending a lot of time together, quality time.’

So far the marriage has been held up by Lopes’s work on her new album and by Rison’s complicated and manifold legal woes, including a lawsuit for $50,000 in unpaid child support to the mother of his two sons.

Why does Lopes want to settle down with a man who infuriated her so much that she burnt his house down? ‘There’s almost nothing we can hide from each other and that makes the relationship better. We have gone through so many challenges, you know. Situations. Nothing is that big a deal anymore’.

‘And he’s changed’, she adds, giggling girlishly. ‘In the same kinda ways I have changed. He’s been searching for himself and I think he’s starting to find what he’s been looking for’.

Lopes admits that, in the early days of a seven year relationship, Rison reminded her of her late father, a former soldier: ‘my dad was a disciplinarian. He was really, really strict. We was incredibly well-behaved kids.’ Lopes’s father also physically abused her mother in the presence of Lopes and her siblings. She refuses to go into details about the violence she witnessed as a child and instead reminisces about her father’s ludicrous rules.

‘I was on punishment for my entire time at high school’, she smiles wryly. ‘I wasn’t allowed to listen to the radio or hang out on the block with the other kids. I wasn’t allowed to have no boyfriend. I didn’t keep up to date [with what was happening in music] then and I don’t to this day. I don’t watch television or go to the movies. I don’t even really read books. I just skim through them and gather data. I guess a lot of people just don’t get it…’

Lopes claims that she only knows what is current in music because she ‘feels it. I don’t have a CD collection and I don’t listen to the radio’. She also doesn’t have any musical heroes as such. Apart from herself.

‘I really think that in five years’ time I will be like a superhero, she announces.

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Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes stares expressionlessly at her reflection as she pulls off her bandana and runs her fingers through her thick dark brown hair, which is cornrowed back off her face.

‘I have a real purpose in life’, she says as she unbraids and fluffs out her hair and begins to work on the front section with a sizzling-hot straightening iron. ‘And my purpose is definitely not to be in TLC’.

So is it strictly solo projects ahead for the group formerly known as TLC? Lopes shakes her head.

‘No’, she says slightly unconvincingly. ‘TLC are still together. We are working on our album. We’ve only finished two tracks so far but those two tracks are good. I’m part of TLC but I am an individual. You know? I don’t ever see myself as, um, a smaller piece of a bigger wheel. I wanna be the wheel.’

Interview, Music

Missy Elliott: “Left Eye Wanted 702’s ‘Where’s My Girls At’ For TLC!

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Missy Elliott, who has a history of writing and producing some of pop music’s most creative and catchy songs, breaks down some of the hits she’s written for herself and other stars. Elliott is one of the nominees for the 2019 Songwriters Hall of Fame.

702, “Where My Girls At?”

702’s “Where My Girls At?” reached No. 4 on the Hot 100 chart in 1999, but Elliott said she initially wrote the anthem for TLC.

Lisa (“Left Eye” Lopes) really wanted it, she really wanted that record, but I guess, if it’s two against one (what can you do?)” So I ended up giving that record to 702, which was cool because they were a group. I knew whoever had it, I wanted it to be going to a group.”

Of the biggest songs of 1999, “Where My Girls At?” was ranked No. 11 by Billboard. Elliott said she wanted women to feel empowered when they heard the fun track.

“It’s almost like church — when you go to church, pastor is saying something (and you’re) like, ‘I swear up and down that message is for me.’ I wanted to create something women could feel like, ‘I could relate to this record.’”

For more on Missy Elliott’s produced hits for other artists you can read the full article on The Detroit News.

Anniversary, Music, Review

TLC Finally Made Christmas Sound Fun on “Sleigh Ride” 25 Years Ago!

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On their 1993 Christmas single, the trio reworked every part of a chirpy classic and came out with something unique.

By Alex Robert Ross
To make absolutely sure that a song registers as Christmas music, a pop producer can follow a few basic rules. Sleigh bells on the downbeat and some scattered church bells are the obvious shortcuts; high-up strings and canned choirs certainly help. Most truly mainstream musicians are shooting for tinseled whimsy, warm fuzzies, and a picture of mittened masses tipping their hats to each other on their way to a family gathering. A few frills will get you there without too much sweat.
If this isn’t enough, an artist can always faithfully cover one of the early-to-mid-20th Century classics – “White Christmas” or “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” or anything else that Phil Spector perfected in 1963 – and have done with it. Christmas thrives on nostalgia, a reminder of a time when at least some people woke up thrilled by the prospect of presents and an eternity away from school. There’s some sense in going back in time, dusting something off, and adding a coat of fresh lacquer.
Twenty-five years ago, TLC did all of this on “Sleigh Ride.” It was, at least in theory, a cover of a well-known light orchestra standard. There was the reassuring rattle of jingle bells above the hi-hat and some background church chimes over the synths. But “Sleigh Ride” was so much more than that. It was a song warped so far beyond recognition that it became uniquely their own. It was full of frivolous jokes and messy happiness, and it did something that so many modern holiday songs have strived to do before failing so horribly – it made Christmas sound fun.
The original “Sleigh Ride,” a chirpy instrumental, was penned by Leroy Anderson in 1948 and became an immediate hit when it was released a year later. The Andrews Sisters recorded the first vocal performance of the song in 1950, using lyrics written by Mitchell Parish—the same man behind the words to jazz standards like “Stardust” and “Deep Purple.” The Ronettes’ version of the song on the practically flawless A Christmas Gift to You From Phil Spector in 1963 is the most popular, but there have been dozens of “Sleigh Ride”s over the years. It’s in the canon.
TLC took a novel approach to the song in 1993. Rather than borrowing from The Ronettes or even commissioning a remix of an older cut, they basically ignored the original altogether. They worked around an entirely new vocal hook, a beat produced by Organized Noize and co-produced by their then-manager Pebbles, and pretty much a whole new set of lyrics. The hook is so classically festive that you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was there in the 1950 version: “Let’s have a very merry Christmas / And a happy New Year / Give with love and joy and happiness / And lots of good cheer.” But Parish’s lyrics didn’t even mention Christmas. The only call-back to the original comes from T-Boz, who sings to an entirely unfamiliar melody: “Just hear those sleigh bells jing-a-ling / Ring-ting-ting-a-ling too / It’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.”
(All of which might make you think that this isn’t a cover at all, and I get it. If you all but rewrite a song’s lyrics and sing those lyrics to a whole new tune over an entirely different beat, isn’t it just a new song? The answer is obviously yes, in the same way that an old broom with a new head and a new handle is just a new broom. But go back in time and tell that to LaFace Records, who listed only two songwriters on the original CD copy of the track: Anderson and Parish.)
TLC’s “version” is best appreciated alongside its video, which features T-Boz, Chilli, and Left Eye wearing baggy overalls, working through some awkward treeside encounters with boyfriends, helping the needy, and leading a half-decent dance party. “I want T-Boz to get me some headphone sets, and I want Left Eye to make me a fly dress,” Chilli says, beaming, at the top of the song. Left Eye’s verse is an open challenge to anyone who wants to hang out with her, opening with a too-cool-for-this-shit lead-in—”Uh-huh reindeer, presents, happiness… yeah right, check it out…”—and then using the “sleigh ride” as a metaphor for what I’m guessing was simply romance, because this was a PG-13 Christmas track. (The B-side to the single, “All I Want for Christmas“—no relation—is less ambiguous.)
This was just before TLC’s peak, a year beforeCrazySexyCool and years before outside pressures would make things tense, so it’s safe to assume that a lot of the trio’s chemistry was natural and unforced here. In an interview with Pitchfork earlier this year, Chilli even said that the verse was her favorite Left Eye moment: “I really love how she rapped in our Christmas song,'” she said. “I miss how silly we all used to be together. It was just how we interacted, at least when we were all liking each other at the same time—you know how sisters are!” They were gunning for airplay here (and a featured spot on the Home Alone 2 soundtrack didn’t hurt), but TLC were genuinely enjoying themselves.
“Sleigh Ride” is unquestionably of its time, but that’s its greatest asset—where most pop musicians try to tap into familiar moods and melodies at Christmas, TLC decided to sound like themselves, then threw a few bells on there. There’s more than one way to access warm holiday vibes. Sometimes you just have to rewrite the songs from scratch.
TLC finally gave us a live rendition of the hit in 2016, 23 years after it’s release, on the festive television show Taraji’s White Hot Holidays. Missy Elliott made a surprise appearance and paid homage to the late Left Eye by performing Lisa’s verse with the girls. Magic.
Original article posted on Noisey
Announcement, Music, Television

Left Eye Protégé’s Blaque Vow To Release ‘Torch’ Album!

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After years of disappointments, false hopes and petitioning, the ladies of the group Blaque (discovered by Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes) have finally delivered fans the news they have all been waiting for — they will be releasing their previously unreleased album Torch!

Torch was recorded back in 2003 as a follow-up to their second album, Blaque Out (which was also heavily delayed due to record label conflicts). Torch was scheduled to be released on Elektra Records in 2004, but the girls were instead released from their record contract, leaving the completed album unreleased.

Fans have been demanding the album to be released for many years. Our friends at Dimension TLC even put together a petition to get the album heard. This got the attention of the remaining Blaque members, Shamari DeVoe and Brandi Williams, and they are listening!

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On October 28, the birthday of the late Natina Reed, Shamari and Brandi decided host the first Remembering Natina annual party to celebrate her life, and announced to the world that they were going to release the Torch album in full, very soon!

Dimension TLC owner James posted the announcement in the Blaque Out! chat group on Facebook. “Our true Blaque fans!“, Brandi said excitedly to the crowd. “Y’all know about that Torch album? Y’all have been asking, y’all have been petitioning, y’all have been dying to know what happened to Torch.”

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Well tonight“, Brandi continued, “on our sisters birthday, we have decided to let everyone know that Torch will be released very soon!”.

“Not just the snippets, but the FULL album!”, Shamari insisted. “Every single song. We just copped the masters for Torch! We are releasing Torch!”.

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Left Eye with Blaque on the set of “I Do”

The Torch album features a fitting tribute to their idol Left Eye on a track titled “Her Name”. The singles “Ugly” (featuring Missy Elliott) and “I’m Good” from the Honey soundtrack are also on the tracklist.

Shamari has been cast in the latest season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. With the show still reeling in record viewing numbers, we’re pretty certain this will attract more fans back to Blaque!

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Are you ready for the return of Blaque?

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‘Torch’ Tracklist
Music, Tribute

Charli XCX Pays Homage to TLC in New Video “1999”

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Fresh from her performance at the Radio City Music Hall this week, British singer Charli XCX released the 90s nostalgia filled music video to her new single, “1999” today.

Judging from the title you can be sure to expect a flick full of memories of 1999, but Charli XCX went one step further and included some iconic visuals to remind us of the whole decade of the 90s!

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Along with her guest feature Troye Sivan, the pair recreate famous movie scenes from Titanic, American Beauty and The Matrix, as well as nods to the popular computer game The Sims and usage of the classic Nokia 3310 phone.

But the biggest highlight comes when they recreate some iconic music videos from Eminem, Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, Nsync and the greatest part being a recreation of the TLCWaterfalls” video, with Charli XCX dressed as Left Eye next to the water-figured special effects used in the original video.

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Check the full video out and check the single out on Spotify and iTunes now!

Music, Review

21 of TLC’s Best Album Tracks!

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We all know that TLC conquered the music industry throughout the 1990s, going on to earn the title of being the biggest selling US girl group of all time. A title they still own today.

Although T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli dominated the charts worldwide with smash hits such as “Waterfalls”, “No Scrubs” and “Unpretty”, it is easy to forget that this iconic trio produced some of the most hard-hitting songs that didn’t become singles, but are present on all 5 of their amazing studio albums.

Whilst we sit and hope this spurs the ladies to do a tour of their album tracks for their die-hard fans, here’s our rundown of 21 of their best non-single tracks, with some additional reviews by The BoomBox. In no specific order:

1. “Switch”, CrazySexyCool (1994)

“Switch” is the ultimate proof that there ain’t no party like a TLC party. With Jean Wright’s “Mr. Big Stuff” guitar riff sample leading the way, feminist heroes T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli let it be known that girls just wanna have fun and not every single gal strives to be in a committed relationship. “Switch” was produced by Jermaine Dupri, the guy who suggested T-Boz should sing in her iconic lower register!

 

2. “This Is How It Works”, Waiting To Exhale (1995)

Recorded exclusively for Whitney Houston’s Waiting to Exhale soundtrack, “This Is How It Works” is essentially sex education for grown ups, complete with a specific step-by-step tutorial! Written and produced by their label boss Babyface and Left Eye, who adds a seductive rap which serves as icing on the cake!

 

3. “Sumthin Wicked This Way Comes” (feat André 3000), CrazySexyCool (1994)

TLC’s CrazySexyCool remains the best-selling album by a girl group, achieving a diamond-selling status in the US. The albums closer contains Left Eye’s most poignant verse after “Waterfalls” and a verse by Outkast‘s Andre 3000. The Organized Noize-produced track critiques the then-current state of the world, but the lyrics still ring true today. “I just don’t understand / The ways of the world today / Sometimes I feel / Like there’s nothing to live for / So I’m longing for the days of yesterday“.

 

4. “My Life”, Fanmail (1999)

Part of what made TLC unstoppable in their heyday was their audacity to live by their own rules. “My Life,” which reunites them with producer Jermaine Dupri, is TLC’s legacy in a nutshell, and Left Eye’s rap takes it to new heights as she spits an epic verse that gives listeners a glimpse into her upbringing. To this day, superfans can’t seem to wrap their heads around why this track was never released as a single.

 

5. “His Story”, Ooooooohhh… on the TLC tip (1992)

TLC has never been afraid of touching on sensitive topics in thier music. As explained by Left Eye in the intro, this song is partly inspired by Tawana Brawley, an African-American teenager who alleged in 1987 that four white men had raped her. “His Story” is a tale about toxic masculinity and the women whose sexual assault and harassment allegations are too easily dismissed by society.

 

6. “Kick Your Game”, CrazySexyCool (1994)

TLC’s chemistry is undeniable on “Kick Your Game,” and it’s one of the few instances where Jermaine Dupri and the trio join forces to create a funky groove for the ages. Left Eye creatively raps as her love interest conversing with herself, whilst T-Boz and Chilli ooze their effortless sex appeal on the verses. This was almost made a single after “Diggin On You”. The music video would have been amazing.

 

7. “American Gold”, TLC (2017)

“American Gold” may appear a proclamation of traditional patriotism, but in reality, there are several subtle commentaries on the country imbued within the lyrics. In reality, it’s an anthem for the marginalized, a rallying cry to take back the country that may have abandoned them. T-Boz’s brother Kayo takes on the role of producer on this single-worthy anthem. “I cry for the ones I lost/ I pray for the ones that don’t/ I’m bleeding on American soil/ I’m bleeding this American Gold“.

 

8. “So So Dumb”, 3D (2002)

TLC teams up with the talented singer, songwriter and producer Raphael Saadiq (of the group Tony! Toni! Tone! and Lucy Pearl) on this mellow tale of an unfaithful man that the girls are warning off, threatening to expose him to his wife! Saadiq actually worked with Left Eye on other tracks that didn’t make the album, but fans are hoping to hear them one day.

 

9. “Case Of The Fake People”, CrazySexyCool (1994)

Taking influences from the O’Jays’ 1972 smash hit “Back Stabbers,” TLC’s “Case of the Fake People” is a classy send-off to all the opportunists out there, and it comes with a certain level of wisdom that’s expected on a sophomore project.

 

10. “Im Good At Being Bad”, Fanmail (1999)

Built around a sample of War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” the track opens with soft strings and lovey-dovey lines about sunny days, birds chirping and long, romantic walks on the beach.  Then, without warning, a ferocious beat drops and the ladies of TLC reveal their raunchy fantasies, taking a page straight out of Lil’ Kim’s book. For nearly five explicit minutes, T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli spell out exactly what they expect in the bedroom. Legendary producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis laced the track, which would be why fans noticed the similarities between this song and Janet Jackson‘s “What About”. Initial pressings feature an interpolation of Donna Summer‘s 1975 disco hit, “Love to Love You Baby”, which she had removed after hearing the song’s lyrical content. Whoops.

 

11. “Joy Ride”, TLC (2017)

T-Boz and Chilli get sentimental on the closing number of their final album. “Thank you for stayin’ by my side / Hope you all enjoy the ride,” sing the two surviving TLC members on the chorus of “Joyride,” which serves as a bittersweet ending to the group’s remarkable comeback album after 15 years.

 

12. “Automatic”, Fanmail (1999)

A handful of the tracks on FanMail predicted the future in the most uncanny way with dial-up sounds and a recurring android character named Vic-E. On the futuristic “Automatic,” the girls sing about getting revenge on someone who did them wrong in a relationship. This track was later used as the opening theme to their hit VH1 biopic ‘CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story‘ in 2013.

 

13. “Depend On Myself”, Ooooooohhh… on the TLC tip (1992)

On the set’s penultimate track, the threesome boast about being independent and in control of their own lives after some trifling dude tries desperately to win them over by promising to take care of them financially.

 

14. “Let’s Do It Again”, CrazySexyCool (1994)

You sexy thang you / Whatever it is you want from me you know I’ll satisfy/ Just keep the love at home,” T-Boz purrs in the first verse of this slow jam, produced by JonJohn Robinson. The tension rises during the bridge, with T-Boz and Chilli alternating their lines sensually, easily the highlight of the track.

 

15. “Silly Ho”, Fanmail (1999)

Initially released as a promo late in 1998 to drum up attention to the forthcoming album and it’s official lead single, “No Scrubs”, “Silly Ho” is a sharp and catchy club anthem, led by T-Boz setting the record straight and making it clear she will not “be no chickenhead/ to wake up in your bed/ let the other girls want you“. Produced by Dallas Austin under the alias of Cyptron, it features a rap by virtual Vic-E in the absence of Left Eye, who wasn’t co-operating with a lot of the album’s recording at the time.

 

16. “Das Da Way We Like ‘Em”, Ooooooohhh… on the TLC tip (1992)

This is the first and last time we get to witness T-Boz and Chilli join Left Eye’s lane by displaying their rapping skills on a track. They did pretty good, and with many artists rapping and singing lately we think the girls should have tried rapping more often. They all have a verse each to rap about the type of man they are looking for, before ending the song with a ton of high energy shout outs to their friends and mothers. And that is… ooooooohhh on the TLC tip!

 

17. “Fanmail”, Fanmail (1999)

The opening track named after the album acts as a love letter to the fans. Vic-E opens the song by thanking fans for their support over the years, before TLC get personal with their listeners, reassuring them that “just like you, I get lonely too“. Years later the impact of this song is still felt, with Drake recording a cover in 2010, simply titled “I Get Lonely Too”.

 

18. “Aye Muthafucka”, TLC (2017)

TLC are reunited with “Waterfalls” hitmaker Marqueze Ethridge on this track from their self-titled album. The girls set a scrub straight who no longer deserves their affection or attention. “I just tell you things I want you to know/
I cannot with you, I done done this before“. The catchy lyrics and slick production will have listeners keeping the track on repeat, even if the title is too bold to say out loud. If a clean edit is released, this could and should be a big radio hit.

 

19. “Can You Hear Me?” (feat Missy Elliott), Under Construction (2003)

TLC rarely collaborated with other artists, especially outside of the LaFace umbrella, but joining Missy Elliott on this poignant track was absolutely necessary. Missy was still grieving over the loss of Aaliyah in August 2001 when Left Eye tragically passed 6 months later. Being as they knew how it felt to lose someone close to them in the music industry, Missy Elliott and TLC wrote direct letters in song form to Aaliyah and Left Eye. In TLC’s verse they sing, “Aaliyah if you see Left Eye / Tell her me and Boz miss her too / No one’s gonna fill her space / T, C, L not replaced / If you and Left Eye come to chat / Tell her me and Tionne know she’s much safer“. A perfect tribute.

 

20. “If I Was Your Girlfriend”, CrazySexyCool (1994)

TLC weren’t the type of group to release endless covers of other hits, so when they did record a cover it had to make sense. And this was no exception. Prince made no secret that TLC was his favorite girl group and asked them to record a cover of “Get It Up” by his group The Time,  which was a hit single for the movie Poetic Justice in 1993, starring Janet Jackson and 2pac. He quickly gave his blessings for the girls to record a cover of his classic “Girlfriend” too, knowing they would — and did, do it justice. T-Boz sang in a higher register than we’re used to and sounded like the female Prince! 10/10

 

21. “Start A Fire”, TLC (2017)

This definitive listeners guide would not be complete without this intimate gem from the latest self-titled TLC album. Another production by Ayo ‘Kayo’ Watkins, T-Boz and Chilli sing together seductively and effortlessly over the minimal instrumentation of an acoustic guitar, blended perfectly with singer/songwriter Candace Wakefield on background vocals. Just as the angelic vocals begin to take you to another world, the drum beat kicks in before the song climaxes, making you yearn for more. This can’t be the end.. and it isn’t, completely. Despite the girls declaring that this is the final album, they insist that they may still release singles for soundtracks and other projects in the future.