1991 – present (31 years)
Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia, United States
- Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes
TLC is an R&B group which was originally formed in 1990 in Atlanta, Georgia, United States. For most of their career, the group consisted of singers Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozanda "Chili" Thomas, and rapper/songwriter Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes. The group disbanded in 2003, following Lopes' death the previous year, but reunited as a duo in 2008.The group has released four studio albums - "Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip" (1992), "CrazySexyCool" (1994), "FanMail" (1999), and "3D" (2002) - and are the second-best selling all-female group of all time (only the Spice Girls have sold more albums).
In 1990–1991, Atlanta, Georgia, teenager Crystal Jones put out a call for two more girls to join her in a trio to be called 2nd Nature. Her request was eventually answered by Tionne Watkins, a native of Des Moines, Iowa, who moved to Atlanta with her family at an early age, and Lisa Lopes, a rapper who had just moved to the city from her native Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with only a keyboard and US$750 ($1,318 today).
The group eventually managed to arrange an audition with R&B singer Perri "Pebbles" Reid, who had started her own management and production company, Pebbitone. Impressed by the girls, Reid renamed the group "TLC" (an initialism of the first letters of each of their names) and arranged an audition for them with local record label LaFace Records, run by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, and then husband, Antonio "L.A." Reid. The latter Reid saw potential in Watkins and Lopes but felt that Jones should be replaced; within a few days, part-time Damian Dame backup dancer Rozonda Thomas was brought in to replace Jones. Thomas was christened with the nickname "Chilli" so as to keep the TLC name, while Watkins became "T-Boz" and Lopes was named "Left Eye". The girls were signed to LaFace through a production deal with Pebbitone (with Perri Reid taking the role of the group's manager) (see artist development deal) and immediately went into the studio with producers Reid and Edmonds, Dallas Austin, Jermaine Dupri, and Marley Marl to produce their first album.
The first TLC album, Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip, was released on February 25, 1992 by LaFace. The songs on the album are a blend of funk (Watkins), hip-hop (Lopes), and R&B (Thomas), similar to the "new jack swing" sound popularized by producer Teddy Riley in the late 1980s (and TLC's sound was sometimes cited as an example of the "new jill swing" genre). The album was a critical and commercial success, being certified quadruple-platinum within a year and launching a number of US Hot 100 top-ten singles with "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg", "What About Your Friends", and "Baby-Baby-Baby" which reached No. 2 on the Hot 100.
TLC's lyrics, chiefly written by Lopes and Dallas Austin, were playful, female-empowering anthems characterized by Lopes's quirky, nasal-toned raps, Watkins's low-voiced lead vocals, and Thomas's powerful vocals and harmonization. The musical formula was augmented by the girls' brightly colored videos and curious costuming: each girl wore wrapped condoms on their clothing (Lopes also wore one over her left eye in a pair of glasses).
During TLC's first national tour, as MC Hammer's opening act, Lopes and Thomas discovered that Watkins had sickle-cell disease, an ailment which she kept a closely guarded secret until she became ill while TLC was touring the Southwest US. Watkins continued to battle her condition and eventually became a spokesperson for the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America in the late 1990s. At the conclusion of the tour, TLC decided to take more control of their careers and thus informed Perri Reid that they no longer wished her to be their manager. Reid released the group from its management deal, but they remained signed to Pebbitone, and Reid continued to receive a share of their earnings. Also in 1994, TLC played the musical group "Sex as a Weapon" in the New Line Cinema feature film House Party 3, starring Kid 'n Play.
During early 1994, TLC re-entered the studio with Dallas Austin, Tim & Bob, Jermaine Dupri, Babyface, Organized Noize, and Sean "Puffy" Combs to record their second album, CrazySexyCool. Lopes was released from rehab to attend the recording sessions, but the finished album featured significantly less of her raps and vocals. The album instead focused more on the contributions from Watkins and Thomas, and had a smoother, more fluid sound, similar to the most successful single from the first album, the US #2 hit "Baby-Baby-Baby". All four singles from CrazySexyCool reached the top 5 of the US Hot 100, while "Creep" and "Waterfalls" peaked at no. 1, while Red Light Special reached no. 2 and "Diggin' on You" reached no. 5. "Waterfalls", an Organized Noise-produced song that featured an old-school soul-based musical arrangement, socially conscious lyrics criticizing drug dealing and unsafe sex, and an introspective rap from Lopes, became TLC's biggest hit, and its million-dollar music video was an MTV staple for many months. Also in 1994, TLC recorded the theme song to Nickelodeon's popular sketch comedy All That which ran for ten seasons.
CrazySexyCool eventually sold over 11 million copies in the US, and became one of the first albums to ever receive a diamond certification from the RIAA, and won a 1996 Grammy Award for Best R&B Album and a 1996 Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group for "Creep". However, in the midst of their apparent success, the members of TLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 3, 1995.
They declared debts totaling $3.5 million, much of it because of Lopes' insurance payments arising from the arson incident and Watkins' medical bills, but the primary reason being that each member of the group was taking home less than $35,000 a year after paying managers, producers, expenses, and taxes. They sought to renegotiate their 1991 contract with LaFace, under which they only received seven percent of the revenues from their album sales, and to dissolve their association with Pebbitone. Both Pebbitone and LaFace countered that TLC simply wanted more money and were in no real financial danger, resulting in two years of legal debates before the cases were finally settled in late 1996. TLC's contract was renegotiated, their production deal with Pebbitone and Perri Reid (who had separated from her husband by this time) was rescinded, and the group appeared on the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack with "This Is How It Works" (a song written by Babyface and Lopes) and was set to re-enter the recording studio in 1997 after signing a new contract with LaFace/Arista.
Preliminary work on TLC's third album, FanMail, was delayed when friction arose between the group and their main producer Dallas Austin, who was by this time dating Thomas and helping to raise their young son Tron. Austin wanted $4.2 million and creative control to work on the project, resulting in a stand-off between the producer and the artists. During this period, Thomas appeared in the independent film HavPlenty, and Watkins co-starred in Hype Williams (who later directed the "No Scrubs" video)' 1998 film Belly with rappers Nas and DMX. Watkins made a solo song in late 1996 called "Touch Myself". Lopes started her own Lopes Productions artist development company and signed Blaque, a TLC-like female R&B trio. She also appeared on the "Not Tonight" remix with fellow female rappers Lil' Kim, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Da Brat and Angie Martinez, which garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance by a Duo, Band, or Group in 1998.
TLC eventually began working with other producers for the FanMail album, until finally negotiating with Austin, who produced the bulk of FanMail and gave the album a futuristic, more pop-based feel. FanMail was another success for TLC, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album sales chart and selling over 6 million copies in the U.S. The album featured the number-one hit "No Scrubs", produced by Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs, and the single "Unpretty", an alternative rock-styled song about self-love written by Watkins and Dallas Austin (another version of it sampled Dennis Edwards' 1984 hit "Don't Look Any Further"), that also reached #1 on the Billboard chart. At the Lady of Soul Awards the group was honored with the Aretha Franklin Entertainer of the Year Award.
The videos for both songs were heavily featured on MTV and BET, and three more singles received decent radio play: "Silly Ho", "I'm Good at Being Bad", and Edmonds-written ballad, "Dear Lie". Like CrazySexyCool, FanMail won the Grammy for Best R&B Album of 2000 and Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for "No Scrubs". The group went on a worldwide tour simply named FanMail Tour. While the first leg of the tour sold poorly and made the group lose $500,000 dollars, most of the second leg of the tour was sold out. The group had a PayPerView special of their tour which at the time became PayPerView's highest grossing televised special. The tour went on to gross more than $72.8 million dollars according to Billboard which became the highest grossing tour by a female group.
Before the recording of their fourth album, 3D, Lopes originally wanted to withdraw from the group in order to see if they could duplicate their prior success without her contributions. Lopes eventually pursued solo stardom and recorded her first album Supernova, however it underperformed overseas and was never officially released in the United States. Before her second solo album was completed, Lopes died in a car crash while filming a documentary in Honduras, which would later be released as The Last Days of Left Eye in 2007 on VH1.
Returning from yet another hiatus after Lopes' death, Watkins, Thomas and Austin decided that they would complete the remainder of their fourth album, to be called 3D, which also featured production from Rodney Jerkins, The Neptunes, Raphael Saadiq, Missy Elliott and Timbaland. The decision was also made that TLC would retire after the release and promotion of 3D, rather than replace Lopes and continue. Lopes had already completed her vocals for four songs and the remainder were performed by the remaining group members alone, who eulogized Lopes on a number of the tracks. "3D" was released on November 12, 2002.
The first single for 3D was "Girl Talk", the video for which featured Watkins and Thomas alone in live-action segments and Lopes in animated segments. Its follow-up, "Hands Up", featured only Watkins and Thomas in its video, but took place in a nightclub named Club Lopes (Lopes' production company's "eye" logo was a prominent feature on the club's walls). The album sold two million copies in its first year of release, and "Girl Talk" was the only single to reach the U.S. top forty with a peak position of number 28; "Hands Up" never charted, and a third single, "Damaged", reached number 53. However, the singles enjoyed a bit more success in Europe and Asia. 3D went on to sell nearly 2 million copies in the US alone.
In June 2003, at Zootopia, an annual concert hosted by New York radio station Z100 held at Giants Stadium, TLC appeared in what was announced to be their last performance. The group, introduced by Carson Daly, showed a video montage dedicated to Lopes, and went on to perform songs against video footage of Lopes performing the same songs, and wearing the same outfits, that were appearing onstage. This would later go on to be called their final goodbye before 60,000 fans.
In 2005, LaFace had scheduled the release of Now and Forever: The Hits, a TLC greatest hits album with a new song, "Come Get Some", featuring Lil Jon and Sean P of the YoungBloodZ. However, the compilation was not released domestically until June 2005, although versions of the compilation were released internationally in 2004 and the album was also available as a legal download from the iTunes Store in November 2004. On June 21, 2005, Now and Forever: The Hits was quietly released in the United States; the album debuted at number 53 with 20,000 copies sold.
On June 25, 2004, Watkins and Thomas announced that they were pitching a reality television show that was eventually picked up for development by UPN. R U the Girl with Watkins and Thomas debuted on UPN on July 27, 2005. Despite media speculation that the winner of the series was to become a new, permanent member of TLC, Watkins and Thomas have vowed to never replace Lopes with a new member. The winner of the show would record with them on a new single and perform the track with them in a live concert finale in Atlanta. Roughly 4.1 million viewers tuned in for the season finale of R U The Girl on September 20, 2005, with 20-year-old Tiffany "O'so Krispie" Baker as the winner
On October 4, 2005, "I Bet" was released to radio and iTunes, credited to "R U The Girl with Watkins & Thomas" with no mention of the TLC name on the package. The song was also appended to pressings of Now and Forever: The Hits released after October 11, 2005. "I Bet" failed to chart in America and Europe, ending reports that Watkins and Thomas were putting the finishing touches on a repackaged Greatest Hits album.
On June 24, 2008, Watkins and Thomas made a special appearance on the BET Awards. They, along with the original members of En Vogue and SWV, performed in Alicia Keys' tribute to girl groups. Watkins, Thomas, and Keys performed "Waterfalls". Watkins and Thomas were also presenters at the BETJ Virtual Awards on November 25, 2008.
In March 2009, Watkins and Thomas announced plans to perform together in a concert series in Japan featuring seventeen of TLC's songs. On April 4, 2009, the group performed a thirteen song set, in Japan for Springroove 2009. On August 25, 2009, it was announced that the group would perform at the Justin Timberlake and Friends benefit concert at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Events Center. TLC performed their set on October 17, 2009. At the concert, Watkins announced that she and Thomas plan to record new material but was never put into motion.
After another brief hiatus, TLC took the stage on May 25, 2011 on the season finale of American Idol. They performed a three song set starting with Lil Jon's intro from "Come Get Some" then going into "No Scrubs" and "Waterfalls". The performance received a standing ovation from the audience.
TLC recorded a cover of the song "Rainbow" for a tribute album to the popular Japanese rock band L'Arc~En~Ciel. The tribute album, which features covers by Boyz II Men, Daniel Powter and Maxi Priest, was released June 13, 2012.
Music TV channel VH1 have announced plans to produce a biopic based on the group called Crazy Sexy Cool: The TLC Story written by Kate Lanier, with Charles Stone III directing and Watkins and Thomas signed up as consultants and executive producers. Actresses Keke Palmer and Drew Sidora as well as rapper Lil Mama have been cast as Thomas, Watkins and Lopes, respectively.
In addition to the biopic, TLC announced that a possible new album was in production as well as a tour with Lisa's moving image projected on a screen behind the performers, as was done at the 2003 Zootopia show. Via Twitter, Watkins stated that she and Rozonda were once in talks with L.A. Reid's Epic Records for a new TLC album, that they would have liked to release after the biopicl
On September 7, 2012, Chilli made an appearance on Good Afternoon America, confirming that TLC will be releasing a new album in 2013. Watkins revealed on a popular Atlanta radio station, that she and Chilli will start to record for the VH1 biopic soundtrack soon. The soundtrack will feature new recordings of some of their hits, and will feature new songs. Watkins and Thomas both revealed via their official Twitter accounts, that they turned down the recording contract they were negotiating with Epic Records.
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