Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
TLC was a hugely successful R&B and hip-hop group that was active from 1991 until 2003. Originally called 2nd Nature, the group was founded in Atlanta, Georgia by Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, and Crystal Jones. Before signing to LaFace Records through a production deal with R&B singer Peri "Pebbles" Reid , the group's name was changed to "TLC," and Crystal Jones was replaced by Rozonda "Chili" Thomas. Over a decade of activity and four studio albums, TLC currently holds the title of being the best-selling R&B girl-group of all time, selling 22 million albums, scoring four #1 hits, and crossing over successfully to pop audiences. However, the group was just as noted for its controversy as it was for its success.
In 1991, Atlanta teenager Crystal Jones put out a call for two more girls to join her in a hip-hop/R&B group 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 and singer who had just moved to the city from her native Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with only a keyboard and $750. 2nd Nature eventually managed to arrange an audition with R&B singer Peri Reid, professionally known as "Pebbles," who had started her own management and production company, Pebbitone. Impressed by the girls, Pebbles renamed the group "TLC" and arranged an audition for the group with local record label LaFace Records, run by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and Pebbles' husband, Antonio "L.A." Reid. L.A. Reid was impressed with Watkins and Lopes, but felt that Jones should be replaced; within a few months, former Damian Dame backup dancer Rosanda Thomas was brought in to replace Jones. The girls were signed to LaFace through a production deal with Pebbitone (with Pebbles taking the role of the group's manager), and almost immediately went into the studio with producers L.A. Reid & Babyface, Dallas Austin, Jermaine Dupri, and Marley Marl to produce their first album.
Besides being an acronym for "tender loving care", the name "TLC" was based upon the first names of the original members of the group: Tionne, Lisa, and Crystal. Therefore, when Thomas joined, the girls were given nicknames: Watkins became "T-Boz", Lopes "Left-Eye," and Thomas "Chili."
Ooooooohhh.... On the TLC Tip (1992)
The first TLC album, Ooooooohhh.... On the TLC Tip , was released in February 1992 by LaFace. The songs on the album were a blend between hip-hop and R&B, similar to the "new jack swing" sound popularized by producer Teddy Riley in the late-1980s; TLC's sound was dubbed "new jill swing." The album was a success, going double-platinum in a year's time and launching a number of US Billboard Top Ten singles: "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg," "Hat 2 Da Back," "What About your Friends," and "Baby-Baby-Baby."
TLC's lyrics, chiefly written by Left-Eye and Dallas Austin, were playful, female-empowering anthems characterized by Left-Eye's quirky, nasal-toned raps, T-Boz's low-voiced lead vocals, and Chili's powerful vocals and harmonization. The musical formula was augmented by the girls' brightly-colored videos and curious costuming: each girl wore unwrapped condoms on their clothing (Left-Eye also wore one in a pair of glasses over her left eye), apparently advocating contraception.
During TLC's first national tour as Hammer's opening act, the other bandmembers discovered that T-Boz had sickle-cell anemia, an aliment which she kept a closely-guarded secret until she became ill while TLC was touring the southwestern United States. T-Boz would continue 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 Pebbles that they no longer wished her to be their manager. Pebbles released the group from its management deal, but they remained signed to Pebbitone, and Pebbles continued to receive a share of their earnings.
Left-Eye had started dating Atlanta Falcons American football player Andre Rison shortly after the release of Ooooooohhh.... On the TLC Tip, and the two were by 1994 living together in Rison's upscale double-story home. Their relationship was allegedly filled with violent moments, and Left-Eye filed an assault charge against Rison on September 2, 1993, although Rison later denied battering her. Left-Eye was also battling alcoholism, having been a heavy drinker since her early teen years. After another fight between Left-Eye and Rison in the early morning hours of June 9, 1994, Left-Eye, tipsy from alcohol, tossed numerous pairs of Rison's newly purchased sneakers into a bathtub, doused them with gasoline, and lit them on fire. The Plexiglas bathtub quickly melted and set the structural frame of the house on fire. Although firefighters were called to the scene, the house could not be saved, because of the toxic fumes from the gasoline. Left-Eye was eventually arrested for and indicted on charges of first-degree arson; she was sentenced to five years of probation and required to enter alcoholism rehabilitation. Rison eventually reconciled with Left-Eye, and they continued dating on-and-off for most of the next few years.
TLC re-entered the studio with Dallas Austin, Dupri, Babyface, Organized Noise, and Sean "Puffy" Combs to record their second album, CrazySexyCool, during the fall of 1994. Left-Eye was released from rehab to attend the recording sessions, but the finished album featured significantly less of her vocals. The album instead focused more on T-Boz's and Chili's contributions and 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 Billboard Top 5, including "Red Light Special," "Diggin' On You," and the #1 hits "Creep" and "Waterfalls." "Waterfalls," an Organized-Noise produced record that featured an old-school soul-based musical arrangement, socially conscious lyrics criticizing drug dealing and unsafe sex, and an introspective rap from Left-Eye, became TLC's biggest hit ever, and its million-dollar music video—at that time the most expensive ever—was an MTV staple for many months.
CrazySexyCool eventually sold over 11 million copies, becoming one of only seven R&B albums to ever receive a diamond certification from the RIAA, and won the 1996 Grammy Award for Best R&B Album. However, many were shocked when, 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 dollars, much of it because of Lopes' insurance payments citing from the Rison arson incident and Watkins' medical bills, but the primary reason being that the three women were each taking home less than $35,000 a year after paying managers, producers, expenses, and taxes. They sought to renegotiate their contract with LaFace—under their 1991 contract, 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 hassles before the cases were finally settled in late 1996. TLC's contract was renegotiated, their production deal with Pebbitone and Pebbles (who had separated from husband L.A. Reid by this time) was rescinded, and the group was set to re-enter the recording studio in 1997.
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 Chili and helping to raise their young son Tron. Austin wanted $4 million and creative control to work on the project, resulting in a stand-off between the producer and the artists. During this period, Chili appeared in the independent film HavPlenty and T-Boz recorded the solo single "Touch Myself" for the Fled soundtrack and co-starred in Hype Williams' 1998 film Belly with rappers Nas and DMX. Left-Eye started her own Left-Eye Productions artist development company and signed Blaque, a TLC-like female R&B/hip-hop trio.
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, selling 6 million copies and featuring the US #1 hits "No Scrubs," the first to feature Chili alone on lead vocals, and "Unpretty," an alternative rock-styled song about self-love written by Austin and T-Boz. The videos for both songs were heavily fetured on MTV and BET, and three more singles received decent radio play without the support of a music video: "Silly Ho," "I'm Good At Being Bad," and "Dear Lie" (a video was shot for "Dear Lie," but it only played overseas). Like CrazySexyCool before it, FanMail won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album of 1999.
During and after the release of FanMail, Left-Eye made it known to the press on multiple occasions that she felt that she was unable to fully express herself working with TLC and Dallas Austin. Her contributions to the songs had been reduced to periodic eight-bar raps, and studio session singers often took her place on the background vocals for the groups' songs. In its November 28, 1999 issue, Entertainment Weekly ran a letter from Left-Eye that challenged her groupmates to record solo albums and let the fans judge which of the three was the most talented:
- "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 ladies eventually settled the feud, and The Challenge was never followed through. Left-Eye did, however, begin recording her solo album, Supernova.
After the conclusion of the successful FanMail tour, the ladies took some time off and pursued personal interests.
T-Boz married rapper Mack 10 in August 2000, and the couple had a daughter, Chase, that same year. They would remain together until 2004, when T-Boz, stating that Mack-10 frequently terrorized her, filed for separation. In 2000, she released a book entitled Thoughts.., which featured essays and anecdotes from her personal and professional life, and her poetry, including the two poems that were the basis for "Unpretty" and "Dear Lie." She also appeared on the soundtrack for the animated film Rugrats In Paris .
Left-Eye did not attend T-Boz's wedding; when she also did not turn up for a scheduled press conference and a family gathering, T-Boz and Chili announced to the press that Left-Eye was missing, in hopes of finding her. For an entire week, no one was able to find or contact her. Her bandmates, family, and label worried until Left-Eye showed up on the August 14, 2000 broadcast of Inside Edition, stating that she and her new boyfriend Sean Newman had gone looking for wedding rings. Left-Eye and Newman eventually called off their wedding, and Left-Eye began dating Andre Rison once again. On June 14, 2001, Rison announced that he and Left-Eye were engaged, but the wedding plans were eventually cancelled.
Chili and Dallas Austin separated in 2000, and Chili began a relationship with fellow LaFace recording artist Usher Raymond. The couple's high-profile romance ended in 2003; the breakup was the main subject mater of Usher's Confessions, which became his most successful album.
Left-Eye's Solo Career
In 2000, LaFace released Supernova, but only for international markets. A video was shot for the single "The Block Party" by Hype Williams, but the video, the single, and the album were never released in America, and overseas marketing of the album was only moderate. Perturbed by her label's lack of support, Left-Eye made the album available for listening via streaming audio on her website. In January 2002, she signed a solo deal with notorious label mogul Suge Knight, to record solo albums for his Tha Row Records under the name "N.I.N.A." ("New Identity Non-Applicable," and also slang for a handgun). She was to be marketed with a darker, more dangerous image than that of pop-friendly TLC, but no material was ever released by Tha Row during Left-Eye's lifetime.
Since about 2001, Left-Eye had spent most of her time-off in self-discovery, including frequent trips to Honduras for spiritual cleansing. Dallas Austin got TLC back into the studio in early 2002 to begin recording their fourth album, and Left-Eye took her cleansing trips on her free days. On April 25, she and six others were riding through La Cieba in an SUV when Left-Eye suddenly swerved to avoid hitting an oncoming car. The SUV went into a spin and flipped over, rolling into a ditch. Left-Eye was the only passenger not to survive the crash; it was believed that she was not wearing her seat belt. Her funeral was held on May 3, 2002, with thousands of fans and admirers in attendance.
It was decided by TLC and Dallas Austin that they would complete the remainder of their fourth album, to be called 3D , which also featured production from Rodney Jerkins and Missy Elliott & Timbaland. The decision was also made that TLC would be retired after the release and promotion of 3D; Left-Eye would not be replaced. Left-Eye had already completed her vocals for six songs; the remainder were performed by T-Boz and Chilli alone, who gave reverence to Left-Eye on a number of the tracks. The first single for 3D was "Girl Talk," the video for which featured T-Boz and Chili alone in live-action segments and Left-Eye in animated segments. Its follow-up, "Hands Up," featured only T-Boz and Chili in its video. 3D was only a lukewarm success; the album only sold one million copies and "Girl Talk" (US #28) was the only single to reach the US Top 40; "Hands Up" never charted and a third single, "Damaged," made it to #53.
TLC went on tour in support of 3D with just T-Boz and Chili. 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 Britney Spears and 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.
On June 25 2004, T-Boz and Chili announced that they were pitching a reality television show to Fox Television, where contestants would compete for a chance to record a single and perform in concert with the two of them. Fox passed on the show, which was eventually picked up for development by UPN.
- Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins (1991–2003)
- Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes (1991–2002)
- Rozonda "Chili" Thomas (1991–2003)
- Cheryl Jones (1991)
- 1992: Ooooooohhh.... On the TLC Tip
- 1994: CrazySexyCool
- 1999: FanMail
- 2002: 3D
- 2003: Now and Forever: The Hits
Singles and music videos
- 1991: "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" (US #6) (a 1992 remix features the first appearance of OutKast)
- 1992: "Baby-Baby-Baby" (US #2)
- 1992: "Sleigh Ride"
- 1992: "What About Your Friends" (US #7)
- 1993: "Get It Up" (US #42)
- 1993: "Hat 2 Da Back" (US #30)
- 1994: "Creep" (US #1)
- 1994: "Red Light Special" (US #2)
- 1995: "Diggin' On You" (US #5)
- 1995: "Waterfalls" (US #1)
- 1998: "Silly Ho" (US #59)
- 1999: "No Scrubs" (US #1)
- 1999: "I'm Good At Being Bad"
- 1999: "Unpretty" (US #1) (a remix that samples Dennis Edwards' "Don't Look Any Further" was issued to urban markets instead of the original version)
- 2000: "Dear Lie" (US #51)
- 2000: "What It Ain't (Ghetto Enuff)" (Goodie Mob featuring TLC)
- 2002: "Girl Talk" (US #28)
- 2002: "Hands Up"
- 2003: "Damaged" (US #53)
- 2004: "Come Get Some" (featuring Lil Jon and Sean Paul of the Youngbloodz )
All singles had a music video shot for them except for the following: "Silly Ho", "I'm Good At Being Bad", "Damaged", and "Come Get Some". The videos for "Diggin' On You" and "No Scrubs" use remixed or alternate versions of the actual single: "Digin' On You" is presented in "L.A.'s Live Mix", and "No Scrubs" is presented in an alternate version featuring a rap from Left-Eye. "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" had a video shot for both the original version and the remix.
- "Does Going 'Broke' Mean Artist Really Doesn't Have Any Money?" by Anita Samuels and Diana Henriques, February 5, 1996.
- Our Georgia History: TLC
- Our Georgia History: Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes
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