TLC is an American girl group whose repertoire spans R&B, hip hop, soul, funk and new jack swing. TLC originally comprised singer Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, rapper Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes (until her death in 2002) and singer Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas. The group was very successful in the 1990s and early 2000s in spite of numerous spats with the law, each other, and the group's record label and management.
Billboard magazine ranked TLC as one of the greatest musical trios. Between 1990 and 2002, the group had ten Top 10 US singles, four of which went to number one; four multi-platinum albums; and won five Grammys. At the end of 1999, TLC was ranked as the seventh most successful act of the 1990s by Billboard. In 2008, the group was inducted into the All Time Hot 100 Artist Hall of Fame by the same magazine, at 56th place. That year it was also listed as the #25 R&B/hip-hop artist of the preceding 25 years. Worldwide they have sold more than 65 million records and are ranked as the best-selling American female group of all time. In 2012, TLC ranked 12th on VH1's 100 Greatest Women in Music, and as the number-one all-girl group.
In 1990, Atlanta, Georgia–based record producer Ian Burke and one of his clients, a teenager named Crystal Jones, came up with a concept for a girl group with a tomboyish, hip-hop image, similar to the blend of contemporary R&B and hip-hop music of new jack swing act Bell Biv DeVoe. Jones put out a call for two more girls to join her in this trio. Her request was eventually answered by Tionne Watkins, a native of Des Moines, Iowa, who moved to Atlanta with her family at a young age, and Lisa Lopes, a rapper who had just moved to the city from her native Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with a small keyboard and $750 ($1,354 today). Calling the group "2nd Nature", Jones, Watkins, and Lopes began working with producers Jermaine Dupri and Rico Wade on demo tape material.
Through a connection at the hair salon where Watkins worked the group eventually managed to arrange an audition with singer Perri "Pebbles" Reid, who had started her own management and production company, Pebbitone. Impressed by the girls, Reid renamed the group "TLC-Skee", with "TLC" being an acronym for the names Tionne, Lisa, and Crystal. Reid arranged an audition for them with local record label LaFace Records, run by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and Reid's then-husband, Antonio "L.A." Reid.
Antonio Reid saw potential in Watkins and Lopes as performers, but felt that Jones should be replaced. According to Jones, things began to unravel for her after Pebbles denied the group the opportunity to take home the contracts that Pebbitone had drafted. Jones did not want to sign before having the contract reviewed by others and perhaps a lawyer. In contrast, Watkins' recollection of Jones' departure is that both she and Lopes asked Jones to leave the group before their initial contracts were negotiated.
On February 28, 1991, Watkins and Lopes signed production, management, and publishing deals with Pebbitone, with Perri Reid becoming their general manager. As they looked for a replacement for Jones, the two-member TLC-Skee made its first on-record appearance on a track for LaFace act Damian Dame's self-titled 1991 LP. As well as appearing on Jermaine Jackson's album "You Said". Pebbles found the third member in Rozonda Thomas, one of Damian Dame's part-time backup dancers.
Thomas was signed to the act in April 1991, at about which time the group's name was shortened to TLC. To keep the meaning behind the TLC name being an acronym for the girls' names, Watkins became "T-Boz", Lopes became "Left-Eye", and Thomas became "Chilli". The girls were signed to LaFace in May 1991 through the production deal with Pebbitone. Their records would be distributed by Arista Records/BMG. They were immediately set up to go into the studio with producers Reid and Edmonds, Dallas Austin, Jermaine Dupri, and Marley Marl to produce their first album.
1991–94: Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip
Their debut album, Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip, was released on February 15, 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 jack 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 debut album, chiefly written by Dallas Austin and Lisa Lopes, consisted of playful lyrics, with some female-empowering songs. It was characterized by Watkins' low-register lead voals, Thomas's higher-register lead vocals, and Lopes's quirky raps. 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 anemia, an ailment which she kept a closely guarded secret until she became very 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. She was hospitalized, Lopes and Thomas stayed with her and some concerts were cancelled. At the conclusion of the tour, TLC, whom received very little money up to this point, decided to take more control of their careers and thus informed Pebbles 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.
Lopes began dating Atlanta Falcons American football player Andre Rison shortly after the release of Oooohhh... On the TLC Tip, and by 1994 the two were living together in Rison's upscale double-story home. Their relationship was allegedly filled with violent moments, and Lopes filed an assault charge against Rison on September 2, 1993. Rison denied battering her. Lopes was also battling alcoholism at the time. She had been a heavy drinker since the age of fifteen. After another fight between the couple in the early morning hours of June 9, 1994, Lopes tossed numerous pairs of Rison's newly purchased shoes into a bathtub, doused them with lighter fluid, and lit them on fire. The plexiglas bathtub quickly melted and set the structural frame of the house on fire. Lopes was arrested and indicted on charges of first-degree arson; she was sentenced to five years of probation and a $10,000 fine. Rison eventually reconciled with Lopes, and they continued dating on and off for seven years.
In late 1993, TLC re-entered the studio with Dallas Austin, Tim & Bob, Arnold Hennings, Jermaine Dupri, Babyface, Jon-John Robinson, Organized Noize, and Sean "Puffy" Combs to record their second album, CrazySexyCool, which was released on November 15, 1994. 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 was produced and co-written by Arnold Hennings which ran for ten seasons.
CrazySexyCool eventually sold over 11 million copies in the US; however, worldwide sales exceed 15 million copies, 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.
TLC declared debts totaling $3.5 million, some of it due to Lopes' insurance payments arising from the arson incident and Watkins' medical bills. But the primary reason being that the group received what they called a less than favorable deal from Pebbitone. After Arista Records, LaFace, and Pebbitone recouped their investment for recording costs and manufacturing and distribution (common recoupable charges in most record contracts), both Pebbitone and LaFace Records went on to charge for expenses such as airline travel, hotels, promotion, music videos, food, clothing, and other expenses. According to the members of TLC, ironically, the more successful the album became, the more they were in debt. In addition to this, managers, lawyers, producers, and taxes had to be paid, leaving each member of the group with less than $50,000 a year after having sold millions upon millions of albums. They sought to renegotiate their 1991 contract with LaFace, under which they received only .56 cents (split three ways) per album sold —considerably less than most major label recording contracts. They received less for each single sold. TLC also wanted to dissolve their association with Pebbitone. LaFace Records refused to renegotiate their deal midway through the contract, thus prompting TLC to file a bankruptcy petition. 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 with LaFace, and Pebbitone agreed to let them out of their production/management deal in exchange for Pebbitone receiving a percentage of royalties on some futures releases. By this time, Pebbles had separated from her husband. TLC also bought the rights to the name TLC, which was previously owned by Pebbles.
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 the following year after signing a new contract with LaFace and with distribution handled by 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 a year earlier called "Touch Myself". Lopes started her own production company, Left-Eye Productions, and signed Blaque, a 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. She also hosted the short-lived MTV talent series The Cut which featured then-unknown recording artists Ne-Yo and Anastacia.
TLC eventually began working with other producers for the FanMail album, until finally negotiating with Austin, who produced the bulk of FanMail. Lopes always had an idea of a futuristic-feel for the project, which Austin incorporated into the album. FanMail was released in February 1999. The album 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". At the 42nd Grammy Awards, the group received eight Grammy Award nominations, and won three: One for Best R&B Album for FanMail; and two for the single "No Scrubs", for Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. The group went on a worldwide tour, the FanMail Tour. The first leg of the tour sold poorly and caused the group to lose $500,000 dollars. However, most of the second leg of the tour produced sold out dates. 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 according to Billboard, which became the highest grossing tour by a female group.
During and after the release of FanMail, Lopes made it known to the press on multiple occasions that she felt that she was unable to fully express herself in TLC. Her contributions to songs had been reduced to periodic eight-bar raps, and there were several songs in which she had no vocals on whatsoever. Studio session singers such as Debra Killings often sang background vocals for the group's songs, something Lopes also wanted to do on songs in which she didn't rap. In late 1999, Vibe Magazine published a letter written by Lopes that challenged her groupmates Watkins and Thomas to all record solo albums and see which album performed the best:
"I challenge Tionne Watkins (T-boz) and Rozonda 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 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 prize for the winner."
The ladies eventually settled the feud, and The Challenge was never followed through. After the conclusion of the successful FanMail tour, the ladies, however, took some time off and pursued personal interests. Lopes was the first to begin recording her solo album, Supernova. The album was released in Europe and the first -and only single- "The Block Party" reached the Top 20 in the UK. The song was released in the US a few weeks prior to the scheduled album release for the US. However, when the song did not perform well in the US, the album's release was canceled for North America and no further singles were promoted, not even in the countries were the album was released. In 2000, Spice Girl Melanie C released a single co-written with Lopes in the UK and Europe, called "Never Be the Same Again"; it became a hit reaching #1 in many countries.
2001–04: 3D and the death of Left Eye
Before the recording of their fourth album, 3D, Lopes eventually pursued solo stardom and recorded her first album Supernova, however it underperformed overseas and as such was never released in America. On April 25 2002, 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 as a group. Lopes does appear vocally on 3D as she had already completed her vocals for two songs for the new album. Another two other songs featured her vocals from previously unreleased songs. Several of the songs eulogized Lopes. "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. And at the end of the music video for Girl Talk, it says, in memory "Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes". Its follow-up, "Hands Up", features 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 third single's video, "Damaged" features Justina Machado as the lead woman. The last single "Turntable" features an official compilation video of TLC videos from the past. The album sold approximately 1.5 million copies worldwide, and did not consist of any major Hot 100 hits. "Girl Talk", however, reached the U.S. Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs with a peak position of number 3; "Hands Up" peaked at Number 7 on the same chart under the "Bubbling Under R&B/Hip-Hop Singles" category and a third single, "Damaged", reached number 53. However, the singles enjoyed a bit more success in Europe and Asia.
In June 2003, more than a year since the death of Left Eye, 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.
In February 2004, TLC appeared as featured artists on a Japanese charity single entitled VOICE OF LOVE POSSE with other Japanese artists.
2003–08: Now & Forever: The Hits and Crazy Sexy Hits: The Very Best of TLC
In 2004, 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.
"I Bet", the first new TLC single released after the finale of their competition show R U the Girl, was also appended to pressings of Now and Forever: The Hits, released after October 2005. A collection of music videos, Now and Forever: The Video Hits was released in the United States on May 11, 2007, after over four years of delayed release dates.
On August 20, 2007, a new greatest hits album was released in the UK called Crazy Sexy Hits: The Very Best of TLC, a play on the group's best selling album title Crazy Sexy Cool. Now and Forever: The Video Hits was also released in the UK for the first time on the same date. The album fared better than previous compilation Now and Forever: The Hits, peaking at #57 on the UK album chart (Now and Forever: The Hits made #86).
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.
2009–2014: Reemergence, biopic and new label
In March 2009, Watkins and Thomas announced plans to perform together in a concert series in Japan featuring 17 of TLC's songs. On April 4, 2009, the group performed a 13-song set in Japan during the 2009 Springroove music festival. On August 25, 2009, it was announced that the group would perform at the Justin Timberlake and Friends benefit concert, held at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in the Las Vegas Valley, U.S. TLC performed their set to the 10,000 people in attendance on October 17, 2009. At the concert, Watkins announced that she and Thomas plan to record new material, but a specific date was not given.
After another brief hiatus, TLC performed on May 25, 2011 for the season finale of American Idol. They performed a three-song set, starting with Lil Jon's introduction from "Come Get Some", followed by "No Scrubs", and, finally, "Waterfalls". The performance received a standing ovation from the audience.
The following year, TLC recorded a cover version of the song "Rainbow" for a tribute album dedicated to the popular Japanese rock band L'Arc~en~Ciel. The tribute album, which also features cover versions by Boyz II Men, Daniel Powter and Maxi Priest, was released on June 13, 2012.
On October 7, 2012, British pop group Stooshe released a music video for their cover version of "Waterfalls". T Boz and Chilli also appeared in the music video, which would later be included in Totally T-Boz, a docu-series chronicling Watkins's move to California, health issues and solo endeavors. Stooshe would later go on to perform "Waterfalls" at the 17th annual MOBO Awards on November 3, 2012, where TLC was honored for their outstanding contribution to music.
In June 2013, TLC was featured on "Crooked Smile", the second official single from American rapper J. Cole's Born Sinner album. On June 23, 2013, TLC received the Legend Award at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards Japan, at which they also performed a medley of their hit singles. On June 19, 2013, to celebrate their 20th anniversary in the music industry, the group released a Japan-exclusive compilation album entitled TLC 20: 20th Anniversary Hits, which includes remastered versions of their old songs; as a gift for their Japanese fans, they also recorded a new version of "Waterfalls", enlisting Japanese singer Namie Amuro to sing Lopes's part. The decision to record with Amuro was raised as an issue by Lopes's family, who felt "betrayed", as they were not informed about the vocal replacement.
TLC further celebrated their return with a 2013 Summer World Tour that included two dates: VH1's Mixtape Festival in Hershey, Pennsylvania, U.S. on July 27, 2013—where they performed for 45 minutes—and Drake's OVO Fest in Toronto, Canada on August 5, 2013, where they performed for 15 minutes.
TLC then signed a new recording contract with Epic Records and released an American version of the compilation album 20 on October 15, 2013. The album included one new recording, "Meant to Be", written and produced by Ne-Yo.
Two weeks later, on October 21, 2013, VH1 premiered a biographical telefilm based on the career of TLC, CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story. Directed by Charles Stone III, the film starred Keke Palmer as Chilli, Lil Mama as Left-Eye and Drew Sidora as T-Boz. The film uses the newly rearranged songs from TLC 20: 20th Anniversary Hits. The premiere broadcast garnered 4.5 million viewers, a five-year ratings high for VH1. Later that month, J. Cole and TLC won the "Impact Track" award at the 2013 BET Hip Hop Awards, for their collaboration "Crooked Smile".
On November 24, 2013, TLC performed a highly anticipated rendition of "Waterfalls" at the 2013 American Music Awards, with Lil Mama delivering Lopes's part, including the rap segment. Also in late November, TLC performed "No Scrubs" with Lil Mama on the Dancing With The Stars television show.
In January 2014, TLC made a highly anticipated appearance at VH1's "Super Bowl Concert Series" performing at the Beacon Theater in New York City. Lopes' vocals were used for the performance & was heavily honored throughout the event, especially during her signature verse to the song Waterfalls. The appearance featured the group performing a set of their greatest hits, the live debut of "Meant To Be" & a dance segment containing a popular dance called the "Nae Nae". TLC announced the first Australian tour of their career in April 2014 that will consist of shows in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. The group will be performing a set of their hits & will include visual and vocal representation of Lopes for the performance.
TLC have been working on their yet-untitled fifth studio album, set to be released in 2015. They have reportedly been working with producers such as Rock City and long-time collaborator Dallas Austin, as well as on a collaboration with pop star Lady Gaga for a song titled "Posh Life", which Gaga initially wrote with Austin for herself; however, Gaga proposed a collaboration with TLC, as the song was inspired by the group and Gaga felt it would be disrespectful for her to release the song, as it was akin to TLC's sound. Other confirmed track titles include "Pretty Little Scar" and "Breaking Bad". Other guest artists, such as Lil Mama, are expected to appear on the album. On December 12, 2014, TLC released a new Christmas song entitled "Gift Wrapped Kiss".
2015–present: Final (and fifth) studio album and Kickstarter campaign
On January 19, 2015, TLC announced that they were going to record a 5th and final album with the launch of a Kickstarter campaign. They were asking fans to help finance the project by donating a pledge of at least $5 to reach their goal of $150,000. In less than 48 hours, they surpassed their goal of raising $150,000 for production costs of their new album. It is noted that New Kids On The Block donated $10,000 and Katy Perry donated $5,000. The Kickstarter campaign ran for 30 days, ending on February 19, 2015. The campaign raised $400,000, which is $250,000 more than TLC originally asked for. The currently untitled album will be released in September 2015, according to the site. It has been confirmed that the producers for the new project are music veterans Ron Fair and Dallas Austin.
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