An innovative yet controversial trio, TLC found instant success through a marriage of pop, R&B and hip-hop, coupled with trendy music videos and memorable stage performances. Three multiplatinum albums later, including the pivotal 1994 disc "CrazySexyCool," TLC remains an archetype for aspiring female acts. On their way to becoming one of the biggest-selling female groups of all time, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas and rapper Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes quickly established themselves as edgy style icons, though the group was sadly cut short by by Left Eye's untimely death in 2002.
TLC formed in 1991 after Atlanta natives T-Boz and Left Eye disbanded from their girl group Second Nature. The two welcomed Chilli into the fold after meeting her through local producer Dallas Austin and singer Pebbles, who later became their manager. In 1992, TLC joined L.A. Reid and Babyface's newly formed label, LaFace, and released their funky debut album, "Ooooooohhh...On the TLC Tip," which has sold more than 2.5 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The disc spawned three Billboard Hot 100 top-10 hits: the sassy lead single "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" (No. 6), "Baby-Baby-Baby" (No. 2) and "What About Your Friends" (No. 7). Each successive TLC video revealed the diminutive trio's vibrant and eccentric fashion sense, namely Left Eye sporting a condom over her left eye (hence the nickname) to endorse safe sex.
By the early-'90s, TLC had become household names but the group didn't reach its pinnacle until "CrazySexyCool" arrived in 1994. The album became one of the first to be awarded diamond certification by the Recording Industry Association of America for U.S. shipments of 10 million copies. With the disc, TLC revealed a softer, sexier image, alongside more provocative and socially tinged songs. In contrast to the tomboyish clothing of yore, they sported more mature get-ups. "Creep" earned TLC its first No. 1 hit, while "Red Light Special" hit No. 2 "Waterfalls," which touched on the timely topics of HIV/AIDS and drugs, spent seven weeks at the top of the Hot 100.
But the momentum was disrupted by a series of highly publicized events and ensuing breakup rumors. Shortly before the release of "CrazySexyCool," Left Eye was arrested on arson charges after she burned down an Atlanta mansion owned by her boyfriend, NFL star Andre Rison. She was sentenced to five years of probation and admitted into an alcohol rehab program. More problems ensued when TLC filed for bankruptcy in 1995, claiming debts of $3.5 million. Meanwhile, reports surfaced that T-Boz's health was weakened by her battle with sickle cell anemia, which often hampered her performing abilities.
The group's third album, "Fanmail," was heavily delayed by the controversy, amidst which Left Eye began honing her solo album and T-Boz made her film debut in 1998's "Belly" (co-starring rappers DMX and Nas). "Fanmail" was finally issued in 1999, led by the aggressive male-bashing single "No Scrubs." The song spent four weeks atop the Hot 100, while second single "Unpretty" topped the chart for three weeks.
TLC solidified its pop status in the '90s and stayed relevant well into the millennium by refurbishing both its image and its music. Prior to her death, Left Eye released her 2001 solo debut, "Supernova," overseas and in 2002 signed to rap mogul Suge Knight's label, Tha Row (previously called Death Row). Left Eye began recording her second solo project under the moniker N.I.N.A. (New Identity Non-Applicable). But while vacationing in Honduras, she lost control of an SUV she was driving with several other passengers and died from severe head trauma on April 25, 2002. T-Boz and Chilli persisted without their most vivacious member, releasing 2002's "3D" in 2002.