Two decades later, 1/3 of one of the most successful girl groups of all time reflects on the highs, lows, and that one time she says 'Vibe' set TLC up.
On November 15, 1994, a young girl group from Atlanta released its second album that would go on to become one of the biggest albums of all time. Not only did CrazySexyCool sell more than 23 million albums and make TLC the best-selling American girl group of all time, but it also served as a powerful statement for these three artists and young women everywhere.
CrazySexyCool, written and produced alongside the likes of Dallas Austin and Babyface, who worked on TLC’s 1992 debut, Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip, saw each TLC member present a relatable identity. Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins represented “cool”; Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was the “crazy” one; and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas was the face of “sexy.”
Their personalities and unique styles translated through the music: Left Eye providing her signature raps while T-Boz and Chilli amped up the sultry R&B.; Songs like “Waterfalls” and “Creep” and their respective videos became instant classics, the latter song winning a Grammy alongside the album itself for Best R&B; Album of the year.
But for all of TLC’s success, the group was mired in controversy. For one, Left Eye was convicted of arson after a fire broke out in her boyfriend’s house, which led to some difficultly during the recording and promotion process. And following CrazySexyCool, TLC faced financial troubles, and, after the release of 1999’s FanMail, Left Eye tragically died in a car accident in Honduras.
But 20 years later, CrazySexyCool still remains as relevant as ever, even bringing in new, younger fans thanks in part to last year’s VH1 movie CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story. In honor of its anniversary, Myspace spoke with Chilli about the making of the album, its importance and impact and the heat the girls took from everything from a controversial Vibe cover shoot to Left Eye’s troubles.
Transitioning From Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip to CrazySexyCool
Photo by Tim Roney/Getty Images
TLC circa 1995.
“[For CrazySexyCool, TLC was] making a little bit of a transformation from the first album to the second album. It was not necessarily a conscious effort; it was just us evolving as young women. We were working with the same producers for the most part, a couple new people were in there—[production team] Organized Noize weren’t on first album.
“We were defining each girl’s personality with the album, and that was really exciting. For us, CrazySexyCool was something we felt that every woman possessed—maybe you were a little bit more one [type of personality] than the other. Maybe I was more sexy, which I totally did not agree with. Like, ‘No, I’m crazy!’ But we looked at videos at the time, and I said, ‘Oh, ok, I guess I could turn it on in a different kind of way when I’m performing.’ But again, it’s not something I was trying to do; it was just something that naturally happened. That album was the defining moment for each girl.”
“Lisa was one of the few rappers that writes her own raps. She wrote all her own stuff, and when you’re in the studio with the likes of Babyface, nine times out of 10, his lyrics will be a little bit better than yours. We were so young, penning was still fresh to us, but we never, ever sang anything we didn't want to sing or feel good about. It had to be in some way a representation of who we were and our period.
“Even the song ‘Creep’—not that we creep, but if we did, [It was a song] for a woman that would do such a thing. I say just leave his ass, but if you’re not ready to just jet at the moment, then you know, I guess we told you how to [creep]. We were really happy and we still are really happy to be the voice for so many women in so many different situations in their lives.”
“It’s funny because ‘Waterfalls’ was a shocker for me. I think it probably really spoke to Lisa first out of all of us. Definitely for me, I got [the song] and I was like, ‘OK, this is a pretty deep record.’
“But I’m a visual artist. Once we came up for the idea for the video—and F. Gary Gray was the perfect director, he just brought our vision to life—and once I actually saw it, I was like, ‘Oh shoot! It really paints that picture.’ [On its own, the saying] ‘Don't go chasing waterfalls,’ like, what are you talking about? It can kind of go over your head.
“When you actually see the video, that’s when people start to fall in love with the song—like, ‘Oh my God, that’s deep.’ Rico Wade and Organized Noize—they’re the ones responsible for that record and ‘Sumthin’ Wicked This Way Come’—they’re pretty deep anyway, which definitely worked well with us and how we think and how we look at things.”
"Case of the Fake People"
“One song that I wish was a single was ‘Case of the Fake People.’ I really loved that record. I thought it was a cousin to ‘What About Your Friends.’ The beat was really funky.
“Obviously, you couldn’t release every song on your album, but I really wanted that. At the time I was really seeing how fake people are in the business, and at the time I didn't understand to not take it personal—it’s all business. People are all in your face from record execs to producers to radio [people], and I was like, ‘We’re friends, we’re cool,’ but they’re really not my friends. They do something, and I go, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe you did this!’ And I got an attitude—I’m walking around upset and mean and huffin’ and puffin’, and they’re going on about their day. I had to learn that lesson: That in this business it’s business, it’s not personal.”
On Growing Up
Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage
TLC during The 1995 MTV Movie Awards at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, Calif.
“For me personally—I can’t speak personally for the girls—but I really became more confident in myself as an artist by the second album.
“With the first album, I was just one of those girls happy to be living out her dream, learning and figuring it all out. It was a real serious learning process for me, and by the second album, I was like, ‘OK, I get it. I’m understanding it. I feel real confident about myself and what I can bring to the table outside of just talking to my group members.’ I grew a lot during that time.”
On Sisterhood and Competition: “We Rooted For Everybody”
“Even to this day, when something amazing happens, [there are always also challenges]. We cannot enjoy our success 100 percent. … I can’t tell you what it’s like to just fly high.
“For most artists, I think once that real success comes, the real person comes out. We’re just naturally not narcissistic-type people. We definitely understood that we started helping to open doors for females in this industry, and that always meant a lot to us. There was always that sisterhood/sistership. So when some other girl groups had an issue for us, we were like, ‘Are you kidding?’ We aren’t—the competition with each other. We never, ever looked at other female artists, whether girl groups or solo artists, as competition. We rooted for everybody. We were in competition with guys—and still are. Girls, there’s never any competition.
“’End of the Road’ had come out for Boyz II Men, and I remember the video to ‘Waterfalls’ had just come out. Nate [Morris, of Boyz II Men] was like, ‘We’re at six million [sales of the single],’ braggin’, right?
“And he was like, ‘So where you guys at?’ I was like, ‘Oh, we’re doing good, four million.’
“It’s funny, back then we were like, ‘Four million, shit, we gotta catch them!’ The video came out and probably not even a month after, we were already at seven [million]. We jumped real fast, and I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re at seven and a half, where you guys at?’
“And [Boyz II Men] were still at six. I was so happy that we passed them. It was a good healthy competitive kind of thing, definitely not jealousy or anything like that.”
On Setting an Example
“We felt like we were doing something important the day we came out as TLC. We wanted to rep for all the girls out there, especially the females who didn’t want to wear tight clothes and short dresses and stuff.
“I wanted us to be the biggest girl group ever, and that happened, and I was very happy. Not that I became complacent with that, but a lot of things started happening. I didn't realize how physical it really is to create an amazing record ‘til we started just being the studio the past few years.
“It’s so hard because we work with producers—and they’re great producers and amazing writers—and they get caught up still in stuff that we’ve already done. It’s almost kind of like a replica, like, no, that sounds like ‘Waterfalls,’ or sounds like something we’ve done.
“We have to tell people don’t worry about the sound. The sound is my voice and Tionne’s voice—that’s the sound, so don't worry about that. Let’s just come up with a great record because we can sing anything. We always want to know what is that next sound, that next new thing that’s so dope. It’s really difficult.
On Working With (the Right) Producers
“I think being in Atlanta was just the hot spot, and we just had a certain [relationship] with Dallas [Austin] and certain people we worked with. We didn’t even work with Timbaland until after Lisa passed away because we had our formula that worked. But we admired other producers so much that we wanted to work with them.
“It’s almost kind of like how Janet Jackson has her magic with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Not that you can’t develop something with someone else, but it’s not easy to find that someone else—call it first love or something. Then you have to move on and do different things in your career. You just have to have patience and wait for that magic to happen with someone new. There’s too many people in the world for you to only have chemistry with one person.”
On Left-Eye's Legal Issues
“One unfortunate part [of the CrazySexyCool time] was the burning down of the house. I can laugh now, but Jesus, I wasn’t laughing then. I was so upset. What was so crazy was the photo shoot we had with Vibe magazine. Still to this day, it’s their highest [selling] magazine with our cover because it was connected to everything that was going on. It was juicy for people. I don't know what I was thinking.
"First of all, Vibe is a trip, and I love them, but they set us up. In wardrobe they had these police uniforms and fireman uniforms and all these different types of uniforms of the law and stuff.
"I swear I don't even know what I was thinking—I don't know what the girls were thinking—but I went in there and I looked at the fire stuff. I totally forgot Lisa was on probation, and I brought out [the clothes] and I’m like, 'I’m gonna wear this, it’s so dope!' And we put [the fireman outfits] on. Vibe was like, 'Yes! Got ‘em!' Maybe they thought we were so bold that we’d just go there anyway. Of course the judge saw that cover and was like what the hell? We got in a little bit of trouble, but that’s the life of TLC. Those outfits were from yours truly.
“[It was also difficult because] Lisa couldn’t travel for a while. She couldn’t leave Atlanta, so we had to do a lot of interviews over the phone. I can’t remember how long it was, but it kind of took away from promotion. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re going to put her in jail.’
“I was so nervous. I felt so bad. Especially [because with the Vibe shoot], the poses too that we all had, and Lisa with her little lip turned up. The judge was like, ‘You don't even care!’
“It totally started out so innocent. Everything is not always the way it seems. That's what I always tell people. Yeah, it can look like it supports what the bullshit is saying, but that’s not it. So that’s the story on that.”
Music Today: "Now Morals Are Almost Out the Door"
“Today something like [that controversy] happens, and nobody’s worried about their career. They’re not worried if they’ll go to jail; they’ll sell their records.
“I’m so happy that we came out when we did because I just feel like the quality of music and people’s morals and values were just a little bit more in check back then. Now morals are almost out the door. It’s so sad to me.
“When we were at award shows and stuff we never, ever, ever, not one time when we were nominated did we feel like, ‘Oh, we got this.’
“We were always very nervous because other artists were amazing artists. You had some real good competition out there. When we would win, we would be like, ‘Oh shit!’
“We were so happy. Today, I can’t even watch half of [the award shows]. I’m like, ‘Really? That song got nominated? Wow.’ It’s shocking.”
On the Movie and TLC's Lasting Legacy
Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage
TLC during the 38th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Calif.
“When our movie came out, a lot of young, young people watched that movie. Tionne and my Twitter followers are like children. They are so in love with us now. It’s such a blessing and it makes me feel so happy to know that somebody who’s 12 just loves TLC and really holds on to the lyrics of the songs and what it means for them.
“Growing up and going through that transition, being a teenager and all that. Wow, we’re still helping kids in this young generation. That means everything.”
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