TLC – four platinum albums, five Grammys, sold more than sixty-five million records, and ranked the best selling American female group of all time. Members Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins, Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopez, and Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas lit the world on fire with their R&B, Funk, Hip-Hop, Urban, and Soul sound. TLC signed with Antonio L. A. Reid at LaFace Records in ’91, and their debut album (Ooooooohhh…On the TLC Tip) was released in February ’92. The album was a critical and commercial success becoming a four time platinum album in that year. Written primarily by Lopez and producer Dallas Austin. This album led to three Top 10 singles (Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg, What About Your Friends, and Baby-Baby-Baby), as well as a national tour as the opening act for MC Hammer.
Their second album (CrazySexyCool) made them even bigger. With four singles that reached the top five Hot 100 (Creep, Waterfalls, Red Light Special, and Diggin’ On You), worldwide sales hitting fifteen million, Diamond Certification from RIAA, and won two Grammys in ’96. They seemed unstoppable, except life has a way of hitting you in the face. Watkins was dealing with medical bills and an illness, and Lopez had a drinking problem, domestic disputes with her then boyfriend, as well as an arrest record for arson. The Group declared chapter 11 bankruptcy in ’95. Some articles say it was the bills and problems that the girls got into while others directed it towards the expenses, fees, and royalties that the label and management team were receiving. It seemed the more money the group made the less money the group got. They were selling millions of records and performing, but after all the costs, fees, and other expenses the girls were left with $50,000 a piece after years of blood, sweat, and tears. I think the lesson here is to really understand what you are signing with management and a label, and if you don’t understand the agreement or need to negotiate bring in an entertainment lawyer.
CrazySexyCool had the hit of the summer 1995 with Waterfalls. A song that was smooth and soulful with the rap edge of Lopez. Written by Lopez, Marqueze Etheridge, and Organized Noise where it touched on subjects of illegal drugs, promiscuity, HIV/ AIDS, and death. The video was innovative, full of digital enhancements that were still new to the time, and hit real subject matter that made you think about your actions. It was not the normal summer hit that was all fun and games, but brought you to an understanding that your actions have consequences. These lyrics in the song sum up the concept:
“I say the system got you victim to your own mind
Dreams are hopeless aspirations
In hopes of comin’ true
Believe in yourself
The rest is up to me and you”
Waterfalls spent seven weeks at number one, won four MTV Video Music Awards, and introduced the world to Cee Lo Green who assisted with the backing vocals on the track along with Debra Killings. I can honestly say that when I was nine years old, I was not paying attention to the deeper metaphor. Watching MTV with my cooler older brother all I really cared about was that I got to do what the big kids do. Now I realized how important this song was to our generation. The epidemic of HIV/AIDS hit in the 80s and carried into the 90s. The drug situation with the youth is terrifying and brings to light the importance of mentors in the inner cities to get kids out of the illegal drug ring. To understand that there are better options and more opportunities than what is in front of you.
TLC dominated the charts during the 90s. They continued to make epic music like No Scrubs which was our jam in middle school! After their third album Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopez died in a car crash in Honduras in 2002. The group released a fourth album with some of Lopez’s raps on two of the songs, but the group made the decision to retire and never replace their sister. Now, they are on the move to make a fifth album for the fans in collaboration with their old producer Dallas Austin. Waterfalls will always one my favorite songs of the 90s. There is no doubt that the new generation of girl groups had some great role models for music. TLC was the the representation of females and excelled in a dominated boy band time and brought to light issues more than just a song about a broken heart.
Click Here and come back to the 90s with this TLC playlist. Below is the video for ‘Waterfall’.