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This spirited, sassy female trio from Atlanta, Georgia, USA, was formed in 1991 by Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes (b. 27 May 1971, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, d. 25 April 2002, La Ceiba, Honduras), T-Boz (b. Tionne Tenese Watkins, 26 April 1970, Des Moines, Iowa, USA), and Crystal Jones, although the latter was swiftly replaced by Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas (b. 27 February 1971, Atlanta, Georgia, USA). They initially worked under the tutelage of manager Pebbles, scoring immediate chart success with fresh, funky material such as ‘Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg’ (US number 5), ‘Baby-Baby-Baby’ (number 2) and ‘What About Your Friends’ (number 7). They also took to adorning themselves in barrier contraceptives to advocate safe sex, before moving on to work with celebrated dance/soul producers Dallas Austin and Babyface. Primarily conducted in ‘new jill swing’ mode, their debut album addressed the joys of womanhood, with staunch advice on how to treat errant boyfriends. As with the gangsta rappers, it became evident that TLC meant every word when Lopes was jailed for burning down the mansion of Andre Rison, her Atlanta Falcons’ football star boyfriend. She also trashed his cars in a drunken rage, and was later admitted to an alcohol rehabilitation clinic, becoming one of America’s top news stories in the process. Luckily for TLC her sentence was commuted to probation and probably helped rather than hindered their career.
A second album repeated the group’s original formula, albeit with slightly more sophisticated, less strident material. The concept behind it was ‘TLC’s way of saying ‘I’m Every Woman’ - you know, every woman is crazy, sexy and cool, though on some days she might be more one than the other. Certainly we’re all three, though if there is a dominant side Left Eye is crazy, I’m sexy and T-Boz is the cool one.’ With beats provided by Jermaine Dupri and Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs in addition to Austin, CrazySexyCool subdued some of Lopes’ rapping in favour of more ensemble singing, with the hip-hop quotient maintained largely through the urban rhythms. The best example was the US number 1, ‘Creep’, a sensuous groove embossed by lively funk flourishes. Elsewhere a Prince cover, ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’, proved secondary to the group’s own street articulate material. CrazySexyCool soon went quadruple platinum in America, but nevertheless the group was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1995 with liabilities of $3.5 million. $1.3 million of this sum was owed to Lloyd’s Of London Insurance, and related to an unpaid insurance claim on Rison’s house destroyed by Lopes. Further complications arose over the group’s management.
LaFace Records and Pebbitone, their record label and production company, the former run by L.A. Reid and the latter by his estranged wife Pebbles, entered a financial dispute. Pebbles claimed that each member of TLC owed her company $566, 434. She also accused LaFace and parent company Arista Records of attempting to entice TLC away from Pebbitone, and undermining the trio’s obligation to return $500, 000 in advances and their obligation to record at least six albums for her company. The band were able to put all this behind them when their year of success was reflected in picking up two Grammies at the 1996 ceremony. They won Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal for ‘Creep’ and best R&B album for CrazySexyCool. At the same time their album passed 10 million copies in the USA alone and their debut passed four million units in June 1996.
Ongoing contractual negotiations ensured a lengthy delay before the release of March 1999’s American chart-topper FanMail. The glorious single ‘No Scrubs’ climbed to the top of the US Hot 100, and spent several weeks in the UK Top 10, peaking at number 3 in May. ‘Unpretty’ followed it to the top of the US charts in September. Lopes was becoming increasingly disenchanted with her position in the group, and withdrew from sessions for a fourth album to record her solo debut Supernova in 2001, which was given a critical mauling by a number of reviewers. The following April she was in Honduras on vacation when she was killed in a car crash. T-Boz and Chilli completed the recording of 3D, which included four raps recorded by Lopes prior to her death. The album was a major commercial failure compared to its predecessors and the future of the group was put in major doubt. A reality television show called R U The Girl screened on the UPN channel in summer 2005, with the winner Tiffany ‘O’so Krispie’ Baker earning the chance to sing with T-Boz and Chilli on a new single, ‘I Bet’.
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