In Their Own Words: TLC

In Their Own Words: TLC

Real talk from the biggest-selling girl group in US history...

Twenty-five years ago a sassy vocal trio from Atlanta released their second album, a dynamic cocktail of R&B, soul and hip-hop that would go on to dominate charts and radio airplay all over the globe – quite literally to this day.

'CrazySexyCool’s legendary status was cemented by a world-beating run of hits – 'Creep', 'Waterfalls', 'Diggin’ On You' – and owed much to behind the scenes talent. Producers Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Dallas Austen and Jermaine Dupri blended supposedly disparate genres more artfully than anybody before or since, while session performances from the likes of then-unknown Andre 3000 and Cee-Lo Green lent proceedings a timeless polish.

But it’s to the girls themselves – Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Rozanda “Chilli” Thomas and wildchild Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, who tragically died in a car accident in 2002 – that pop fans owe the greatest thanks. To mark the announcement of their anniversary London show (June 29th this year), we hear from T-Boz and Chilli what really went down all those years ago…

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Puff Daddy wanted us to talk dirty

The interludes on 'CrazySexyCool' were recorded in New York. Puff was on the production crew, and the interludes were his thing. He’d say, dead serious, “just talk sexy to me”. We just kept messing it up and laughing, going off script. Check out ‘Sexy – Interlude’ – it’s Chilli’s favourite for a good reason.

The title came to us on tour

In Germany, actually. All three of us got together in Chilli’s hotel room. Lisa [Left Eye] was like “I got it! I got the name of our next album!” She had it all figured out right there. “I’m crazy!” she said. “Chilli, you’re sexy, and T-Boz – you’re cool.”

Just to set the record straight – Lisa was also sexy, and cool

But crazy was her strong suit. There was a bit of debate at that time between us [T-Boz and Chili] about who was the sexy one, but nobody argued over who was crazy.

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Nobody knew 'CrazySexyCool' would blow up

We hoped it would. TLC never put pressure on ourselves, that’s not the right approach. If you’re thinking too hard, you’re not making great music. Once you realise that, it isn’t even hard.

We upset a lot of moms

Despite the fact we were 20-21-years old, everybody thought we were aged 13. People were saying “who are these little girls singing about sex? ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’, say what?!”. We never lied about our ages, people just assumed. Now we’re both moms ourselves, we see it a little bit different too.

Every word on that album is authentic

The lyrics are about things that were important to us. Real topics. Truth. We’re proud of how we covered the serious stuff, like HIV [on Waterfalls], but never came across preachy. As a listener you got the message – but you’re still dancing, and you feel good. That’s how you make a message stick.

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People forget we’re dancers too

The session we recorded ‘Kick Your Jam’ was so special. All of us together in the studio. Jermaine [Dupri] was perfecting the beat, the three of us messing around, being silly, like we always were. We pulled a routine together so naturally. Man, it was just dope.

TLC pushed the fashion envelope

Baggy clothes, nothing tight. We were all pretty tomboys, and we showed girls that to wear something tight isn’t the only way to be sexy. Sexy is the way you carry yourself. Sexy ain’t what you have on. Sexy is an attitude.

TLC was Prince’s favourite girl group

Prince never gave anybody the green light to cover his records. We never thought he’d say yes to us. There was a collective heart attack when the call came in saying we could put ‘Girlfriend’ on the album. Years later he introduced us playing ‘No Scrubs’ at the MTV Video Awards. Nobody asked him to do that. He volunteered.

There really was a rainbow

By the time we got to recording ‘Waterfalls’ Lisa was having some problems with the law [after burning down her boyfriend’s mansion]. She was in a car one day being driven to her community service placement, just scribbling out rhymes on a pad. She looks out the window, and there’s a rainbow. That’s what starts her rap on ‘Waterfalls’. A real rainbow. Very TLC.

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Catch TLC at London's Shepherd’s Bush Empire on June 29th.

Words: Andy Hill

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