The outsized personality and acerbic wit of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes helped vault the sleek, forthright R&B trio TLC to the top of the pop charts in the Nineties. Lopes’ intricate, take-no-prisoners rhymes animated the group’s saucy breakthrough hit “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” and gave a shot of optimism to the socially conscious “Waterfalls.”
On April 25th, 2002, Lopes died in a car accident in Honduras. She was 30. The year before, she had released her first solo album, Supernova, in Great Britain; the album, which included a collaboration with Lopes’ protégés Blaque and production by Salaam Remi and Rockwilder never came out in the U.S.
Archival footage shows how Lopes’ irrepressible spirit and no-nonsense rhymes balanced out the slinky vocals offered by her bandmates Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins. In this clip, taken from an April 1999 episode of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, TLC perform “No Scrubs,” the kiss-off to moochers that was the lead single from their third album FanMail. Dressed in dark outfits that reflect turn-of-the-millennium fashion – crop tops, platform boots – the trio give the song a winning performance, with Lopes taking a spot on a podium to deliver her broadside against those who “can’t spatially expand [her] horizons.” Later on, when the group gets some couch time with Leno, Left Eye – perched next to a platinum-blonde Cher – responds to his inquiry about what a scrub is by chiding him for not paying attention to the song’s lyrics.
The group’s appearances in support of FanMail, which included a boisterous performance at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards and a Choice Music Group win at the 1999 Kids Choice Awards, gave a full glimpse of Left Eye’s straight-talking yet winkingly witty presence. In this episode of MTV’s news show Ultrasound, Left Eye breaks down the mathematics of why TLC went broke, talks about her tumultuous relationship with former NFL player Andre Rison and dives into the creative conflicts that plagued FanMail‘s release.
MTV’s fans-interview-their-faves show FANatic aired this brief sitdown with the group in 1999; Left Eye takes credit for naming FanMail. “I’m riding down the street, not even thinking about TLC, and something just goes … FanMail!” she says, laughing.
TLC won three trophies at the 1999 Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, including the Aretha Franklin Entertainer of the Year Award. Left Eye takes the lead on the acceptance speeches, in part because Chilli had to try and save her ailing voice for the trio’s performance of the FanMail single “Unpretty,”and her freewheeling series of shout-outs lighten the mood for Chilli’s serious statement that the group won’t be breaking up.
Earlier this month, TLC – now a duo – released “Way Back,” the lead single from their fifth and final album. The wistful track features a guest verse from Snoop Dogg and name-checks Prince, Michael Jackson, and other pop icons who have passed away.