Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of TLC‘s landmark album CrazySexyCool, and tonight on VH1, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas reveal what really happened behind the music in CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story. You’ll hear tales from financial mismanagement and internal scuffles to the untimely death of member Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes in 2002, as the biopic promises to offer a no-holds-barred account of how one of the top-selling girl groups of all time fell to its knees.
T-Boz and Chili serve as executive producers on the film and are played by Drew Sidora and Keke Palmer, respectively, on-screen. The daunting role of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was undertaken by rapper Lil’ Mama.
With the past exorcised, the group is embarking on a fresh chapter and new album. They have reunited with mentor L.A. Reid at Epic Records and recently released “Meant to Be,” written by Ne-Yo. Coupled with cameo appearances alongside J. Cole and Drake this year, T-Boz and Chili seem poised for a cross-generational comeback. Rolling Stone recently spoke with the duo in New York City about the group’s music-industry woes, recording with Ne-Yo and their desires to record.
You’ve said that “Meant to Be,” the title of your new song with Ne-Yo, sums up your career. How so?
T-Boz: When we were younger, we’d say “This M.T.B. thing – it’s meant to be.” As a group, we went through everything together. We had kids, divorce, death, the good and the bad. Of all the obstacles that the world tried to put against us, it never tore us apart. We’re still standing 20 years later. That is a “meant to be” thing. Ne-Yo wrapped it up in one song, our 20-year history together. Even he gravitated towards that phrase.
Ne-Yo has a real knack for capturing female emotions and putting them in song, doesn’t he?
T-Boz: He does, but he was in a [music] group too. He really connected to this song because he was like, “I got this for sure!” He totally understood where we were coming from – the fights, the arguments, learning how to agree with each other. Compromise. He understood it all.
The movie highlights your issues at LaFace Records, especially with your then-manager Perri “Pebbles” Reid. Knowing what you know now, what would you tell your younger selves if you could go back in time?
Chili: It’s funny that you say that. If we had so much knowledge [back then], we probably wouldn’t even be a group. We didn’t have any power. We were unknown people.
T-Boz: Now there’s Twitter, there’s YouTube. There’s so much knowledge out right now and people like us who are talking about the things nobody told us. Get out there. Read books. Ask questions. Listen to these interviews. If you’re one of them people who think it can’t happen to you, Boo Boo: Yes, it can. It happens every day, and this business is worse than when we were here. There’s vultures out here. You need to listen and learn. What I’m proud of, we learned from our lessons.
You’re actively working on a new album. I read that Lady Gaga penned a song for you?
Chili: It was a song that she did for an album with Dallas [Austin]. She was singing like TLC.
T-Boz: She was a fan and we didn’t even know. She was like, “I don’t want to disrespect them,” and was scared to put it on there. She called us like, “Oh my God, come down and meet me. I can’t believe it.” We were like, “This is Lady Gaga. Are you serious right now?” She was so excited and she had tears. She loved it. We’re hoping to collabo with her on it but we already have the song. It’s just that political record company business that screws things some times. If it works out, then she’ll be on it. If not, it’s still a song that she penned that’s dear to her heart and dear to us, too, because of the passion she put into it.
The song is called “Posh Life,” correct?
T-Boz: It stands for Passionately Only Serving Him.
Who is “Him”? The man upstairs or the man in the bedroom?
Chili: Oh hell, no! C’mon now! She talking about a regular guy.
T-Boz: The G-O-D! Oh hell, no. I ain’t serving no [regular] man.
Other young artists have recently expressed their love for you. Drake brought you out at OVO Fest and J. Cole collaborated with you on “Crooked Smile.” Who do you want to work with on this new album?
T-Boz: I don’t know if I want her to sing it with us, but I’m curious to what type of song Taylor Swift would write for us. I’m curious to see what kind of pen she would write for TLC. Or like an Adam Levine. Somebody like that. They’re phenomenal writers.
Chili: I really want to know their version of a TLC song. It makes sense.
T-Boz: She [Taylor Swift] sings “Unpretty” at her concerts. That would be my wish list for songwriters on this album.
Does the album have a release date? T-Boz, you’re giving the screwed-face look. Does that mean there’s a delay?
Chili: No. We’re still recording. It’s not finished yet. We’re almost done.
T-Boz: You know the record companies . . .
If that’s the case, why are you working with L.A. Reid again? Why not just go the indie route and just say, “Fuck the record label?” Sorry if anyone in the room is from the record label.
T-Boz: No, that’s OK. We talk about them to their faces. We’ve been there a couple of times, but the stars seem to have lined up. L.A. Reid, we’re back in with him, bringing LaFace Records back out. The deal is good for us. We’re not stuck in some 360-deal, but if we were, it’d be “Fuck the record company.”
Chili: I always wanted to be back with him. He totally understands us. We don’t have to explain much. He knows the type of group we are.
T-Boz: We’re like family. Even down to the knock-down, drag-out fights. “What you mean? Shut up!”
Chili: But then it ends, “Love you!”