The Beat:
TLC

Sometimes it does seem, sadly, that the golden age of the girl group has been and gone. Our Independent Women and our Survivor sis­ters in match­ing camo have all but van­ished, PSA’s to Free Our Minds dis­si­pated. Heck, not even a casual and ever-rel­e­vant reminder that if you were think­ing about being our lovers, you’ve got to get with our friends!

But per­haps the most cen­tral girl group to all of much needed life lessons were TLC – the sassy trio to end all trios. When they came out of the gate with their debut album Oooooohhh… On the TLC Tip in February of 92, they left an indeli­ble mark on the face of the musi­cal land­scape. In between telling us how to avoid a scrub, never being too proud to beg and to never EVER go chas­ing water­falls, these girls have seen and expe­ri­enced it all. Incredible highs, crum­bling lows, arson, bank­ruptcy, life-crip­pling dis­eases and sadly a death that left the last two mem­bers with­out the cen­tral L to their T and C.

But remain­ing mem­bers Rozonda Chilli” Thomas and Tionne T-Boz” Watkins are still those kick-ass girls we fell in love with 25 years ago. We pinned them down just before sound­check for their inau­gural show in London for a look at their illus­tri­ous careers so far and why, with a new self-titled farewell album, TLC are here for one last musi­cal memo full of the mes­sages we can keep close to our chest for a life­time.

I read some­where that this is your FIRST European gig ever. How!?

T-Boz: It was y’alls fault! We were here! We were like – why didn’t we get to per­form in London?’. We’ve always wanted to per­form here. We’ve done press here, but for some reason it never worked out we don’t know why.

Chilli: We pro­moted our first album when we first came out in London, but I mean you would think with Crazy, Sexy, Cool and Fanmail…like come on! But, no.

What do you like about London?

T: I like the vibe. It’s almost like New York but cleaner and nicer.

C: Definitely cleaner!

T: And nicer people… Polite. I like the shop­ping. It’s awe­some. My daugh­ter went to Primark. She was like, “MUM! I got all this for sev­enty-one dol­lars!” She is IN LOVE. They also have lint rollers with a cover. AMAZING! [Laughs]

So with the new album, you guys did a Kickstarter cam­paign which was bril­liant and excelled what your aim was. Why did you feel like it was right to come back now?

T: I think timing is every­thing but we were ner­vous to do a Kickstarter, no lie. Our man­ager brought it to our atten­tion and the key word I think that kind of got both of us was…

C: Freedom.

T: And that we could kind of do things our way. We didn’t have to put up with the ways of the label and the pol­i­tics. And then incor­po­rate the fans who we love because we put their names on the CD cover of Fanmail so we started way back then and enti­tled the album after them. But this way, if you donated you got to do pack­ages, so any super fan got to either get a per­son­al­ized voiced note or…

Sleepovers!…

T: We still have to do those!

C: Movie dates and stuff!

Had you talked to labels about coming back in a more tra­di­tional route?

C: Here’s the thing. When we first got started, and I guess again, timing was all of that, we were at a sit­u­a­tion, or at a label at the time that really did allow us to be free when it came to the cre­ativ­ity part because they saw that it worked. But now as time has changed, every­body feels like you kind of gotta do what’s hap­pen­ing’, or work with who­ever because they’re the hottest pro­ducer right now. I remem­ber we worked with one of the hottest pro­duc­ers and and we love them to this day, and they are amaz­ing but we had no chem­istry. There was no magic. You can’t force it. We don’t care who we work with as long as they’re hungry and they want to work – then we’ll get some­thing amaz­ing out of it. That’s where we didn’t want to get pigeon holed. And then, they have the 360 deals now. Because before, espe­cially artists, if you didn’t make your money from a deal, because you had a shitty deal with the label, then you could go on tour, your mer­chan­dise is yours. But like, 360 deals – every­thing is theirs! They get a piece of every little thing, so that wasn’t appeal­ing to us because of stuff we’ve gone through.

Even though you have a small cat­a­logue com­pared to most, the albums are quite defin­i­tive in what they rep­re­sent. I wanted to know what they rep­re­sented at that time to you?

T: I think with Oooooohhh… On the TLC Tip, we were just begin­ning and find­ing our­selves. And we’re still the same. We don’t like to be boxed in. I don’t like when people call us an R&B group because we’re not just that. You can’t just sell the num­bers we have and just do rhythm and blues. I don’t like when people like Sam Smith or Nick Jonas can put out a song that is clearly R&B and they just call them pop because they’re Caucasian or white… and then because we’re black, we just get called R&B. I think that’s a colour thing, but it should be a music thing. So when we did Oooooohhh… On the TLC Tip, we didn’t know about all the pol­i­tics of that, we just did what was nat­ural to us. Then we started grow­ing and when we did Crazy Sexy Cool, which to me is still our most iconic, it really put us on the map as. We started to be recog­nis­able, we had a sound, and our fash­ion was as big as our name, and our rou­tines, all that. You have to figure out what you did the first time, and do it again the second time, but better. So I think we did that with Crazy Sexy Cool.

C: Fanmail… people at that point knew what we were all about, and at the same time that’s when a lot of our fans would send us fan mail, and every blue moon we would call them and say hello before there was caller ID and all that! That’s when we decided to ded­i­cate that album to the fans and it was totally for them. 3D, that was the album where it was like a coming back together. Each of us had a solo deal, not that we were break­ing up but we just wanted to ven­ture out on our own, but I remem­ber I saw some­thing on TV I called LA [Reid] and was like we have got to do another record. I was very adamant about that even though he’d hooked every­body up with their solo stuff that we had to do one more album.

T: Like when you know you’re not done yet.

C: But we weren’t done anyway, but it worked out because Lisa’s time was going to be short. I said to LA, you gotta call Lisa- tell her we have to do this one last album’ and shock­ingly, even though she really wanted to do her solo stuff, she was cool with it. And so that’s the album where we were kind of bring­ing it back together to put that next record out, and then she passed away. Everything fell in the middle of record­ing on us, it became a rushed deal at the end because the label – instead of allow­ing the us the time to grieve – were like we’re gonna put a great­est hits out next week’.

T: In their heads, they gave us, what, a week or two? I think if we were in the right state of mind, we would’ve done things a lot dif­fer­ently. But I don’t cry over spilt milk, it still did good and sold mil­lions and it is what it is. Circumstances were just what they were, and that was our last body of work with her. It just is what it is. I don’t know if it’s one of my favourites, but some great songs came off of it.

So what’s the vibe of the new album?

T: Of course it’s a TLC sound. It’s still talk­ing about sub­ject mat­ters that need to be talked about. Like Perfect Girls speaks on how young girls are chas­ing some­thing that doesn’t exist. We have have flaws. We all have inse­cu­ri­ties. It’s just about seeing life for really what it is. There’s songs like A MF’er”… I don’t wanna…can we curse here?!

Of course!

T: A Motherfucker

C: A Motherfucker! [LAUGHS]

T: It speaks on like how we are with men now. Like when we were younger I prob­a­bly would’ve tried to punch them in the face or some­thing, but now I’m more mature I would just walk away and say you lost a good one… but I’ma call you a moth­er­fucker while I walk out!’.

T: I think there’s some­thing on there for every­body whether it’s a beat or a slow song, we got some baby making songs on there…

C: Yes we do!

T: We got that too. I think we cov­ered every­thing for some­one up in there. Then we even have Sunny which is about life and embrac­ing the good after bad. It’s kind of a trib­ute to Earth, Wind and Fire because it has all the horns… you remem­ber the essence of what you loved about them and it’s just done in a newer way.

It’s funny because we are almost at risk of having a really homog­e­nized sound in music. If you dig deep enough into Soundcloud, there those are artists com­pletely react­ing against of that move­ment. That’s when things get inter­est­ing.

T: You get real music. The best type of music to me is organic, that you didn’t try hard or try to fit it, it just nat­u­rally is who you are. It’s authen­tic. It really came from you. I can’t even tell you half the people – I like their song, but if I was stand­ing next to them I wouldn’t even know who they were. That’s a prob­lem.

C: At least she would know the song! I don’t even know the songs. If I was stand­ing next to them…It all kind of sounds the same.

Who do you like?

C: I love Bruno Mars. He stands out. We were just talk­ing about this, he’s doing an old school kinda sound, but because it’s so dif­fer­ent to what’s on the radio, it stands out. And the boy can sing! And he can dance! So he is such a great enter­tainer, I love him.

You talk about issues and have always done that through­out his­tory, in your albums and that has always been impor­tant. Do you think it’s as easy to have a polit­i­cal stance with your songs now more than in the 90’s?

C: Absolutely. It’s funny because, in one way, you can say what you wanna say, but you still can’t really say what you want to say, because then people are get mad and come after you and you’re going to get in trou­ble. People can go to jail, and come back now and have a number one record, or single. It’s almost like doing stuff that is not good is praised. It’s like, cool… ooh you went to jail… you going to write a song about it? You can get signed!’ And not to say that if you’ve made mis­takes in your life you shouldn’t be able to live your dream, but I remem­ber a time when that wouldn’t have hap­pened.

I feel like we’ve pro­gressed as a soci­ety more where you can have those honest and frank con­ver­sa­tions but in our music it seems to be this dif­fer­ent thing, but you guys have always done it, even with the new album. I know you were asking the fans for names for the album but you decided to go with TLC?

T: Well some of them were good but some of them were way off, it was ridicu­lous! I was like some of y’all think way too deep! But I love that they tried.

And it’s your last? Why?

T: Well, I mean we’ve been doing this for a long time. Things are dif­fer­ent. The indus­try is dif­fer­ent. You never know what God has planned for you later but as of now, it’s the end. You have to end some­where at some point and retire.

[SOLEMN SILENCE]

C: It’s been twenty-five years! [Laughs]

T: Plus think it’s hard to me to make time­less music, that doesn’t just come out your butt like Whoop’. I’ve got another Waterfalls’ or another Unpretty’, those aren’t easy to come by. Timeless music is hard to come by.

And how did you keep Left Eye as part of the album, in terms of record­ings, essence, or maybe an energy?

T: There’s an inter­lude but she lives through our music anyway we because we built this together and then on top of it, through­out our show, she is always apart of the show in some capac­ity – so you will always feel her energy in some type of way.

C: And its T L C still. Always.

After every­thing, what advice would you give a new gen­er­a­tion of female musi­cians?

T: I would stick to what I have always said: respect your­self. If you don’t respect your­self, why should I respect you? There’s a lot of stuff out now that is urging you to be a whore. I’m gonna say it the way it is – hoes are win­ning.

C: Hoes are win­ning right now. Hoes got TV shows, hoes got cheques. Hoes got com­mer­cials. It’s cool to be a hoe right now. They’re making it seem like hoe-ism is life!

And now Instagram is telling you if you have an X amount of fol­low­ers, you’re a public figure. What does that even mean?

T: I just said that in the last inter­view. I said, what is a public figure? An insta­gram model I guess…

C: Everything comes and goes. They better enjoy this 15 min­utes. Once insta­gram is over… I hope they’re invest­ing prop­erly. Please invest and pay your taxes.

T: If you’re gonna be a hoe, please be a smart hoe. Stack your dol­lars.

C: And pay your taxes!