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Spirit of “CrazySexyCool” lives on in TLC

TLC members Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas.
(Dennis Leupold)

UPDATE: TLC’s San Diego concert has since been canceled. Their show in Los Angeles will still take place on Oct. 9.

This Thursday evening, don’t go chasing waterfalls — instead, please stick to the TLC concert at Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre, where the girl group will be joined by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony for a special ‘90s-themed show, a celebration of TLC’s iconic album, “CrazySexyCool.”

“CrazySexyCool,” TLC’s sophomore album, was released 27 years ago in 1994. At the time, TLC was composed of original members Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas.

Today, of course, TLC is a duo after the untimely death of Lopes in a 2002 car accident. But back in 1994, TLC was fresh off the heels of its debut album, 1992’s “Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip,” which yielded hits like “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” and “What About Your Friends.”

And according to Chilli, the group felt the pressure to deliver with their second album.

“It was a lot at the time. (“CrazySexyCool”) was the sophomore album and you know, they always tell you, the first album, yeah, it’s cool and all, but it’s really about the sophomore album. So there was a little bit of pressure there, but we didn’t let that overtake our thinking and get in the way of creating. It was different for us on another level because it was an album where we wanted to prove to people that we were here to stay and who TLC, the girls, really are,” she said during an interview.

And prove that they did.

Clearly, TLC was here to stay because here we are in 2021, we’re still talking about “CrazySexyCool.” The album launched the group into a different stratosphere of fame thanks to hits like “Creep,” “Red Light Special” and, of course, “Waterfalls.” “Waterfalls,” in particular, was a bona fide smash, a socially-conscious song in the age of MTV with lyrics that addressed drug use and the AIDS epidemic.

The success of “Waterfalls” had major ripple effects: The video for “Waterfalls” won the MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year in 1995, making TLC the first Black act to win in that category. TLC also went on to earn honors at the 1996 Grammy Awards (for Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group for “Creep”) and the 1996 Billboard Music Awards (Artist of the Year). And in 2003, “Rolling Stone” magazine ranked “CrazySexyCool” as one of the 500 best albums of all time.

“CrazySexyCool” would eventually sell over 23 million copies. It’s impossible to think about music, especially R&B music, in the ‘90s without thinking of T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli. And today, in the midst of a ‘90s revival where we’re seeing the fashion of the decade make a huge comeback, TLC’s celebration of “CrazySexyCool” is perfectly in style.

“It’s not too surprising to me,” said Chilli of the nostalgic embrace of the decade, “because I think everything comes back full circle.”

Despite a short hiatus and the death of one of its original members, TLC continues to tour. When asked to speak to the rarity of a group having the longevity that TLC has had, Chilli reflected the group’s destiny.

“It was really meant for us to be together, the three of us. Now the two of us, carrying this thing along without our sister ... When you look at Tionne and I, you can’t look at us and not think about her (Lopes). We’ll never replace her. She can’t be replaced. It’s always going to be in your mind. And then when we perform the songs, we leave her raps in there. We don’t mute anything,” said Chilli.

“You’re always going to feel her presence through us.”

The Thursday night show will also feature fellow ‘90s staples, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, along with other special guests.

“We tour all the time, but this particularly tour is very special in a different way because we are celebrating “CrazySexyCool” specifically,” said Chilli. “And so our fans will get a chance to hear some of the songs on the album that weren’t singles. Because they’ve always asked us through the years, and now we’re doing it.”

She said fans at the concert can expect to feel the same energy that originally made them fall in love with TLC.

“I think that artists out today, if you’re blessed to have a catalogue and you can continue to tour throughout your life, you always have to remember the things that people love about you and never get rid of that. You can build around it, but you have to have the pure essence of what makes you you,” she said.

As for what the future holds for TLC, Chilli said that, in addition to an upcoming musical and an A&E documentary, they will continue to tour, as long as they’re able to.

“Look, we’re gonna be touring until we just can’t do it anymore,” she said with a laugh. “When we start moving slow with our dances, it’s gonna be time to stop. Then we gotta hang up the shoes, it’s a wrap.”

Catch TLC with guests Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on Thursday at Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre on the San Diego State University campus. For tickets and more information, visit as.sdsu.edu/calcoast/events/176.


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