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TLC

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All was not well, however. In 1995, TLC filed for bankruptcy, claiming debts of over 3.5 million dollars, in part stemming from Lopes’ insurance payments over the arson incident. They also claimed they hadn’t seen their fair share of royalties from CrazySexyCool; LaFace countered that they were simply trying to get a bigger contract. TLC did wind up splitting from Pebbles’ management company over the money issues (not helped by the fact that Pebbles’ marriage to LaFace head L.A. Reid had gone through a nasty breakup). What was more, it was announced that for some time Watkins had been battling sickle cell anemia, which sapped her energy and often made performing difficult. TLC spent much of 1996 getting their financial affairs in order, and was set to re-enter the studio in the summer of 1997. The sessions had trouble getting off the ground, though, thanks to the group’s public spat with producer Dallas Austin, claiming that his fee was far too high; not only had Austin played a significant role in the creation of their music, but the split was all the more awkward because he and Thomas had just had a son together. It took until early 1998 to finally resolve the producer situation, and Austin wound up handling the vast majority of the record. Still, it took quite some time to put together; Lopes announced in the summer of 1998 that she was working on a solo record, and Watkins tried her hand at acting with an appearance in the Hype Williams-directed Belly. All the delays, tension, and side projects fueled rumors of the group’s impending breakup.

 TLC’s third album was finally released at the beginning of 1999. The hotly anticipated Fanmail debuted at number one, and its first single, “No Scrubs” - a dismissal of men who didn’t measure up - topped the charts as well for four weeks. The critically acclaimed follow-up, “Unpretty,” tackled unrealistic beauty standards and spent three weeks at number one. Fanmail wound up going six times platinum, and won another Best R&B Album Grammy. As TLC prepared to tour in late 1999, tensions between the individual members spilled over into a public feud; Watkins and Thomas criticized Lopes for putting herself before the group, and Lopes responded by blasting TLC’s recent music and challenging her band mates to record solo albums, so that fans could see who the real talent lay with. The blowup was only temporary, but rumors about TLC’s future continued to swirl. Lopes continued to publicize her upcoming solo project, and Thomas eventually began working on her own album as well. Watkins married rapper Mack 10 in the summer of 2000 and had their first child not long after. Meanwhile, tabloid favorite Lopes continued to make headlines when she disappeared for over a week, missing a family function and a press conference (she turned out to be with a new boyfriend).

 In 2001, TLC somehow managed to regroup and enter the studio together to work on material for a new album. That summer, a report surfaced that Lopes had postponed a wedding with, of all people, Andre Rison. Meanwhile, her solo debut, Supernova, was scheduled for release and then scrapped on several occasions; it eventually came out overseas, but domestically Arista pulled the plug. Meanwhile, TLC’s recording halted while Watkins was hospitalized from complications with her anemia. At the beginning of 2002, Lopes announced that she had signed a solo deal with the infamous Suge Knight’s new label Tha Row, for which she would begin recording a follow-up to the unreleased Supernova under the name N.I.N.A. (New Identity Non-Applicable). Sadly, she would never get the chance. Vacationing in her favorite getaway spot, Honduras, Lopes was driving a rented SUV with at least seven (possibly eight) passengers. Reportedly speeding, she lost control of the vehicle, which flipped over; she was the only member of the party to be seriously injured, and died from severe head trauma on April 25, 2002. The surviving members of TLC announced their intention to complete the album they’d begun, though without their most vibrant character the group’s long-term future remained in doubt.

TLC’s latest release, entitled 20, is a nod to the group’s 20-year-plus career, the album features TLC’s biggest hits (including their four #1 singles, “Creep,” “Waterfalls,” “No Scrubs,” and “Unpretty”), plus a new track written by Ne-Yo, “Meant to Be.” The latter can be heard during the closing credits of the VH1 Original Movie, CrazySexyCool:  The TLC Story, which inspired the track-listing for 20. The film, which stars Keke Palmer as Chilli, Drew Sidora as Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, and Lil Mama as Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez, chronicles TLC’s humble beginnings in Atlanta and unprecedented rise to fame in the ‘90s.


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