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TLC have been through death, divorce, illness and break-ups but have come out on top to launch new album

IT’S an album to complete their story but it’s not the end of TLC – the girl group that sold 70million records worldwide.

The trio of Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was the biggest selling girlband of the Nineties, now second only to the Spice Girls in the UK.

TLC are launching their first new album in 15 years

The history of the band, whose biggest hits were Waterfalls, Creep, No Scrubs and Unpretty, includes bankruptcy, lawsuits, illness and death.

A three-piece until the tragic death of Lopes in 2002 in a car crash in Honduras, Watkins and Thomas returned to touring after 15 years in 2015 as a duo.

And on a sunny day in Santa Monica, it’s just the solo Thomas I meet, as a sick Watkins has had to take the day off.

She’s all hugs and smiles when we meet in the hotel lobby, arriving with a camera man and producer filming a documentary on the band.

Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins (left) and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas (right) have released the album ‘TLC’
Watkins and Thomas have said TLC will be their last album

Easy going and engaging, Thomas says the run-up to the release of this fifth, and final, album has been “pure celebration”.

While Watkins and Thomas have said there’ll be no more TLC albums, they will continue to tour and plans for another UK visit are currently being worked out.

Last month, TLC played their first ever UK show at London’s Koko. It was a night that British fans had been waiting 25 years to see from the band that formed in Atlanta, Georgia in 1990 (Thomas joined in 1991 replacing original member Crystal Jones).

“London was amazing,” beams Thomas. “It was so touching to be there with all the love that we got from everybody.

TLC make their comeback with hits mash-up on Tonight at the Palladium

“We were happy with the show and crazy that we’d never played there before. It made it very special.”
Thomas says she and Watkins were equally as moved by the Kickstarter campaign they launched to allow them to make this final album.

In January 2015 they appealed to fans to help fund their final record by pledging $5 (£3.50) with a goal of $150,000. In just three days, this amount had been surpassed, eventually raising $400,000 becoming the biggest funded pop project in Kickstarter’s history.

Celebrities including Justin Timberlake, New Kids On The Block ($10,000), Katy Perry ($5,000) and Bette Midler all donated money.

“It really was emotional,” Thomas tells me. “It warmed our hearts that our fans and so many people, including some of our peers, wanted to contribute to us coming back out with the new project. It was huge.”

It’s alleged that former singer/manager Pebbles Reid cheated the band out of millions and TLC filed for bankruptcy in 1995 after the release of their diamond certified 1994 album CrazySexyCool.

Thomas says bankruptcy at the height of their success was hard.

“You are just out there working hard, not making anything, but they are making all of the money.

“It was because of our contracts and when people aren’t advising you the proper way.

The duo performed for the first time in the UK at Koko in London last month[/caption]

British fans had been waiting 25 years to see from the band[/caption]

Group performed the new single Way Back which features Snoop Dogg[/caption]

“After our first album there was no renegotiation when your contract is jacked up.

“That’s why we said, shall we do this just one more time? It is definitely not the end of TLC as far as touring but making an album is difficult. The business has changed a lot.”

On the new TLC record Watkins and Thomas worked with Ron Fair as executive producer who has worked with Christina Aguilera, Mary J Blige and The Black Eyed Peas, while first single Way Back features Snoop Dogg.

Thomas says: “Working with Snoop has been a dream come true while Ron added the horns and put his magic on the record.

“All of the horns you hear on tracks like Joy Ride, Way Back and Sunny are played by the same guys that played on Michael Jackson’s Bad and Thriller. That was surreal and epic.”

One person missing is long-term producer Dallas Austin, Thomas’s ex and father to her son Tron.

“We kind of wanted to start off with Dallas like we did in the past,” she explains. “But we could not get our schedules together.”

Their previous album, 2002’s 3D, included unreleased raps from Lopes, and was released seven months after her death.

The duo used the gig to remember their late band member Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes[/caption]

Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes' verses were left in to certain songs while images of the singer were projected[/caption]

Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas strikes a pose in KOKO, London[/caption]

Video footage means she is still part of the TLC live show but how did they keep her memory alive on this new album?

“From day one, we realised that no one was replaceable,” she reveals.

“If somebody left we would have to figure it out, but no one else could be in the group. We had this chemistry.

“It has been a long time since we lost Lisa and we’ve continued to tour so we’ve have gotten used to the two of us.

“Recording, we all bounced off of each other.

“Lisa could come with an over- the-top idea that we balanced out, when it came to the creativity part. We were a team.

“Today we know she would be so happy with what we are doing and making sure her legacy lives on.”

TLC were famous for the messages carried in their lyrics and videos. In the video for Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg, they wore condoms on their clothes to promote safe sex while Unpretty told women to value their self worth rather than try to meet unrealistic beauty standards. They continue these messages with songs such as Haters and Perfect Girls.

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Lopes was killed in a car accident while on a retreat with her sister in 2002[/caption]

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Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes performs on stage at the MOBO Awards in 2000[/caption]

“You can’t make enough of those kind of songs, especially today with social media,” says Thomas.

“There’s cyberbullies going crazy on people and unfortunately a lot of people are affected.

“People are committing suicide. A song like that is really important to let people know they’re not alone.

“With Perfect Girls the message is you are beautiful already and no one is perfect. We all have flaws.

“We are all ageing and if you really take care of yourself, you can age gracefully.

“I still get bullied to this day on social media. I have to block people all the time.

“Dealing with trolls is hard, but you just have to find that inner strength and know you’re not the only person that is being bullied. You have to remember these are sad people hiding behind a device. They just need a hug.

“When we were called feminists, we were like, ‘No, no we are just being us’. But as we got older we definitely embraced it. We stand up for all women. C’mon, we bring babies into the world. Women are the damn jam.”

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T-Boz of TLC in the last concert as a group following the death of Lopes[/caption]

A new track aimed at empowering women on the new album is Aye Muthaf***a, a song which tells women to not put up with relationships with the wrong men.

“It’s a similar message as (1994 hit) Creep,” she says. “When we wrote Creep we were told it wasn’t cool for a woman to say all those things about a man.

“You would entertain the craziness, but if your guy is not treating you right, you just get out.

Goodbye. It’s ‘Aye muthaf***a, I am out of here. I’m just gonna go my way as you are not worth it’.”

Thomas recalls one of the most trying times for TLC was in 1999 when Vibe Magazine printed a letter written by Lopes to challenge her two bandmates to record solo albums and see which album performed the best.

She says: “That was a rough period but it was the company that she was keeping unfortunately.

“We could not stand the guy she was dating at the time. But then they broke up and we were really happy about that.”

And as for her enduring friendship with Watkins, Thomas says seeing her friend suffer illness — Watkins has been in and out of hospital with sickle-cell anaemia since childhood and suffered a brain tumour in 2006 — has been tough but her friend’s strength has inspired her.

“The brain tumour broke me down. She told me on the phone and I just burst out crying,” she tells me.

Ron Galella Collection
Manager and producer Perri Pebbles Reid allegedly cheated the band out of millions[/caption]

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Reid is now an Atlanta-based minister[/caption]

“She was trying to keep me calm. I admire her so much. Whatever she goes through, she does not let it get her down and she just fights.

“I don’t know what I would do without her.

“We are like sisters. We’ve been through divorce, breakups, babies, being sick, and we’ve managed to still come out on top.

“When we lost our sister, it made our bond even closer.

“It’s a marriage that you can’t get a divorce.” As our time comes to an end, Thomas takes time to record a video message to a younger fan and says how she’s been excited by the new generation of kids that are influenced by TLC and come to their shows.

She says: “There was a young girl who had a TLC party and I met her and it was amazing.

“We were in rehearsals and I gave her mum the address to bring her down.

“That’s why we have remastered versions of some of our songs like No Scrubs, Creep and Unpretty on the album.

“It was to remind people who are just getting into us who we are, or who just don’t know those songs at all.

“It’s a special time for TLC and we are loving every part of it.”

  • The album TLC is out today.
TLC singer T-Boz reconnects with late friend Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes through Hollywood medium Tyler Henry