Chilli-National-Concert-Week-Interview
Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, Singer-Songwriter, TLC attends the Fast Company Grill on March 11, 2019 in Austin, Texas.
Rick Kern/Getty Images for Fast Company

TLC's Chilli On National Concert Week And Why Bruno Mars Leads Her Collab Wishlist

TLC's influence in today's music is nearly impossible to ignore. Artists like Drake ("I Get Lonely Too"), Ed Sheeran ("Shape Of You", Tory Lanez ("All That") and Weezer (an impressive "No Scrubs" cover) have all spread a dash of the group's crazy, sexy cool flavor on chart-topping tracks, keeping their legacy alive in a very unique way.

Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas and  Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins are bound to feel the praise through their fans this summer. For Live Nation's National Concert Week (May 1- May 7), lovers of TLC and 500 other acts can enjoy them for $20 a pop. Nearly 27 years after their debut album Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip, Chilli says performing their hits has been a refreshing experience but also a history lesson in the state of music today.

"Good lyrical content's been missing for a little while now. I feel that's why so many people  this younger generation– are gravitating to older music," she tells VIBE about the general heavy obsession with the 90s and music from the early aughts. "I just feel that people, you just gotta get back in the lab. I don't even think you have to get so creative, just get back in tune with your feelings. When it comes to expressing yourself, it's nothing wrong with having a song that shows vulnerability. People relate to that. That's naturally how we are anyway."

Some of the folks who exude this to the entertainer include Bruno Mars and Cardi B. When it comes to the "I Like It" rapper, Chilli says Cardi's bright and colorful manner makes her an ideal collaborator.

"I don't like working with people just because they're hot and you like them. It needs to make sense, the collaboration. But I definitely the right collab would make sense with Cardi B," she expresses. "Because she's really bright and colorful like we are. So that would make sense to me."

But someone who "totally" makes sense is Bruno due to his electric stage presence. "The type of energy he has on stage and with how fun he is, that would totally make sense," she said. "We're definitely open to what makes sense. We like authenticity, not anything forced. That's why we've never had many features at all in our career. Because we just don't want anything to seem forced."

TLC's small collection of collaborations prove this. Their vocals on J. Cole's "Crooked Smile" are smooth to the core as well as their take on Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" with Jermaine Dupri.

The TLC collab list isn't the only gems Chilli dropped throughout the conversation. Check out the rest of the interview below where the living legend talks about the state of music, National Concert Week and the legacy of Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes.

__

VIBE: How does it feel to be a part of an initiative like National Concert Week, that gives your fans a good deal to see legends like yourself?

Chilli: It's always an honor to be a part of a tour where our fans can come and see us. People are on budgets, you know what I mean and the fact that something like this exists for them to be able to afford to get a ticket to come and see their favorite band and hopefully they come to see TLC, it's awesome. I think it's amazing and I'm very happy to be a part of that.

What can we expect from your tour with Nelly and Flo Rida?

Definitely high energy entertainment. Definitely going in the lab. We take being on the road very seriously. We love touring, that's the best part of what we do period, is going on tour. We always like to think outside of the box, come up with crazy routines, all kinds of stuff because people look to us for that. We're not just a group that stands and sings, we're there singing, dancing, we're all over the stage. It's going to be a lot of high energy. How can I say it without giving anything away? I'll just say it's going to be very exciting, I think we're going to get some ooh's and aahs.

Do you have a favorite song you like to perform?

You know what, sometimes it just depends for me. I just like performing all of the up-tempo because I love dancing. I can't really pick out one song in particular because the routines are amazing for everything. That gets me hyped up.

You guys have been in the game since the '90s. What inspires you to perform without getting bored of routines? 

Yeah, sometimes you can get tired. Some artists are like "Ok, I fought a good fight, I'm ready to just chill and relax or whatever."Most people get there but we're not there yet. You don't have to be in the business for many years. I mean, some people are done after a first album. We just really have that love and that fire is still in us to perform, that light hasn't dimmed even a little bit. Especially the fact that we've been through so much through the years and you know everybody has been able to witness that and our fans have stuck with us along the way. We love it and we're just still at it.

Do you feel like being in the game for as long as you've been, you feel like you can still learn from it?

Absolutely. I think that as long as you are alive, you are still learning something. No one knows everything. The way that the business has evolved and will continue to evolve... I mean it's very different from when I was a kid, and it changed by the time we came out. You keep growing so it's like "Ok, you evolve with evolution." I think that's kind of the key right there. Of being able to stay in such an ever-changing business and it's very fickle. It's so many things that can make you say I'm good. We just don't feel like that.

What are a few lessons that you've learned from being in the industry? Or advice you would give to anyone entering the industry now?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by TLC (@officialtlc) on

It's pretty consistent with me. You can't take anything personally. In this business, everything is business. Everything. You just can't go in thinking that people are truly your great friend. I think you can make some friends along the way if you're lucky, I guess. I don't think people should come into the business for that. You come into the business. It's a job. And yes you love this, I think that if you keep that mindset then you will be able to handle when everybody's not loving you so much.  You may put a song out that everybody was like "Oh my goodness, you're the greatest of all time."

You can't get caught up in that. You can appreciate people liking what you're doing, whatever that song is it speaks to them in a certain way but your next song might not. Or everyone may not resonate with your next album but it doesn't mean that you're a failure, they just didn't like the work, so go back in the lab.

You can't take it personal because that there will destroy you, it's too many people that will have something to say and you have to remember this is what you signed up for. You gotta project your feelings and like they say don't get so caught up in your feelings.

So basically you have to have thick skin for this industry?

Yeah, you do. You have to have very thick skin. You can't get caught up in what people think and how they feel.

Could you say that TLC is still inspired by other artists today?

Yeah, that's why I think I love Bruno Mars so much because I think what he has done is just so brilliant. He took 80's and made it fresh. It made you feel like, you know, wait a minute this is familiar, but this is new. Not like "Oh he's just doing 80s music." You know with the live instruments and all that kinds of stuff. To me, he's a breath of fresh air. I love him lyrically what he says, I mean I am a fan and he knows it too because we were rehearsing at the same spot, I think maybe a year ago. We saw each other and we were like "Hey," he's like "Hey! Did you see my t-shirt? Did you say it in the video I had a TLC t-shirt." and we're like "Uh, yeah!" It was like a little in love moment, it was awesome.

Fans celebrate Left Eye frequently on social media. What is the biggest lesson that you learned from Left Eye as a friend and member of TLC?

We learn a lot from each other. I'll just put it that way because I can't say one thing in particular. Our relationship with her is very broad. She wasn't just a band member, she was our sister. The three of us, you know the relationship is really truly is one for the books and now it's just Tionne and I so I don't know. It's a really special type of relationship and friendship and sistership that we started out with and that Tionne and I still have to this day. We just learned a lot from each other.

Check out details behind National Concert Week here.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Nick Rice

The 40 Best R&B Songs Of 2019

If you're a true lover of R&B, you can appreciate a soulfully soothing, quiet storm-worthy, put-it-on-repeat-and-think-about-your-boo (or potential boo) type of song. If you're a true lover of the genre, you sometimes find yourself reminiscing about the days when R&B of the '90s and 2000s was sensually laced with emotional vocal runs and the music videos featured not only a scene in the rain but also a phone, 2-way pager or some kind of communication device. And if you're a true lover of R&B, you've followed (and hopefully accepted) how the genre has evolved and survived since then.

2018 was definitely the year where R&B declared its status as "alive and well," in a time where hip-hop made its dominating and profitable presence known. This year, R&B continued to hold its own and kept the smooth, soul-stirring vibes coming even if it didn't hold its traditional form.  As hip-hop and the genre continued to birth chart-climbing singles, R&B songs of the early aughts made a resurgence through sample-laden tracks from artists of the new school.

For VIBE's 2019 Best R&B Songs list, we decided to not only choose songs that deserve a spot on a baby-making playlist but also celebrate the artists who've kept the core of R&B intact in their own way. Some songs are well-known, some are deep cuts. Some of these artists have won a music award or two this year, but the others are just as worthy. Here we've compiled an alphabetical list of songs that have resonated with the R&B lover in us. Get into it.

 

Continue Reading
Nick Rice

25 Hip-Hop Singles By Bomb Womxn Of 2019

Nothing hits like a rapper talking their sh*t, especially if she happens to be a womxn. There's a confidence that oozes out from the speakers and into the spirits of a listener open to that addictive feminine energy. This year, we got to see this in a big way thanks to the crossover success of a batch of very different womxn in rap. There's the hot girl also known as Megan Thee Stallion who balances her college courses while grabbing up Billboard chart-topping hits; new mama Cardi B proves you can really have it all and make history at the same time (a la her solo rap Grammy win) and Lizzo, who constantly pushes what it means to be a "rapper" with her style of vibrant pop music.

In 2018, VIBE presented a year-end list dedicated to albums by womxn and this year continues that tradition of spotlighting some of our favorite womxn– who happen to rap. The term "female rapper" has become sour by the minute, with many artists in the game refusing to pair their gender to an artform seemingly jumpstarted by a black womxn. “I don’t want to even be a female rapper,” CHIKA told Teen Vogue recently. “I’m a rapper. So for someone to have a qualifier like that and throw it out there so publicly — it feels really backhanded. I don’t like [it].” She isn't the only one. As hip-hop continues to dominate pop culture, the womxn in the genre are demanding respect for the craft. Here's a list comprised of some of our favorite songs that hit the charts or slipped under the radar.

Enjoy.

Continue Reading
Steve Morris @stevemorrism

Afrochella Sets Sight On Connecting The African Diaspora, One Festival At A Time

African music and culture are going global.

There’s a concerted effort to create and connect on the continent and to the continent. In Ghana and Nigeria specifically, a number of events, festivals, concerts, and activations have grown to prominence over the past five years, attracting newcomers and serving locals. This year, December will harvest a crop of opportunities for those abroad and at home to tap into the music, art, food, and fashion of the new-wave vanguard.

“Ghana remains home to the global African family,” Ghana Tourism Authority CEO Akwasi Agyemang said in an interview earlier this year. "We are positioning Ghana as a gateway to the West African market," Agyemang added. As African cultural productions popularize abroad, Accra and Lagos have become the go-to grounds for people of the diaspora to initiate immersion into experiencing Africa. 

The Ghana Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture have lined up a slate of activities in an effort to boost the country’s tourism industry. The government has taken initiative to further pushing for mobilization, galvanizing both descendants and diasporans to visit, invest, and live in the country.

Certain factors make Ghana appealing for visitors. Along with it being one of the more stable nations in West Africa, according to a 2011 Forbes report, Ghana was ranked the 11th -most friendly country in the world, ranked higher than any other African country. But as of last year, according to the World Atlas, Ghana didn’t rank amongst the top 10 African countries to visit for tourism in 2018. There is already a history of diasporans permanently relocating to Ghana. The government attempted to facilitate this process when it waived some visa requirements and passed amendments to a 2002 law that permits people of African origin to apply to stay indefinitely in Ghana. 

But this year has been a particularly important one for visitors. This December marks the ending commemoration of the Year of Return. Ghana 2019 is an initiative of the government formally launched by the President of the Republic of Ghana in September 2019 in Washington, D.C. as a program for Africans in the diaspora to unite with Africans on the continent. The mission transcends a marketing strategy. The year 2019 commemorates 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia. The program serves to recognize the surging people and the following generations of achievements, sacrifices since then. 

The past year has seen a steady influx to West Africa. According to a report in Quartz Africa, Ghana’s tourism sector contributed 5.5 percent to GDP in 2018, ranking in fourth place after gold, cocoa, and oil in terms of foreign exchange generation for the country. And the government is hoping for more growth. Ghana is reportedly projected to rake in an annual $8.3 billion from the tourism sector by the year 2027 in tandem with an estimated 4.3 million international tourist arrivals.

But with the opportunities for connection and investment comes a slate of new concerns attached to old ones. Tourism, for example, can be lucrative for local business, but also can have a broader disruptive impact on the nation’s economy. Then, there are the issues that programmers face to bring locals and visitors the sought-after idealized experiences of Ghana— a taxing and a challenging feat to execute in an environment that’s still developing its infrastructure in multiple sectors. Along with improper documentation of visitors, the 15-year development plan put in place to help push the numbers, in ways, has not been implemented in full force.

But a rush to Ghana is still projected, and there’s a slew of events coinciding in the region at the same time this year aiming to accommodate this. One of the events slated for a return is Afrochella, the annual art, music, and food festival happening in Accra from December 20 to January 5. Separate from the official year of return events, each event also aims to fulfill a similar mission and market individual appeal amidst similar events. There’s AfroNation, the popular Europe music festival holding its first-ever edition on Ghana’s coastline at the same time as Afrochella, while Nativeland is planning a selection of panels and immersive activations with Melanin Unscripted focusing on music, art, and culture in Lagos right before it.

Afrochella was conceptualized by Abdul Karim Abdullah in 2015. Abdullah, along with co-founder Kenny Agyapong, and COO Edward Adjaye, launched the full-scope festival with the hopes of curating a connection to the continent this year, focused on increasing visibility to the rising talent on the continent. Their 2019 theme is “Diaspora Calling,” aiming to promote networking within the Ghanaian community and diaspora, ensure African youth value and celebrate their native cultures while connecting communities through education, fashion, art, music, and business in Africa. 

Community involvement representative Emmanual Ansa states they want the event to become “the impetus and mecca for the celebration of African music, culture, and art.” But amidst the many options on the ground this year to fulfill these missions, where does Afrochella stand, and how does it stand out?

VIBE sat down with the Afrochella co-founder Abdullah to talk about the structural challenges of executing this initiative while appeasing the demands of a growing consumer base, the cultural significance of the event, and envisioning Ghana as a premier frontier for a global black connection.

Can you talk about the origin of Afrochella? What inspired it?

I went to school in Ghana for about seven years, and then I came back to the US and I went to high school in the Bronx—  High School For Teaching And The Professions. I went to Syracuse University in 2006 and got my bachelor's in psychology and biology. And then I got my master's in 2016 at CUNY Hunter college in public health. I've been working in medical research for eight and a half years. But this has been a passion of mine that I've always done on the side, which is throwing African-inspired events.

That’s when my team came together. It started out with me wanting to do a festival here in New York called Native Tongue festival, and that was geared towards food. I just wanted to explain the culture and engage people within the diaspora. But then, on our yearly trip to Ghana, I found that we would gather and we would have a great time, but we couldn't really have that much of an effect once we left. I felt like we could have an effect; we could encourage more people to reach back home and do certain things by creating a space where we can engage each other. I thought there was so much talent coming in from all over the world that were from Ghanian descent or African descent and if we could create a place where we can galvanize all of that and the people that are doing amazing things within those industries, we would be able to create something pretty good. [In] 2017, we decided to do something like that.

How has it changed since 2017? Has it been easier to translate what you're trying to do in terms of this new interest in Africa — Ghana and Nigeria in particular? 

My team is battle-tested. We understand what we have to do in order to make the event successful. But, I wouldn't say it's been easier; each year presented different challenges for us. In year one, it was financial. Until this year, it was navigating bureaucracies. Last year, it was navigating governmental agencies. This year is navigating competition, navigating finding more funding.  One of the things that we noticed about events in Ghana specifically is that once it [nears] completion, people tend to not attend it anymore. What we want to make sure we do is every year we want to increase the amount of people that attend— and each year we have at least by 30 percent. Each year, we've been able to define our message more clearly. 

Talk a little bit about the government in Ghana. How has it been dealing with things on the bureaucracy level?

I would say our event is doing a big service to Ghana. Afrochella has definitely given people an opportunity to visit Ghana. The government should support us in a way that makes gaining access to certain government facilities easier. But that has not been the case. We've had to be very proactive about that with regards to certain policies that may exist that are not written on an online forum. Like in America, if I wanted to do a special event in the park, I'd be able to go to an online source. I'd be able to see all the things that need to do in order to get a specific permit for a specific venue. In Ghana, these things don't exist.

For instance, this year we received an email from some agency. Out of all of the years, we've never communicated with them and in the third year, they're reaching out to us about musician copyrights and, apparently, we have to pay a tax. Those are the kinds of things that we've faced. You can end up paying people that are not actually supposed to get paid. And there's no way of you knowing whether or not it exists or doesn't exist. 

Last year, we had a very weird incident four days before the festival. We were told by the Ministry of Aviation that our stadium is right by the takeoff of the planes leaving Accra. I would think that the venue that we're renting out for this festival would be able to let us know, “hey, you need to do this with the Ministry of Aviation,”— they did not. The day before Christmas, we got a notification that we have to change venues because they feel our lights will interfere with flights taking off. It's, of course, an accident. So, we reached out to the Ministry of Aviation, sat down with the director and devised a plan in order to allow our event to continue. Those are the kinds of things we faced as an event that we are still trying to navigate. Hopefully, as we grow, it will get easier.

Do you think it'll get easier when some type of infrastructure is built to help those types of events move more smoothly?

I think that Ghana is going to have to look itself in the mirror. We all don't know what to expect in December. Because there are a lot of people going to Ghana in December, the anticipation is very high. All the major hotels in Accra are sold out. How Accra responds to the influx of people I think should inform the government on how they should prepare for events and things like this for the future. I do hope that there is an effort created to streamline policies. 

I would like for the government to encourage events. I think events is one of the major drivers of tourism. And if they're paying attention, they will notice that a lot of people are coming to Accra for Afrochella and the events that exist during that last week of Christmas. The double mission is to take a deeper look at this creative industry and figure out a way to encourage that positively in a way that it affects both the people on the ground and the people within the diaspora. 

The government has not been welcoming this with open arms or does it not have any type of structured initiative to help this run smoothly?

I'm not saying that. I just feel like in general, we do not know what changes in infrastructure or policy being made to accommodate the amount of people that are coming in. For instance, with Afrochella we understand that because there's going to be so many people—there was an excessive amount of traffic coming into the stadium last year—that we need to figure out a way to get people to the festival in shuttles. If we can get people that are shuttles, then we could reduce the amount of cars. We reached out to the Ministry of Roads to help us so we can avoid traffic in front of the stadium and that we can make sure that there's a safe way for people to enter. This is some of the planning that we have done. Until now, I personally have not seen any information come out, access [to] policies that exist. 

One of the major complaints that people from the diaspora face when they go to Africa during Christmas time is we feel that we should be having the same sort of customer service that we enjoy abroad. With the influx of people, I think that it's going to get worse.

We just wanna make sure that infrastructure exists to make sure that people that are coming do not disrupt the way of life in Accra.

There are a lot of other events happening around the same time as Afrochella. What is the concerted effort to kind of stand out from the rest?

Our goal is to highlight the thriving millennial talent from within the continent. So we take pride in making sure that we're highlighting people within various industries of food, fashion, music. With our Afrochella Talk series, we’ve been able to highlight people that have been doing amazing things within the creative industry. In December, we'll be doing one on music. And this is an opportunity to be able to educate people on opportunities that may exist within their field or create a platform for people to be able to discuss questions they may have. 

We're also involved heavily in charity. Last year, we supported Water Aid to help provide clean water to families in need. The year before that, we gave out school supplies to kids within Madina Zongo. This year, we're doing charity twofold. We're rebuilding an orphanage school, in Jamestown, Accra and also providing them with school supplies. We call this initiative Afrochella Reads]. We’re also doing Afrochella Feeds on December 26th. 

Our goal when we bring people to Ghana is not just to come and turn up, not just to have a good time, but also to give them a feel of the vibration of the country, what the culture is.For us, it's a holistic approach.

What does the full festival entail?

The festival itself is art, music, food, fashion and all of that culminates in our eyes what culture is. We believe that each part of these is equally as important. Not one part is more important than the other and that we should celebrate them together. In addition to people getting to go to our festival, we also give them the opportunity to be able to engage with the country through our tours, through our charity. The tours and the charity that we do is to make people understand that yes, Africa is a good time— you can go to all the clubs— but we want to make sure you leave and provide an impact at the same time. 

Talk a little bit about the Audiomack rising star challenge and that effort to kind of curate the connection with music and culture.

With the rise of afropop music in America, I feel these artists deserve a chance. Right now, the popular, mainstream artists are the ones that are getting the looks they deserve. But I think that there are a lot of talents that exist from the continent that deserve to showcase their talent.

The other aspect of it is, I feel that people in the continent are using all of these apps and all of these different services and they hardly get to connect with representatives from those services. One of our goals is to make sure that we partner with these companies and give them the opportunity to invest in the talent directly. With Audiomack, we're doing exactly that in that we're giving seven individuals an opportunity to perform at Afrochella. And the one with the most streams, we’re giving them $1,000 towards their career and we’re giving them an opportunity to for a studio session at our partners BBnZ Live. This is one model of the type of partnerships we want to, we look to create with companies in the future. 

Why is this year in particular so important for the reconnection of the diaspora in the context of the 400-year anniversary?

A lot of the conversation between the diaspora and the people from the continent is what makes us different, why we don't get along. What we want to do as a festival is take that conversation and change it into what can we learn from each other and how can we help each other. I think that it's very important that as you see the Chinese and the Japanese and the Americans and everyone reaching for Africa, that we engage the people in the diaspora to make them understand that there are opportunities that exist and there is amazing talent in Africa and they are interested in starting a business and you're interested in developing a space and you can engage with your counterparts on the continent and help build the continent yourself.

I think the more black people we get to invest in the continent, as a whole black will be helping each other. This year is absolutely important and I think that shoutout should go to Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana for declaring this year The Year of Return. Ghana is definitely a good site that people can visit, but we hope that as people enjoy themselves and have that experience that they use that as a platform to visit other African countries and see what opportunities are there for them to be able to leave a lasting impact on the continent.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

Continue Reading

Top Stories