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Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, Singer-Songwriter, TLC attends the Fast Company Grill on March 11, 2019 in Austin, Texas.
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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.

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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?

 

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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.

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Tekashi 6ix9ine Identifies Cardi B And Jim Jones As Nine Trey Members And More Takeaways (Day 3)

Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony continues to shock the masses. On Thursday (Sept. 19), the rapper took the stand again to elaborate on his kidnapping as well as interviews he gave about his broken relationship with members of the Nine Trey gang.

Interviews by Angie Martinez and Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club were analyzed due to the rapper's subtle jabs towards his former manager Shotti and defendant Anthony "Harv" Ellison. 6ix9ine's social media personality was also broken down as he explained the definitions of trolling and dry snitching.

But perhaps the most questionable part of his testimony arrived when he name-dropped Cardi B and Jim Jones as members of the Nine Trey Gangster Bloods.

Below are some of the biggest takeaways from today.

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Day 3 1. Tekashi Claims Cardi B And Jim Jones Are Members Of Nine Trey Gang

Hernandez provided context to a wiretapped conversation between alleged Nine Trey godfather Jamel "Mel Murda" Jones and rapper Jim Jones. Complex notes a leaked 'individual-1' transcription revealed who appeared to be Jim Jones. During Mel Murder and Jim Jones conversation, the two discussed Hernandez's status as a Nine Trey member.

"He not a gang member no more," Jones reportedly said. "He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bullshit." Hernandez went on to identify Jones as a "retired" rapper and a member of the Nine Trey.

Prosecutors play phone call between Nine Trey godfather Mel Murda and rapper Jim Jones. Tekashi says Jones is in Nine Trey.Jones: "He not a gang member no more. He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bull--it."

— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) September 19, 2019

When it comes to Cardi B, the rapper named the Bronx native as a Nine Trey member. He was also strangely asked if he copies Cardi's alleged blueprint of aligning herself with gang members in her early music videos. "I knew who she was. I didn’t pay attention,” he said. In a statement to Billboard, Atlantic Records denied 6ix9ine's claims that she was a member of the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods. 

In a now-deleted tweet on her official Twitter account, Cardi B responded to the allegation writing clarifying her affiliation, “You just said it yourself…Brim not 9 Trey. I never been 9 trey or associated with them.”

2. Tekashi Defines The Term "Dry Snitching"

In a quick back and forth with AUSA Micheal Longyear, the rapper gave an odd definition of dry snitching. He also made it clear that he was open to becoming a witness to reduce his prison sentence.

Q: Who is Jim Jones?#6ix9ine: He's a retired rapper.Q: Is he a member of Nine Trey?A: Yes.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

3. Tekashi Was Willing To Pay Hitmen $50,000 To Take Out Friend Who Kidnapped Him

Shortly after he was kidnapped by Harv, the rapper went on Angie Martinez to slam those in his camp. Without saying names, Hernandez promised he would seek revenge on those behind the kidnapping. The court was then showed footage of the incident which was recorded in the car of Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case. Hernandez reportedly confirmed he wanted to pay a hitman $50,000 on Harv after the kidnapping.

4. He Believed He Was "Too Famous" To Hold Gun Used In Assault Against Rap-A-Lot Artist"

The alleged robbery of Rap-A-Lot artist was brought up once again when Hernandez confirmed that he recorded the incident. A weapon allegedly used in the incident was tossed to Hernandez by his former manager Shotti. When asked why he refused to hold the gun the rapper said, "I'm too famous to get out the car with a gun." As previously reported, the rapper was kicked out of the car after the incident in Times Square and was forced to take the subway back to Brooklyn with the gun.

5. Tekashi May Be Released As Early As 2020

Cross-exam Q: If you get time served you'd get out at the beginning of next year, correct?#6ix9ine: Correct.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

There's that.

6. Footage Exists Of Tekashi Pretending He Was Dead

Harv's lawyer Deveraux: Do you recall publishing a video pretending you were dead?#6ix9ine: Can you show me? For now, a private viewing.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

Before wrapping up, the court briefly touched on his trolling ways. From setting up beefs to strange notions like faking his death, the videos were viewed privately.

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Tekashi is seen in Los Angeles, CA on November 8, 2018.
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Nine Trey Trial: 4 Takeaways From Tekashi 6ix9ine's Testimony (Day 2)

The second day of Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony provided insight into the handlings of several incidents surrounding the rapper including the attempted shootings of rappers Casanova, Chief Keef and former labelmate, Trippie Redd.

As Complex reported Wednesday (Sept. 18), Judge Paul Engelmayer noted the leak of the rapper's testimony that hit YouTube by way of VladTV. Shortly after, Hernandez explained how the Trey Nine gang began to fall apart–or split into four groups–leaving him to take sides. In the end, Hernandez was robbed and kidnapped by his own manager as video footage revealed. The rapper explained how his initial deal turned into extortion as he provided over $80,000 to the gang.

See more details from the trial below. Hernandez will take the stand again Thursday (Sept. 21).

Day 2 1. Tekashi Arranged A Hit On Chief Keef For $20,000

The hit against Keef was widely reported last year but Hernandez provided clarity to the incident. The rapper admitted to arranging a hit on the Chicago rapper after a dispute over "my friend Cuban," a reference to rapper Cuban Doll. Although Hernandez planned to provide the gunman with $20,000 he paid him $10,000 since the hitman fired one shot and subsequently missed.

2. 6ix9ine Credits Anthony “Harv” Ellison For Barclays Center Shooting 

 

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Hernandez's brief beef with fellow Brooklyn rapper Casanova sprouted from Cas' diss song, "Set Trippin.'" After hearing it, Hernandez said he was ready to "run down" on the rapper. Seqo Billy tipped him off about Cas' alliance to the Bloods set, the Apes and how they would more than likely retaliate if Cas is harmed.

“There’s a kite out saying if any apes happen to cross ya path to fire on you or anybody around you… smarten up,” Seqo wrote in a group chat presented in court. Ellison allegedly replied, “Apes can fire on this dick… They don’t want to war with Billy’s [Nine Trey]." From there, several shootings took place in Brooklyn with one inside the Barclays Center.

3. Tekashi's Beef With Rap-A-Lot Crew Caused Bigger Fallout With Trey Nine 

Hernandez went on to detail the very complicated story behind his beef with Rap-A-Lot records. The debacle started when Tekashi and the Treyway crew didn't "check-in" with Jas Prince before taking the stage at Texas' South by Southwest in March 2018. The incident was further muffled since Trey Nine members like Ellison and Billy Ato were beefing with Hernandez and Shotti at the time. In the end, Hernadez never performed. His crew would later go on to rob and attack an artist from Rap-A-Lot in New York a month later.

4. Footage of the Robbery/Fight Was Filmed By Hernandez aka 6ix9ine

As he and Shotti fled the scene, Shotti kicked the rapper out the car forcing him to take the train to Brooklyn with a gun in his possession. All of the incidents led up to the kidnapping scenario which Herdanaez claimed was in no way staged.

“I’m pleading with Harv,” Hernandez said. “I’m telling him, ‘Don’t shoot. I gave you everything. I put money in your pocket.’ I told him that I was tired of being extorted.” The robbery/kidnapping was filmed by Ellison but also recorded by Hernadez's driver Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case.

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Jeremy O. Harris Is Prepared To Make You Uncomfortable With 'Slave Play'

September is a tricky time in New York City. Some days the ninth month can be charming with its cool breeze and clear skies, you forget Old Man Winter is three months away. Other days, September is deceitfully chilly dropping 10 or 15 degrees after sunset. You hug yourself to create warmth and to also block shame for not knowing summer has packed its bags. On the fifth day of September in New York’s East Village, the weather, however, is kind. Clouds like stretched cotton balls float through the sky, while the sun peeks through adding just enough heat without being arresting. It was, like Bill Withers described, a lovely day.

The beauty of the weather was only matched by Jeremy O.Harris’ bold yet inviting presence. Wearing head-to-toe Telfar Clemens, the Yale School of Drama playwright mingled with friends, castmates and the press inside the penthouse suite of The Standard. Holding the last puffs of a loosie and a black purse, O’Harris and I make eye contact. He smiles. I wave and a second later he's pulled into another round of congratulations, cheek kisses, and praise.

Such is the life of an award-winning playwright.

Harris’ production Slave Play earned chatter while at the New York Theater Workshop and has since made its way to Broadway, making the 30-year-old the youngest playwright of color to accomplish the feat. Yet before the mecca to the world's theatrical stage, Slave Play merited quite the hubbub and scathing critiques for its plot. Set on the MacGregor plantation in the antebellum south, three interracial couples work through their relationship woes made present by their sexual disconnect.

And that’s all that will be said about Slave Play. The rest must be witnessed to be understood or at least examined. Harris knows the play will make many uncomfortable and he's okay with that. The Virginia native stands at a towering 6-foot-5 and has always known his mere presence was off-putting to some. Add his Afro to the mix and Harris, a black queer man with hair that defies gravity, is too much to digest. Thankfully, he doesn't care.

He walks over to the terrace and we both lean in for a hug but stop prematurely and settle on a professional yet distant handshake.

“Are you a hugger?” I ask.

“Yes,” he smiles.

Relief. Huggers finally able to hug.

O’Harris is pressed for time so we only chat for 15 minutes but we gag over both being Geminis, talk about white discomfort, why, of all names to give a play, was Slave Play the best choice and whether or not white America can fully love black people.

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VIBE: When creating Slave Play was white discomfort ever a thought?

Jeremy O. Harris: I had this moment with someone the other day and we were talking about the importance of mirrors and seeing each other inside the mirrors of the set. Well, the reason the idea came about was because at Yale the theater was in a three-quarter thrust and the second year project is one of the smallest projects to do. The audience, I think, is 70 people every night. It wasn’t a huge audience, maybe 90, I don’t know.

Anyway, it’s a three-quarter thrust. I went to Yale at a historic time. There were more people of color there than at any other time. The craziest thing about the show for me was while watching, I saw all the people of color checking in with one another throughout the play and them having these moments of revelation together and looking at white people like, "Why are you laughing then?"

I make people uncomfortable. I make people who are straight uncomfortable. I feel like everything I do, I do loudly by accident.

What’s your sign? I’m a Gemini.

Oh my God! I’m a Gemini. When’s your birthday? June 2nd.

I'm June 17. (Laughs) I think being a Gemini is also part of why I live loudly. I don’t shy away from who I am. My hair has always been big. People might eroticize my hair or fetishize my hair but they’re still uncomfortable by it because their hair can’t do this. Also, because I went to predominately white institutions as a child, I learned quickly that my intellect made people uncomfortable.

Were you usually the smartest one in the room? Yeah, or at least the teacher would say that. I think part of the problem with growing up in the south is everything is so racialized, even compliments. It would be "he’s smarter than the white kids and the black kids."

Did you have any other names for the play besides Slave Play? For me, titles are what make a play and the minute I thought of this play was the minute I was thinking about all of the different slave films. The first thing I thought about was on Twitter there was this whole discussion about 12 Years of Slave with people saying, "Why do we always have to be in a slave movie?" and then I thought, "Oh, a slave movie. There are so many slave plays...Oh, Slave Play!

There’s a litany of narratives that can come from that and a litany of histories that come from that. I was like, "Let me try and make something that was the end all be all of these histories" for at least me. It doesn’t have to be the end all be all for the next writer who wants to interrogate these similar ideas and similar histories, but it gets to be my one foray into this question.

I saw Slave Play off-Broadway and it was a lot to take in. However, I think the play isn’t so much about interracial relationships as it is white people’s relationship with black people. Am I correct?

I think you are. I’ve never written a play that’s going to be about one thing.

Because you aren’t one thing.

Exactly. One of my professors said the problem with a lot of American writers is that they write plays that function like similies. This is like this, whereas in the U.K. and Europe and a lot of places I love, those places function like metaphors. I wanted to have a play that functioned as a metaphor. So it’s not like, "Being in an interracial couple is like..." It’s "An interracial couple is" and it becomes a container for a lot of different histories and a lot of different confluences of conflict which I think are important.

Relationships can become an amazing space of interrogation for a lot of our interpersonal relationships, our historical relationships and our thematic, deeply guarded emotional truths that we haven’t worked out on a macro, but we can work them out on this microcosm of a relationship in a way like white-American politics and black-American politics are also in this weird symbiotic relationship.

Do you think white America can ever fully love black people?

I think love is something that’s beyond words. I think its something we have to only know in action in the same way that I don’t know if black America will or should ever love white America, do you know what I mean? How do you love something that’s harmed you so deeply?

Super facts.

But then again, if we’re using relationships as metaphors, [then] we’ve seen people try and make sense of that love in a lot of different ways. You see black America’s relationship to capitalism, which is something that benefits whiteness more than it could ever benefit us, yet there is this sort of weird romance that happens in so much of our music. So much of our literature and so much of our art, with the idea of capitalism even with its own interrogation and criticisms. But there is this weird push and pull. It’s similar to someone who’s in this battered relationship with an ex-lover.

I read you didn’t expect to receive so much criticism from the black community. How did that make you feel? 

It made me feel sad and reflective in a lot of ways. I wanted to make theater for a certain audience and, for me, the best vehicle for making theater for that audience was the Internet. I was like, "How can I flood the Internet with these ideas about what my plays are so I can maybe get a new audience into the theater with more excitement?" And that worked in a certain way. What I didn’t take into account was that I basically asked everyone to learn how to ride a horse bareback without ever learning the fundamentals of riding a horse.

People were interrogating the ideas on the Internet of what this play might be without an understanding of how the theater functions, and so I think that made them feel very displaced from what this play was, and when you feel displaced from something you have to react to it. I don’t blame anyone for their reactions to the title or the images they saw. Some of those images aren’t images I would’ve ever wanted people to interrogate without the context of the theater. In hindsight, I now know, like, "Okay, cool." I do this experiment and I saw some of the false positives of it and I saw the actual positives of it and now I can move on and keep building and repair the relationship. I get to now watch it with more careful eyes.

What questions do you hope white people ask themselves?

I think the whole play is about: how can people listen in a way that’s not shallow but deeply? I think at this moment a lot of white theater audiences believe they’re listening deeply to the black artists that are having this moment right now. But I think when you read the words they write about it, and the quickness with which they have an opinion about it, you recognize they’re not listening deeply. So quickly they’re telling us what they think we said and it’s like, "No, take a second, and let us speak on it." Take a step back.

Slave Play is playing at the John Golden Theater. Get your tickets here.

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