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.
We just really have that love and that fire is still in us to perform, that light hasn't dimmed even a little bit.
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.