Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes left fans in mourning when a car accident tragically ended her life in April 2002. Still, her sassy and street-wise musical influence remains alive and well, as heard in the sounds of her ultra-talented protégé, T’Melle. However, make no mistake—this 26-year-old chanteuse carries a sound all her own. Her sultry voice and catchy songs such as “Pill” and “Go To War” form the perfect recipe for a superstar in the making.
Hailing from humble beginnings in Philly, a 12-year-old T’Melle lived out her childhood dream when she landed a promising role in the R&B girl group, Egypt, created by Left Eye. Unfortunately, the future of Egypt came to an abrupt end when the vehicle crash in Honduras left Left Eye dead and T’Melle severely injured.
“The doctors told me that [I’d] never be able to walk again, dance again, run again, nothing,” she says. “They said just finish school and maybe figure something else to do because music isn’t going to be something that [I] can do. Going through that is what led me here, after I was able to walk again, after the doctors told me I was going to have a permanent limp.”
With her vibrant self on full display, the petite songstress and her signature braid rolled through VIBE HQ for a trip down memory lane and a peek into the future.—Mawuena Sedodo
VIBE: In your song “Same ol’ Shh,” you delve a little bit into your background. Can you give more insight into who you are as an individual and what was your family like?
T’Melle: I was originally born and raised in Philadelphia. My father was a music teacher so I’ve been around music my entire life. I grew up not being able to listen to the radio and watch TV so all I could do [was] watch videos and musicals. When I was 12, my mom let me join this girl group, [Egypt]. A bit after I joined the group, we met Left Eye and we did a show. Later on, we went to Honduras to do a documentary, like a Making of the Band and that’s when, [after] us being there for like 20-something days, the accident happened.
What lessons did you take from being in a girl group?
The harmonies and how to interact with different people, different attitudes and how to adjust to certain things. I didn’t understand it back then. I was like, “Ahhhh, I hate it,” but now, I understand. It grounded me and it taught me a lot about unity and sisterhood. That’s why I’m all about empowerment. It taught me a lot.
You started music at such a young age. Who were some of your musical influences?
I wasn’t allowed to listen to radio so I would watch a lot of musicals. That’s why my favorite artists, who I idolize, are Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland. They are the epitome of everything to me. Of course, I love Mary J. Blige, Whitney Houston, and Beyoncé.
You incorporated a lot of different sounds and themes in your last mixtape, The Interview. What was the inspiration behind the name and the music?
I never really talked about just this accident and I never wanted anyone to feel sorry for me so I never really wanted to get interviewed. At the time, I wasn’t able to get interviewed. This was my way of kind of just touching on it and it’s a lot more that I just haven’t shared with the world but right now, that was just my introduction and the best introduction is The Interview.
So what would you want fans to take away from your music?
That it’s a new girl coming out and everybody does their thing but I’m doing my thing a little different. That’s what I want them to know and that’s what I want them to understand. There are young kids that started out at 11 and 12 in the music industry. I want them to know it’s not easy but if you go hard for whatever you believe in, you can’t be stopped.
How has the accident shaped you as an artist?
In a lot of ways. Like I said, I always was just really ashamed. I don’t know why I was ashamed or embarrassed to talk about it because on paper, I’m legally handicapped, and I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me or my scars because it made me who I am. I’m able to live. It’s like I can’t be T’Melle if I’m not telling you who T’Melle is.
What was Left Eye’s best advice to you?
I didn’t get it at the time but she taught me so much. She always said, “Think of something that’s going to make you stand out and make you unique in your individuality. Always be an individual.” So I was like, okay. I didn’t get it at the time. Then she was like, if you can help it, don’t come in this industry single. Have you a little boo. [Laughs] Because the industry is like high school. She was one of the realest, uncut, uncensored people I knew and what I loved about her is that she told us about her mistakes and how not to make those mistakes. One thing I can say about Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez is she kept it 100 and I will love her forever for that.
What can we expect next from T’Melle in 2015?
Expect to just be seeing my braid and this face a lot. I just have a message and it’s bigger than me. It’s just something that I was born to do and God is just coming through me to let my message be told and let this message be told. It’s easy to tell someone you can do it if you’ve had a silver spoon in your mouth all your life. If you’ve been through something and you tell me that people were telling you “no,” I was told “no” but look at me. So that’s what my message is.