It's hard to believe that it's been 25 years since the release of TLC's debut album. Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip, featuring the lead single "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg," marked a new era for all-female R&B girl groups, paving the way for the likes of Destiny's Child, Blaque, and 702. And even though the aforementioned acts have since dismantled, the legacy of Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas remains strong, even after the tragic passing of its most fiery, outspoken member. Fresh off the heels of a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund their new album, T-Boz and Chilli are back with their long-awaited final release, TLC, out June 30. Here, we caught up with the duo to discuss their new music, working with Snoop Dogg, and the '90s trends that are due for a comeback.
Why did you decide to make your comeback now?
T-Boz: The fans were urging us more than anything. I'm glad that they knew that it wasn't over. A lot of people thought we couldn't make it anymore now that we have a missing member, and that's not true. It was also record labels closing down and going crazy ... then our manager [Bill Diggins] approached us about Kickstarter. We were scared at first.
Chilli: Oh yeah, we were. We were really terrified because we didn't understand how it [Kickstarter] really worked—we didn't want to come across like we were just asking people for money. Once he explained it all to us and expressed the freedom that we would have, minus dealing with a label, then we were all in.
And you raised enough money in less than a week, making it the fastest-funded project from a pop act in history. I saw that Katy Perry donated $5,000, which means she can claim the prize of a sleepover with you. Please tell me what that would entail.
T-Boz: Definitely onesies.
Chilli: Yeah. We gotta have onesies, for sure.
T-Boz: Organic popcorn, non-GMO.
Chilli: Mhmm, yes. And some alkaline water.
T-Boz: Yes! With a little bit of electrolytes on the side. Some good scary movies.
Chilli: I hope Katy loves scary movies.
T-Boz: We are afraid of the dark, so we'll have to have a light on. Or else I'll start seeing things floating in the air. [Laughs] We're going to watch the scariest ones, which are the possession ones. I love action, like murder death kill things. Expendables. Love that.
The TLC Army is definitely rabid. What's the craziest fan interaction you've ever had?
T-Boz: You know how guy groups get panties and bras thrown at them? I remember this one girl offered me her car keys and said that I could have her car. She gave me her car keys! I was like, "Girl, I'm not going to take your car!" She was serious, too. Our fans are serious. There have been marriages, friendships—they stay together in hotels. They really have a clique.
Chilli: Somebody named their child after me. My birth name.
T-Boz: Yeah, I've had that too.
Social media has really opened the lines of communication too, which wasn't around when you first started out. Do you love it or hate it?
T-Boz: Honestly, we really both don't like it.
Chilli: I want to be like Chris Pine, to be honest with you, and have nothing. I really want to do that. We talk about it all the time, just shut it down and get rid of it.
T-Boz: It's kind of a bittersweet thing: I feel torn because there are some innocent kids that want to talk to you that I really love talking to in the army, and she [Chilli] feels the same. It's the ugly part—the bullying and the cyberbullying and the negativity and ignorance that comes with it. You see more of that then the good. That's the part that makes it heartbreaking. When they create platforms like this, you should be reprimanded if you cyberbully someone. If you get a $5,000 fine if somebody kills themselves, I bet you people would stop. Kids are killing themselves at 10 years old, that's not okay. Something needs to happen. It's horrible. That part breaks my heart.
Chilli: You should be held accountable for your actions.
You've said that TLC will be your last album, but you're not breaking up. What's the long-term plan?
Chilli: We're always going to tour together and work together, period.
T-Boz: A residency would be great. That's hot. To have a body of work is a blessing—when you have songs that have been around generation after generation that they call timeless music, you can work that for a long time. That is really something we're honored about. If we did a residency, man, that would be awesome.
What was it like working with Snoop Dogg on the new single, "Way Back"?
T-Boz: He's all that.
Chilli: He's everything. He was so easy to work with. He was like, "Don't call my manager, just talk to me." We got him the track, he did it, got it back to us in no time.
T-Boz: No one would fit that track better than him. He's like Uncle Smooth. He's Mr. West Coast.
Chilli: He was the only choice.
T-Boz: There's no one else who would've fit better, and the fact that he said yes and watching something come to fruition was amazing. That song is a feel good summer song. We all have friends and family we haven't talked to—even when we go home and I'm with Tron and she's with Chace and Chance, and life happens, then we see each other and it's like, "Hey girl!"
Chilli: You pick up right where you left off.
T-Boz: Yeah. If you think of any get-together, that's what "Way Back" is. It's the new backyard boogie of 2017.
You'll also be headlining the I Love the '90s—The Party Continues Tour this summer. Will you be sporting some of the trends from that decade onstage?
T-Boz: It seems like the '90s is coming back already. It's almost like being yourself again at 19.
Chilli: The chokers are back.
T-Boz: I love safety pins and stuff like that ... studs. Make it your own. We still need to figure it out!
You've always had incredible style. Who were your fashion influences back then?
Chilli: When we first came out, we dressed ourselves. We went to The Gap and Cross Colours and Jarbo and bought huge pants. Lisa would go into my basement and spraypaint our overalls with different TLC sayings that we came up with, like, "Protection is the Priority."
T-Boz: You know what else was a hot store, where Lisa got her hat from? Patricia Fields. We'd go to the Garment District and get material and wear burlap. Potato sacks. That was an album cover!
The tour also coincides with the 15th anniversary of her passing. Will you be honoring her in any special way on the road?
T-Boz: We've never stopped honoring her. She lives through our music, she still does her own parts on the song, we'll never replace her. We're still TLC regardless if she's here physically or not. In life, you have to learn how to heal. You never get over stuff, but you have to learn how to heal. It's not a sad thing all the time.
Chilli: People look at the day she passed away as an anniversary ... they want to post pictures and talk about it, but I want no part of anything like that.
T-Boz: The day she died isn't a celebration to us at all. That's not a good memory. We're in a space where we're allowed to celebrate her life in a way and make it a good thing and a good feeling for us, because that's how you heal. Let's celebrate the fact that we even knew her, that we started this group together, that we built something together. It's been 15 years. I don't want to be sad. I don't want to be stuck there like it was yesterday. It's about trying to move on.
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You do seem to have acquired a whole new generation of fans. Young ones.
T-Boz: They're like, two years old and they know all the words.
T-Boz: Generations! You've got the grandma down to the siblings.
Some of your songs are overtly sexual. "Red Light Special", for instance. Do you feel the need to dial it back when you perform for a younger audience?
T-Boz: One thing parents you need to realize is you've got to stop letting artists raise your kids. You're the parent. Why don't you monitor what your child wears? Ariana Grande didn't sign on to be a role model. That's why we came up with "Protection is the Priority." When we decided to wear condoms on our clothes, it was to send a positive message. We weren't trying to tell kids to have sex, but realize that your kids are. If you are, we're making it a fashion statement so you don't feel embarrassed to buy one. Just don't puncture a hole in it!
Chilli: With a safety pin! [Laughs]
Which new artists are you listening to these days?
T-Boz: I would say Bruno Mars is standing out real strong right now.
Chilli: Yeah, me too.
T-Boz: Prince is not here anymore, and [Nile] Rogers is not here anymore, and he's taking over that funk era. He's moving into a genre that was capitalized by other older artists. He's bridging that gap.
Chilli: A lot of music sounds the same. You can't tell one person from the other.
T-Boz: Snoop said that! Everybody raps alike. No one has any individuality or creativity anymore. That's why there aren't that many superstars. Everybody used to have their own lane; now everybody's on the same street. That's not hot.
TLC is available for pre-order now on iTunes.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.