We’d just begun to accept the truth that Aaliyah was no longer with us, and then it happened, we lost dear sister Left-Eye.
She left behind an indelible mark on pop culture which has yet to be duplicated. Left-Eye’s spontaneity, quirkiness, guts and soul inspired a generation of young women to boldly claim their own femininity.
Lisa Lopes adopted her stage name, Left-Eye, during the developing stages of TLC. While there were early questions about the impending longevity of a girl group that chose to wear their hats to the back and sag their pants down real low, TLC emerged from the 1990s as the front-running Hip Hop Soul group. Their records became anthems for female-empowerment, forcing society to stare gender-equality in the face.
Lopes was responsible for much of the group’s generational efficacy; in fact, it was her hunger to make a social difference in the industry that led her to Atlanta in the first place.
The Philly native moved to Atlanta in 1990 with a keyboard and $750.00 in her pocket. She was determined to take her signature Philly style rap flows to the charts, or at least earn enough money to live off of. Lopes combined with Crystal Jones and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins early on to form 2nd Nature, the group’s original name.
It wasn’t long before Lopes made personnel changes, replacing Jones with Rozanda “Chilli” Thomas. Together, TLC embarked on a journey of industry highs and very public personal lows. Although we remember when Lopes set fire to Andre Rison’s house, the bankruptcies, rumors of rifts, and all of the hardships the ladies went though—we still loved them unconditionally.
Lopes had a voice which was fresh enough to lie comfortably between Watkins’ and Thomas’ sexy tone, but hard enough to battle the likes of any 1990s male rapper. Her craziness helped the group gain life-long connections with industry mavericks Jermaine Dupri, LA Reid, Babyface, Dallas Austin, and Whitney Houston.
I still remember seeing the ladies cutting a groove in Whitney’s “I’m Every Woman” video.
Lopes was especially significant to the creative landscape of our generation. She was the epitome of crazy, long before Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, Nikki Minaj or Lady Gaga stepped on the scene.
Lopes used multiple methods to speak out against injustice. “Her Story”, from their debut album, was our first indication that TLC was about opening up conversations on social issues. They wrote the song as a response to the 1987 case of Tawana Brawley, a 15 year old Black girl from New York who accused 6 white men, some of whom were police officers, of rape. Lopes wrote: “Yo, this is a story of a male-female threat to society… being misjudged and not respected for what we are”.
Her hardcore female-empowering messages were some of Hip Hop’s finest activist statements. She forged a ground with her lyrics which aligned her with pioneering female rap acts Queen Latifah, Salt ‘N Peppa, Roxanne, and M.C. Lyte.
We were inundated with contextual safe-sex messages from Lopes throughout her career. TLC gained a reputation early on as sirens for safe-sex and disease prevention. In fact, Lopes decided that the girls should pin condoms to their overalls moments before their first appearance.
Those multi-colored condoms were dope!
The ladies went on to produce a bevy of singles which would challenge women to love themselves and define their own femininity. “Hat 2 Da Bak”, “No Scrubs” and “Unpretty” served as the soundtrack for many young women to adopt their own sense of worth. Lopes found a way impart this message while maintaining an eccentricity that made TLC albums approachable.
TLC’s 4 platinum albums and plethora of hit singles slaughtered charts worldwide for the entirety of the 1990s.
While their songs were commercially successful, there was a particular spirituality that Lopes brought to TLC. Her carefully penned lyrics possessed a vulnerability which allowed her to connect with women at a more honest level than many other performers.
“Waterfalls” is the greatest example of her ability to bathe spirituality with courage for women around the world. Lopes wrote, “I seen a rainbow yesterday, but too many storms have come and gone, leaving a trace of not one God-given ray/ Is it because my life is ten shades of gray? I pray all ten fade away …dreams are hopeless aspirations in hopes of coming true. Believe in yourself, the rest is up to me and you.”
Lopes was much more than a rapper who passed through the industry—she gave hope and inspired women to find strength within themselves. She told the story of many women living a 90s kind of life, while feeding socially empowering messages to young people around the world.
She was our voice to the world.
We still remember Lisa Lopes, even after a decade, because she was golden to us. Our generation grew up with her. She was our sister, activist, mentor, and above all—our darling friend.
Lisa, I seen a rainbow yesterday—I knew it was you.