Whether you’re scrolling through the nostalgic catalog of 2000s chart-toppers at karaoke or listening to a radio station’s throwback hour, classic hits like “Creep” and “Waterfalls” from TLC are bound to be heard. The evocative sound of singing “No Scrubs” with your group of best friends immediately comes to mind — or at least, it did for me as I was listening to Rozonda Thomas talk about the longevity of TLC’s career.
TLC, composed of members Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, released their sophomore album CrazySexyCool in 1994, which solidified their status as pop superstars. While reminiscing on its success 27 years later, the award-winning album has been named one of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time by Rolling Stone and held the third spot on Billboard in 1995 for 119 weeks. Following the untimely death of Lopes, the duo carries the presence of Lopes and her signature flow as Chilli shared that they can “feel her spirit” while performing.
While the pandemic postponed the original plans for CrazySexyCool’s 25th anniversary, Chilli shared her and T-Boz’s excitement for the tour. Starting in Alabama and concluding in California, the 90s-themed 18-city tour spans a little over a month as hip-hop group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony joins them on the road.
Although I was born shortly before the 2000s and didn’t realize the international impact of the American girl group until my adolescence, their timeless legacy has lived on throughout my entire life. Between their unapologetic, sexually liberating lyrics and Chilli’s wispy baby hairs making a return in the last decade, it’s impossible to argue that the trio’s impact will ever dissipate.
“Every woman has a crazy, sexy and cool side,” says Thomas, as she described the album as their version of Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman.” “You may embody one more than the other.”
In our conversation for 21Ninety, speaking with Chilli did not only reflect a full-circle moment for myself, but it was therapeutic to receive advice from Thomas herself on avoiding scrubs, relate to our similar plant-based diets and hear about her passion for performing.
Noella Williams: Since the pandemic set your original plans back to celebrate the 25th anniversary of CrazySexyCool, how does it feel to finally be back on tour again?
Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas: Like a kid that has been locked down and couldn’t go outside to play, and now I'm outside playin’. I'm really happy to be on the road.
NW: You’ve been touring for almost an entire month. Do you have a favorite show yet?
Chilli: All of them have been really great. It's funny, because you go to different places and you just see different types of emotions on people's faces because some people haven't seen us ever. We have some people that have seen us a lot of times, but for the people that have never seen us, you can just see the different types of excitement and joy on their face. It means so much to me being on stage to see that, because that's the only time you'll be able to see it. And this album means so much to each individual in different ways. It means something in a different way for them, and I'm just happy that we're able to deliver for them.
NW: Seeing people dress up like you in the crowd at shows and around Halloween must be something to look forward to.
Chilli: Since 1992, we always see a bunch of TLC outfits every Halloween. It's unbelievable to me all these years, almost 30 years, and people are still dressing up like us every Halloween.
NW: Your legacy is so powerful. I was born in 1999, so I’ve seen people dressing up as you three for as long as I can remember.
Chilli: It's crazy. It really is, and it is a blessing, though. We're very thankful and grateful that God has blessed us like this, and we've always remained just us being ourselves and it works.
NW: In honor of Lisa and your sisterhood, how is your tour simultaneously paying homage to her along with your legacy?
Chilli: We always leave her rap in the songs, and we don't take [the verse] away. I think when people look at Tionne and I and how we rap everything when it comes to our group period, you can't help but feel her spirit through us. [Lisa] is very present through us. We don’t change anything when it comes to her raps.
Noella Williams: As you're reminiscing on 27 years of CrazySexyCool, do you both still embody the title CrazySexyCool?
Chilli: Yeah! That is our version of “I'm Every Woman.” Every woman has a crazy, sexy and cool side. You may embody one more than the other. It depends on the week or whatever, so it's very relevant when it comes to women and how we feel. Some days are sexy and the next day might be cool.
NW: How does it feel to see your legacy reflected in the Black women of music today, since your girl group was the blueprint for sexual liberation and futuristic fashion?
Chilli: Young women love our songs and really get into the lyrical content of what we talked about. Time only tells you if you're going to have that type of effect — or have longevity. You don't know it right away. We have young girls coming up to us or [we see them] when we look out in the audience, because our movie that we did, CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story, generated a whole new generation of fans.
I would say the majority of my followers on Instagram are kids. They communicate with me during the day, and I'll be like, “Are you in class?” Like, put your phone away. It's hilarious. We get on stage and look out in the audience and see this wide age range. The youngest are five to six years old out there jamming, and some of them have Left Eye’s mark under their left eye, and it just melts your heart.
NW: The longevity of your music has rang throughout the late 90s to my childhood in the early 2000s to now. How does it feel to know that timeless songs like “Red Light Special,” “No Scrubs” and “Creep” will always hold a special place in both playlists and the hearts of your fans?
Chilli: I’m always hoping that while singing “No Scrubs” that they're really listening and taking notes. We’re trying to educate! I'm hoping when the guys listen to it, they understand that they don't want to be that guy. And ladies, this is the guy who you don't want to date or even be friends with. You don't want to have nothing to do with a scrub ever in your whole life. The things that we spoke about [in 1994] all the way up to the early 2000s can last forever, because some of the stuff that I've gone through in my 20s is the same stuff you’re going to go through in your 20s. If there's a song about it, you can connect with that. It's all about people being able to relate to you. I think that that's what our songs do.
NW: I agree. While listening to your music and being able to relate to something that was recorded over 20 years ago, I’m wondering, “Wow, how did they know?”
Chilli: We all go through the same stuff. And scrubs, they’re like roaches. They don't die, they multiply. So they're always going to be around, but once you are equipped to know what a scrub is and you just stay away from it, you're going to be just fine.
NW: Can you recall any favorite moments from recording CrazySexyCool?
Chilli: When we went to LA to record with Babyface, the three of us went to Roscoe’s. Everybody talked about Roscoe’s with the best chicken and waffles. So we went there and got the greens and the chicken and went back to the studio to eat, and a baby roach was in the greens. We were having a heart attack, except for Lisa. She took that baby roach, threw it away and continued to eat the greens. I was like, “Oh my god,” I couldn't believe it, so that ruined it for me. I'll never forget that. I was looking at Lisa all night with a side eye, and I was like, “Are you kidding me? You just removed that baby roach and proceeded to eat your meal?” And we always had fun with Babyface. People have gone to the studio with him, and he's really quiet, very reserved and professional, but we would always bring out the silly side of him.
NW: So for the fans that have yet to experience it, what can they expect for the remainder of the tour?
Chilli: A lot of grilled-cheesing from me, because I'm so excited to be back on the road. I mean we have our band, we have six dancers and a DJ. I mean, it is a full blown-out show, so you are going to get your money's worth by coming to see our show, for sure.