For many fans, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes will be forever remembered as a human headline, a magnet for controversy, the spunkiest member of TLC who once wore a condom over her left eye.
They'll think back and picture the buck-wild musical starlet who set ex-boyfriend Andre Rison's house ablaze in 1994, the scornful aftermath of lovers' quarrel.
But Lopes the person was much more than Left Eye the celebrity, as many are learning now. The TLC singer was an entrepreneur on the come up, a mother and a humanitarian who in her own words had "a huge and genuine concern for all of mankind," especially children and the elderly.
She was the type of person who took a fan to his prom after being touched by a letter he wrote. She helped singer Natina Reed get Blaque off the ground after Reed sent fan mail asking for help breaking into the biz. Lopes took several Sudanese refugees called the Lost Boys under her wing after reading about their plight and put them in a recording studio to work on albums by her protégés Egypt and her musical alter ego, N.I.N.A.
Family was everything to Lisa, whether it was her singing sisters in TLC, her blood siblings — two of whom were with her and survived the fatal car accident — or Snow, the little girl she treated as her own. (She also had a hand in helping to raise Mally G, a former member of young rap duo Illegal.)
The most flamboyant and outspoken member of the multiplatinum trio TLC died on April 25th 2002. Lopes was 30.
Left Eye was driving a rented Mitsubishi Montero SUV and traveling from La Ceiba to San Pedro Sula. According to her spokesperson, a three-person group called Egypt, her brother, sister and two producers were in the vehicle with her. The spokesperson said the SUV tipped over and Left Eye died after sustaining a blow to the head.
Born in Philadelphia, Left Eye later moved to Atlanta, where she formed TLC with Watkins and Thomas. The trio's 1992 debut LP, Ooooooohhh ... On the TLC Tip, spawned the top 10 hits "Baby-Baby-Baby," "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" and "What About Your Friends."
The group's hip-pop beats — provided by Jermaine Dupri and Dallas Austin — and their identifiable b-girl style captivated fans, helping the trio become instant stars. With condoms on their clothes, their hats shifted to the back and their sagging, baggy pants, TLC exuded girl-powered audacity. As the resident rapper among two singers, Left Eye immediately stood out.
Two years later, TLC proved their staying power with the blockbuster LP Crazysexycool. The group expanded its message while expanding its fanbase, offering such songs as "Creep" (exploring relationship infidelity) and "Waterfalls" (which addressed a number of society's ills).
Away from the studio, the trio brought the drama that would keep the world fixated on them. In the five years between Crazysexycool and their third LP, Fan Mail, TLC publicly quarreled amongst themselves, fought with their former manager, Pebbles, as well as their record label. They also declared bankruptcy and disclosed life-threatening illnesses, among other things. Lopes upped the controversy even further when she set fire to the home of her on-again, off-again boyfriend, football star Andre Rison, in 1994.
Throughout it all, Left Eye held her head high and spoke her mind on everything. No matter how outrageous the situation, Left Eye would seem to trump it with an even more outrageous opinion. More than any other member of the group, Left Eye became a character, and what she did offstage became just as interesting as (if not more interesting than) what she did onstage.
Prior to her death, Lopes was engaged in another beef with her label when it decided not to release her long-talked about solo debut, Supernova, domestically. Although TLC were said to be working on the their fourth LP for months, Lopes dropped another shocker when she announced that she had aligned herself with Suge Knight's Tha Row label. Lopes said that she would record a new solo album in Los Angeles under the name N.I.N.A. While "Nina" is slang for a 9 mm handgun, Left Eye said her Row moniker stood for "New Identity Non-Applicable."
Today on the nine year anniversary of Lopes' passing we remember the legacy and catalog of undeniable music she left behind. Rest in peace.