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‘It’s Over’: TLC’s Chilli Reflects on Group’s ‘Innocent’ 1994 Firefighter Photo Shoot Misstep Following Left Eye’s Arson Charge

TLC group member Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas wants to clear the air regarding the girl group’s controversial photo shoot that ended up being an accidental example of art imitating life.

Late group member Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes made headlines in June 1994 when she burned down the home of her then-boyfriend, former Atlanta Falcons player Andre Rison, after lighting pairs of his shoes on fire in a bathtub, which eventually set the rest of the house ablaze. Lopes turned herself in and was charged with first-degree arson and sentenced to a $10,000 fine and five years probation.

Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas of TLC (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

The group, which also includes Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, released “CrazySexyCool” the same year, and the group’s November Vibe magazine cover helped promote its release, but not quite for the reasons they expected. Chilli admitted that it wasn’t until after the cover, which featured the ladies in firefighter-inspired ensembles with Left Eye front and center, did she realize the correlation between their wardrobe and Left Eye’s legal troubles.

“It was an accident, let’s be clear on that,” she says. “It was horrible. And we had this shoot coming up with Vibe magazine and so we going in and we’re looking at the wardrobe. I remember I went in there, and I was like, ‘I want to see police uniforms, firemen uniforms.’ And I promise you, I never connected the dots. I was just thinking, ‘This is dope.’ I didn’t even think about like, ‘Are they trying to be funny because of what just happened?’ And so none of that hit me yet. Clearly, it didn’t hit the girls.”

Once she saw the cover and accompanying headline, “TLC FIRES IT UP: Burning up the charts, burning down the house,” Chilli connected the dots and thought the cover would signal the beginning of the end of the group.

“It didn’t click until the freaking cover came out. I said, ‘Lord it’s over!’ It was like the light came on way after the fact,” she said. “It was bad because the judge [in Left Eye’s case] thought we were poking fun at something so serious, but that wasn’t it! It was an honest, innocent mistake.”

(L-R): TLC group members Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas (front) and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins

“CrazySexyCool” went on to sell over 23 million copies worldwide, including hits like “Creep,” “Waterfalls,” and “Red Light Special,” and TLC’s controversial magazine issue ended up being Vibe’s “best-selling cover,” according to the artist.

TLC is hitting the road to revisit one of the group’s biggest albums with fans during the celebration of the CrazySexyCool Tour 2021 with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

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