The Life & Death of Left Eye

Everything about Lisa Lopes is worth talking about. Her charm and vigor are shown in all that she does and the influence of both her music style and iconic public image shines so brightly in musicians like Cardi B, Doja Cat, and Nicki Minaj. She also burned her boyfriend’s house to the ground, and rumor has it that she had a forbidden romance with 2Pac. 

The eerie circumstances of Lisa’s death are gut-wrenching—days before her own death in a car crash that was captured on camera, she was in a car that hit and killed a 10-year-old boy who shared her last name. Lisa saw it coming, too; she had said that she felt a spirit following her, and she thought that spirit made a mistake and meant to kill her instead.

Left Eye’s verse in Donnell Jones’ “U Know What’s Up”

The “L” in TLC, Lisa Lopes, known as Left Eye, headed the energy and personality of America’s best-selling girl group, whereas her counterparts T-Boz and Chilli brought that suave R&B feel to the group. Left Eye got her nickname from a (boy?)friend who said he was most attracted to her left eye because it was bigger than her right. She wore that persona and dressed up her bigger eye by piercing that eyebrow and swiping eye black underneath. 

In February of 1992, TLC was born with the release of their debut album, Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip. The opening lyrics introduced the unique lady trio: “they don’t really look like, you know, women / they just kinda look like they’re trying to be something else.” TLC would move on to pave the way for the rest of those who were something else; they were among some of the first musicians to successfully blend R&B, hip-hop, funk, and pop music in a way that spoke to the mainstream. 

Left Eye is often reduced to the “rapper” of the three women, but she was the unique creative force behind the trio; her outspokenness and electric stage presence drew fans and press alike, and did you know she wrote the All That theme song

Following the success of Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip, the public began to eat up TLC’s personal life, with a particular interest in Lopes. She had started dating NFL player Andre Risen in 1992 after he followed her around all night in the club. Lopes said he invited her over, and when she went to his house the next weekend, she just never left. She got his jersey number (80) tattooed to her right arm, and embarked on the seven-year on-and-off, tumultuous, and abusive relationship.

What’s remarkable is that Lopes first speaks publicly of her relationship in Last Days of Left Eye, the incredibly raw and vulnerable documentary she filmed in Honduras in the weeks leading up to her death. She sits outside, calm, criss-cross on a mat with her hair pulled back in a red bandana, buoyantly reflecting on the violence and trauma.

One night in June of 1994, Lopes threw Risen’s mountain of new tennis shoes in the bathtub and doused them in lighter fluid. She stood in the backyard and watched “the house of evil burn to the ground.” Lopes and Risen had both gotten home late from separate nights out, presumably pretty drunk, and immediately starting fighting. They beat one another, and Lopes says she looked in the mirror and saw how bruised up her face was and thought “I’m gonna kill him.” But she didn’t kill him, she burned down his house instead. 

Lopes had been struggling with alcoholism from a very young age, and she was painted as a crazy alcoholic arsonist who couldn’t control her emotions. Risen, on the other hand, was victimized, and hardly looked at for the years of emotional and physical abuse he was responsible for. But nonetheless, in the public eye, this only ignited anticipation for TLC’s upcoming release Crazysexycool, and in November of 1994, T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli rode the PR wave and promoted their new album dressed as firefighters on the cover of VIBE magazine.

Crazysexycool, perhaps a euphemism for each of the three thirds, gave us the luscious “Waterfalls”, steamy “Diggin’ On You”, and my personal favorite, the craziestsexiestcoolest “Creep.” The success of their sophomore album rooted TLC as one of the most popular girl groups of all time, but it seemed as though the more successful they became as a trio, the more Lopes needed to get out: “On the inside I was thinking, ‘is there anything else to this other than making videos and winning awards? Am I going to be able to pursue other dreams?’”

Things got weird between TLC in the late 90s. Fanmail was released in 1999 and Left Eye stopped making public appearances with T-Boz and Chilli. “I do not consider myself a rapper,” she had said more than once. And yet she was still belittled to the rapper who dabbled in arson despite writing a majority of the group’s music and designing the set for the Fanmail tour. She felt suffocated in the girl group, unable to reach her full potential. And did you ever notice how her verse in “No Scrubs” is cut from the album version and most live performances?

So Lopes started to do her own thing. She collaborated with other musicians, and released her experimental and liberating solo debut Supernova in August of 2001. She did come around to a fourth studio album with TLC, 3D, but needed a break and paused recording for a 30-day retreat in Honduras in the spring of 2002 where she planned to make a documentary showing everyone the real Lisa.

Last Days of Left Eye does exactly what Lisa had intended—it shows the side of Lopes that missed the headlines. In the Honduran jungle alongside her closest friends and family members, Lisa is calm, content, and speaks in a matter-of-fact way when discussing her relationship with fame, artistic limitations with TLC, and relational trauma. The final moments of Lopes’ life are shown in the documentary, driving her friends in an SUV down a windy Honduran road. She tried passing a truck, but lost control and the SUV flipped multiple times. Lisa was the only fatality.  

She had kept the shoes of the boy that was killed by the car she was in roughly two weeks prior to her own death. His last name was also Lopez, but with a “z”. Lisa paid for funeral and hospital expenses, and never shook the feeling of a spirit following her that meant to kill her instead.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s