Long before social media became a required weapon in a pop star’s arsenal, TLC was closer to its audience than most acts — the trio included thousands of fans’ names on a pull-out poster inside of its third album, 1999’s FanMail.
So when TLC turned to Kickstarter to fund its fifth and final album, it was no surprise that the group reached its $150,000 goal in just three days, collecting nearly $235,000 by Jan. 28 (led by a $5,000 contribution from Katy Perry).
But that’s just the beginning of the journey. TLC’s Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, 43, and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, 44, are seeking songwriters and producers, and although few details are set, veteran producer/label executive Ron Fair — most recently Virgin’s chief creative officer — has signed on as executive producer. His track record (Christina Aguilera, the Black Eyed Peas, Mary J. Blige, among many others) suggests high-profile collaborations may be in the cards.
“The return of TLC is surrounded by incredible positivity,” Fair says. “The entire creative community of artists, producers and songwriters is invited to the celebration.” TLC’s Chilli told Billboard that longtime collaborator Dallas Austin (who co-wrote the act’s breakthrough “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg,” as well as later hits “Creep” and “Unpretty”) will be involved, and that Ne-Yo — who penned its 2013 reunion track “Meant to Be” — will work with them if his schedule permits.
One person who may not be featured on the album, however, is Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, who died in a car accident in 2002. “When we did the last album, 3D, we were searching really hard to find [unreleased Left Eye verses] to go with songs we were working on,” says Chilli of the album that she and T-Boz completed after Left Eye’s death. “So probably not [this time], but I’m not going to say ‘no,’ because if something authentic can come together, we’re going to do it.”
This article first appeared in the Feb. 7 issue of Billboard.