Afrobella of the Week: Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes; Supernova

I miss the kind of multicolored feminism that was so popular in hip hop music in the early Nineties. It was definitely embodied by many of the participants in Freedom, that all-star soundtrack song I featured last week. So many of those musicians came to blossom in an era when female pop stars could make their debut in big, baggy clothes, while doing goofy dances. And no group wore their clothes baggier or had goofier videos than TLC.

In those early videos, T-Boz and Chili were the sex symbols. Their beauty was apparent from the beginning. But Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes hid her femininity behind shiny, oversize hats and goofy glasses with a condom for a lens. And in the video for What About Your Friends, she was rocking suspenders and bangs that made her look like an eight year old.

Even though she was talking about sex in Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, and claiming “Left Eye don’t mean the rest of my body is irrelevant”), the video’s aesthetic was more hip hop romper room than boudoir seduction. (Seriously, imagine what that video would look like from a group coming out now!)

Grown up sexuality would come later, on CrazySexyCool. That album remains the most successful R&B album ever released — 11 million records sold in the US, and 15 million worldwide. Even though she doesn’t even rap on the track, the video for Creep was a shining moment for Left Eye. The impact of that song was so huge. I remember seeing it and wanting a pair of silk pajamas so badly. TLC’s take on sexy (Red Light Special, Diggin On You) was always tempered with sass (Kick Your Game). And then there was Waterfalls.

(fun fact: did you know that Cee Lo sang backup on Waterfalls?)

In the documentary Last Days of Left Eye, which aired all weekend on VH1, Left Eye muses about her lyrics in that song:

I seen a rainbow yesterday

But too many storms have come and gone

Leaving a trace of not one God-given ray

Is it because my life is ten shades of gray?

I pray all ten fade away

Seldom praise Him for the sunny days

And like His promise is true

Only my faith can undo

The many chances I blew

To bring my life to anew

Clear blue and unconditional skies

Have dried the tears from my eyes

No more lonely cries

I’ve listened to that song so many times, and not once did I ever think about what Left Eye was trying to say. And what those lyrics that were repeated so many times in 1995, must have meant for her at that time. After burning Andre Rison’s house down and being sentenced to five years probation, she tried to come to terms with her personal demons through those lyrics. And she touched millions of lives in the process.

I watched that documentary, The Last Days of Left Eye, last night. It shook me. The critics all agree – MSNBC, the Washington Post, and the New York Times all described the introspective autobiography as heartbreaking, enigmatic, tender, haunting. After watching the documentary, I dreamed about Left Eye last night. Her pain was so, so deep, and the power of her experience in Honduras couldn’t have been anything less than life changing.

The impact of the events of her spiritual retreat are addressed here in this NPR interview with director Lauren Lazin. Lazin reveals that Lopes seems to have known her fate, and accepted it long before the inevitable accident. “She had a very particular thought about death and what death was. I spoke to her one time in my life, and she was saying how much she and Tupac had in common. How similar they were. And she said to me I wouldn’t be surprised if I died young as well. And she said, but you know, I don’t really see death as a bad thing, I see it as a transformation of energy. I see it in a different way than a lot of people see it.” Two months later, she was dead.

The film leaves so much hanging in the air, and after seeing Left Eye as we had never seen her before, hearing her unedited, unrhyming words in that inimitable voice, the shadows linger long after you’ve seen it. The film is gaining notoriety for it’s finale, which actually shows the footage of the accident that took her life – she looks at the camera, we get the sense of peace as they travel along the then-familiar road, we hear her horrific scream. Then, the wreckage. But what haunted me the most wasn’t her death, it was the struggles that led her there.

Left Eye’s last days with TLC were fraught with tension. She came up with great ideas for Fanmail, (love her rhyme on No Scrubs), but confessed that she couldn’t stand behind that album. Tension with T Boz and Chilli became public, and Left Eye called them out for a solo album challenge that never manifested into the success she craved. Left Eye was so excited about her solo album, Supernova. She did drop a single from Supernova in the UK, the quirky and kid-friendly The Block Party. And she speaks frankly about her beliefs about the afterlife in the spoken-word song A New Star is Born.

The title of her album perfectly captured Lopes’s existence — a supernova is a stellar explosion so hot and bright that it outshines its own galaxy, before it burns out forever. The album was ultimately shelved by her label, and reportedly, that crushed her dreams and led her to seek out spiritual salvation through yoga and herbs in the forests of Honduras. There’s no doubt that the experience affected her on a deep internal level, and the film helps to create a new level to her legacy.

Even without the documentary, Left Eye would be remembered as one of the most creative, exciting, smart, and sassy female rappers of all time. But without the revelations she so openly shares in the film, the acknolwedgement of her alcoholism and the abuse she’d faced by the men in her life, the eerie premonitions of her death — brought on by a car accident in which a little boy, also named Lopes, was killed by the car she traveled in — the scars she reveals, and the hope that shone so brightly in her beautiful doe eyes; without those things, the story of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes might have remained just another tale of a lost one. Yet another celebrity only remembered for the way she left this life, not for how she lived it. But because of her brave and stunning film, her legacy will shine even brighter. Left Eye is my Afrobella of the Week because of the strength she revealed in her final moments. She believed in transformation and reincarnation, so I hope that somewhere in a rainforest, she’s naked and playing with her animal friends as she yearned to do in life. I hope that her visions of the afterlife were everything she would have wanted. I hope that wherever she is, there is peace.

Instead of sharing yet another TLC video, here’s Donell Jones’s “You Know What’s Up.” I love her look and attitude in this video. No more condom glasses or spray painted clothes. She looks like the angel that she is, and she’s spitting rhymes on her own terms.

We miss you, Left Eye. You will never be forgotten.

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Comments

  1. Thank you Bella! I too was touched by “The Last Days of Left Eye” in a way that I never imagined I would be. People seem to forget how much of a phenomenon TLC was–they were a soundtrack of my high school years. They impacted fashion and hip hop/R&B culture for women and picked up where Salt N Pepa left off with a fun and flirty brand of feminism. Lisa was beautiful inside and out and she was definitely on a very spiritual,life-changing journey in Honduras. I was also haunted by the image of her giving a bright, flirty side-eye to the camera before the car veered out of control–it was like she knew she was getting ready to leave at that moment.

  2. i saw this last night also,it touched me to see her so genuine and introspective. i agree with Niki, the way way she looked at the camera moments before the accident was so peaceful and knowing.

  3. Bella,
    Left Eye..was truly an amazing person and I’m glad she made “Afrobella” of the week. She seemed to live each day to the fullest(something we should all aspire to do) and she wasn’t afraid to make mistakes….may she rest in peace. My hat goes off to you, for doing such a wonderful job:)

  4. I too loved the whole TLC movement through my high school years. I often felt that I could relate to their music on so many levels. Great “Afrobella” of the week. I hope VH1 re-airs the documentary so I can see it. I was not aware it was going to be on this weekend.

  5. LBellatrix says:

    Times like this I wish I had cable…

    I too enjoyed TLC as a group and Left Eye as an individual. She and they are much missed.

  6. westindiangal says:

    I haven’t seen the whole program, I was at someone else’s home. I do intend to catch the entire program. I think it was heartbreaking when she died at such an early age. I’m not overtly religious, but I feel like God gave her a chance to make peace with herself before he took her.

  7. I wrote this this morning, literally after waking up from a dream about her. So I’m not sure this post even makes sense or is as good as it could be. I’m catching some major typos in there. But I think the essence of what I meant comes across – she was a bright and positive force, despite the negative circumstances of her life. And the fact that she tried to remove herself and turn everything around for good, really really inspired me. LBellatrix, I’m sure someone will upload this on YouTube or Daily Motion soon and I’ll send it when I find it.

  8. I watched the documentary over the weekend. How prophetic was it when the young boy was killed and she said she felt the spirit was looking for her and found him by mistake? And his last name was Lopes. Eerie.

    Yes, Left Eye is missed. You did a good job on this one Bella.

  9. upon further reflection of her lyrics you i felt that Lisa had been dealing with deeper issues for a while.i read some of the comments posted on other sites about her and there seemed to be a jump to “she was crazy”.i think a great post would be about mental illness and the Black community.

  10. Nikki J says:

    I watched the program last night too and was very sad. I remember meeting TLC at SixFlags Magic Mountain in California. I was 12 years old, and Left Eye was the one I felt the most connected with. I remember she signed their group poster with “follow your dreams, Left Eye”. I’ll never forget her. RIP Left Eye.

  11. ahhhhmakes me so sad…she was a Womanchild..too much for this world. Loved her vibe, rest in peace Miz Lisa.

  12. Coffy…I have been reading the same sites and breaks my heart that the Black community cannot accept mental illness, its still such a *big Shame* for us. When it is indeed like any other illness, you should take care, get medication for it, be under a doctor’s care.
    We have lost so many of our brothers and sisters to this *shame*. We called them drug addicts, crazy, alkies, crack users, crazy…anything but ill.
    A shame indeed.

  13. Beautiful. I love TLC to this day. I caught half of the program today. I hope they show it again. Lisa had a powerful message I’m so glad she got to share her gift with the world. She is right, there is no death. She lives on as we all will. We only transform.

  14. Left eye was in no way shape or form crazy. I like to call it misunderstood. People love to dismiss others as crazy when they arent able to understand them. And that is not fair. The documentary was very enlightening, sad, and eerie. She was truly a special individual, and God knew that. The ending shocked me, it almost brought me tears. But I am happy that she found some type of peace with herself before she left us, and the smile she gave before the accident said it all. Left eye will mos def. be missed. We love you girl!! And thank you sooo much Bella for posting!! I love you too!! :)

  15. Ssssshhhhhhhhhhh says:

    i did not see the vh1 show but i remeber reading an article, i think it was in either vibe or sister to sister…she spoke about her pain and she shared how she mutilated herself on her arms with the words love and hate (i think) anyhow…WORDS ARE POWERFUL! she said something about how she had so much pain and she wished that a car would just hit her and take all of the pain away….amazing.

    i’m going on a tounge fast, now!

  16. byrdparker says:

    The vh1 roc doc , really touched me . I always felt that left eye had that special gift , and was misunderstood. When she said she was in the right place and that right time to get signed with tlc , torwards the end she was in the wrong places with the wrong people . It’s funny how you can love someone so much , and they are hell bent to destroy you . Rison’s lawyers clearly set out to tarnish her image, with her fans …. Was left eye the only one doing drugs or drinking in the relationship?

    I felt torwards the end of her career she was being black balled by the powers that be, it was a ultimatum she either stays with tlc or no one . In the end I guess it was no one . One can only hope she transcends to a higher place.

  17. I’ve always been a fan of TLC. When Lisa broke away from the group and became the host of that crazy MTV show, The Cut, I started reading and watching a lot of stuff about the group. Particular the Sister 2 Sister interview she did. I remember her saying that Andre’s family was unbelievaby mean to her as well.

    Anyway, I cried a lot during the VH1 special. I had already watched the one before that, but this one was so spiritual.

    Its a shame that so many young people probably did not see or even read about her documentary. Rest in Peace Lisa

  18. jerseybred says:

    Lisa is a beautiful soul inside and out “I believe when someone passes away a star is born and it creates new worlds…”- she was labeled crazy because she had ideas others could not fathom.
    I need my cable back, stat. I’m going to check out the MTV website.

  19. I loved Left Eye…I remember my friends and I decided we were the next TLC and I always wanted to be the “left eye” in the group, lol (we were like 8 – I know I am a young buck). I don’t think I understood a lot of her lyrics until after her death either. She was definitely going through some things. I am just sorry she didn’t find the peace she was looking for in life, maybe in death she did.

    BTW, y am I just noticing Ursher getting his hair braided in the Donell Jones vid? Lol

  20. I loved your article. I found my way to this site looking for reactions to the documentary. I never knew Lisa was so deep. We had so much in common.

    Thanks for giving tribute to this sistah…she will be missed by many…

  21. tenho saudade pra minha irma caboverdiana… i really miss my cape verdean sister.

    i was away in brasil when the documentary aired, but dvr’d it & watched yesterday… so sad. but what a colorful life!!!

  22. I just got finished watching it,the thing I noticed was that if you watch closely you see the fear in her eyez the whole time.They say you are never suppose to worship so many gods and thats one mistake she made.I was speechless to watch her death,it was like being there without actually being there.

  23. I say the VH-1 documentary last night and went searching today for more spiritual insight on Lisa. I am glad she left this legacy. She was finally able to show the world who she really was from the inside out. Her unique depth and spiritually set her apart from most of us in this world. I was always interested in her, but now I am left moved by someone I wish I knew better. She was sucessful in getting her story told. I am glad that she has now been seen for the SuperNova that she truly is. Thanks for this article. It has helped me.

  24. JAY-TEE says:

    MY MIND HAS TAKEN ME IN SO MANY DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS SINCE WATCHING THE DOCUMENTARY ON LEFT-EYE… I AM IN AWE OVER HOW CONNECTED SHE WAS…I DON’T THINK SHE EVEN BECAME AWARE OF HER SPIRITUAL JOURNEY UNTIL THE END. I MEAN…SHE KNEW SHE WAS GOING TO HONDURAS ON A SPIRITUAL RETREAT BUT HER SPIRITUAL JOURNEY HAD ALREADY BEGUN LONG BEFORE HER FINAL TRIP THERE…THE LYRICS TO THE SONGS SHE HAS WRITTEN OFFER US SOME INSIGHT INTO HER TROUBLED PAST… IT WAS THROUGH SONG AND OTHER OUTWARDLY EXPRESSIONS THAT SHE WAS ATTEMPTING TO COME TO TERMS WITH WHO SHE WAS AS A WHOLE PERSON- EVEN HER NAME “LEFT-EYE” SUGGESTS THAT HER POINT OF VIEW WAS AN OBSCURE ONE. SHE WAS VERY INSIGHTFUL…I BELIEVE SHE BECAME VERY CONSCIOUS OF HER INTERNAL STRUGGLES AND WAS DETERMINED TO NOT LET THEM DEFEAT HER. LET LEFT-EYE’S LIFE NOR DEATH [FOR THAT MATTER] BE IN VAIN FOR THERE ARE CERTAINLY LESSONS FOR US TO TAKE AWAY. NO MATTER HOW WE CHOSE TO LIVE LIFE TO THIS POINT, WE SHOULD ALL SPEND THE REST OF OUR DAYS SEEKING SPIRITUAL REFUGE FOR OUR OWN SALVATION. A PERSON THAT IS TRULY ON THE RIGHT PATH SPENDS HIS DAYS CREATING POSITIVE ENERGY. AS SOMEONE WROTE IN A EARLIER SUBMISSION, THERE IS POWER IN WORDS- AND IF I MAY ADD- ALSO IN OUR THOUGHTS. I CHOOSE NOT TO EMBRACE NEGATIVITY- HOWEVER, WE ALL FALL OFF FROM TIME TO TIME. THE BEST ADVICE I CAN GIVE IS TO KEEP ON THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW FOR I BELIEVE IT TO BE THE PATH WITH THE GREATEST REWARDS. I DO BELIEVE LEFT-EYE WAS SEEKING REDEMPTION AND SHE FOUND IT… REST IN PEACE MY SISTER!

  25. jasmine says:

    love you left eye!

  26. I really really like TLC’s music , and messages. They’re amazing . i like Left Eye the most =) her messages about safe sex were really good , especially the condom in the left eye lens , that shows how much of a great person she is , and how much she cares ! REST IN PEACE LISA LEFT EYE LOPES ill always be a big fan of TLC (t-boz , chili . and LEFT EYE) no matter how old the music gets !!!! MUCH LOVE .

  27. PS , pleeeease play Left Eye’s documentary again , i missed it =( . RIP LISA , love always your number one fan ; =)

  28. Darlene says:

    She was completely brilliant.
    I have NO thoughts in my mind AND I MEAN NONE that she was in any way crazy. Just because she was more spiritually inclined and more open than others does not make her crazy.
    i hope to meet her in my next life. i am seriously looking forward to it.
    have a nice day everyone

  29. I just wish she was still here today.

  30. SHE WILL BE MISSED. BUT SHE IS IN A BETTER PLACE NOW.

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