Music fans that grew up in the ‘90s have a knee-jerk response to hearing Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes’s voice. As the main mouthpiece and lone rapper in TLC, she acted as a pop culture ambassador, turning up regularly on MTV shows, top 40 radio, and the theme song to All That. Her bouncy rhythm and cool, cocky style are magnetic, and listening to it is like watching your hilarious friend walk into a party. Today marks the tenth anniversary of her death in a traffic accident in Honduras, but her legacy lives on through her music, a documentary, and countless airbrushed t-shirts. No car crash could wipe away the memories of her complex hairdos and brilliant rhymes, and her musical legacy is just a sliver of we learned from Left Eye’s short time behind the mic.
If you feel like it, wear condoms on your eyeballs. TLC’s first album starts off with a satisfying mockery of some bogus dude who doesn’t dig women in baggy clothes. “They don’t really look like, you know, women,” he laments, while spastic music pulses in the background. “They look like they’re trying to be something else.” Oh no, not androgyny! TLC tells that guy off in “Hat 2 Da Back,” a dance jam about wearing exactly what you want—including the condom eye patch that Left Eye wears in the video. Dumb rules really are left for fools.
Don’t follow the script. For better or worse, Left Eye famously had no filter. During TLC’s bankruptcy proceedings, she defended her band and unapologetically explained how routine expenses could eat away at superstars’ finances. She also spoke out against the message behind “Creep,” one of TLC’s most popular singles. “If a girl is gonna catch her man cheating,” she said, “instead of telling her to cheat back, why don’t we tell her to just leave?” Girl was basically publicist kryptonite, but she didn’t suffer for her outspoken personality, like so many women fear they will. Instead, her brazen honesty made her magnetic to the press and respected by her fans.
Good sex is safe sex. “You need to know that words cannot express to you how important safe sex is to us,” she announces at the end of Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip. In “Waterfalls,” TLC sings about the life-threatening danger of AIDS. As if that weren’t enough, this video interview pretty much says it all:
They’ll always believe his story. As famous as she was for her rhymes, Left Eye also attracted infamy for her relationship with her boyfriend, Andre Rison. In 1994, she set famously fire to the dude’s sneakers in a bathtub, not realizing the flames would spread throughout his mansion. But not everyone seems to know Left Eye’s side of the story, in which her man cheated on and beat her. She was 22 years old when she made the mistake that might have forced a meeker person to go into hiding—but she didn’t. Instead, she went to rehab and squeezed in time to record tracks for CrazySexyCool. On her way out of counseling, she wrote the rap for “Waterfalls,” a megahit the popularly of which speaks for itself.
You’re in charge of your own destiny. Left Eye was not a wholesome, sanitized star from a stable family. She was the opposite: her dad had a temper, fought with her mom, and drank heavily. But she never resigned herself to a lackluster life just because she didn’t have every advantage. Instead, she took her outsized self-confidence to stages and screens around the world. She showed an audience of women and girls how to maneuver through tough circumstances by working hard, staying focused, and genuinely liking yourself. That’s a big part of feminism, I think—women showing each other to survive—and Left Eye did, until she couldn’t anymore.