One Of A Kind: Celebrating Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes’ Legacy

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Written By: Niani Patterson

“There’s a thin line between genius and insanity – and I always get labeled as being the crazy one”.

It’s been 19 years since the tragic passing of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.

When most hear the name Left Eye, the image of a baggy clothed, vivacious rapper comes to mind. However, Left Eye’s legacy extends far beyond her rapping skills. She literally wore many oversized hats but figuratively speaking, she was a mother, a sister, producer, philanthropist, creative director, fashion trailblazer, and a holistic health advocate, and much more. It is the culmination of these roles coupled with her animated personality that made her a unique icon in the world of pop culture and r&b.

A native of North Philadelphia, Left Eye’s musical talent was evident at the tender age of 5-years-old while playing on a toy piano. At 10 years old she formed a group with her siblings, “The Lopes Kids,” singing gospel songs at churches. By 20, she went to Atlanta to form a R&B group the world would soon enamour – TLC. The formation of the TLC trio introduced us to Left Eye’s charismatic demeanor.  The video for their debut single, “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg”, opens with Left Eye rocking an oversized lime green vinyl hat, jumbo yellow glasses, and orange baggy pants. She captivated our attention and left us wondering, “who is that girl?”

From 1992-1999, Left Eye would help TLC obtain several No. 1’s including “Waterfalls”, “No Scrubs”, “Creep”. She holds the most co-writing credits within the group. Her creativity eventually drew in the requests from artists such as N*Sync, Missy Elliot, Andre 3000 to name a few. Her feature on Lil Kim’s “Not Tonight” is truly one for the books. Look at the material here.  Left Eye’s resume also extended to acting (Bring It On) as well as mentorship for the group Blaque.

We all witnessed Left Eye’s eclectic style in videos and on the red carpets. This style led her to take the lead on TLC’s costume design and overall image. Even when the ladies wore coordinated ensembles, Lopes always had a way of creating a unique, memorable look, redefining what was en vogue for the 90s.  Those donut ponytails from the futuristic “No Scrubs” video are still being replicated nearly 30 years later. We also witnessed her troubles behind the scenes. The songwriter battled with alcoholism, relationships issues, and financial pitfalls with music contracts.  Some would argue that Left Eye’s personal tribulations were the impetus of the group’s immense success. However, she did not want the troubles of her life to be her legacy. After years of being publicly known as the volatile wild child of the group, Lopes craved a rebirth.

In 1999, after the release of FanMail, TLC’s third studio album, Left Eye decided to bet on herself musically. The following year, she worked on a solo project titled, “Supernova”. Some of the songs on this project were titled, “A New Star is Born” and “I Believe in Me”. Keep in mind this was also the turn of the millennium and if you knew Left Eye, you’d know she took a keen interest in numerology.  It seems the year 2000 signified a new beginning; a chance for her to define her life and identity outside of the group. She even took on a new moniker, N.I.N.A (New Identity Non-Applicable). Lopes’ revamped her diet and practically eliminated her consumption of media, referring to TVs as garbage.

Honduras was an escape for the Grammy-Award winning artist. It allowed Left Eye’s philanthropic spirit to thrive. She aided the victims of Hurricane Mitch and organized education centers for children. It was the place where she sought out to transition out of her roaring 20s to a more tranquil 30’s. Unfortunately, that transition took place in another form on April 25th, 2002. But as Left Eye once said, “Energy never just transforms”.  Her enduring legacy from music to health advocacy continues to touch her fans, 19 years later.

Interesting Facts About the Late Great Left Eye:

  1. Lopes started the condom-wearing trend to highlight safe sex during the height of the HIV epidemic
  2. Left Eye was an avid supporter of health guru Dr. Sebi. She frequented Honduras to do physical and spiritual cleanses.
  3. Left Eye hosted MTV’s short lived TV series  “The Cut
  4. She started her own clothing line: Kyle Young
  5. She starred in the children’s sitcom “Cousin Skeeter”