EXCLUSIVE: TLC on Why They’re Asking Fans To Help Fund Their Final Album
Frazer Harrison/AMA2013

TLC is hoping their fans will help them fund their fifth, and final, studio album. Last week, the duo turned to Kickstarter to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise $150,000 towards the album. How could a group as successful as TLC not have the funds to record an album, you ask? Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas—who haven’t released an album since 2002’s 3D—say the move is not just about the money, it’s about creative control, and the inclusion of their fans.

“With Kickstarter we can now be fully involved creatively with the project and the fans can be with us [when they pledge] “T-Boz” tells ESSENCE.com. The duo spoke with ESSENCE.com about the importance of their Kickstarter campaign, how the music business really works and if unreleased tracks of Lisa “Lefteye” Lopes will be included on their new album.

What would you say to those wondering why TLC isn’t funding their own studio album?
T-Boz: Most people who ask things like that, don’t understand how this music business works and what it takes to promote, market and create an album. If only they knew the funds that were spent by labels to do so. People should educate themselves a little bit more before commenting. That’s almost like asking someone to go to work at his or her job for free everyday and never get paid. Kickstarter is different and that’s what we like. We’ve always been known to try something outside the box and that’s why [this] is ideal for us. The fans will be with us too. It always goes back to the fans because they are the reason why we are still here.

Will this be released on a label or independently?
T-Boz: When you are with a label, you have to use who they have in their marketing and promotions team. The cool thing about our campaign is that we can pick and choose who we want, it doesn’t take a label, we can sign ourselves to our own label if we want, but we haven’t decided yet.

How involved will the fans that pledge on Kickstarter be with your album?
Chilli: They will be heavily involved even when it comes down to picking wardrobe, concepts for our videos, major things, even the name of the album title. We’ve always been hands on with our fans. We put our fan’s names inside our Fanmail album in 1999, I mean, this Kickstarter campaign is very dear to our heart.

Why did you decide this was the right time for this new album?
T-Boz: If we are still living, breathing and thriving, I always say why not? We are still performing, singing and dancing. And people still want to see us and we are getting booked all the time. And the [VH1 biopic, CrazySexyCool] really kick started some more stuff for us. There are different generations coming to the concerts now and I love it.

Will any of Lefteye’s unreleased music be on this new album?
T-Boz: When we used her music on our last album, we tried to pull from the TLC songs we had, but we didn’t put all of them out for a reason because they didn’t all fit. So we went through her solo work too but since she was trying to be a solo artist, it was totally opposite from the [TLC sound]. It was very poetic and neo-soul and even when we tried to build songs around it, it didn’t fit.

Chilli: Yeah, it didn’t fit.

T-Boz: It’s hard finding the same subject matter. She was trying to go so far left from what we were known for so she could establish herself as an artist called N.I.N.A. Plus, the material is now over 13 years old, so I don’t know, we can always try.

Chilli: She lives through us and people will always feel her presence. I mean she’s a part of our biggest hits. She will always be a part of this group, like she said all the time and like we say as a group, TLC is forever and we are meant to be. I really know that God has put some special stuff on this group because we have always been able to evolve and here we are, this day standing strong and we do not take that for granted, we know that this is all God’s doing and we give Him all the glory.

What kind of content will be on this album?
Chilli: There is always stuff to talk about, nothing really is that new, scrubs till’ this day—people can relate to that. Scrubs are like flies; they are never going to go away, we always have to let people know to stay away from those yucky things. We will always talk about things that people can relate to. There will be good and edgy lyrical content. We are not a squeaky clean kind of group.

T-Boz: That’s what I love about us. We make songs that people around the world can relate to. It feels like we are all going through the same things together. That’s why this Kickstarter campaign is so important. Just imagine, if you hear a great song and it’s your favorite and you know that you helped make that song happen. [laughs] Come on now, that’s a great feeling!

TLC’s Kickstarter campaign ends on Feb 19 with a goal of $150,000.