During her short solo career, Lopes scored two US top-ten singles with "Not Tonight" and "U Know What's Up", as well as one UK number-one single with "Never Be the Same Again". She also produced the girl group Blaque, who scored a platinum album and two US top-ten hits. Lopes remains the only member of TLC to have released a solo album. On April 25, 2002, Lopes was killed in a car accident while on a trip with her sister and others. She swerved off the road to avoid hitting another vehicle and was thrown from her vehicle and died instantly. She was working on a documentary at the time of her death, which was released as The Last Days of Left Eye and aired on VH1 in May 2007.
Lopes was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Wanda Denise (née Andino), a seamstress, and Ronald Lopes Sr., a US Army staff sergeant, of Black, Portuguese background. She had a younger brother, Ronald Jr., and a younger sister, Reina (who professionally goes by Reigndrop). Her father was described by music journalist Jacqueline Springer as an "oppressively" strict and demanding disciplinarian. He was a "talented musician" and played the harmonica, clarinet, piano, and saxophone.
Lopes' parents separated when she was still in school, and she was raised by her biracial paternal grandmother for the later years of her childhood. She began playing with a toy keyboard at five years old, and later composed her own songs. By age 10, she formed the musical trio The Lopes Kids with her siblings, with whom she sang gospel songs at local events and churches. She attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls.
At the age of 19, having heard of an open casting call for a new girl group through her then-boyfriend, Lopes moved to Atlanta to audition. Originally starting as a female trio called 2nd Nature, the group had been renamed TLC, derived from the first initials of its members at the time: Tionne, Lisa and Crystal. Things did not work out with Crystal Jones, and TLC's manager Perri "Pebbles" Reid brought in Damian Dame backup dancer Rozonda Thomas as a third member of the group. To preserve the band's original name, Rozonda needed a name starting with C, and so became Chilli, a name chosen by Lopes. Bandmate Tionne Watkins became T-Boz, derived from the first letter of her first name and "Boz" (slang for "boss"). Lopes was renamed "Left Eye" after a compliment from a man who once told her he was attracted to her because of her left eye. Lopes emphasized her nickname by wearing a pair of glasses with the left lens covered with a condom, in keeping with the group's promotion of safe sex, wearing a black stripe under her left eye, and eventually getting her left eyebrow pierced.
The group arrived on the music scene in 1992 with the album Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip. With four singles, it sold six million copies worldwide, leading to the group becoming a household name. Two years later CrazySexyCool was released, selling over 23 million copies worldwide, and cemented TLC as one of the biggest female groups of all time. TLC's third album, FanMail, was released in 1999 and sold over 14 million copies worldwide. Its title was a tribute to TLC's loyal fans and the sleeve contained the names of hundreds of them as a "thank you".
During the recording of FanMail, a public conflict began amongst the members of the group. In the May 1999 issue of Vibe magazine, Lopes said, "I've graduated from this era. I cannot stand 100 percent behind this TLC project and the music that is supposed to represent me." In response to Lopes' comments, Watkins and Thomas stated to Entertainment Weekly that Lopes "doesn't respect the whole group" and "Left Eye is only concerned with Left Eye." In response, Lopes sent a reply through Entertainment Weekly issuing a "challenge" to Watkins and Thomas to release solo albums and let the public decide who was the "greatest" member of TLC:
T-Boz and Chilli declined to take up the challenge, though Lopes always maintained it was a great idea. Things were heated between the ladies for some time, with Thomas speaking out against Lopes, calling her antics "selfish", "evil", and "heartless". TLC then addressed these fights by saying that they are very much like sisters that have their disagreements every now and then as Lisa stated, "It's deeper than a working relationship. We have feelings for each other, which is why we get so mad at each other. I usually say that you cannot hate someone unless you love them. So, we love each other. That's the problem."
In 1998, Lopes hosted the short-lived MTV series, The Cut, in which a handful of aspiring pop stars, rappers, and rock bands competed against each other in front of judges. The show's winner, which ended up being a male-female rap duo named Silky, was promised a record deal and funding to produce a music video, which would then enter MTV's heavy rotation. A then-unknown Anastacia finished in third place, but ended up securing a record deal after Lopes and the show's three judges were impressed by her performance.
After the release of FanMail, Lopes began to expand her solo career. She became a featured rapper on several singles, including Spice Girl Melanie C's "Never Be the Same Again", which topped the charts in 35 countries, including the United Kingdom. She was also featured on "U Know What's Up", the first single from Donell Jones' second album, Where I Wanna Be, and she rapped a verse in "Space Cowboy" with NSYNC on their 2000 album, No Strings Attached. On October 4, 2000, Lopes co-hosted the UK's MOBO Awards with Trevor Nelson, where she also performed "U Know What's Up" with Jones. She also collaborated on "Gimme Some" by Toni Braxton for her 2000 album The Heat. She had previously featured on Keith Sweat's song "How Do You Like It". In 2001, she appeared in a commercial for Gap. In July 2001, Lopes appeared on the singers' edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire along with Joey McIntyre, Tyrese, Nick Lachey, and Lee Ann Womack. She dropped the $125,000 question and won $32,000 for her charity. After her death in 2002, the episode she appeared in was shown and was dedicated to her.
Lopes created "Left Eye Productions" to discover new talent. She mentored the R&B trio Blaque, and helped them secure a record deal with Columbia Records. Their self-titled debut album was executive-produced by Lopes, who also made a cameo appearance in their music video "808" and also rapped in their second music video "I Do". Lopes was also developing and promoting another new band called Egypt. They worked with Lopes on her second album under her new nickname, N.I.N.A., meaning New Identity Not Applicable.
In 1996, Lopes created the UNI Studios for the purpose of recording solo projects. Lopes' family opened the studio to the public. Her brother Ronald is the general manager of the studio. Lopes had a dream of making new artists able to record music at a low cost, in a high-end studio at her house. Her family continues to operate it and fill it with new equipment.
Lopes spent much of her free time after the conclusion of TLC's first headlining tour, the FanMail Tour, recording her debut solo album, Supernova. It includes a song titled "A New Star is Born", which is dedicated to her late father. She told MTV News:
Other tracks covered other personal issues, including her relationship with NFL football player Andre Rison. In 1994, before the start of Rison's fifth and final season with the Falcons, Lopes accidentally burned down Rison's Atlanta mansion. Among the album's 13 tracks was also a posthumous duet with Tupac Shakur that was assembled from the large cache of unreleased recordings done prior to his murder in 1996. Initially scheduled for release on a date to coincide with the 11th anniversary of her grandfather's death, Arista Records decided to delay and then cancel the American release. The album was eventually released in August 2001 in various foreign countries. The Japan import includes a bonus track called "Friends", which would later be sampled for "Give It to Me While It's Hot" on TLC's fourth album 3D.
After numerous talks with Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight, Lopes severed her solo deal with Arista (despite remaining signed to the label as a member of TLC) and signed with Knight's Tha Row Records in January 2002, intending to record a second solo album under the pseudonym "N.I.N.A." (New Identity Not Applicable). She was recording with David Bowie for the project, whom she was also trying to get involved with the fourth TLC album. The project was also to include several songs recorded with Ray J along with close friend Missy Elliott. After Lopes' death in April 2002, Death Row Records still had plans to release the album in October 2002, but after legal issues with Arista Records, the album was cancelled. In 2011, all the tracks from the album were uploaded onto YouTube featuring artists from Tha Row Records. Lopes's unreleased songs were also sampled by TLC for their fourth album 3D after she died. Another track, "Too Street 4 T.V", was released on the soundtrack to the 2003 film Dysfunktional Family.
In 2008, Lopes' family decided to work with producers at Surefire Music Group to create a posthumous album in her honor, Eye Legacy. Originally set to be released October 28, 2008, the release date was pushed back to November 11, then to January 27, 2009. The song 'Neva Will Eye Eva' and "Crank It", both features and was co-produced by Lopes' sister Reigndrop Lopes. The first official single from the album, "Let's Just Do It", was released on January 13, 2009 and features Missy Elliott and TLC. The second official single, "Block Party", features Lil Mama and Clyde McKnight. The album largely consists of reworked versions of tracks from the Supernova album. In November 2009, Forever... The EP was released which contained international bonus tracks not used on the Eye Legacy album. The EP was only available to download. An unreleased track featuring Lopes was uploaded to SoundCloud on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of her death by Block Starz Music. A portion of the proceeds from the song "Fantasies", which features rapper Bootleg of The Dayton Family, will go to the Lisa Lopes Foundation.
Lopes was often vocal about her personal life and difficult past. She readily admitted that she had come from an abusive, alcoholic background and struggled with alcoholism herself. These problems became headline news in 1994, when she set fire to Andre Rison's tennis shoes in a bathtub, which ultimately spread to the mansion they shared and destroyed it. She claimed that Rison had beaten her after a night out, and she set fire to his shoes to get back at him but that burning down the house was an accident. Lopes later revealed that she did not have a lot of freedom within the relationship and that Rison abused her emotionally and physically; she said that she released her frustrations about the relationship on the night of the fire.
Lopes was sentenced to five years probation and therapy at a halfway house, and was never able to shake the incident from her reputation. Her relationship with Rison continued to make headlines, with rumors of an imminent wedding, later debunked by People magazine. Lopes revealed on The Last Days of Left Eye documentary that her meeting with a struggling mother in rehab left a big impression on her. She subsequently adopted the woman's eight-year-old daughter. She had adopted a 12-year-old boy ten years prior.
Lopes had several tattoos. Most prominent was a large eagle on her left arm, which she said represented freedom. Later, she added the number "80" around the eagle, which was Rison's NFL number while in Atlanta. She also had a tattoo of a moon with a face on her foot in reference to Rison's nickname, "Bad Moon". On her upper right arm was a large tattoo of the name "Parron" for her late stepbrother who died in a boating accident, arching over a large tattoo of a pierced heart. Her smallest tattoo was on her left ear and consisted of an arrow pointing to her left over the symbol of an eye, a reference to her nickname.
Roughly two weeks before her own death, Lopes was a passenger in a traffic accident that resulted in the death of a 10-year-old Honduran boy. As reported in Philadelphia Weekly, "It is commonplace for people to walk the roads that wind through Honduras, and it's often difficult to see pedestrians." The boy, Bayron Isaul Fuentes Lopez, was following behind his brothers and sisters when he stepped off the median strip and was struck by a van driven by Stephanie, Lopes' personal assistant. Lopes' party stopped and loaded the boy into the car, and Lopes "cradled the dying boy's bleeding head in her arms" while "someone gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as they rushed him to a nearby hospital." He died the next day. Lopes paid approximately $3,700 for his medical expenses and funeral, and she gave the family around $925 for any extra costs, although it was apparently agreed upon by the authorities and the boy's family that his death was an "unforeseeable tragedy" and no blame was placed on the driver of the van or Lopes. In the documentary The Last Days of Left Eye, Lopes is shown choosing a casket for the child from a local funeral home. Earlier in the documentary, Lopes mentioned that she felt the presence of a "spirit" following her, and was struck by the fact that the child killed in the accident shared a similar last name, even thinking that the spirit may have made a mistake by taking his life instead of hers.
On April 25, 2002, in La Ceiba, Honduras, while driving a rented Mitsubishi Montero SUV, Lopes swerved slightly to avoid a truck (it is not clear if the truck was slow moving or stationary) then immediately to the right as she tried to avoid an oncoming car. The vehicle rolled several times after hitting two trees, throwing Lopes and three others out of the windows, and finally coming to rest in a ditch at the side of the road. Lopes died instantly of neck injuries and severe head trauma, and was the only person fatally injured in the accident. She was 30 years old. A camera man in the front passenger seat was videotaping at the time, so the last seconds leading up to the swerve that resulted in the fatal accident were recorded on video. Her sister Reigndrop Lopes was in the vehicle and survived the collision.
Lopes' funeral was held at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, on May 2, 2002. Thousands of people attended. Engraved upon her casket were the lyrics to her portion of "Waterfalls", stating "Dreams are hopeless aspirations, in hopes of coming true, believe in yourself, the rest is up to me and you." Lopes was buried at Hillandale Memorial Gardens in Lithonia.
In a statement to MTV, producer Jermaine Dupri remembered Lopes: "She was determined to be something in life. She was a true hip-hop star. She cared about some press. She was the star out of the group. She was the one who would curse on TV. She had the tattoos. You could not expect the expected. When you see Lisa, you could expect something from her. That is the gift she carried."
A documentary showing the final 27 days of Lopes' life, titled The Last Days of Left Eye, premiered at the Atlanta Film Festival in April 2007, for an audience that included many of Lopes' contemporaries, including Monica, Ronnie DeVoe, 112, Big Boi, India.Arie, and CeeLo Green. VH1 and VH1 Soul broadcast the documentary on May 19, 2007. Much of the footage was shot with a hand-held camera, often in the form of diary entries filmed by Lopes while on a 30-day spiritual retreat in Honduras with sister Reigndrop, brother Ronald and members of the R&B group Egypt. In these entries, she reflected on her personal life and career. A calmer side of her personality was on display, showing interests in numerology and yoga. She was in the process of setting up an educational center for Honduran children on 80 acres (32 ha) of land she owned called CAMP YAC, as well as another center called CREATIVE CASTLE.
In 2003, shortly after Lopes' death, her family started the Lisa Lopes Foundation, a charitable group dedicated to providing neglected and abandoned youth with the resources necessary to increase their quality of life. Her spiritual motto was the one that used for her foundation: "Energy never dies... it just transforms." Her foundation went into various underdeveloped villages and gave away brand new clothes to needy children and their families. In August 2007, the foundation hosted a charity auction, selling items donated by celebrities. It raised approximately $5,000 for the Hogar de Amor ("Home of Love"), an orphanage in Honduras. In 2012, the foundation began hosting an annual music festival, known as "Left Eye Music Fest", in Decatur, Georgia.2001: Supernova
2002: N.I.N.A. (unreleased) (Some unreleased vocals from album to appear on TLC album 3D).
2009: Eye Legacy