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Remembering Lisa Lopes: Singer dreamed of a creative rebirth

Originally published on April 28, 2002, Craig Seymour, one of the AJC’s music writers, reflected on his interview with Left Eye the previous summer.

So much has changed since then.

Last summer, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes was excitedly gearing up for the release of her debut solo album, "Supernova." She felt it would finally allow the world to see the breadth of her talents — skills she thought were unappreciated by her group mates in top-selling TLC. 

"This is the first time that I've gotten the chance to dig into myself and really learn how to master my skills as a writer, an MC and a solo artist in general, " she said. 

My daylong interview with Lopes took place in the condo where she was staying in Jersey City, N.J. The place was all white walls and emptiness save for two notable things: There were 26 dozen red roses — sent by on-again, off-again boyfriend Andre Rison to commemorate the first time the couple heard her solo single "The Block Party" on the radio. And on the floor of her sparsely furnished bedroom sat a black-and-white painting of a supernova with the words "A new star is born." 

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This is what the solo album meant to her — a chance to remake herself, to change her public image, to experience a creative rebirth. 

The condo sat on the Hudson River, overlooking a striking Manhattan skyline. 

For much of our interview, we walked up and down the boardwalk. I don't really remember looking at the twin towers, though I know they were there. But now, both the towers and Lopes are fading into memory and myth. 

The first thing I thought when meeting Lopes was how small she was. She had the look of a person for whom diet had become religion. 

Though she'd waged a very public battle with alcohol, which she admitted contributed to her burning down Rison's house in 1994, she told me that she had sworn off alcohol, excepting the occasional glass of wine, and meat, dairy and processed food. 

Lopes reflected on many aspects of her very public life. But, significantly, she also addressed things that weren't widely known: the origins of her distinctive nickname; her abusive upbringing; the spiritual connection she felt with Honduras; and her relationship with murdered rapper Tupac Shakur. 

What I saw was a hopeful young woman who was determined to make peace with a troubled past. Honduras played a major part in this process. For more than two years she'd been going to a holistic healing center there and credited this both for her physical and spiritual well-being. 

While we didn't talk specifics about her treatments in Honduras, she was obviously a changed woman, coming off more thoughtful and vulnerable than the volatile wild child she was when she first got her infamous nickname more than 10 years ago from New Edition member Michael Bivins, one of many important figures in her early career. 

"He said to me, 'It's your left eye. I don't know what it is, but it's beautiful, ' " she explained. 

Another influence was Shakur. 

"I fell in love with Tupac instantly, on sight, " she said. 

She was taken by his conversation, music and charisma. He was drawn to Lopes' creativity and her piano-playing chops. 

Surprisingly, though, the relationship was never consummated. "That's the first thing he told me, 'Never let me have sex with you because I'm going to look at you differently, ' " she says. "And I never wanted him to look at me any differently than he did." 

When she talked about Shakur, her entire mood lightened. She became giddy. She looked off into the distance and grinned. 

"If he'd proposed, would you have married him?" I asked. 

She answered the question immediately, almost reflexively: "Yeah." 

She still thought of marriage to Shakur after his death. "Does that mean I'm going to die in order to be with him?" she thought. "What does it all mean?" 

As we talked throughout the afternoon, our conversation turned to Lopes' childhood. She was beginning to see how many of her later troubles may have been related to her upbringing. 

She grew up as an Army brat, one of three children. She described her father as "very strict, very domineering." 

But her father wasn't only strict; he was also abusive. 

One day "my mother was trying to leave the apartment to get away from him and he was pushing her back in the apartment, " she said, pausing, sniffling a little. "I couldn't believe he bit her. I was horrified, thinking he can't be biting my mother. She was pushing his face and he would bite her fingers." 

Finally, her father let her mother leave and she asked for her children to come with her. "She said to us, 'Is anybody coming with me? If anybody's coming with me, they need to come now.' Me and my brother were scared frozen. But my sister had the courage to jump up. And as soon she did, my father knocked her back down in her spot. 

"For the rest of the night we sat in the corner terrified that he was going to kill us. He was laying on the couch with a butcher knife on his chest." 

Lopes acknowledged that her father was one reason that she continued to be drawn to the volatile and once-abusive Rison. "I think people naturally gravitate toward things they can relate to, things they've experienced, what's familiar to them, " she explained. 

But at that point in her life, once again reconciled with Rison, she was hoping to find the happiness that eluded her parents. "For me it was a way to take that same situation and have an opposite ending, " she said. 

"Fill in this sentence for me, " I asked. "Andre was the first guy who ever..." 

She took at least 30 seconds to answer. Fed me, she said. 

Indeed, that night, I accompanied Rison to a grocery store, and he spent at least 15 minutes picking out organic vegetables for their dinner. 

He was in town to take care of her while she prepared for what she thought was the most important moment of her career. 

At the time, Lopes didn't want to entertain the idea that the album might not be a hit. 

"I'm way too confident and I realize the power in desiring something and manifesting it, " she said. "And I've desired this for so long." 

She expected it to sell 20 million copies. 

But the solo album was never released in this country, although a few stores carry it as an import. The few radio stations that began playing the single "The Block Party" soon stopped, presumably because the offbeat tune didn't fit into the hip-hop/R&B mainstream. And record companies don't release albums these days if they feel they can't rely on radio support. 

The irony, of course, is that the album will now almost certainly be released in the States, fulfilling Lisa Lopes' longtime dream. In death, a new star will finally be born.

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