The shattered pieces of what was left after a disastrous car crash has been reassembled — by a group of colleagues paying respect. Of course, we’re talking about the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, former TLC member and rapper, whose unexpected death in 2002 rattled the music industry. Yet here we are, in 2009, with a posthumous album, glued together and released under the Lopes name. Of course, anyone knows that in R’n’B and hip hop, this is commonplace (2Pac, anyone?). However, the justification for the release of Eye Legacy, seven years after the fateful crash, has yet to be explained.
After some time’s disagreement and conflict, Left Eye left TLC to focus solely on her solo career. To say that it didn’t get a jump start compared to her earlier success in what was probably the coolest female trio since The Supremes, is to put it lightly. Her debut solo album, Supernova, didn’t exactly live up to its illuminating name and was released in 2001, practically everywhere but in the USA. Perhaps it was unlucky that it remained an import-only, because a strong woman rapping with personal and street smart messages would have been fitting for the beginning of the millennium. Furthermore, Supernova wasn’t at all that bad and it had a few singles that probably could have appealed to an American market better.
As a successor to this unfortunate misstep, Eye Legacy collects several tracks from Supernova and lets them meet guest artists of today with a total 2009-ish makeover. To which extent this is tasteful that can be discussed, but, rest assured, it’s all done with the utmost respect and love for the late artist.
Almost all the songs from Supernova have been given new titles, for reasons unknown. It’s on the plus side that the sometimes weak production and feeble songwriting from the originals have been pimped out and enforced with crisp tribal beats that Pharrell and Timbaland have been cranking out for nearly a decade now. It’s on the downside that Left Eye has been rushed into 2009’s hectic climate – a climate that the poor songs of her debut album have no chance of keeping up with. Because in 2001, these songs had still not even shaken off what was left of the ’90s. This becomes an unpleasant clash between new bass-heavy, glossy production and the sound of the former generation of popular music.
Still, some of the tracks are enjoyable. “Let’s Just Do It” is a hip hop banger that features a string of addicting synth, letting me forget that a completely uninspired guest spot is shared between the two other TLC members and Missy Elliott. I’m also particularly fond of the new “The Block Party” (coincidentally, Block Party is also the working title of Missy Elliott’s upcoming album). In 2001, the single had an exotic groove and a squeaking chorus, years before M.I.A. made that her signature, but in 2009 it features Lil Mama professionally delivering party lines on top of a fast electro beat that should have T-Pain squeaking through his auto-tuner with jealousy. But these are just two of a few exceptions on an album where her legacy hasn’t been treated with enough consideration.
What hurts me most to say, however, is how Left Eye’s rap just can’t manage to bear up to the heavy production. Lyrically, she struggled to deliver on the much more rap-oriented Supernova, and even though a lot of soul-filled choruses help her with the load on Eye Legacy, it’s audible that her rap would have been better off left in 2001 when it still had ounces of innovation and true emotional power left. I’d like to remember Left Eye as the promising TLC-breakout she was. An initial misstep doesn’t mean the world and I’m sure that if she’d still been alive, she would have developed some and perhaps been on someone else’s tribute. Despite its flaws and weaknesses, Supernova is quite a charming and fun listen after all, predicting what a loving, down-to-earth and charismatic artist Lopes might have evolved to be.
With that in mind, Eye Legacy might have been better left off on paper rather than on tape. That way we could have remembered Left Eye from Supernova as the promising rapper and artist she was, instead of treating, producing, and forcibly hooking her up with loosely related artists, as if she was still alive. Even if the record’s done with good intentions (and a remarkable amount of respect), it’s without taste. Pay some respect: ignore but don’t turn this legacy down.
It should be noted that a percentage of the sales of this album will go to The Lisa Lopes Foundation, in addition to her orphanage in Honduras. So, that’s a good consolation.