Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes’ Sister Reflects On The Star

The world knew Raina Lopes’ older sister as Left Eye, TLC’s forward-thinking rap diva who died in a car accident on April 25, 2002. To Raina, she was Lisa, a fun-loving sister-friend with a heart of gold. This high regard is the backbone of a forthcoming, untitled documentary about the musician. It will be noticeably different from VH1’s made-for-television biopic on the girl group that aired in 2013.

“I just want to tell the real story,” Raina tells ESSENCE. “The story of how she grew up, how she became who she was and then her journey to change from who she was as to who she wanted to be.” The project’s production team includes Elizabeth Hubbard, an executive producer for the Grammy and Oscar-winning Summer of Soul documentary.

The Lopes family also has plans to share some of Lisa’s previously unheard music. “We do have some unreleased music,” Raina assures. “We will release it. I’m not sure if it’s going to be with an album, but we’ll definitely get it out for sure.”

Lisa’s life was front-facing at a time when it was no longer becoming the industry standard to keep your personality, thoughts and trials close to the chest. Her (quelled) spars with her group members, occupation with spirituality, and allegedly abusive relationship with Andre Rison all come to mind.

She was billed the “crazy” one by the time the follow up to TLC’s platinum-selling first album was coming to form. “Rebellious” was also used to describe her, by media and collaborators alike. What exactly was she rebelling against, though? The decrepit parameters of respectable Black womanhood? The music industry that siphons from its most talented while disregarding their very valid human emotions? The men in her life that disrespected her, be it mentally, physically or financially? The more you think about Lisa, you may come to the conclusion that she wasn’t crazy, even when she gave in and dubbed herself as such. She was just a supremely talented young Black woman who was trying to figure it all out.

Lisa was barely out of her teen years when Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip debuted and she was thrust into superstardom. She admitted to changing upon realizing the public’s sky-scraping expectations of her. “The hardest thing about being in TLC,” she said to Vibe Magazine‘s Joan Morgan in 1994, “is accepting the fact that I am Left Eye. I try to go out and be Lisa—do what Lisa would have done three, four years ago—and it just don’t work. I have to act a certain way, according to what people expect. It’s not like I can be in Kroger’s and get into an argument with my man and not be on the news. So I have to separate the two, know that there is a difference between Left Eye and Lisa.”

Let it be known that her first music group wasn’t the internationally acclaimed one we all recognize. It was “The Lopes Kids,” a trio made up of Raina, Lisa, and their youngest brother, Ronald. Of course, it was spearheaded by the future pop star.

“As a kid, she would always come up with these things for us to do like creative things,” Raina says. “She would teach us like songs or skits or play to perform when my mom got home and sometimes we would go out to church events or just any type of gathering and we would perform as The Lopes Kids.” Raina smiles often during our conversation, particularly when she’s reflecting on her sister’s memory. She and her sister share the same tan skin with cream undertones and black-brown eyes that see all. The two look so similar that Left Eye once asked her sister to be her double during TLC’s performance at the 1996 Soul Train Awards.

“She asked me to perform with the group as her because it was a rap where she’s rapping to herself,” Raina shared. “When she asked me to do it, in my mind, ‘I’m like girl—I don’t rap or nothing!,’ [but] on the outside, I was like, ‘Yeah, of course.’

The live performance of “Kick Your Game” was a smash—an aged clip reveals the crowd’s “woo!”-ing and roaring. As Raina puts it, her sister “saw something in me and just knew I could do it.” This was commonplace for Lisa; believing in and supporting the people she loved.

Towards the end of our conversation, I ask Raina what she wants the world to remember about her late sister. She doesn’t mention Lisa’s message-laden fashion sense, her self-aware lyrics, or her staunch independence. She wants to preserve her sister’s essence.

“[What] I want the world to remember most is Lisa’s spirit. She was a giver,” Raina says. “She loved to help the underdog. It’s like, if people weren’t drawn to you, she would be drawn to you just because of the fact that she just always saw something in you that other people didn’t.”

If we honor Raina’s hope, the masses will finally be able tell the difference between Left Eye and Lisa.

Shop Raina Lopes’ accessories dedicated to Lisa here. Partial proceeds will go to the Lisa Lopes Foundation, which benefits families in need.

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