Rozonda Ocelean Thomas, or as she is professionally known, Chilli, is a Grammy Award winning superstar, who — with her friends the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins — not only took the industry by storm, but managed to sell well over 45 million records in the interim.
The Atlanta, Georgia, singer-songwriter, who briefly stepped away from the limelight following the extremely sad and tragic death of member Lopes, has finally returned to music, and is unleashing her exceedingly overdue solo debut, Bi-Polar, on her very own boutique imprint, Tron Musik, named for her 11-year-old son. BallerStatus.com recently spoke via cellphone to the 37-year-old, doting mother, to catch up on things.
BallerStatus.com: Hey, Chilli, how are you? What’s been up?
Chilli: I’ve been working on my album. I’ve also been exploring the world of being an entrepreneur with my line of handbags, and, of course, being a mom.
BallerStatus.com: Why have you stayed away from music for so long?
Chilli: I don’t think it was all that long. T-Boz and I did a reality show together awhile back. So, it’s been maybe 2 ½ years since I’ve been out. But, I’ve been working on this album for the past year, just taking my time.
BallerStatus.com: Ever since the untimely demise of your friend and group-mate, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, the future of TLC has been questionable. You just mentioned, in ’05 you and T-Boz put together that reality show. The winner Tiffany “O’so Krispie” Baker was declared, and a new single “I Bet” was even recorded and released, but nothing else. How come?
Chilli: We weren’t looking for a new member. That was misconstrued. We were looking for a girl that was a triple threat talent, and that’s what we believe we found. The single was supposed to be released, but when that didn’t happen, it wasn’t because we didn’t want it to. That was a label thing.
BallerStatus.com: Do you think that there will ever be another TLC project?
Chilli: I would like there to be. I’m going to say if I have my way, yes. I hope we get a chance to do that.
BallerStatus.com: There have also been talks of a solo album from you for years now. You even released a couple of songs — “Gameproof” and “Straight Jack.” Why haven’t we, the masses, heard anything yet in terms of a solo Chilli record?
Chilli: Those songs were never really released. They were leaked without my knowledge or permission. Once they were leaked, it’s like they were lost. Since then, I’ve been working, but waiting on the right time to release my project.
BallerStatus.com: What can you divulge or reveal about your long overdue solo debut?
Chilli: I can say I’m excited to have a real feel good album. There are, of course, a lot of up-tempo tracks, because that’s me. I love to dance. I have a lot of favorites on this album, which is a great feeling to have. I worked with T-Pain, which was great. He is so talented. I also worked with Missy Elliott, and a new songwriter named Cri$tyle, that is phenomenal. I did work with some new producers as well like Battery 5.
BallerStatus.com: Are you, or are you not, currently signed to Akon’s Kon Live imprint?
Chilli: I was never signed to Akon’s label.
BallerStatus.com: Oh, okay. So, let’s retrace your history a little. When did you first become interested in music?
Chilli: Life made that decision for me. I was always told you had to live in L.A. or N.Y. to break into the industry. Thank God Babyface and L.A. Reid really made Atlanta into L.A. or N.Y. When I was introduced to them, I seized that opportunity. I always wanted to entertain, and I knew that was my shot. I was brought on as a dancer, and I told them I could sing, too. I was introduced to Tionne and Lisa, and the rest is history.
BallerStatus.com: As a youngster, who did you like to listen to?
Chilli: I used to listen to Anita Baker all the time. I also loved Sade! And, of course, Michael Jackson.
BallerStatus.com: Who actually dubbed you Chilli?
Chilli: I think Tionne came up with the name. We were in the office trying to come up with a name that started with a “C,” and when I heard Chilli, I knew that was it.
BallerStatus.com: So, in the beginning you were actually a back-up dancer before becoming an “official” member of TLC?
Chilli: Well like I said, I was introduced to them by L.A. Reid. Originally, I came in as a dancer. I was brought in to replace another member. We met, and it just clicked. And from then on, we were TLC.
BallerStatus.com: What do you feel it was about TLC that really made you all stand out, and become such trendsetters in the music business?
Chilli: I’m really proud of what we accomplished as a group. We set a standard, especially for young women. We pushed the envelope on a lot of things, and tried to make records that meant something and would be timeless. My solo project is the same way. I see that void in music now for records that have meaning and are saying something important, something that can help someone. I haven’t strayed from that, and I never will.
BallerStatus.com: Why do you feel that the group has, and always will, be continually embraced by your worldwide, fully supporting fanbase?
Chilli: I think being humble has a lot to do with it. Respecting others and yourself goes a long way. And, putting God first.
BallerStatus.com: You mentioned your Bags by Chilli line, but tell me about some of the other things, that I’ve been hearing about lately, that you’re still planning on pursuing…
Chilli: I want to do a lot with children. I have a non-profit organization called Chilli’s Crew. The goal is to be a resource for young women, and to offer them guidance. That is really important to me. I believe it’s my responsibility to use what I have gone through, and the knowledge available to me to help others. I want to see the non-profit grow.
BallerStatus.com: Speaking of Bags by Chilli, what are your future goals for this venture?
Chilli: Of course, I want the company to continue to grow. Besides bags, we have men’s wallets, and are in the process of developing duffel bags, laptop carriers, and backpacks. I’m really excited about some of the new designs we have coming. I think they are going to go over well.
BallerStatus.com: You’ve also done the acting thing quite a bit. Will you continue in your pursuit of the silver screen?
Chilli: It would have to be the right role. I like television more than movies. I like the scheduling better. I think that’s a better fit for me. But, yes, I’d love to do more acting.
BallerStatus.com: Do you think “real” R&B music is finally making its anxiously awaited return?
Chilli: I can say I’m happy that it seems real music is coming back. Everything always goes full circle.
BallerStatus.com: From a lyrical standpoint, does your music truly reflect who you are as a person?
Chilli: I think what you hear is pretty much who I am. I’m a strong, independent woman. That’s who I am, and that’s the image I try to put out in my music.
BallerStatus.com: I know you are also a devoted mother, and a career woman, but what would people be surprised to know about Chilli?
Chilli: I’m a Whole Foods Market junkie. I can spend hours in that place, just reading the ingredients and comparing different things. To me, going to the grocery store is like the equivalent of going to the mall.
BallerStatus.com: That is a surprise! So, since you’ve had had such an illustrious career, with so many achievements and accomplishments, do you have any particular one that really sticks out for you?
Chilli: There are a lot of things I’m proud of, especially with TLC. The awards we won are nice, but it was important to me to be a part of a group that was trying to make a statement. We enjoyed doing things with Nickelodeon’s “All That,” and doing things to benefit children and AIDS research. We had a lot of people tell us they were touched by “Waterfalls” and “Unpretty.” That made us feel good. Also, we were proud of the fact that we set a record for the best-selling female group, and that record hasn’t been broken.
BallerStatus.com: What’s next for you, Chilli?
Chilli: I’m looking forward to getting back on stage, and reconnecting with fans. I’m also excited about having the opportunity to work with young people, and help set a positive example for them.
BallerStatus.com: First single and video, “Dumb, Dumb, Dumb,” is due out soon? Debut solo album, scheduled for release when?
Chilli: The album is titled Bi-Polar, and is scheduled for release on September 2nd. I’m in the process now of putting together a summer promotional tour. We’re having contests in different cities, where we’re looking for dancers to join me onstage. Fans can find out where I’ll be at MySpace.com/OfficialChilliMusic.
BallerStatus.com: Do you and T-Boz still speak? If so, how often do you?
Chilli: Of course. We don’t get to see each other as often as we like, but we talk all the time.
BallerStatus.com: She, too, has an oft delayed solo effort coming out. Do you know the status of it?
Chilli: No, but I know she is working on a project. We also are in the process of working on some other things together.
BallerStatus.com: What would you like to leave our readers with?
Chilli: Thank you for the interview, and supporting “Dumb, Dumb, Dumb.”