There was a moment, around the turn the millennium, where everything went Blaque. Discovered by Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, the teen three-piece perfected the slinky stutters that era’s R&B pop, with imagery that repacked Missy Elliott’s third-eye Afruturism for a gel pen-loving generation. As a kid-friendly TLC, Shamari DeVoe (née Fears), Brandi Williams and Natina Reed shared their predecessors’ intolerance for scrubs. If men featured in their videos, they were eyeballed like pick’n’mix and then discarded, unworthy being in their orbit.
Blaque’s boldness – down to their homemade bubblewrap look – turned out to be their special sauce. With 1.5m debut album sales and tour dates with ‘NSync and TLC, they were poised to become 00s pop’s next mammoth girl group. Second album, Blaque Out!, however, was scrapped (it showed up on iTunes a decade later), while its feisty lead single Can’t Get It Back flopped and became a hit for Mis-Teeq instead. Then, following the death Left Eye in 2002, Blaque lost their biggest cheerleader. “I definitely felt let down by the industry,” says DeVoe, also a cast member on Real Housewives Atlanta. “There was a point where I lost my passion to ever want to sing again.”
After Reed’s tragic death in a road accident in 2012, fan clamour for another unreleased Blaque album, 2003’s Torch, began to grow. Encouraged by a petition, the group won back the rights to their recordings from one-time manager Matthew Knowles, and the album finally came out last month. “It feels really good to finally release it,” says Williams. “And with us able to own these songs now, and our fans still wanting to hear them, I actually think this is perfect timing.”
Despite its -the-time production, Torch is a way more fun and inventive R&B album than recent releases from Blaque’s millennium-era peers such as Ciara or Usher. Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins and Linda Perry contribute, and Missy Elliott brings an out–the-box spirit to five tracks. The album closes with Her Name Is, a tribute to Left Eye. “Lisa was so much to us,” says Williams. “She was a true friend, a big sister, a mother figure. For us to lose her at such an early time in our career was just a devastating blow.”
Blaque are now planning a string US shows as a two-piece, as well as brand new music soon. “Twenty years ago, you had to have a major label behind you,” says Williams. “Now, artists are able to put their careers in their own hands. Shamari and I are really interested in taking the independent route.” In a career marked by label disputes and personal tragedy, Blaque have weathered the knocks and are ready to thrive again. “I wanna make sure that we continue to keep Natina’s legacy alive,” says DeVoe. “We’re doing this for Natina and Lisa.”