The Underrated: SWV
Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
-For yours truly, there's much to be said about the legendary female R&B groups of the 90's. They were sexy and seductive, but strong and abrasive, while displaying an abundance of emotion through their beautifully sung harmonies. While many would turn to TLC or perhaps Destiny's Child as the quintessential female group of the 90's in the genre (maybe Xscape or Total also), to me, there's no other choice but the legendary trio SWV. For me, SWV was a group that embodied everything you'd want in a trio in the 90's: appeal, great vocals, down to earth style, and infectious melodies/songs. The truth of the matter is that SWV, also known as Sisters With Voices, gave you that "around the way" feel, which was honestly what made 90's R&B so appealing. It wasn't just "smooth" or seductive, there were also hits that the streets could vibe with, especially when SWV utilized the New Jack Swing vibe early on via their first album.
Over the years, SWV changed their image from time to time, going for more mature and more seductive images later on in their career, but they never lost their true appeal. Over the course of their initial run, they released three hit albums and racked up a number of hit singles, working with producers and artists like Missy, Diddy, The Neptunes, and Teddy Riley. Two of their albums It's About Time and Release Some Tension are seen among the best of the 90's in the genre, and I've always believed that It's About Time is one of the greatest R&B albums of all time. That might be a heavy honor to place upon the ladies, but the album is honestly a timeless classic and still sounds great even now, some 25 years later. With hit singles like "Right Here" (and the Michael Jackson Human Nature remix version of it, which was more popular), the hugely popular New Jack Swing inspired "I'm So Into You", the ballad "Weak", and the coy yet smooth and slightly straightforward "Downtown", the SWV legacy is mostly defined by this amazing album. It would be certified triple platinum, earning the ladies their first taste at stardom. When we talk about SWV, one has to mention It's About Time, as there isn't any bigger piece of the puzzle than that for them.
As far as the members of the group, Taj, Lelee, and Coko, all from New York, are all talented vocalists, but it was pretty clear from the start that Coko was the face of the group. This takes nothing away from the other ladies, but in most groups, there's always one member that stands out just a little bit more, and Coko was the lead vocalist. That would eventually come between the group, and tear them apart, as fame and ego tend to always break up legendary groups, but as always, time heals all wounds. SWV has been reunited since about 2005 now, and are still performing and releasing music now. With them still pushing on and furthering their legacy, the team wanted to take a look at SWV and reflect on what made them so great. Let's get into it.
For those who remember 1997 in R&B, they know it was a great year, perhaps one of the best years of the genre. There were a few debuts that dropped with some legendary artists releasing instant classics, and of course some great sophomore projects, but with a year filled with so much excitement, a few groups/artists would go slightly unnoticed. In a way, SWV was one of those groups. 1997 was the year they released their third album and they would be seen by many of us as underrated. Their music was popular, but sometimes flew under the radar. To me, these ladies were amazing. They are ranked alongside groups such as TLC, En Vogue and Total, even though they didn’t have many ground-breaking moments in the genre, but they did manage to chart with each album release, which makes their underrated status more surprising.
My favorite release from them was “Release Some Tension”, their third project I mentioned a second ago. They not only had several guest appearances, but they managed to feature every relevant MC of the mid-90’s. We got to hear Redman, Lil Cease, Foxy Brown, Lil Kim, Missy Elliott, Timbaland and just about everyone else. Yes, it is feature heavy and while that may work negatively for some, SWV made sure the songs were theirs and that they carried each one of them. Their smooth, sultry and balanced harmonization only worked to complement each rapper. “Lose My Cool” featuring Redman is a perfect example of this. Although Red gives us two solid verses, they remained at the forefront. Another great example of a perfect collaboration is “Love Like This” feat Lil Cease, as we hear Cease at the very beginning and part way through, only to add an incredible flow and delivery with the perfect amount of rap infusion. Of course, my favorite women of hip hop do the same with “Give It Up” featuring Lil Kim and the title track “Release Some Tension” featuring Foxy Brown. It doesn’t stop there, as other fantastic tracks on the album are “Rain” and “When You Cry”, which showcases their vocal talents beautifully. Of course, Release Some Tension is my favorite, but their overall catalog is packed with gems!
After disbanding and some attempts at solo careers (which didn’t see much success), the group emerged from their hiatus to perform at the BET Awards in 2008. Of course they were accompanied by TLC, En Vogue, and Alicia Keys. SWV reminded us how great they were and just a few years later, they would grace us with another album. 2012 would be the year of “I Missed Us” and sure enough, they were received well by fans and charted time and again that same year (No. 25 on Billboard's Top 200 and No. 6 on the top R&B/Hip Hop charts). It was clear that they were truly better off as a unified team rather than solo acts and their run at music would last until 2016. With each album release, SWV proved to be current yet classic and always stayed true to R&B, from their debut to their greatest hits and holiday albums, these ladies never disappointed!
Becoming known to the world in 1992 was a group of friends out of New York City, Coko, Taj & Lelee who made up SWV (Sisters With Voices). Another group who learned the craft of soul singing and harmonizing in church as children. We have the talented Teddy Riley to thank for them being discovered after their demo made it to his presence. This was a group of beautiful women who could pull off the skin tight garment look then switch to the rugged baggy street style and still keep their sex appeal. We first heard them on their single "Right Here" which was alright IMO, but "I'm So Into You" really put them on the map. The next was "Weak", which is one of my top R&B songs of all time and arguably one of their most popular hits. Their harmonizing was perfect and Coko killed her solo part. The re-release of "Right Here" with MJ's "Human Nature" vocals added was genius and the addition of Pharrell's adlib of "S-W-V" all meshed perfectly and the charts agreed. The song spent over a year in rotation. If the girls wanted to, they could've given the hip hop acts out at the time some competition. Taj had some flow on "Blak Pudd'n" and the "Im So Into You" remix and Coko really impressed me on "In The House" with her rap delivery. She was definitely throwing shots.
While "It's About Time" did well with its mostly R&B/New Jack sound, the next album "New Beginning" stuck to more of a uptempo R&B vibe which kicked out a classic single with "You're The One".
The next album "Release Some Tension", focused on mostly a hip hop sound with the group handling the vocals while nearly every track features rappers, the likes of Diddy, Foxy Brown, Lil Kim, Redman, Snoop, Missy, Lil Cease and E-40. "Rain" was one of the only few songs with no features and one of their best songs overall. Release Some Tension was a dope way to go out being that 1997 would be the last year SWV would be together initially. In their 6 year run, SWV encompassed the most popular styles in urban fashion, and you saw their growth through videos and interviews. After going through personal issues and maturing in life, 15 years later they came together to make their comeback album "I Missed Us", had a reality show "SWV Reunited" and dropped another album in 2016 titled "Still". Both albums were released on Mass Appeal with very modern sounding R&B on songs like "Co-sign" and "Show Off". The tunes are catchy and upbeat while still holding their soulful sound and of course they have a few ballads.
With Coko having an amazing distinctive voice, she complained back then about being the lead, but didn't really want that position, as Lelee wanted more lead vocals while Taj was just fine with what she could give, so now in their newer music, the lead role is shared. They're now touring the world having successful shows with other 90’s groups. SWV to me will always be one of the top R&B groups. They had the style, the vocals, the looks, and what they called back then, a lot of "flava".
Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-In closing, SWV is a story of everything can go right even when you switch your sound every album. They took risks that they sometimes weren't fully comfortable with (they weren't 100% on board with the hip hop infusion of Release Some Tension), but they always seemed to pay off. They would release a classic New Jack Swing style album in It's About Time, a very underrated and more mature sophomore project in New Beginning, and they would embrace the hip hop sound while still keeping it R&B on Release Some Tension. At the end of the day, SWV is one of the greatest groups in the genre's history, and they remain my favorite female R&B group. With hits like "Rain", "Downtown", "Weak", "You're The One", "Use Your Heart" (one of the earliest productions from the Neptunes), "I'm So Into You", and of course the Human Nature remix of "Right Here", SWV remains in every 90's R&B playlist, and if they're not in yours, you should add their music. Now. ASAP.