Written by Ollie Francis
The start of the pandemic gave creators a platform to sit down, analyze, and curate something that would generate momentum and revenue. Momentum for those who were stuck inside their abode with limited stretches to ease their frustrations or leisure’s. For those who depended on traveling or other resources that permits to step outdoors, there had to be another form of revenue within the confines of their own home.
In retrospect, music has always been the ultimate remedy for many people experiencing the somberness due to the pandemic, so when Timbaland and Swizz Beatz collectively created Verzuz – it instilled a sense of gratification and acquired a reminiscent of ‘good music’.
We bear witness to many artists that entered the virtual platform, ranging from The Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind, and Fire, to Jill Scott and Erykah Badu back in 2020.
Now, in 2021 – we will encounter another momentous Verzuz battle with legendary groups like Xscape and SWV. Those who grew up in the early to mid-1990’s, adhered to beautiful and soulful vocalists in the R&B circuit. For nearly three decades, both R&B entities dominated airwaves, television screens, and our hearts. Their illustrious vocal ranges captivated millions of people throughout the world and grew an appreciation for the golden age of R&B.
SWV which is short for the acronym Sisters With Voices stemmed from New York. The trio which consists of; Cheryl ‘Coko’ Gamble, Tamara ‘Taj’ Johnson, and Leanne ‘LeLee’ Lyons – with Coko and LeLee being the founding members. In 1992, the trio made their debut appearance on the music circuit and later on that year, released their first project, It’s About Time on RCA records. Their first album would sell over two million records to date, which acquired some of their chart-topping singles, such as – “Right Here” which was sampled from the late Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” which reached number 1 on the R&B charts and number 2 on Billboard 100. Their second single “I’m So into You,” which reached number 2 on Billboard R&B and number 6 on Billboard top 100. Records such as “Downtown” and “You’re Always on my Mind” reached in the top 10 as well.
SWV would continue their success with their sophomore album, New Beginnings which sold over a million US copies alone. “You’re the One” reached to number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, whilst their second single from the album, “Use Your Heart,” reached number 22. Release Some Tension would be the groups third album and would release a Christmas album prior to their disbandment in 1998.
The group would reunite for a few events such as the Essence Festival, but it would not be until 2012 where the trio would release their fifth installment, I Missed Us and a follow up album Still in 2016.
Their savory voices were an infusion of elegance in style – but provocative in some of their lyrics, if listened intently. (Many of us were way too young back in the days to sing some of their records!)
Xscape is an R&B quartet that hails from Atlanta, Georgia; which were also formed in 1992. The group consists of; Kandi Burruss, Tameka ‘Tiny’ Harris (ie: Cottle), LaTocha Scott, and Tamika Scott. Initially, there was a fifth member by the name of Tamera Coggins-Wynn, however, she left the group prior to even releasing a single.
Discovered by Jermaine Dupri, the quartet was signed to SoSo Def Records in 1993 and within that same year – released their first single. “Just Kickin’ It,” which was written by Dupri and Manuel Seal. Within weeks of its release, “Just Kickin’ It” soared from 90 on the Billboard Hot 100 to top 10 and reached at number 2 in the top 40. The record alone sold over a million copies alone and charted in different countries such as New Zealand and the UK. Xscape’s second single, “Understanding,” also garnered massive success – reaching number 1 on the R&B charts, and number 6 on the Hot 100.
Their debut album, Hummin; Comin’ at ‘Cha landed at number 17 on the US Billboard 200 and 3 on the R&B charts. To date, it sold over 1 million copies in the United States alone.
Dubbed as the ‘ghetto EnVogue,’ Xscape would soon deter from that comparison, for they were in their own league and created their own lane for many other girl groups to follow thereafter.
After massive success from their debut album, the quartet released their follow-up album, Off the Hook in 1995. “Feels So Good,” landed at 31 on the Hot 100 whereas “Who Can I Run to?” reached to number 8.
Throughout their three-year hiatus, the quartet still made waves, featuring on a number of projects including “Keep on Keepin’ on” by MC Lyte and also made appearances on the Love Jones and Soul Food soundtracks.
By 1998, the quartet released their third album, Traces of my Lipstick which acquired the ladies to have a more sensual approach as compared to their former style. Essentially, the album peeked at number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 6 on the R&B chart. Records such as “My Little Secret” and “The Arms of the One Who Loves You,” reached in the top ten on both the R&B and Hot 100 charts.
Though XScape was and still is a success, behind the scenes was quite complicated to say the least. Tamika Scott would depart from the group for a short duration of time to pursue her solo career but would later join prior releasing their third album. Kandi Burruss would also leave the group and signed her rights over to the remaining trio.
Tiny and Kandi would both collaborate on songwriting projects such as TLC’s 1999 hit record, “No Scrubs.”
Tameka ‘Tiny’ Harris, LaTocha and Tamika Scott all reunited in 2000, followed by a replacement – however, would disband until over a decade later where the original four members reunited at the Essence Festival in 2017.
The quartet would do a reunion tour later on that year with Monica and Tamar Braxton, and although fans speculated that the foursome would release a studio album, Kandi publicly made it aware that she would not be part of any new endeavors in regards to the group. The remaining members, Tiny, LaTocha, and Tamika formed a subsidiary called XScap3 in late 2017. By 2018, signing with Creative Artists Agency, the trio released their critically acclaimed debut EP called, Here For it, which features six singles co-written and produced by all of the members. The project gained moderate success on the internet, to which “Memory Lane” and “Dream Killa” were notable records. Tiny and the Scott sisters later formed their own recording label called XScap3 Entertainment.
Both groups are legendary in their own right, both becoming successful as a collective and till this day, are recognized as two of the most influential groups to date. They have cultivated a section in R&B that cannot be unmatched by other female groups both old and new.
It will be interesting to see the outcome of their Verzuz, as it will certainly be a celebrating of the girl group era we cherished in the 90s. Tons of hits and nostalgia. Will it be a reminiscent such as Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind, and Fire? Or will the ladies curate their own momentum?
Be sure to check out SWV Verzuz Xscape on Saturday, May 8, 2021 at 8 pm EST on YouTube, Triller, or Instagram live.