I grew up in Frankfurt, Germany, as a military brat in the mid-’80s and early ’90s. Those of us who grew up overseas had one channel to watch on television: AFN, which stands for the Armed Forces Network. We all watched the same cartoons, the same soap operas (General Hospital was followed by Guiding Light), and the same sitcoms and talk shows. The good part about this was that there weren’t any commercials; between shows we got advertisements for government-sponsored goods and services available on overseas military bases. The bad part was that unless it was on AFN, we weren’t seeing it.
During the summers, most of us got sent back to the States to visit aunts, uncles, cousins, family, etc. It’s where we’d get hip to the latest in fashion, music and pop culture. We’d all come back to Germany before school started with our newest garb straight from the States and be in style for at least a few weeks.
Some of us were also fortunate enough—actually, I’d wager that a significant many of us were in this boat—to have family who would send us VHS tapes of current television shows, late-night talk shows and music videos. I was one of those people. My mother would send tapes each month that had shows like A Different World, The Cosby Show, The Arsenio Hall Show, Beverly Hills, 90210, Martin, Living Single, In Living Color, etc. Kids across Department of Defense Dependents Schools would swap videos and cassette tapes daily so that we could all know what was happening in American culture, especially while hip-hop was truly taking off.
In my house, I used to get a lot of VHS tapes that were full of music videos from Yo! MTV Raps and The Box. There are two distinct videos I remember from the dozen or so video tapes we received: Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” and SWV’s “Right Here.” Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s single is still, to this day, my favorite hip-hop song of all time. SWV’s song and video had me open off the ladies on-screen. Also, I’m not talking about the “Human Nature Remix”; I’m talking about the original version. And I was sold.
It’s such a perfect hip-hop/R&B song. Released at nearly the same time as Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love,” the song kicked off that post-New Jack-swing, hip-hop/R&B shit. “Right Here” was everything “Real Love” was, except it seemed so much more fun. It had the super-corny talk-intro and even the super-terrible rapped lyrics. It had a few different drum breaks and was perfect for early-’90s dance moves. For me and my 12-year-old self, if ever there was a perfect song, SWV’s “Right Here” was it for me.
Full disclosure, I like the original version more than the “Human Nature Remix.” That remix is great, but I fell in love with the original and, subsequently, SWV.
Because my father never saw an album with women on the cover that he wouldn’t purchase, SWV’s debut album, 1992’s It’s About Time, soon made its way into my home, and I jacked that CD and listened to it easily a zillion times. “I’m So Into You” was just as good as “Right Here” to me. I was too young to truly get “Downtown,” but I loved “Weak.” They even had one of the worst songs of all time on that album in “Blak Pudd’n,” which I’m pretty sure most people don’t remember, but SWV literally rapped the entire song. It sounds like you’d think, but the beat banged.
The point of all this is that I was sold on my initial hearing of SWV. And I’ve been all in ever since.
Even though I couldn’t tell you who was Taj and who was Lelee for like the first 10 years I knew they existed, Coko's was a voice that had me straight trippin' boo. This isn’t to disparage Taj and Lelee, but Coko’s voice was so dope to me. It had such an interesting sound. And the trio sounded great together on harmonies, as far as I was concerned. Were they En Vogue? No. They were much cooler to me; they were SWV.
Do you remember the Above the Rim soundtrack? Of course you do—it’s one of the best soundtracks of all time. And who had the biggest song from it? SWV, of course, with the “Anything (Remix).” (Okay, maybe it was "Regulate" by Warren G & Nate Dogg.)
New Beginning dropped in 1996 with the single “You’re the One,” which followed in the tradition of hip-hop/R&B. Because it was SWV, it was perfect. They also had an early-Neptunes written-and-produced track, “Use Your Heart,” which I remember being a hugely popular song in high school.
My favorite album is probably 1997’s Release Some Tension, which has possibly my favorite SWV song, “When U Cry,” which uses the same Tyrone Davis “In the Mood” sample as M.C. Eiht’s “All for the Money.” I haven’t checked in a while, but I’m sure my iTunes would tell me that I’ve listened to that song at least 1,000 times.
They released an album titled I Miss Us in 2012 to little fanfare, and last Friday, they released an album called Still. I had no idea, and this made me sad. I was pulling up Spotify to listen to “When U Cry” (which I’m also listening to as of this writing) when I saw that they’d released an album. On Saturday I listened to that album on repeat, from start to finish, at least four times. I was so happy to have a new SWV album that the euphoria of the moment wouldn’t allow me to listen to anything else.
I love SWV.
Since 1992, they have been my favorite girl group. For me, all of their songs seem rooted in fun and good energy. While Mary J. Blige has used her music to showcase her struggles, I have no clue what struggles SWV are going through via their music. And that’s OK for me. When I need to feel better, I listen to SWV. It’s been that way since the ’90s, and it’s that way in 2016. When I think of the ’90s, they are one of the first groups I think of because their early sound was so representative of what we think of when talking about the decade that moved the needle when it comes to black culture and influence.
I’m glad that some 24 years later, Coko, Taj and Lelee are still making music and living their lives. I watched their show on WEtv sporadically; all I wanted to know was that they were still singing. I’ve seen them live in recent years, and that also made me a happy camper.
I don’t feel that SWV gets all the credit they deserve for making such great music, but the truth is, they may have mattered so much more to me that I feel as if everybody should recognize and respect everything they’ve done. I’d love for their latest album to go diamond, just because I love them that much.
But no matter what, SWV will long be one of my absolute favorite groups. I’ll “still” be “right here.”
See what I did there? Of course you do. SWV for life.