The lesson for how to live your best life is buried in an SWV album deep cut.
On the track “Give It to Me” from the R&B trio’s first album, It’s About Time, Coko sings:
“I'm a type of girl with class But, you never know what you can get 'Till you go and ask for it I was shy, but now I finally see All you have to do is (just ask) For anything you want (It's yours) you get right to the point (If love) is what you really need, don't be shy Just say, ‘Boy give it to me…right now’”
This song is essentially about requesting dick without fear, but the verse can apply to any other obstacle one might face. I listen to this song regularly. The same goes for the rest of SWV’s catalog.
As the group celebrates the release of its latest album, Still, I increasingly think about how SWV don’t get their just due. The term “underrated” has been abused to death, but there are certain things about SWV that do often go unrecognized—namely how sex positive their music has been through the years.
TLC has always been praised for being socially aware and frank about sex in music, particularly in Left Eye making the promotion of condoms a central part of her look at the start of their career. Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown have long been honored (and in some cases criticized) for their embracement of sexuality in their work. Even Adina Howard has a documentary that speaks to sexual liberation.
I salute them all, and you will never get me to speak ill of “T-Shirt and Panties,” but one of the best songs about oral sex, “Downtown,” came from SWV. This doesn’t even include its multiple remixes—the Wet Remix, the Jazzy Radio Mix, the Street Radio Mix—that each best the original. No one has ever been that convincing about the consumption of vagina in song. Give these women the respect they deserve.
So much of the songs from their debut album were tied to women being in control of their sexuality i.e. “Anything,” “It’s About Time,” and “Blak Pudd'n.” Already, I’m sure some would greet this claim with noting that most of these songs were penned by their main collaborator at the time, Brian Alexander Morgan. That hasn’t stopped other women from getting credit for work that might’ve been penned by men, though. This includes the aforementioned artists in addition to groups like Salt-N-Pepa, who didn’t pen a lot of their classic songs that are strong and urgent in their sexual agency.
Nevertheless, even after Morgan stopped working with the group, two of the members—Coko and Taj—started writing their own lyrics and the tone didn’t change. If anything, they were even more aggressive in their songs going forward.
Look no further than one of my favorite songs from the group, “You’re the One,” which is now 20 years old and one of the finest contributions to a sub genre of the R&B tradition: fucking your man music.
Even if sung sweetly, this song starts off with, “I know that you’re somebody else’s guy, but these feelings that I have for you I can’t deny.” Coko goes on to explain, “What your girl don’t know won’t hurt her. Anything that make this love go further.” And my favorite: “So what’s my chance? I’m willing to do anything to get in your pants.”
In 2014, during an interview with The Breakfast Club, Angela Yee noted how “foul that song really is.” Coko’s response was, “It’s life, though.” She went on to say that their attitude at the time was, “If the guys could sing it, we could sing it, too.”
And while the group tends to always bash their third album, Release Some Tension, I think it’s one of the best R&B albums from that period. It, too, was quite sexual in its subject matter. The Missy Elliott-penned “Can We,” the Foxy Brown-featuring title track, and “Come and Get Some,” which randomly features E-40. Meanwhile, if you really take a second to soak in the lyrics of their hit “Rain,” you can’t help but catch the raunchy innuendo (compliment).
I’m not sure why this facet of SWV doesn’t resonate with more people. Perhaps it’s partially due to their third album not performing as well as the previous two and the group quickly breaking up long after. Maybe it’s because even when they did get back together, Coko, who became a gospel artist after her solo R&B album underperformed, would refuse to sing songs like “Downtown” until very recently. Or maybe because more often than not, when they were singing about sex, they were screwing someone’s man (maybe yours).
Whatever it is, it’s a wrong that should be righted. They came. They saw. They smashed and sung—and sing—gorgeously about it. Time and time again. Can we please thank them more for it?