Unsung Tells The Story Of SWV From Uptown To “Downtown” (Video)

Starting at the top of the 1990s, SWV (aka Sisters With Voices) propelled R&B into Pop. The RCA Records trio of Cheryl “Coko” Gamble, Tamara “Taj” Johnson, and Leanne “Lelee” Lyons hailed from New York. Individually and collectively, they overcame adversity to reach the top of the charts with “Weak” in 1993.

Unsung chronicles the rise of SWV. Beginning with a gift-attached demo tape, the Gospel-trained trio found a home at RCA. Heads can hear some of those pre-It’s About Time recordings, including an early version of breakout single “Right Here.” In the 33-minute documentary, the Sisters explain the fashion choices as a reflection of the Bronx and Brooklyn streets. The documentary reveals how musically, the trio and their producers cleverly combined music of the church with the Hip-Hop sampling style of the day. That’s not surprising from an act that grew up in close proximity to the same Morris Avenue that bred some of the members of Diggin’ In The Crates.

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TV One’s Unsung looks at single “Downtown” as a true reflection of Taj, Coko, and Lelee’s sexuality at a time when female artists were expected to keep it PG. Moreover, as labels all clamored to sign Black girl-groups at the top of the ’90s, why Voices was always paramount to RCA’s flagship female R&B act.

Later in the episode, SWV is compared to the early Supremes, as Coko was groomed to be the standout of the collective. While Taj and Lelee recall some animosity, they allude to it being fueled by producers and media. Coko, and her mother admit she felt she was doing extra work above her Sisters. That led to disputes over compensation, and the singer’s increased percentages of SWV revenues. Later on, the group made some creative adjustments.

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This documentary also examines Michael Jackson’s permission to sample “Human Nature.” Despite the popularity of sampling in the early 1990s, the group believes that the King of Pop granted them a gesture not available to others, thanks to a smash Teddy Riley “Right Here” remix.

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For Hip-Hop Heads, the Wu-Tang remix of “Anything,” Coko’s pregnancy with Digable Planets’ Butterfly (nka Ish), and more (DJ Eddie F., Will Smith, etc.) are discussed. The group admits that the label-asserted Rap features of 1997’s Release Some Tension nearly ended the group. However, a reunion with key producer Brian Alexander Morgan kept the faith alive. That was, until the Sisters called it quits in 1998. Nearly 20 years later, as each reflects on why SWV pulled the plug, it’s clear that there are multiple sides to the story. Each member reveals how they hit a bottom in the 2000s, from minimum wage jobs, to Lelee’s contemplation of suicide. This one right here is real.

From conflict to core values, fall-outs to reunions, Unsung tells a story of a group that was ahead of its time.

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Last year, SWV (now backed by eOne) released “On Tonight.”