VIBE spotlights Sisters With Voices, better known as, SWV (Cheryl “Coko” Gamble, Tamara “Taj” Johnson and Leanne “Lelee” Lyons) as one of pop culture’s most essential timepieces for Gen Y.
Claim To Fame: Their certified multi platinum debut album, It’s About Time, including chart-topping hits like “Anything,” “I’m So Into You,” “Right Here,” and “Weak.”
Elevator Pitch: SWV brought the raw attitude and flavor R&B was missing in ’90s, fusing traditional rhythm and blues and rap to create their own distinct sound that has influenced many that came after them (See: “Weak”, “Right Here/Human Nature”, “I’m So into You”, and “You’re the One”). Today, the trio has sold 25 million records, making them one of the best selling girl groups of all time.
How They Became A Group:
TJ: Lelee and Coko have the the same godmother. They decided they were going to do a group. Once they started singing, they realized they needed an extra girl. Somehow I got the call. We all started singing together because we loved New Edition, became a group, put a demo together, shopped it and here we are today.
Getting On The Map:
CG: When we first started working we went over to the pop side, and that definitely elevated things. It was like a build up.
TJ: Yeah, because we had success with “Right Here,” then “I’m So Into You” came out and that’s when people really noticed us. But when “Weak” came out that really sealed us.
LL: I remember being on tour early on and we’d just come out with Jade and this other girl group. We were opening before everybody on the show, but then our single, “I’m Still Into You” came out, so they kind of pushed us back and were like, ‘They can’t open anymore,’ because we were killing. But when “Weak” came out, they started opening for us. We were like, ‘Look at God, look at God.’
Bet You Didn’t Know:
TJ: Our group name was actually TLC at one point and when we were about to come out: Tamera, Leanne, and Cheryl. But we got a cease and desist letter from a company down in Atlanta who says that we couldn’t use that name [laughs]. They had already copy written and marked that name and we couldn’t use it. So, we had to change our name. We didn’t know what to use. Our manager at the time came up with “Sisters With Voices.” We were like, sounds like gospel singers. Who that? We used the name and it grew on us eventually. Now we can’t think of anything else we rather be called.
On Their Hottest Collaboration:
TJ: Wu-Tang on “Anything.” Dirty Bas, style cuts like glass. Yeah, that was the best. It was smoking.
LL: Not only was it smoking, but it was off the chain. We had a ball with them.
CG: Somehow they were connected to our label through A&R. And it’s funny because they were actually new group, so they weren’t out like that yet, but they ended up putting them on the record. It was like a million of them in the studio that night. It was a whole bunch of the guys on the original, but it ended up being cut down to Dirty Bastard, Method Man and U-God.
Their Most Slept-On Song:
CG: We’ve been pretty fortunate to have a lot of hits. On the first album, everything that was released either went gold or platinum. The second album did pretty well, but a song that I thought should’ve been released was “Fine Time.”
On Their Influence On The Newer Generation:
CG: We are influential for all of them. They don’t like to give us our props, but SWV was the first ’round-the-way girl. When we came out we put it down.
LL: And we had some of the dopest remixes. Nobody could f**k with our remixes.
CG: And if you want to turn that music off, we could drop an acapella real quick.
On The State Of R&B:
CG: There’s some great R&B music, but there’s no support. They’re not playing it on the radio. They’re playing all the new stuff that sounds exactly the same. You’ve got to turn on satellite radio to hear it, but everyone doesn’t have satellite radio. Also, some people seriously just don’t know the name so they can’t go out and buy it.
LL: People know it’s there. They just get caught up in the hype of this bulls**t that’s out. And she’s right, some people don’t know. They also don’t try to know. Unfortunately, the bulls**t that’s out there, overrides the good quality stuff. So, it’s definitely quantity over quality at this point.
More than likely, your favorite R&B or hybrid artist was influenced by the harmonious melodies of Coko, Taj and Leelee. From their vocal delivery to their cool, laid back steez, the sisters with voices will forever remain a staple in pop culture for their genre-defying tunes that proved that three around-the-way chicks from New York could transcend to the top of the charts with ease.
Now, the trio is making a return with their fifth studio album, Still, which general consensus amongst the ladies details the LP as a cross between their classic R&B roots that their loyal, day one fans will appreciate, mixed with new school twist that this generation will gravitate towards.