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SWV’s ‘Release Some Tension’ Became An Underrated Classic During The Golden Age Of R&B

On the 25th anniversary of their third studio album, ESSENCE revisits its impact, as well as timeless hits such as the Missy Elliott-assisted “Can We,” and “Rain.”
SWV’s ‘Release Some Tension’ Became An Underrated Classic During The Golden Age Of R&B
Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images

On August 12, 1997, Cheryl “Coko” Gamble, Tamara “Taj” George and Leanne “Lelee” Lyons – collectively known as SWV – unveiled Release Some Tension. Nowadays, the word “classic” is used much too loosely, and should only be designated for art either bordering, or landing, on the line of perfection. What these women did with their third studio album was merge their music with some of the best acts in the industry to create a timeless body of work that would forever be etched in the history of R&B.

The recording process during Release Some Tension wasn’t under the best of circumstances. Several sources claimed that this album was rushed, and that their previous project still had a few more months in circulation. Amidst the tumult, SWV was still able to deliver. What made this effort unique, was that they slightly broke away from their traditional sound, and incorporated a huge dose of hip-hop for their listeners this time around. From the second the intro begins, down to the final moments of track 12, you can hear the marriage between two genres that would ultimately come to define the mid-to-late 90s.

To say that this album featured the top artists of the era would be a understandment. In actuality, Release Some Tension includes some of the greatest of all time. Its eight guest appearances are as follows: Sean “Diddy” Combs, Foxy Brown, Redman, Lil’ Cease, Lil’ Kim, Snoop Dogg, E-40, and Missy Elliott. All these musicians were in the prime of their careers, and each individual added something special to the album as a whole.

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Release Some Tension opens with “Someone,” which samples the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ten Crack Commandments.” Diddy – or Puff Daddy, as he was called – was one of the biggest producers in the game, eventually rising through the ranks to become a power player in multiple fields of entertainment. The album then transitions to the title track featuring Foxy Brown, “Lose My Cool,” with Redman, followed by the “Crush On You” flip “Love Like This,” featuring Lil’ Cease of Junior M.A.F.I.A.

One of the standouts on SWV’s third outing is the Missy Elliott-assisted “Can We.” Released in February of ‘97, many people first heard this song as a part of the soundtrack for Booty Call, starring Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Vivica A. Fox, and Tommy Davidson. This highly underrated hit was one of the best of its era. Timbaland’s flawless production, matched with SWV’s sultry voice and Missy’s witty wordplay made “Can We” a staple in most people’s house party playlists. To this day, it still remains as a gem in their amazing catalog.

The album’s sixth track is one that needs no introduction. Featured on an LP that boasted so many Hip-Hop inspired jams, “Rain” sits in the pantheon of 90s ballads, period. It’s simple melody, added with the infectious chorus; one would be hard pressed to find a better song of its kind. In what was a true love song, the women sing, “Rain down on me, Let your love just fall like rain drops,” in between Coko’s classic solo harmonies. It’s quite astonishing to know that Release Some Tension was created under duress, because it produced a string of beautifully executed songs that are still unmatched.

As this project winded down, we saw Lil Kim provide another stellar set of verses on “Give It Up,” in addition to West Coast legends E-40 and Snoop Dogg on the songs “Come And Get Some” and “Gettin’ Funky,” respectively. These three women also shined on cuts such as “When U Cry,” “Love Myself,” and “Here For You.” SWV’s usage of tried-and-true samples with their production, and the incorporation of the seminal artists of the time, made Release Some Tension an album that found the perfect balance between past and present. The high quality beats, along with its guest appearances definitely served as a blessing, but it was the vocal ability of Coko, Taj, and Lelee that ultimately brought everything together.

Unfortunately, after this 1997 release, Coko, Taj, and Lelee wouldn’t drop another album as a group until 2012’s I Missed Us, but as with all great bodies of work, these “sistas with voices” gave the world something to sing to for years to come.