About two weeks ago, my boss mentioned SWV in our group chat. As a model employee would, I paid it no mind, but the topic prompted a couple of my coworkers to respond. A full-blown conversation came to fruition, someone dropped in a video, and eventually, my lack of comment throughout all of the developments led my boss to believe that I had no idea who SWV was. She was right.
Fast forward to Tuesday night. It’s 9 p.m. and I’m eating semi-cold leftover pizza on my couch. My boss wants me to listen to SWV’s debut album for the first time. I want to watch Narcos on Netflix. I wipe the crust from my eyes, peel myself up off of the couch, and make my way over to my room to plug in my phone to my speakers. I hit play on the first track from SWV’s It’s About Time and open my laptop to take notes, online shop, etc.
The song is called “Anything.” It’s slow and steamy, but to be honest, I’m not moved. I start replaying in my mind how adamant my boss was about me listening to this album. Do I need this pair of hot pink satin tie-up sandals? Probably. “I’m So Into You” comes on, and I’m already out $30. There goes budgeting. Maybe one day I’ll get it right. ? But if loving shoes is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. ? (That’s how the song should go.)
My decisiveness in buying these shoes is matched by the boldness of “Right Here.” There’s a beautiful moment of girl power in the opening where Taj and Lelee encourage Coko to sing her heart out for this dude who doesn’t know what the hell he’s missing out on. “Love will be right here,” Coko sings in the chorus, confident in her vulnerability, over an upbeat tempo that eventually gives way for Taj to rap. My interest has been peaked. And then I hear “Weak.”
Old-school keyboard notes stumble over each other like a nervous kid at the school dance. ? I don’t know what it is that you’ve done to me, but it’s caused me to act in such a crazy way. ? I’m picturing my boss listening to this when she was in middle school. She would probably put it on and think about her crush. I don’t know who that was for her, so I think about mine: a painfully awkward Jewish kid who once invited me to his bar mitzvah. My feelings for him culminated when I asked him to dance with me at one of our last school dances together before he left for Hebrew school. The simple, sensual harmonies of “Weak” take me back to that time. The girls’ directness in the song reminds me of how forthright I had been asking my crush to dance with me — and how good that felt.
SWV’s lack of reservations is apparent throughout the whole album. They voice their insecurities and heartaches fearlessly, but it’s how they talk about sexual desire that’s truly admirable. “Downtown” was made for the woman who is too shy to tell her partner she wants him to “move on down.” Save the Bill Cosby reference, “Blak Pudd’n” is playfully raunchy. “Give It To Me” and the title track are all about longing to be with someone intimately. At it’s core, It’s About Time is about sex — wanting it, thinking about it, sneaking around to have it.
I can’t speak to the impact of this album when it dropped in 1992 (I was a year old). But in 2015, this record is as relevant as ever. When a woman is straightforward in love or romance, it often gets mistaken for being aggressive. Men still get praised for their “conquests,” while women are discouraged from publicizing theirs. Amber Rose is hosting a slut walk for crying out loud because people keep shaming her for just trying to get hers.
SWV talk about sex in It’s About Time in a way that isn’t aggressive, gross, or corny. They are forthright about it. Honest. Respectful. They had it right 23 years ago when they were in their early teens and late 20’s. What the hell is my excuse?
My boss claims this album was crucial to her formation as a young woman. I wonder if I would have felt the same way about it had I heard it 10, or even five years ago. I can’t be sure, but I do know this: We could use more honest, sexually liberated female R&B albums in 2015.