It’s About Time was released on October 27, 1992 to a voluminous R&B fan base and it was fully embraced upon its release. At a time where female groups were in relative obscurity, SWV arrived on the scene around the same as their other competition, mainly TLC, Jade and En Vogue. Their debut album was a far cry from the sound their contemporaries were producing and it helped the trio reach unparalleled success.
New Jack Swing was the dominant production being played in heavy rotation on the urban radio and television formats but SWV, alongside the production talents of executive producer Brian Alexander Morgan, crafted a sound of their very own. They ultimately became one of the highest selling groups of the decade behind the powerful vocals of Cheryl ‘Coko’ Clemons, Tamara ‘Taj’ Johnson-George and Leanne ‘LeLe’ Lyons, the group founder.
Like most R&B groups, SWV musical foundation was built in church. SWV was originally formed as a gospel trio in 1990 in New York City, but moved to secular music once they saw more of an opportunity in singing R&B music. After sending out a five song demo tape to all of the major record labels in the United States, they were eventually signed to RCA Records in 1992 after Teddy Riley heard their demo cassette and helped to secure them a recording deal with the record company.
Between February 1992-February 1993 the majority of It’s About Time was recorded in Homeboy Studios in New York City and GreenSwap studios in Sacramento, California.
Soul Culture recently sat down with Brian Alexander Morgan, the executive producer of SWV’s debut album, It’s About Time to talk about how the album came together from a creative and artistic standpoint.
Morgan tells a fascinating story of how he became involved with the SWV’s debut album.
“When my group Cachet de Vois got signed to Warner Brothers Records, I had already written some material in 1988, which was the song known as ‘Weak’ and ‘Right Here,’ says Morgan. “I wrote those two songs for Charlie Wilson because he had just got signed to Capitol Records. He had a really hot record out back then called ‘Wednesday Lover’ that I really loved. So I wanted to get ‘Weak’ and “Right Here” to Charlie because I loved him as a recording artist. If you listen to ‘Weak,’ it’s really a Charlie Wilson type of record.
“By the time 1991 came around, I still had these songs in my place in Sacramento and when I was recording my demos for my group’s record back in 1988 at Jay King of Club Nouveau fame’s studio, a guy named Jeff Bowens was the janitor at that office where we produced our demos at. Somehow, Jeff got a hold of those demo recordings of my songs ‘Weak’ and ‘Right Here.’ In that five year period from being a janitor he became an A&R person at RCA records in LA.
“Because Jeff Bowens had basically stolen those cassette recordings of ‘Weak’ and ‘Right Here,’ I get a phone call from some guy I didn’t even know and his name was Kenny Ortiz. He said ‘I have to have these songs’ and then he played ‘Weak’ with me singing it from a demo I did in 1988.
“He goes ‘Yo, man I have to have these joints and I have these three girls that I’m trying to get signed and I have to have these songs! Your songwriting style fits these girls perfectly’ and I was like ‘No, man those are my joints and I want to get a record deal.’
“Kenny was like ‘Man, I will do anything and I have to have these records for my girls. Could you at least let them demo the songs?’ I told him ‘Let me at least hear what they sound like.’
So he sent me a demo cassette tape and when I heard Coko’s voice I said ‘Oh My God’ she reminds me of Shirley Murdock – and I loved Shirley Murdock. I said to myself Kenny is right and that I needed to work with her. She seemed like she was singing the vocals so soulfully and effortlessly. This was in late 1991.
“After Skip Miller heard them sing the demo of my songs they were signed to a deal at RCA Records. So we immediately started work in NYC and while I was doing work for Martha Wash I was also working with the girls on finishing up ‘Weak’, ‘Right Here,’ ‘Think You’re Gonna Like It’ and ‘You’re Always on my Mind.’ Those songs came out amazing after the final recordings then I get another call from Kenny Ortiz saying we need some more records from you for their album and he flied the girls out to California.
“So they came out here and at the time Erick Sermon’s sound from EPMD was that really bass heavy NYC sound and I don’t know why, but it inspired me to write ‘I’m So Into You’ and by the time they got to California I had another song ready for them to record. We went onto record ‘Anything,’ ‘SWV (In the House)’ and that rounded out my contribution to the album.”
The first single penned by Morgan from this album, ‘Right Here,’ charted at #16 on the Billboard R&B single charts in the fall of 1992 and Morgan recalls how he was feeling after the release of this song in particular.
“The first record that came out off of the album was ‘Right Here’ and it didn’t do that great so I was worried because it didn’t crack the pop charts and didn’t have the impact we thought the record would,” says Morgan. “But then the phones started to light up in Seattle for “I’m So Into You” then the buzz spread down to the Bay Area and then LA and then the rest of the country. This was back when radio was real and it wasn’t all about the corporations owning the play-lists. It was a real organic movement of people truly appreciating that record. The record really blew up and then the girls got more recognition.”
More recognition they did receive because in the winter of 1992 ‘I’m So Into You’ would be the second single released from the album and it peaked at #2 on the R&B charts and reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. The third single, which became the iconic ‘Weak’, reached #1 on both the R&B and Hot 100 charts.
Morgan reveals the anticipation and excitement that surrounded ‘Weak’ during that time.
“The girls and I would notice everywhere we would go that young girls would be singing ‘Weak’ and it wasn’t even out yet as a single,” says Morgan. “The album hadn’t even gone gold. It had only sold about a couple hundred thousand, but when ‘Weak’ would come on these young girls would start yelling and screaming and I would be like ‘what in the world is going on?’
“So then everyone knew that ‘Weak’ was going to be the next single and going into the summer of 1993 ‘Weak’ became the next single released off of the album. That summer ‘Weak’ became the anthem for the summertime and it became my first #1 pop record.
“The biggest thing about the ‘Weak’ record was that it was Pop but still hood at the same time like Mary J. Blige and Jodeci.”
The fourth record released was ‘Right Here/Human Nature,’ which was a remix of their first single and Morgan told another interesting story of how this record along with the ‘Anything’ remix came together.
“I have to get much credit to Kenny Ortiz for rescuing the first single ‘Right Here’ and hooking it up with producers All-Star and Teddy Riley and re-imaging it as ‘Human Nature’,” says Morgan. It became one of the first mash up records of all-time because putting Michael Jackson’s vocal on top of Coko’s vocals with my melody and Michael’s melody. It was truly amazing and it had never been done before, which made it brilliant.
“So after ‘Right Here’ was finished, Michael wanted to use it on the soundtrack for Free Willy and that was awesome. Kenny went back to the drawing board and said let’s do the same thing with the song ‘Anything’. He re-imaged that song as well by putting it on an up tempo track and that worked really well with the sample of ‘Freedom’ by Grandmaster Flash and putting Wu-Tang Clan on it. Now the girls had two re-imaged songs that became smashes and they rode that success into 1994.
“Dr. Dre called and wanted to place the song on the Above The Rim movie soundtrack and it really kept their momentum going. The next song the record company released was the duet I did with Coko called, ‘You’re Always on My Mind’.”
‘Right Here/Human Nature’ went onto top the R&B charts and land at the #2 slot on the Hot 100 charts. It was followed up with the additional top 10 R&B hits ‘Downtown’ (#2) and ‘Always On My Mind’ (#8). The remix of the lead song on the album, ‘Anything’, also became another top ten hit for the group and it reached #18 on the Hot 100 charts as well thus giving the group staying power for two straight years on the music charts. It helped solidify them as a formidable force not only in R&B, but popular music.
SWV garnered an unprecedented amount of notoriety for It’s About Time. This album propelled them to sell more than three million albums and they earned 11 Billboard Music Award nominations, a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist and four American Music Award nominations. These statistics alone make this a classic album, but the songs from this album make it timeless.