Twerking and Tearjerkers: Inside the Xscape and SWV Mother’s Day Verzuz Battle

Iconic ’90s R&B groups Xscape & SWV celebrated Mother’s Day 2021 with surprise celeb guests and a bit of twerking in the latest Verzuz battle. Read on for a recap of the historic event.

By siobhan dixon May 10, 2021 11:25 PMTags
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Fans dug out their oversized overalls, Doc Marten boots and pitch-black sunglasses. And, of course, busted out their best dance moves for the latest Verzuz battle, which featured '90s R&B girl groups Xscape and SWV.  

Both groups gathered in Atlanta for the annual Mother's Day 2021 edition of Verzuz, a tradition that began last year with neo-soul queens Erykah Badu and Jill Scott.

The ladies of Xscape—Kandi Burruss, Tameka "Tiny" Harris, LaTocha Scott and Tamika Scott—hail from Atlanta and were discovered in 1993 by mega producer Jermaine Dupri, who immediately signed them as the first act on his newly formed label So So Def. Meanwhile, SWV (a.k.a Sisters with Voices), is comprised of New York City's Tamara "Taj" Johnson, Leanne "Lelee" Lyons and Cheryl "Coko" Gamble. The trio were school friends who all grew up singing in church.

As viewers waited for the show to start, Salt-N-Pepa alum DJ Spinderella and DJ AONE played throwback tunes like Tevin Campbell's "Can We Talk" and Glenn Close's personal jam "Da Butt."

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The night kicked off with Tamika sending love to all mothers on their special day: "We wanna say happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful mothers out there, that's been holding it down."

The singer set the tone of female empowerment and unity, even paying homage to other '90s girl groups like TLC, 702 and Destiny's Child. "I know everybody thinks this is a battle," she explained, "but this is really a celebration. We are celebrating these two beautiful, talented groups—SWV, Xscape and all the other groups out there."

Prince Williams/Wireimage

Xscape opened with a moving rendition of The Clarke's Sisters' gospel song "Is My Living In Vain" from their 1993 debut album Hummin' Comin' at 'Cha. The quartet also belted out hits like Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby (Mr. Dupri Mix)," which they were featured on, and even surprised fans with a performance by Da Brat, who rapped on the 1995 track.

The group also danced onstage to their energetic dance song "What's Up," after which Tamika considered taking off her heels so she could twerk. But, in true big sister fashion, LaTocha urged her to keep them on. Even Lelee reassured her they were well worth it: "Both of those ass cheeks can twerk by themselves! Like, one ass cheek at a time!"

Leon Bennett/Getty Images for BET

SWV also performed a medley of hits, including songs from their 1992 debut album It's About Time like "I'm So Into You" and their signature power ballad "Weak," which even had Halle Berry fanning out. The Oscar-winning actress tuned in for the event, writing in the comments, "Love all the ladies, thank you for making my weekend beautiful."

It was a night of celebration—for those here and those we have lost. SWV introduced their song "When U Cry" and shared the impactful way the track took on a deeper meaning and garnered new fans following the death of Kim Porter at age 47 in 2018. "For some reason, ‘When U Cry' was added to a video of her and it was a beautiful video," Taj recalled. "And the song just took off. So tonight, we just wanna pay homage to Kim. We miss you. We love you."

Lelee chimed in to extend the dedication, adding, "And all of the fallen soldiers, like, everybody that we've lost recently. We've lost DMX. We've lost Black Rob. Just so many unfortunate things have transpired. Andre Harrell. So, all of the pioneers in R&B music and hip-hop, we just wanna dedicate this song to everybody tonight."

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A special segment showcased some of the ladies' songwriting skills outside of their respective groups, including an unexpected, but awesome mashup of Ed Sheeran's massive 2017 hit "Shape of You" and TLC's 1999 anthem "No Scrubs," which Kandi and Tiny both have writing credits for. The Real Housewives of Atlanta star hit another high note—literally—during Xscape's finale performance of "Understanding" when she nailed her famous whistle note.

But the ultimate moment of Black girl magic occurred when Coko—SWV's lead vocalist—joined Xscape on the classic slow jam "Who Can I Run To." The impromptu sing-along was reminiscent of last September's Verzuz battle when Patti LaBelle joined fellow soul icon Gladys Knight for an unprecedented performance of the 1985 cover song "That's What Friends Are For."

For just over three hours more than 450,000 people watched live, including Tiffany Haddish, Snoop Dogg, who faced off with DMX in the epic Verzuz battle of the dogs last summer and Mimi herself.

In just one year, we've witnessed the brainchild of super producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz evolve from a virtual, split screen of musical acts serenading viewers from separate locations due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to an in-person, full stage production complete with a live audience, celebrity DJs and even wardrobe changes!

With the epic night now behind us, fans are left wondering who will compete in the upcoming Father's Day 2021 Verzuz battle. (Perhaps, Chris Brown vs. Trey Songz or Drake vs. Kendrick Lamar?) In the meantime, let's live in spirit of the lovely ladies of Xscape and SWV, who came together to not only honor mothers everywhere, but to also praise each other.

As Kandi simply put it, "You guys aren't just sisters. We're all sisters!"