While the inaugural Mother’s Day Verzuz between Erykah Badu and Jill Scott was held virtually in each artist’s respective home last year, in 2021, Atlanta welcomed ’90s R&B girl groups Xscape and SWV with open arms.
The livestream began with battling sets between DJ Aone and DJ Spinderella, formerly of Salt-n-Pepa, both going head to head with a crunk mix followed by a ’90s tribute set featuring Brandy, Adina Howard and Zhané. In partnership with Urban Decay, the Verzuz set glowed with a fluorescent purple atmosphere as SWV and Xscape complimented each other, while decked in all black. Like Badu and Scott, the Verzuz between SWV and Xscape wasn’t a true “battle,” but a celebration of various Black girl groups of the ’90s.
With the event serving as a true testament to the groups’ staying power, here’s how Billboard kept tally of the round-to-round showdown, with our overall winner declared at the bottom.
Round 1: Xscape’s “Is My Living in Vain” vs. Coko feat. Faith Evans, Fantasia & Lil Mo’s “Endow Me”
Following a heartfelt prayer led by Tamika Scott, Xscape jumped straight into full harmony, performing a cover of the Clark Sisters’ “Is My Living in Vain” from their 1993 debut Hummin’ Comin’ At Ya. In response, SWV’s frontwoman tapped into her gospel bag with her 2006 cover of The Clark Sisters’ “Endow Me”.
Round 2: Xscape’s “Feels So Good” vs. SWV feat. Missy Elliott’s “Can We”
In a battle of the bounce, Xscape turned the vibe up a notch by playing their Jermaine Dupri collaboration “Feels So Good” from sophomore album “Off the Hook.” While Missy Elliott wasn’t in attendance, SWV showed the rap icon love by hitting back with “Can We.”
Round 3: Ol’ Skool feat. Xscape & Keith Sweat’s “Am I Dreaming” vs. SWV’s “All Night Long”
“We gotta slow it down, y’all — we got all the ballads,” said Xscape’s Tiny, as the group dove into their 1997 song “Am I Dreaming”, a collaboration with new jack swing group Ol’ Skool and Keith Sweat. SWV reminisced about collaborating with Babyface for their contribution to the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack, later sampled (via Dpat’s “Inhale”) by Bryson Tiller on his 2020 single “Exhale.”
Round 4: Xscape’s “What’s Up” vs. SWV’s “When U Cry”
Taking it to the floor, Xscape launched into “What’s Up” from their unreleased album Unchained (later featured in 2005 film ATL), subtly mixing the track with 2000 single “Don’t Think I’m Not” by group member Kandi Burruss. On a different pace, SWV coasted on “When U Cry” from their 1997 album Release Some Tension, paying homage to the late DMX and Andre Harrell.
Round 5: Xscape’s “The Arms of the One Who Loves You” vs. SWV’s “Downtown”
Complimenting her sister’s vocals, Xscape’s LaTocha Scott selected “The Arms of the One Who Loves You” to counter SWV’s previous ballad. On a sexually charged note, SWV two-stepped to “Downtown”, the sultry track from their 1992 debut It’s About Time.
Round 6: MC Lyte feat. Xscape’s “Keep On Keepin’ On” vs. SWV feat. Puff Daddy’s “Someone”
As Xscape decided to sit on the stairs rather than the couches, SWV remained in place as the groups faced off. Tamika briefly danced with Leelee while Xscape played “Keep On Keepin’ On”. “I didn’t even realize we were all on that soundtrack!” Taj said, after Xscape mentioned that the song came from the soundtrack to Above the Rim – though the collab with MC Lyte was actually from the Sunset Park soundtrack. SWV then joked about the pronunciation of Ciroc while grooving to “Someone,” their 1997 song featuring the rapper-mogul formally known as Puff Daddy.
Round 7: Xscape’s “Work Me Slow” vs. SWV’s “Everything I Love”
In a move that could’ve countered “Downtown,” Xscape broke it down to their 1995 song “Work Me Slow” while Taj beamed with pride over Leelee’s vocals from their 2012 song “Everything I Love.”
Round 8: “Just Kickin’ It” vs. “You’re the One (Allstar Remix) and “You’re the One”
Following a brief moment of commercial break confusion, Xscape regrouped, shouting out ATL icon and music mogul Jermaine Dupri, before he hit the stage to perform “Just Kickin’ It” with the ladies. “Jermaine looked past what we looked like back then and gave us a deal,” said Tamika, possibly alluding to Biggie’s diss of Xscape on his Ready to Die track “Just Playing (Dreams).”
Round 9: Destiny’s Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills” vs. SWV’s “Right Here (Human Nature)”
Outside of Xscape, Burruss’ legendary pen has crafted songs for Alicia Keys, TLC and NSYNC, but “Bills, Bills, Bills” for Destiny’s Child was arguably her songwriting breakthrough — as the 1999 track became DC’s first to top the Billboard Hot 100. SWV then responded with an homage to Michael Jackson as they sang along to their legendary track “Right Here (Human Nature Radio Mix).” The group also gave a quick nod to Pharrell Williams who rapped the song’s classic hook.
Round 10: Xscape’s “Tonight” vs. SWV’s “If Only You Knew”
While the ’90s was a pivotal time for Black girl groups, Xscape was one of the few who sang a cappella. Looking to the past, the group nabbed their 1993 song “Tonight” which they recorded prior to being signed — also shouting out Atlanta collective Organized Noize, who wrote the song. The atmosphere glistened as SWV belted their amorous cover of Patti Labelle’s “If Only You Knew,” flawlessly closing the first half of the battle.
Round 11: SWV’s “I’m So Into You” vs. Xscape’s “My Little Secret”
After an intermission ending with “Bring Em Out” by T.I, SWV led Round 11, taking center stage and launching headfirst into “I’m So Into You”. Appropriately dimming the stage lights, Xscape took it slow to “My Little Secret”.
Round 12: SWV’s “Ain’t No Man” vs. Xscape’s “Softest Place On Earth”
Pulling a more recent track, SWV hit a choreographed dance to “Ain’t No Man” from their 2016 album Still. SWV’s move wasn’t enough to defeat Xscape and like the previous round, Xscape slowed it down to “Softest Place On Earth”, a track that the group’s Tamika Scott said made her husband a fan of the quartet.
Round 13: SWV’s “Use Your Heart” vs. E-40 feat. T-Pain & Kandi Girl’s “U And Dat”
Performing a stripped version of “Use Your Heart,” SWV pulled out standing mics and delicately glided over the track while Taj hit show-stealing vocals. Taking another solo moment, Burruss struggled to conceal her explicit language on her 2006 E-40 and T-Pain collaboration “U And Dat.”
Round 14: Will Smith feat. Coko’s “Men in Black” vs. Mariah Carey feat. Da Brat and Xscape’s “Always Be My Baby (Mr. Dupri Mix)”
The 1997 film Men in Black was an instant blockbuster, but the sci-fi comedy was also a standout moment for Coko as a vocalist on the soundtrack’s title song, with post-Fresh Prince Will Smith. In her 2020 autobiography, Mariah Carey recollected her classic collaboration with Xscape, Jermaine Dupri and Da Brat, as the latter surprised viewers by taking to the Verzuz stage to perform her scorching guest verse.
Round 15: SWV’s “You’re Always On My Mind” vs. Trick Daddy feat. LaTocha Scott’s “Thug Holiday”
Shouting out It’s About Time executive producer and vocalist Brian Alexander Morgan, SWV pulled out a gem from their 1992 debut album in “You’re Always on My Mind.” Xscape countered with a deeper cut that LaTocha Scott said she felt “should really be an anthem,” her “Thug Holiday” collaboration with Trick Daddy from 2002.
Round 16: Coko’s “Sunshine” vs. Xscape’s “Can’t Hang”
Hitting play on her 1999 solo debut Hot Coko, Coko rubbed shoulders with her “singing baby” Jalen Clemons for a brief duet. Digging deep into their new jack swing bag, Xscape stunned with Off the Hook single “Can’t Hang” as Tamika joked that Burruss had all the leading parts.
Round 17: SWV’s “M.C.E. (Man Crush Everyday”) vs. Xscape’s “Do You Want To”
While Mother’s Day was just hours away, the mood shifted to Valentine’s Day as SWV tipped their hats to their #MCE, and Xscape got affectionate over their 1995 single with room-shattering vocals from Tiny and LaTocha.
Round 18: SWV’s “Rain” vs. TLC’s “No Scrubs”
“We’re so thankful to have had three songs trending on TikTok and this is one of those songs,” said Leelee about introducing SWV to Gen-Z. An accompanying guitarist sat on the stairs in tribute to Jaco Pastorius, as SWV stood in unison to their gentle Release Some Tension single. Veering back to their songwriting, Kandi and Tiny dismissed lackluster men over 1999 TLC hit “No Scrubs”. The track was then awkwardly mixed with “Shape of You,” a jab to Ed Sheeran who once tried to escape (no pun intended) crediting the duo on his Hot 100-topping smash.
Round 19: SWV feat. Wu-Tang Clan’s “Anything” vs. Xscape’s “Who Can I Run To”
Taj and Leelee hit synchronized crossover choreography as the energy lifted to “Anything” from the Above the Rim soundtrack (for real this time). At one moment, the drums got chaotic, but SWV remained on point and Taj covered Wu-Tang Clan’s guest contributions bar for bar. Tamika handed the mic to Coko — who fit right in as the fifth member of Xscape, during their hit Jones Girls cover “Who Can I Run To,” kicked off with a verse from DJ Luke Nasty’s “Run”-via-Anderson-.Paak-sampling “Might Be.”
Round 20: SWV’s “Weak” vs. Xscape’s “Understanding”
The guitarist returned to the stage as SWV ended their portion of the final round with their R&B-transcending signature song “Weak,” knocking out the crowd with singing the legendary chorus on repeat. While “Understanding” isn’t as notable as “Weak”, the song stood on its own as Kandi’s vocals pierced through the IG audience of around 460k.
Wider Catalogue: Xscape
With songwriting credits for various artists of the late ’90s and the Y2K era, along with their own catalog, Xscape took the crown for a diverse range of classic R&B contributions.
Best Banter: SWV
Both groups stayed classy throughout the night, but it was a family affair on SWV’s side, as the group’s kids hit the stage to celebrate their mothers’ 30-year reign.
Biggest KO: SWV
With production from producer then-newbies The Neptunes, “Use Your Heart” held its ground confidently against “U And Dat” which fell flat.
People’s Champ: Xscape
LaTocha arguably carried Verzuz throughout the night, even as viewers noticed dwindling energy on occasion from both sides of the stage.