Atlanta has been renowned for being the home to a strong crop of rap talent, but the city has also been responsible for introducing us to some of the best R&B artists over the past quarter century. Blockbuster acts like Usher and TLC ruled the '90s and 2000s with monster albums and singles, but one group that tends to get overlooked for their contributions to the genre is Xscape.
The group's initial members met at Tri-Cities, a popular performing arts school just outside of the Atlanta city limits. Like most group's looking to make a name for themselves, they began performing in a number of local talent shows. Originally sisters LaTocha and Tamika Scott, Tamera Coggins, Kandi Burruss and Tameka "Tiny" Cottle comprised Xscape but after Coggins left the group in 1991 they were down to four. They continued on without Coggins and caught their big break after a performance that impressed Jermaine Dupri, who was in the process of building his So So Def Recordings roster.
Inking a deal with So So Def shortly after, Xscape immediately got to work on their debut album, Hummin Comin' at Cha. Released in October of 1993, the album blasted the group into the spotlight and spawned two of the year's biggest R&B hits -- "Just Kickin It' and 'Understanding" -- both of which reached the top ten on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.
Those songs played a big part in Xscape earning a platinum plaque for their debut album within a year. Returning on July 18, 1995, with their sophomore album, Off the Hook, Xscape struck platinum again with what would prove to be one of the year's better R&B releases. Whereas their debut LP didn't feature them as writers in the credits, on Off the Hook, they're credited with writing five of the 12 tracks. Dupri, Organized Noize, Carl Lowe and Saryl Simmons are just some of the names that handle the production.
Twenty years after its release, we share the five best songs from Xscape's Off the Hook album.
It's always "Hard to Say Goodbye" and Xscape details how painful that ordeal can be with a beat produced by Jermaine Dupri, Carl-So-Lowe and Manuel Seal, Jr. The beat is powered by light drums, keys and guitar riffs that collide, resulting in a steamy soundbed that is perfect for any red light special. "Hard To Say Goodbye" is a passionate, yet sentimental number that finds the ladies pining for a lost love. "Boy I miss you much / I wish we were together again / Oh how I'm missing you / It's so hard for me to say goodbye," they sing.
Off The Hook gets into full slow jam mode with "Do You Want To," which captures the four Atlanta natives yearning for a little love and affection. Written and produced by Darryl Simmons, the track consists of feathery drum kicks, snares and keys and features Tiny tackling lead on the verses, singing, "Never should have kissed ya / Never made that call / I told myself, in love I should not fall" while LaTocha Scott shines on the song's bridge.
The four femme fatale's ask "What Can I Do" to reclaim the love of their estranged significant others on this album heater. Co-written by Jermaine Dupri, Xscape and Muhammad Bell, as well as produced by Dupri, the song is more boom-bap than silky smooth, which was a signature of contemporary R&B at the time. The effort also contains interpolations of Zapp's "Computer Love" and "Lick Da Balls" by Slick Rick. "What Can I Do" is nothing short of a knocker.
"Can't Hang"Featuring MC Lyte
Xscape takes on all challenges from prospective lovers with "Can't Hang," a frisky selection featuring MC Lyte. Kandi Burruss and LaTocha Scott take on lead vocal duties and both turn in impressive performances, while Tiny provides reinforcement on the chorus. The legendary MC Lyte also pops up and lends her distinct, gruff voice to the track, spitting, "You talk a lot of this and talk a lot of that / Is it all fact, brother man, are you phat / 'Cause if it's on the real I come with mad sex appeal / Flip like the luscious, you know the deal." From its funky beat courtesy of Carl-So-Lowe to the lyrical content and arrangement, "Can't Hang" gets our nod of approval.
Most covers of famous songs rarely live up to the original, but Xscape's rendition of the Jones Girls' 1979 hit, "Who Can I Run To" proves to be an exception to the rule. Released as the second single from Off the Hook, the song peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and would go on to become the album's biggest hit. LaTocha and Tamika provide the lead vocals on this outing, while Tiny and Kandi lend their talents to the resounding hook and bridge, flexing their pipes over the plush soundbed concocted by Jermaine Dupri. "Who Can I Run To" remains one of the more recognizable offerings in the Xscape catalog and is a classic that gives their first album a serious run for its money.
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