TV One explores Xscape on latest ‘Unsung’

Xscape

Kandi Burruss, LaTocha Scott, Tamika Scott and Tameka “Tiny” Cottle.

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Throughout the 1990s, Atlanta girl group Xscape was one of the most popular R&B acts with three platinum albums and several hit singles including “Just Kickin’ It” and “Who Can I Run To?”

The harmonizing group eventually splintered over creative differences and personal rivalries. Two of the cast members in recent years have revived their careers via reality TV: Kandi Burruss on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and Tameka “Tiny” Cottle on “TI and Tiny” on VH1. (LaTocha Scott had a brief stop on TV One’s “R&B Divas” while her sister Tamika did Tyler Perry plays.)

Now TV One is giving the entire group a historical look on “Unsung” airing tonight at 8 p.m. Here’s a promo:

I pre-screened the episode, which features interviews with all the original members of the group, managers, producers (Jermaine Dupri among them) and family members. My former AJC music colleague Sonia Murray (now at CBS Radio) makes comments too.

Here are some highlights from the hour:

“They were incredible singers but had a hip-hop edge to them,” said Ian Burke, a former manager who helped develop TLC and Arrested Development. “They were like a female Jodeci… TLC was more colorful, more fun.”

“We had baggy clothes. We dressed like little boys,” said LaTocha Scott, who brought a gospel edge to the music.

“It was a dope take on R&B,” said producer Jazze Pha.

“Our shows, we took you to church and back,” said Tiny.

The group started in College Park as a quintet. Tamera Coggins-Wynn was cut out pretty early, leaving sisters Tamika and LaTocha plus Tiny and Kandi. “Just Kickin’ It” hit No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 2 on the pop chart. A Greenbriar Mall record store appearance was so huge, fans chased after their limo. “I felt like Michael Jackson,” Tamika said.

When Tamika got pregnant, a manager tried to convince her to have an abortion or step down from Xscape. But her sister united with her and she stayed in the group and shot a music video while seven months pregnant. Kandi managed to graduate high school while performing in the group.

They ditched the baggy pants for a sleeker look for the second album. And they did a cover of a ballad “Who Can I Run To” has “added beauty to the cover that is not in the original… It speaks to the production and their vibrance,” said Murray.

The episode noted that TLC had much more crossover appeal and they never quite received the respect. Babyface and Diane Warren helped them work on their third album. By that time, LaTocha was getting the vocal spotlight and Dupri told her she could do a solo album after that album.

Kandi was not happy. “They’re setting up her solo project and making us look like the Pips,” she said. Kandi hooked up with Dupri a couple of times. LaTocha said she shouldn’t have “kicked it” with the boss.

LaTocha and Kandi fought. “The beef was heavy,” Kandi said. “Constant negativity.”

By the third album  in 1998, they became more polished and sexier with the hit single “My Little Secret.”

But LaTocha couldn’t take it anymore. She left. Soon after, they just break up completely.

Kandi and Tiny tried to go on as a duo. They wrote “No Scrubs,” which they gave to TLC, their rival’s biggest hit in 2000. They won Grammys. “The sad thing is it wasn’t with Xscape,” Tiny said.

Kandi would go on to write for Pink, Destiny’s Child and Mariah Carey. She would do some solo work that was successful overseas. Tiny’s solo career never got off the ground.

In 2005, LaTocha, Tamika and Tiny wanted to reunite. Kandi said issues were not resolved and didn’t want to go back. She instead signed away her rights to the group. They were readying a comeback with a new fourth member, but Tiny’s new boyfriend T.I. came along and he didn’t think it could work. Tiny blamed that there were business issues that nipped it in the bud.  The group disbanded again.

Kandi and Tiny chose not to participate at a 20th anniversary concert for SoSoDef in 2013 at the Fox Theatre. There has never been a resolution.

Tamika “let er’ rip” by going after Kandi on a radio interview on Hot 107.9. (The “Unsung” editors said it was Hot 97, which it used to be Hot 97 but not anymore.)

On the special, Tamika apologized. Kandi didn’t quite take it.

It doesn’t appear like Xscape will reunite for any reason anytime soon.

 


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