When Kut Klose debuted on Keith Sweat’s “Get Up On It,” the title track to his fourth LP, the trio was destined for stardom. Athena Cage, Lavonn Battle and Tabitha Duncan checked all the boxes for a successful girl group: they were cute, mentored by a well-known star, debuted on a Top 20 R&B single and, boy, could they sing. However, outside of their collaborations with Sweat, Kut Klose goes down in history as a one-hit wonder. It might seem baffling why a group with such promise is barely a footnote in the annals of ‘90s R&B music. However, it becomes pretty obvious what went wrong once you get into their debut album.
Their 1995 debut, Surrender, is an LP full of sweet nothings. And by sweet nothings, we mean nothing special sung exceptionally well. The ladies deliver heavenly harmonies and lead singer Athena Cage’s powerhouse vocals cannot be denied. However, the lyrical content and production is deeply lacking and derivative of other R&B projects at the time.
“Do Me” sounds like a lazy attempt to capitalize on popular slang for sex. “Keep On,” is decent enough, but it’s a damn shame when you can’t flip Patrice Rushen’s classic “Remind Me,” sampled a few years earlier by Mary J. Blige for her hit debut single, into a noteworthy track. “Don’t Change” and "Sexual Baby" have great harmonies but monotonous lyrics. Even their biggest hit “I Like” sounds derivative of something R. Kelly would have written for Changing Faces.
While Keith Sweat executive produced the album, he only worked on four tracks: the opening banger, “Lay My Body Down;” the title track “Surrender;” “Get Up On It,” which was on his album of the same name, and the “Get Up On It” remix. While seeing “Get Up On It” included on the tracklisting doesn’t bode well, it isn’t a bad thing. The duet is the perfect ‘90s bedroom track. It features women in a post-janet., post-Erotica era, no longer acting coy and demure about their sexuality but letting their male admirers know they want the same thing, so let’s be grown up about doing the grown up. It’s more mature than Keith Sweat’s usual bedroom pandering, which defined much of his career. However, the remix, while fun, is a filler track. A decent track, but still filler.
The other hit on the project is the quiet storm staple, “I Like.” The track is a tranquil groove that is definitively ‘90s but timeless in its composition. Deviating from most of the tracks on the album, Athena shares lead vocal duties with Lavonn who proves that she is equally capable of holding it down. Lavonn delivers sweet, unassuming pillow talk before hitting a chilling note, demanding, “Don’t let me go baby,” then retreating back to her lilting soprano. Athena then brings the song on home in the second verse. “I Like” would achieve greater success than “Get Up On It,” reaching No. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 12 on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles charts.
Other noteworthy tracks include the singles “Lovely Thing” and “Surrender.” The former is a bouncy, uptempo New Jack Swing track about pursuing a crush, while "Surrender" is a bedroom jam after Keith Sweat's own heart where the ladies tell their boo thang there is no denying their loving and to stop fighting it.
While Surrender didn't exactly burn up the charts, bowing at No. 66 on the US Billboard 200, the girls continued to make an impact on music as featured artists on Keith Sweat's self-titled fifth album. In fact, the singles "Twisted" and "Nobody" would reach No. 2 and No. 3 respectively on the Billboard Hot 100, scoring Mr. Sweat his biggest hits. After giving their mentor the greatest success of his career, the ladies went their separate ways.
Athena Cage would go on to pursue a solo career, but would ultimately be more successful as an advocate for education. Lavonn and Tabitha continued to work behind the scenes and live lives outside of the spotlight. However, the group has reunited a few times, going on tour with Keith, and even put out a new single in 2010, "Let It Ring," in anticipation of a new album. While that album has yet to materialize, no matter what the ladies do or don't do today, we have to give the ladies their proper due for their past contributions to our '90s slow jam playlists, with or without their mentor.