(Hulu) — "The Sing-Off" was back for a sixth episode after last week's devastating double elimination, where two groups were sent home after hitting a sour note with the judges. Eight groups out of the original 16 were back this week for their hardest challenge yet: hip-hop track night, where contestants were tasked with re-interpreting popular hip-hop tunes by stripping them down to the bones -- no synthesizers, no instruments, just human voices. According to R&B royalty judge Shawn Stockman, this episode is the first time a show on primetime has ever devoted an entire night to hip-hop, making it momentous for contestants and viewers alike.
"The Sing-Off" had another "first" this week: The bottom two groups went head-to-head at the end of the night for the first ever "Sing-Off" battle, taking on Nelly's club classic "Just a Dream." Nashville's The Collective faced off with The Yellow Jackets from Rochester University, but the country crooners had to bow out of the competition out after the judges got lost in their complicated arrangements. We'll miss their signature southern sound, and front woman Ruby, who never failed to make a good impression.
The Collective wasn't the only group thrown off their groove. The hip-hop theme put almost all of our contestants out of their element, and cranked up the pressure for the bassists and beat-boxers among them. Despite their struggles, there were some superb songs this week. Here are our Top Five songs from Week 6:
(5) Urban Method, "Airplanes"
Urban Method had the obvious advantage this week as the only group who regularly performs hip-hop tunes, and who pride themselves on their unique, gritty approach to a capella. Expectations were high, and rapper Michael was feeling the pressure as the other groups prepared to take on his turf. A last-minute song change, solid vocal delivery, and the addition of surprising vocal sound effects that sounded like crickets and synthesizers saved this Denver group from going home. It was also refreshing to see a seasoned rapper in his comfort zone after a night of wincing at the earnest efforts of first-timers.
(4) Afro-Blue, "Killing Me Softly"
Howard University's Afro-Blue continued their streak of being the judges' favorite this week, stunning Ben, Sara, and Shawn with their jazzy, intricate, and technically flawless arrangement of The Fugees' version of "Killing Me Softly." They took a risk by paying homage to Howard alumna Roberta Flack's cover of the tune, starting off slow and passing on the rapping, but their gamble paid off when Sara and Shawn gave them a standing ovation.
(3) Delilah, "How To Love"
After a few rocky weeks in the bottom two, this all-girl group of "Sing-Off" alumnae shot back to the top by playing to their strengths and re-interpreting this Lil Wayne tune as an emotional power-ballad. It was a smart move, given their lack of hip-hop experience and their knack for bringing out the passion in unlikely songs. The judges were impressed, and appreciated that they came from a genuine, authentic place. We were relieved to see them recapture the wow factor they delivered in the first week, and loved seeing vocal percussionist Gina step out of the background for a solo.
(2) The Dartmouth Aires, "Club Can't Handle Me"
Week after week, these Ivy Leaguers wow us with energetic performances that are pure fun. Despite being in completely uncharted territory with the hip-hop genre (their forte is rock), they pulled off one of their most charming renditions yet. Unlike most of the other groups, who played to their strengths, the Aires impressed us by risking a first-time rapper, Henry, in the spotlight. Their infectious exuberance made up for his inexperience, which barely showed. The song swelled to an uplifting finale that gave us goose bumps, and reminded us why we love a capella.
(1) Pentatonix, "Love Lockdown"
Pentatonix blew our minds for the second week in a row with their futuristic, effects-heavy style and robotic choreography. They gave Kanye West's "Love Lockdown" a slow, sexy, techno twist, astounding the judges, who geeked out over their technique and execution. This five-person group, by far the smallest left in the competition, competes with the bigger groups by bringing out each performer singularly and impeccably. We've never heard anything like them, and apparently neither have the judges, who seem to believe that they've been sent from the future to save a capella. Their fearless choices and confident arrangements go a long way in convincing us that that might be true.
Next week, the stakes will be even higher when our seven remaining groups reimagine songs from the most famous artists of all time. They'll also be getting spooky with a Halloween-themed group performance that you won't want to miss:
"The Sing-Off" airs Mondays at 8pm ET on NBC.
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