Destiny’s Child’s Debut Album Turns 15: Backtracking
By the time their eponymous debut album reached record stores on February 17, 1998, the self-appointed children of destiny had been together for the better part of a decade. The first incarnation of Destiny’s Child was a six-piece band called Girl’s Tyme, and featured nine-year-old divas-in-training Beyonce Knowles and LaTavia Roberson. A year later, 10-year-old Kelly Rowland joined the troupe. Beyonce’s father Mathew Knowles took over management duties in 1993, trimming the group to a trio before adding Houston-native LeToya Luckett.
For the next two years the girls practiced in church and charmed patrons of Tina Knowles’ hair salon with impromptu performances. Bigger stages beckoned, and Destiny’s Child ultimately scored a record deal with Columbia Records in 1997. It took seven years of hard grind, but the hours of practice showed in their perfect harmonies and slick live performances. Unlike groups pieced together by labels, these four teenagers were primed for stardom when their big break finally arrived.
An early incarnation of Destiny’s Child on Star Search in the early-’90s
Given the all-conquering chart spree that followed, it’s easy to forget that the debut LP from Destiny’s Child was not a huge success. It eventually sold over a million copies in the US but many of those sales came after follow-up album The Writing’s On The World exploded, turning the band into the Spice Girls‘ only real chart rival.
Upon its initial release, Destiny’s Child received mixed reviews and peaked at a relatively modest #67 on the Billboard 200 chart. Many critics relegated the quartet to also-ran status alongside B-grade girl groups like Xscape, Allure and Wild Orchid.
Destiny’s Child — “No, No, No Part 1”
While the foursome would soon have the world at their feet, their debut failed to ignite, save for exception of breakthrough Platinum-selling single “No, No, No Part 1” and the Wyclef Jean-remixed “No, No, No Part 2”. Those ’90s classic still sound magnificent, but they aren’t an accurate reflection of Destiny’s Child.
Listening to the album 15 years later, it’s quite obvious why it didn’t click. The girls delivered a slick soul album that completed missed the crossover-pop memo that contemporaries like TLC and En Vogue clearly got. Beyonce herself admitted as much in an interview with the Guardian in 2006, saying, “The first record was successful but not hugely successful. It was a neo-soul record and we were 15 years old. It was way too mature for us.”
Ironically, the reason why the album misfired upon release is arguably the reason why it holds up so well today. With the exception of the Wyclef Jean-produced cuts and second single “With Me,” which now sounds terribly dated but still exudes attitude, the whole record has a timeless quality. It’s no surprise album-opener “Second Nature” was selected for Destiny’s Child’s recent Love Songs compilation. The Isley Brothers-sampling slow jam could have been recorded in the ’70s with the girls’ glorious harmonies slipping and sliding over a sultry guitar-driven groove.
Destiny’s Child — “With Me” on Soul Train
Also featured on Love Songs is the group’s very first released recording, “Killing Time.” A D’Wayne Higgins (formerly of Tony! Toni! Toné!) production, the moody soul song first appeared on the Men In Black soundtrack in 1997. The track has a remarkably adult sound. Bey was right. It’s hard to comprehend that these vocalists were only 15 years old. Also mind-boggling is the fact that they went from crooning about broken hearts on this sparsely-produced, blues-leaning slow jam to gettin’ crunk in the club with “Jumpin’ Jumpin’” a couple of years later.
Destiny’s Child — “Killing Time” (live)
Accusations that manager Mathew favored his daughter and her best friend are understandable when you consider that King B and Kelly got the lion’s share of solos, while LaTavia and LeToya were left to harmonize in the chorus. It’s not just nepotism at play; the richness of Beyonce and Kelly’s voices is immediately apparent in comparison to the other members. A great example is the perky, Prince-inspired, synth-heavy “Show Me The Way,” which finds “Kisses Down Low” songstress Rowland sassing it up on the opening verse before Beyonce takes over, leaving the other ladies to pretty up the chorus. It’s a formula that works for the listener, if not the participants.
Destiny’s Child does have some dull moments. Cuts like “Birthday,” “Tell Me” and “Illusion” meander into generic R&B territory, while “Bridges” falls completely flat. Their bizarre attempt at crossing over into the adult contemporary market with an accomplished, yet ill-advised, cover of The Commodores’ 1979 hit “Sail On” sounds completely out of place, as does the pretty piano ballad “My Time Has Come.” The album-closer is gorgeously performed, but it sounds like it belongs on a completely different album.
Destiny’s Child — “Sail On” (live)
In retrospect, Destiny’s Child has more in common with the act’s final LP, 2004’s Destiny Fulfilled, than The Writing’s On The Wall or 2001 juggernaut Survivor. It didn’t work commercially, but it was startling glimpse of what was to come for the group — and particularly for stand-out vocalists Beyonce and Kelly.