by Billy Nilles | Sat., Feb. 17, 2018 5:00 AM
Beyoncé didn't always run the world.
Before she became the fierce diva we know today, a person capable of joining the ranks of other one-name celebrities like Cher and Oprah and one of the best-selling musicians in history, she was known as Beyoncé Knowles, lead vocalist of a little girl group known as Destiny's Child. And it was 20 years ago today that the world got their first real taste of what the group—and its eventual star—was capable of when they released their debut self-titled album.
As long as it seems the road from that release to Beyoncé's monumental stardom was, the road to getting Destiny's Child on the map was almost longer.
It took eight years for the original line-up of Destiny's Child, which consisted of Knowles, Kelly Rowland, LaTavia Roberson and LaToya Luckett, to get from the moment when Bey and Roberson had a fateful meeting at an audition to the point where Knowles' father Mathew—who would prove to be a controversial figure in the group's history—managed them to the release of their debut album. Along the way, they would be known by different names (Gir's Tyme was the first), see their ranks fluctuate in size (a harbinger of things to come, the group went from six to four, with three unlucky singers getting the boot before the group was even signed), and get dropped by one label before they even had a chance to release any material (Elektra Records' loss was Columbia's gain).
After a track recorded just prior to signing with Columbia, "Killing Time," earned them a spot on the soundtrack to the 1997 film Men in Black, it was time to get to work on their debut album. A two-and-a-half year recording process lead to a body of work featuring production from Jermaine Dupri, Wyclef Jean, Dwyane Wiggins and more, with "No, No, No" acting as their lead single, released in November of 1997.
By the time the album was released on February 17, 1998, a second, less-successful single, "With Me," had been released. And, well, we'll just let the future superstar describe the release.
"The first record was successful but not hugely successful," Knowles told The Guardian in 2006, reflecting on the album. "It was a neo-soul record and we were 15 years old. It was way too mature for us."
And the thing is, she isn't wrong. Listening to Destiny's Child today is a bit of a slog. While the group's vocal prowess, including Knowles' star-making abilities and the quartet's stunning harmonies, is more than evident, the innovative spirit that would come to define the group in their later releases is nowhere to be found. Think about it: Every song that readily comes to mind when one thinks of Destiny's Child came after the fact. "Say My Name"? 1999's The Writing's on the Wall. "Bootylicious"? 2001's Survivor. "Soldier"? 2004's Destiny Fulfilled. Sure, "No, No, No" was a success—or rather, Jean's "Part 2" remix of the original was—but even the most die-hard DC fan will tell you that track barely cracks the Top 10 of their best songs. Rather, the listen comes across as evidence of incredible talent that no one involved really knew quite what to do with.
The album would come to spend 26 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart, peaking at number 67, which, while respectable for an unproven new act, isn't exactly earth-shattering. Their performance on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart was better, with the album peaking at 14—and the album eventually went on to sell over one million copies, earning platinum certification. But perhaps recognizing that the modest success was nothing to rest on, the group went right into recording sessions on their massively successful follow-up, working with new producers like Missy Elliott, Rodney Jerkins, Kevin "She'kspere" Biggs and Kandi Burruss, who would help usher in the more youthful and innovative sound that would come to define the group still all these years later.
Soon, the rotating line-up of the group (which eventually became a trio famously featuring Knowles, Rowland and Michelle Williams), Knowles' irrepressible star power and drama with her father, as well as some truly unforgettable music, would come to overshadow that initial debut, making it easy to forget those early days when Mathew was maybe the only one who had faith in them and mama Tina was making all their costumes. And while the album celebrating two decades of existence may have become something of an afterthought in the grand story of Destiny's Child's, it only serves as proof that if you've got the goods and the determination and the perseverance, you might just be able to overcome your lowly beginnings to become the next Beyoncé.
As Bey herself noted in a 2016 interview with Elle, it was the aftermath of that album's release that helped her, for the first time, realize that she had real power in the game. "The label didn't really believe we were pop stars. They underestimated us, and because of that, they allowed us to write our own songs and write our own video treatments. It ended up being the best thing, because that's when I became an artist and took control," she told the publication. "It wasn't a conscious thing. It was because we had a vision for ourselves and nobody really cared to ask us what our vision was. So we created it on our own, and once it was successful, I realized that we had the power to create whatever vision we wanted for ourselves. We didn't have to go through other writers or have the label create our launch plans—we had the power to create those things ourselves."
And the rest, as they say, is history.
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