There’s a very good reason Destiny’s Child named their 2001 album Survivor. On their way to becoming one of the most successful female vocal groups of all time, DC endured more drama than the cast of a Mexican telenovela. Fired bandmembers, lawsuits, rumors of breakups, more lineup changes, more lawsuits and a breakout solo career were just some of the obstacles thrown in the group’s way over its 15-year career.
In the end, though, DC rose above all the drama and were survivors. Through a combination of sleek attitude, sophisticated style and sisterly love, they rose to the top of the charts time and again, went solo, then reunited last year for the prophetically titled Destiny Fulfilled, their fifth and final studio album. And as the statement the group released on Sunday said, the group is truly going out “on a high note, united in our friendship and filled with an overwhelming gratitude for our music, our fans, and each other” (see “Destiny’s Child Announce Split” ).
The Early Years
Only a really old-school Destiny’s Child fan would recognize the group that debuted under the DC banner a decade and a half ago. Still in their preteens, the trio was put together by manager (and Beyoncé’s dad) Mathew Knowles in Houston in 1990, featuring his 9-year-old daughter, Beyoncé, and friend LaTavia Roberson. Taking their name from a passage in the Book of Isaiah, the pair — who met at an audition — added Beyoncé’s cousin, Kelendria “Kelly” Rowland, to the mix in 1992 and began making a name for themselves on the local scene with an act that combined singing and rapping.
Not long after Rowland joined up, the trio made their national debut on “Star Search,” where they rapped instead of singing in their now-signature three-part harmony. The group’s original lineup was cemented in 1993 with the addition of LeToya Luckett, and the quartet took to the road, paying dues opening for everyone from SWV and Dru Hill to Immature.
After four hard years on the road, they signed with Columbia Records in 1997 and made their recorded debut that year with the song “Killing Time” on the soundtrack to the box-office smash “Men in Black.” DC’s self-titled debut dropped the next year, with Jermaine Dupri, Wyclef Jean and Corey Rooney lending a hand with production.
The girls hit immediate paydirt with the platinum Jean-produced single “No No No,” a plea to a coy man to act right and show some love, as well as the lesser hit “With Me.” The group took home three Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards and quickly got back in the studio with Kevin “She’kspere” Briggs to work on their second album.
Blowin’ Up And Breaking Up
With Briggs handling most of the production on The Writing’s on the Wall, DC exploded with the sassy lead single, “Bills, Bills, Bills,” a smackdown to men who don’t pay their own way. It became their first #1 single in the summer of 1999, and the album debuted at #6. The follow-up, “Bug a Boo,” hit the top 40 but was just an appetizer for one of the biggest hits of their career, “Say My Name.”
Topping both the R&B and pop charts for three weeks in early 2000, the plea for love turned the quartet into crossover superstars. But, in a pattern that would be repeated, just at the peak of their success, Destiny’s Child was beset by inner turmoil.
In December of ’99, Roberson and Luckett tried to make a break with manager Mathew Knowles over their belief that he was keeping too much of the group’s profits and that he favored Beyoncé and Rowland. The pair said at the time they were only looking to secure outside management, but they soon found themselves on the outs with Knowles. Worse, when the “Say My Name” video debuted in February 2000, they were shocked to find themselves replaced by two new members, Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin.
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Roberson and Luckett did not take the slight lightly, firing off a lawsuit in March against Mathew Knowles and the group and setting off a nasty media battle in which the two sides exchanged barbs in magazines and newspaper interviews. The controversy did nothing to slow the group’s success, as it scored another hit single with “Jumpin, Jumpin” and the album went on to sell 8 million copies.
Just as the group began a string of dates opening for Christina Aguilera, drama reared its head again in July 2000, when it was announced that Franklin would be leaving the group after just five months. According to the group, Franklin was asked to leave after missing a handful of promotional appearances and concerts, with Knowles rubbing salt in the wound by saying at the time, “Destiny’s Child is going to be fine. We’ve done three or four shows already without Farrah and they’ve been phenomenal.”
However, Franklin said she quit because of negative vibes in the group and her inability to assert any control in decision making. Either way, it was the kind of drama that DC fans had gotten used to, and it ushered in the group’s most successful stretch.
Independent Women … Together
Finally set with their final lineup, the trio recorded “Independent Women, Pt. 1″ as the theme song to “Charlie’s Angels.” The girl-empowerment anthem was another smash, hitting the top of the charts and staying there for 11 weeks.
As DC prepared to enter the studio to record their third album, they finally got some good news on the drama front.
Near the end of 2000, Roberson and Luckett agreed to a settlement that required them to drop the part of their lawsuit that targeted their former bandmates (though they retained the suit against Mathew Knowles) and required both sides to stop disparaging each other in public.
In January, the group won an American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Band/Duo and followed it a month later with two Grammys for “Say My Name”: for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group and Best R&B Song.
However, the group’s united public front was showing some cracks. Though they took pains to appear as a group of three equals, during the recording of Survivor it became clear that Beyoncé was emerging as DC’s unequivocal musical leader and public face. Although Rowland was the first DC member to release a solo song (“Angel,” from the Chris Rock movie “Down to Earth”) Beyoncé was more involved than ever in songwriting and production, co-writing all but one song on the album and producing or co-producing most of the tracks as well.
The album title Survivor was reportedly inspired by a DJ’s joke about DC members voting each other off of an island à la the reality show of the same name, but the name proved to be fitting for a group that had endured so much internal strife. The album debuted at #1 in May 2001 and launched two massive hits in the title track and the Stevie Nicks-sampling “Bootylicious,” a sexy ode to feminine beauty that became a near-constant presence on pop and R&B radio.
Beyoncé made her first big break into acting in 2001 as well, appearing in MTV’s “Carmen: A Hip-Hopera,” alongside Mekhi Phifer and Mos Def.
The group canceled a European tour in the wake of the September 11 attacks and performed at a pair of benefits for the survivors of the attack. A stop-gap holiday album, 8 Days of Christmas, was released in late 2001, just as the trio announced that they’d take some time off for solo projects from all three members.
The End, Or A New Beginning?
Just as it seemed as if all the drama with past members had subsided, shortly following the release of This Is the Remix in March 2002, Roberson and Luckett filed suit against DC again, claiming that the song “Survivor,” which featured such lyrics as “I’m not gonna blast you on the radio … I’m not gonna lie on you or your family … I’m not gonna hate you in the magazine,” violated their settlement with lyrics that referenced the ugly split.
As always, DC marched on, picking up a pair of American Music Awards (February) and another Grammy (March) before the solo efforts came fast and furious over the next 12 months.
First up was Williams’ gospel album, Heart to Yours, in April, followed by the hit Rowland/Nelly duet “Dilemma” in July and Beyoncé’s big-screen debut as Foxxy Cleopatra in “Austin Powers in Goldmember” that summer. Beyoncé also contributed two solo songs to the soundtrack, including the Neptunes-produced hit “Work It Out.”
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Rowland released her solo debut, Simply Deep, in late 2002 and began filming her big-screen debut in “Freddy Vs. Jason” as Beyoncé was gearing up to shoot her second film, “The Fighting Temptations.” Beyoncé also found time to record a huge hit single, ” ’03 Bonnie & Clyde,” with her boyfriend, rapper Jay-Z, which set them up as urban music’s golden couple and paved the way for the chart-dominating run by her solo debut.
When Dangerously in Love was released in June 2003, it seemed to signal that DC’s days might be numbered. Just as critics speculated Justin Timberlake could not go back to ‘NSYNC after tasting solo success, the chart domination of such Beyoncé hits as “Crazy in Love,” “Naughty Girl” and the Sean Paul duet “Baby Boy” put the singer at the top of the R&B heap, on the cover of countless magazines and on TV screens thanks to numerous endorsement deals.
Meanwhile, Williams appeared on Broadway in “Aida” in late 2003 and quietly released her second solo album, Do You Know, in early 2004. In February, Beyoncé won five Grammy awards and opened the broadcast with an unforgettable duet with Prince on a medley that included his songs “Purple Rain,” “Baby I’m a Star” and “Let’s Go Crazy” along with her “Crazy in Love.”
Though Beyoncé had originally planned to release a second solo CD made up of unused tracks from the sessions for Dangerously — and despite each member tasting various levels of solo success — the trio announced that it would reunite to release a fifth studio album, the aptly titled Destiny Fulfilled. In July of 2004, Rowland said the reunion was destined to happen. “It was a no-brainer that all of us wanted to do another DC record,” she told MTV News. “That’s where we started. That’s the mold everything we grew from and you can’t just stray away from that. I know all of us are so excited about this next record and we wouldn’t have done the solo records if it wasn’t for Destiny’s Child records.”
Whether they knew it at the time or not, the trio’s recorded swan song, released in November 2004, would allow them to leave the game at the top thanks to hot production from the likes of Rockwilder, Swizz Beatz and Rodney Jerkins. The first single, the frantic “Lose My Breath,” was a #1 hit, followed by “Soldier,” a bouncy homage to thug love that featured the signature DC mix of urban grit and slick production.
Despite the album’s now-prophetic title, the singers shocked fans on Saturday night when they announced that they’ll split after the North American dates for the Destiny Fulfilled … and Lovin’ It Tour, which concludes in September.
While spokespeople for the group did not return calls at press time about what the future might hold for Williams, it’s safe to assume that Rowland will continue with her solo and acting careers. Similarly, Beyoncé has the above-mentioned second solo album at least partially completed, although it’s not clear whether she’ll release that or an all-new LP first.
She also has a pair of movies on tap that should help further establish her reputation as a double threat. Though it was recently pushed back to 2006, Knowles will co-star with Steve Martin in the “Pink Panther” remake, and she’s also slated to star in the remake of the Broadway hit “Dreamgirls,” which also features Jamie Foxx and the just-announced addition of funnyman Eddie Murphy as singing sensation James “Thunder” Early.
However, one thing is certain: The above is certainly not the last we’ll hear from any of them. With worldwide sales of 40 million and a long list of unforgettable singles destined to be radio staples for years to come, DC are secure in their place as one of the most successful girl groups of all time.