Birthed in Houston, Texas initially named Girls Tyme, the original Destiny’s Child comprised of Latavia Robinson, Latoya Luckett, Kelly Rowland and lead singer Beyoncé Knowles. Destiny’s Child are the most successful female group in history with over 60 million records sold, sold out world tours and former lead singer Beyonce has gone on to become one of the most celebrated icons in music.
Their departure left a void which has never been filled. Whilst spawning the Wyclef-assisted classic platinum-certified single “No, No, No”, the self-titled debut album only peaked at number 63 on the US Album Charts. Remember the second single ‘With You’ featuring Jermaine Dupri? I didn’t think so.
The group’s seminal sophomore album, The Writings on the Wall, marks when Destiny’s Child became that girl group! DC weren’t short on controversy either; members Latavia Robinson and Latoya Luckett saw the video for smash-hit single “Say My Name” on TV with Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin in their place. Franklin left shortly after the release of fourth single “Jumpin’ Jumpin'”.
What makes this a classic? It is an album you can pop in the player fresh out of the wrapper, press play and tell the fast forward button “Find a new hobby!” But to me, it takes more than a solid album to be stamped a classic. There must be some sort of impact or significance in my opinion; an album everyone spoke about, played in cars, brings back memories of a particular time, moved the genre forward and/or one that many will agree on.
If I had to sum this album up in one sentence I’d say: “Voice of the next generation via the voice of the next generation.”
Released on July 27, 1999 by Columbia/Sony, the mind state of the independent millennium woman is documented on WOTW. Over the course of 16 tracks DC cover various aspects of a relationship introduced by individual skits in form of commandments: Man ain’t paying your Bills? It’s ok to leave him (“Thou shall pay bills” on “Bills, Bills, Bills”). Male gets on female’s nerves? It’s ok to cheat on him and even tell him (“Thou shall confess” on “Confessions”). Male has girlfriend, female has boyfriend? It’s ok to run off with the new guy (“Thou shall move on to the next” on “If You Leave”).
Guess it kinda back fired because females now wonder, “We met 2 weeks ago and he has only texted once, why hasn’t he called yet?” Well, that’s because “Thou shall not bug” on “Bug-A-Boo”. On the flip side, they do offer balance; refusing the urge to cheat on “Temptation” (“Thou shall not give in to temptation”) and “Sweet Sixteen” encourages young females to value their youth (“Thou shall cherish life”).
And with Beyonce on lead vocal duties, well, that’s the jam in the doughnut. She hits every single song out of the park, frequently adopting her unique melodic rap style coupled with mazy riffs. Who’d have known what Mrs. Knowles-Carter would go on to become. An assortment of “phat” beats were supplied by the most forward thinking producers at the time including She’kspere, Missy Elliott, Dwayne Wiggins, Daryl Simmons and Rodney Jerkins – some of whom helped shape the sound of R&B in the late ’90s-early ’00s.
Last but not least, in my personal opinion, most of the stand-out tracks were courtesy of former Xscape member Kandi Burruss who, at the time of getting in the lab with DC, had recently began to carve out what would become a successful run crafting some of the best female-empowering R&B anthems to this day. Spice Girls were pushing “Girl power!” in the pop market as TLC had to r&b, but Kandi brought a swagger to R&B with a fearless approach of what some classed as “male bashing” instead of the more sub-servant or seductive role females usually played in R&B at the time with a brand of conversational and relatable anthems. Female’s related; male’s rated their “gangsta” for going at males like that. I bought this album off the strength of three bangers, “So Good”, “Bug-A-Boo” and “Say My Name”, all in heavy rotation on pirate radio stations in London around the albums release – to this day, it it one of my favourite r&b albums ever!
SoulCulture recently spoke with Kandi, co-writer of five songs including the first two singles “Bills, Bills, Bills” and “Bug-A-Boo”, about the inspiration and process of writing the songs, an ex-group member unintentionally inspiring “So Good”, incorporating slang terms like “Bug-a-boo” and female-empowering anthems.
Kandi shares her initial opinion of the group: “The funny thing is we were on the same label. Xscape were on Columbia and so was Destiny’s Child. I had seen them around and whatever. They was cool, I liked them as a group and I liked their first song “No, No, No”, but for me it wasn’t really about them, it was another opportunity to keep writing for other artists. The opportunity had came, and She’kspere and I had become a partnership – he was the producer, I was the writer. We were like a team, so he wanted me there.
“‘No Scrubs’ [by TLC] was both of our first hit, so we wanted to keep the momentum moving. They didn’t even know I was coming, they just knew they was gonna work with this group that did this song with TLC. For them, they were hungry, they were successful; for us we only had one song that had got played. I don’t even think “No Scrubs” was out yet when we agreed to work with them. They just knew that there was supposed to be this hit song that everyone was buzzing about. For us, it was just as good to work with them as it was for us to work with them.”
The Writing’s On The Wall is the first album where members of the group were credited for writing. Kandi explains the writing process: “Some of the songs I had already wrote, some I did with them. She’kspere had got the opportunity to work with the girls and asked me to come along.
“The first time we took a trip to Texas to work with them, their manager, Beyonce‘s dad, was like, ‘We already know what we want to do with this album, so I don’t really know what you guys are gonna bring to the table, but we’ll see what you come up with.’ He didn’t really think we were going to come up with anything.”
Little did manager Mathew Knowles know, Kandi and She’kspere would produce what became the first single “Bills, Bills, Bills”. The video, set in a salon, opens with Beyoncé telling her love interest she’s sick of him – a marked change from the girl-next-door we saw in “No, No, No”. Equipped with a chorus asking, ‘Can you pay my bills?’ ending with, ‘I don’t think you do/ So you and me are through‘ and the unforgettable, ‘You trifilin’ good for nothin’ type of brother,’ it’s no wonder male-bashing claims arose.
Kandi recalls the creation of “Bills, Bills, Bills”: ”She’kspere and I were in Texas. I think we were in the store or something. He started beat boxing the beat in his head; he was like, ‘It’d be dope if we played off of bills. Can you pay my bills? Pay my automobiles?’ So he was the one who was saying to do a song saying that to a guy. I was like, ‘Ok, but we need to explain why we’re asking the guy that.’
“In the verses, I used a lot of my own relationships. The same guy that kinda inspired “No Scrubs” to me, I kinda used that situation for the verses. When I said ‘You were taking me places I ain’t ever been and now you’re getting comfortable, ain’t doing those things you did no more, you’re making me pay for things that your money should be handling!’ I was using my personal experiences of how the guy’s mama’s number was there more than once – that was true. I didn’t tell the girls that. They did help on some parts but…
“Actually, one of the girls was dating the same guy at that time that I used to date! I didn’t even tell her that some of the things I was saying was about this dude [laughs]. It’s kinda funny. Him driving my car, using my phone – all that kinda stuff was true things that happened to me, but that happens a lot. I make fun of situations I’ve been in.”
“Bills, Bills, Bills” shot to number 1 on the US Billboard Charts, becoming Destiny’s Child’s first of many Hot 100 chart-toppers. For Kandi, it was her second chart topper in a matter of months, plus nominated for “Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals” and “Best R&B Song” at 42nd Grammy Awards in January 2000 (beaten in both categories by TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’).
Kandi’s writing career started after her group Xscape split. “I was put in a position where I had to figure out what was the next step in my life. What was I gonna do next? I didn’t know. I was just trying to make things happen. Me and Tiny did the thing, the project never came out, but that was how my writing career jumped off. So, for me [the number 1's] was kinda like confirmation for me that my career was not over.”
Similar emotions inspired the uplifting, anti-hater anthem “So Good” boasting the line: “This is for them haters that said we wouldn’t make it/ Now we doing platinum and now you can’t take it”. Although it was never released as an official single, it received a lot of radio airplay and is still a favourite of many. It’s also alleged they were performing it when they were booed off during Hot 97’s Summer Jam in 2000.
Destiny’s Child – “So Good”:
Kandi talks writing the song: “That’s the funny thing, they could relate to it, I guess, but to me that was really my story. If you go back and listen to the words of the song… Like, my group had fell apart. My group member basically told me ‘Ain’t nobody gonna be checking for you,’ you know what I’m saying? So for me to write that song, I was really inspired by my own situation at that time. It’s like ‘You hated but I’m doing good. [Sings] So good.’ It was like my story.”
Kandi also landed second single, “Bug-A-Boo”, a song created in the first session with the group. “Before She’k and I had gone down there, we had a couple of ideas that I had already started like the ‘Bug-A-Boo’ idea and I had this idea for, I think, “So Good” that I already had in mind.
“When they was listening to the tracks, at first I was being quiet and letting them say their opinions, but they were listening to those tracks and kinda of like, ‘I don’t like this, I don’t know about that.’ When the track for ‘Bug-A-Boo’ played they were like, ‘I don’t know about this,’ because, you know, if you just listen to that track and they had never heard the song or the concept over it, you’ll be thinking, ‘What can somebody sing over this?’ I remember I was like, ‘Do y’all mind if I sing to you the idea that I was thinking?’ and they was like ‘Cool,’ so I started singing.“Normally, what I do if I know I’m going to work with an artist, I’ll maybe have the verse and hook already written, so just in case if they do wanna add some of their ideas to it, then feel like it’s something they can collaborate on. I just like to have the basics, the melody, the concept – pretty much everything was done, they can help fill in the blanks or whatever so they can feel like they helped, y’know what I mean? I said, ‘It’d be dope if we said this or that,’ I think they changed around like one thing of what I was saying and they loved it. From that point, as we did that song and I think we did the “So Good” song, they wanted us to come back for another trip to work with them again. I think we had started on “Bills, Bills, Bills” or playing them the idea of the concept, so we came back and finished the rest of the records.”
The single only peaked at #33 on the US Billboard Hot 100, however, “bug-a-boo” made it’s way into slang dictionary to describe anyone that contacts too often. Kandi explains the origins of the word: ‘Me personally, I use a lot of slang, so certain words that I felt like are cool words I just try to take them and make cool songs out of ‘em. Same way with No Scrubs, I’ll just use a slang term that I use with friends. ‘Bug-A-Boo’, that’s a saying I say all the time. I cannot stand when I let a person go through to voicemail, and they keep hanging up and calling back. Or you tell them ‘Hey, call me back in 5 minutes’ and they call back in exactly 4.5 minutes, like ‘Damn, such a bug-a-boo! Back up off me!’
“So, it’s just something I always used to say. I don’t know if it’s a term I created or if it was a general term me and my friends used to say it all the time. I’m always saying something crazy and sometimes I’ll make a song out of it. I think that’s one of the best songs, because it’s relatable.”
“Hey Ladies” is a quintessential Kandi girl power anthem where DC urge ladies to stop holding on and tell unsuitable men “He’s got to go!” Kandi speaks on another real-life situation that inspired it, plus female-empowering movement she’s known for: “It wasn’t a plan, it just happened that way. I was just writing songs inspired by relationships or things that I had wondered. It was just me and my personality on record.
“I didn’t know people were going to look at it as this big girl empowerment movement. I didn’t know that when I was doing it. I’m constantly writing about things that I am going through at that time. For me, if I’m mad or the dude pissed me off or whatever, then I’m talking about it when I’m in the studio. “No Scrubs” and “Bills, Bills, Bills” were inspired by the same dude.
Destiny’s Child – “Hey Ladies”:
“Hey Ladies” was a different guy I was dating. He had erm, he kinda um, he cheated on me with this chick and she wasn’t even hot! A friend of mine told me about the girl like and he had took her to the mall. I was like ‘What?! He took this chick to the mall? How’s he gonna be taking her to the mall?’ He’s meant to have been buying panties for this [female], y’know what I mean? [Laughs]
“So, for me I was kinda venting on certain songs. A lot of these songs are inspired by previous relationships and I just put it on record and make fun of it. I’m kinda like one of those real sarcastic people anyways, so it’s like I’m making a joke of a bad situation.”
Third single “Say My Name,” produced by Darkchild, released on January 14, 2000 enjoyed the most chart success from the album winning awards including “Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals” and “Best R&B Song” at the 2001 Grammy Awards.
They scored another top 5 with “Jumpin’ Jumpin'”. The Writing’s On The Wall re-entered the top 5 of the US Billboard Charts eventually shifting in excess of 16 million albums worldwide. A re-packaged album with four bonus tracks; lead single from blockbuster movie Charlie’s Angels OST “Independent Woman part I”, “Independent Women part II”, Christmas song “8 Days of Christmas” and hit single “No, No, No” from debut album.
We asked Kandi for her favourite song on the album: “My favorite from Writing’s On The Wall is hard. That was a great album & I did some great songs with them. If I have to pick I’d say “Bills Bills Bills” just because it was a hot single but “Hey Ladies” was super hot… Hell they all were!”
Although the album never received even a Grammy nomination, I’m sure I speak for most of you reading when I say this is easily one of the best albums ever created by a female group. I’ll also go on record to say despite all her success and plaudits, Beyoncé hasn’t been anywhere near close to producing an album as good. That isn’t blogger shade for hits, it’s the truth [disclaimer: in Marvin's opinion].