Destiny's Chirren: How DC4's 'The Writing's on the Wall' is an Ode to Sisterhood
I'm chilling at the spot and my posse's 4 deep. Of the refined girl group Girl's Tyme emerged Destiny's Child— more fondly known as DC4 in reference to its original members: Beyoncé Knowles, LaTavia Roberson, LeToya Luckett, and Kelly Rowland. Though Destiny's Child released No, No, No Pt. 1 in 1997, it wasn't until Wyclef remixed the song that the girls had their first hit single. Boy I know you want me I can see it in your eyes, but you keep on frontin' won't you say what's on your mind. Every talent show performance featured little Black girls across the nation mimicking the posey choreography and dance transitions, giving each girl time in the front although it was made clear there was one lead singer.
The young women graced our screens donning fraternal garb in identical fabrics and sporting tresses that were indicative of their individual styles. Kelly's pixie cut, whether purple or red, became a 90's staple. LeToya's natural brown hair and signature bang gave her the authentic coolness modeled by Aaliyah. LaTavia's big red curls matched the level of fierceness in her performances. And Beyoncé's perfectly blonde micro braids were coiffed to perfection— a classic combination of risqué and timeless that proved to be an image built for a lead singer. LaTavia and Beyoncé were childhood friends and knew each other the longest of the quartet. They were founding members of the group Girl's Tyme before rebranding as Destiny's Child. Beyoncé met LeToya in elementary school and encouraged her to try out for her girl group; she would go on to sing soprano. Kelly's mother was a friend of LaTavia's family and, after hearing Kelly sing I'm Your Baby Tonight by Whitney Houston, LaTavia encouraged Kelly to audition for Beyoncé's dad. LaTavia started in Girl's Tyme as a rapper and a dancer; she was known for being the sassy one of the group and found leadership as the group's spokesperson. LeToya was the jokester, always making the other members laugh. Kelly was the more timid member, while Beyoncé served as the mother figure— always reeling the girls back in.
DC4 was like your older cousin and all her cool friends. They were the sixteen and seventeen year olds who'd just gotten their licenses and drove brand new Jeeps to their high school. They were pretty girls walking through the Galleria on a hot summer day that shunned men who didn't offer to carry their bags. They embodied Black girlhood and friendships.
Although their self-titled album did fairly well, it is their sophomore album, The Writing's on the Wall, that is considered the group's breakthrough album. Because Black people love a good mob film, what better way to kick off The Writing's on the Wall than to pay homage to The Godfather? The group starts off the album Set It Off style, introducing the ladies as Beyoncé Corleone; Kelly Steracki; LaTavia Menser; and LeToya Barzini. The album features each member giving their Biblical-style commandments on love with phrases like "Thou shalt pay bills."
The intro song, So Good, is an ode to high school haters everywhere and is still a bop a decade later. It's about the transition from their peers initially doubting their success to congratulating them on going platinum. Wasn't it you that said that I wouldn't do too good? Look at me, now ain't God good? I finally made it out the hood. Not only is it a testament of distinguishment, but the song promotes togetherness— staying true to those who have been beside you every step of the way, accompanied by the use of "us" and "we" in the second verse when describing the team's accolades. While DC4 basked in their newfound success, they also explored themes of infidelity and having agency as young women. While they fell victim to the game at times, songs like Confessions (produced by Missy Elliott) and If You Leave (featuring Next) let you know how adolescent teens deal with trifling boyfriends who don't pay their cell phone bills. Songs like Temptation was a cult favorite, sang to the melody of This Old Man. Sexy boy, you so fly. I wish I could give you a try. But my man's at home waiting for me by the phone. Sorry can't get my groove on.
Critics acknowledged The Writing's on the Wall as the group's breakthrough album, although describing the songwriting as "shaky" and "uneven" in reviews. LaTavia was perhaps the hidden gem of the group, gaining a larger share of writing credits than any other member. The songs were by and meant for the consumption of Black teenage girls, yet were being judged by older white men. This became a common theme for the group in their early years as indicated by their performance on Star Search under the moniker Girl's Tyme. They incorporated 90s slang words like 'perpetrating,' 'ends,' and 'clique'— words that weren't relatable to The Academy, but meant everything to little girls brushing their baby hairs down listening to Destiny's Child before school in the morning. I'd argue that their early-staccato melodies were amongst the best songs written for Destiny's Child. Bug-a-Boo was one of the group's lowest charting singles, however, its cultural impacts were longstanding. How many bug-a-boos did you know? And who else thought you were breaking a leash so you could move, long before you even knew what a lease was? Bills, Bills, Bills landed the group their first #1 record on the Billboard 100. Say My Name (recorded by Luckett and Roberson, although they didn't appear in the video) was #1 for three consecutive weeks and earned the original quartet two Grammy awards. The writing is impeccable, and the choppiness is overshadowed by the genius of packing so many syllables and holistic thoughts into such short increments. This style was mimicked in Independent Women Pt. 1 but overall fell flat, gaining early success behind the Charlie's Angels soundtrack but not aging nearly as well as Bills, Bills, Bills or Say My Name.
Haven't paid the first bill but you're steady heading to the mall
Going on shopping sprees perpetrating telling your friends that you be balling.
And then you use my cell phone,
Calling whoever that you thinks at home.
And then when the bill comes all of a sudden you be acting dumb,
Don't know where none of these calls come from, when your mama's number's here more than once.
What is up with this? Tell the truth, who you with?
How would you like it if I came over with my clique?
Don't try to change it now, saying you gotta bounce
When two seconds ago, said you just got in the house.
You need to chill out with that mess, 'cause you can't keep having me stressed.
'Cause every time my phone rings it seems to be you and I am praying that it is someone else.
Beyoncé's success can be credited largely to sacrifices made by her parents. Though innately gifted, her father (Mathew Knowles) quit his job to become the group's manager full-time. Her mother, Tina Knowles, served as the group's hair and wardrobe stylist. In fact, the Bills, Bills, Bills video was shot in Headliners salon, which was owned and operated by the Knowles' matriarch. Mathew Knowles requested custody of all four group members in the early years, although LaTavia and LeToya's parents refused. Kelly moved into the Knowles' two-bedroom home, sharing a room with Beyoncé and Solange. Over time, LaTavia and LeToya began to question whether or not funds were split proportionately, citing Beyoncé and Kelly's new cars as one of the reasons. The two wrote a letter to management, claiming that they didn't want to replace Mathew Knowles as manager, but requesting someone to co-manage the group. Checks and balances. Instead of a consultation, the two found themselves ousted from the group. In fact, they found out they had been replaced with the rest of the world as they watched the Say My Name video premier with new members Farrah Franklin and Michelle Williams. Mathew Knowles replaced the two so quickly that LaTavia and LeToya's vocals are still on the song, and Michelle and Farrah didn't have enough time to learn choreography for the song— leading to the sequence of poses in the video.
LaTavia admits that she wishes that she'd talked it out with her "sisters" before penning the letter to the group's manager. "It was almost like a bad divorce— you're no longer with your friends, people you love so much. So that was hard in itself," LaTavia told People magazine late last year. The tumultuous split led to a highly publicized lawsuit, as well as the hit single Survivor. As Destiny's Child trimmed down in size, it became more evident that the group was a stepping stone for a solo career, foreshadowing the Mexican Breakfast-inspired Single Ladies video. The organic chemistry of girls that considered themselves sisters was replaced by fictitious friendships and seat fillers. It led to awkward interviews of new girls pretending to share the same enthusiasm for Popeyes and the Galleria Mall too prematurely on Total Access (24/7) and MTV's Diary. The music evidently transitioned away from teenage girls bouncing ideas and real-world experiences off one another, and matured into experiences of producers brought to life by actresses. The coolness and shared storylines in Smart Guy was re-imagined in a Bey-centric Famous Jett Jackson episode. The trio was perhaps the best business decision Mathew Knowles made for Bey's solo career. However, the best parts of Destiny's Child— the urban edge, authenticity, and overall coolness— left with the other two members.
The girls grew up in the same Houston neighborhood, spending exorbitant amounts of time in the years that are arguably the most crucial to a person's development and outlook on life. Bey's success is omnipresent, however, I can't help but wonder: does she ever miss her girls? Aside from Kelly, Bey's closest companions are either family or have worked for her at some point (and at times a combination of both). We have all fallen ill with a close friend during some time in our lives. However, if we are lucky, we find our way back to them over time. I can't help but think that the girls would have been stronger together, experiencing somewhat comparable solo careers and LaTavia becoming the music engineer that she aspired to be. While Beyoncé experienced personal tradeoffs, I do believe that the rebranding of Destiny's Child was more harmful to Kelly's career than the original lineup would have been. Kelly was the second lead vocalist and actually had a stronger voice than Bey back in DC4 days. Venturing out on her own, Motivation was a hit, however, her career never sustained itself in the ways we'd hoped for. LeToya always had the image of a star and her debut single Torn peaked at number 2 on the U.S. Hot R&B/Hip-Hop list in 2006. LaTavia went on to do some acting post-Destiny's Child and often discusses battling alcoholism after the lawsuit. Though a DC(5?) reunion is unforeseeable, I do hope that the ladies' reconciliation spans deeper than apologies and occasional Instagram likes. In my own perfect world, they'd get back to the sisterhood-- even behind closed doors.