When Destiny's Child—the now-canonized American R&B girl group that gave us great singles like "Bills Bills Bills" and queen of the pop kingdom Beyoncé—released their self-titled debut album in 1998, it peaked at number 67 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart, and for the most part, it was ignored in mainstream music reporting.
Rolling Stone didn't report on Destiny's Child until August 1999, after their second album, The Writing on the Wall, was released. Their first mention in the hallowed music magazine is only a note that their album sold 100,000 copies.
The group's first mention in The New York Times came shortly after—in September 1999—when writer Ann Powers briefly mentioned Destiny's Child as part of a story about how the "most interesting popular conversations about feminism are taking place on the rhythm-and-blues charts." Powers, though, picked TLC's "Unpretty" over "Bills Bills Bills."
But both mentions were about one year and one album late. Some even earlier reviews pegged Destiny's Child as showstoppers from the very beginning. Here's what I dug up in a LexisNexis search:
One of the very first digitized reviews of Destiny's Child appears in R&R magazine in a running feature called Artist BREAKdown. This article was written two months before Destiny's Child's debut album, which came out in February of 1998.
In December of 1997, Tara O'Quinn at R&R wrote a profile of the group that was published alongside an image of (all four!) their heads. The article praises the girls singing ability and concludes that:
"Destiny's Child is a group blessed with real talent. The successful blend of genuine vocal ability makes their music "ear friendly." No hype, no studio tricks, just God-given talent flowing through the speakers whenever "No, No, No" is played. What Houston has released on the music industry is grasping."
Shortly after R&R's profile, The Sun Reporter in San Fransisco published a review of Destiny's Child's debut album. Here, the reporter (who isn't named in the digitized version of the article) actually talks to the members of the group.
"We're young but we're surely not new to the game," says Beyoncé (rhymes with fiancé) — a stunning, honey-complexioned beauty with a big powerful lead voice. "Yes," adds pretty Kelly, also an outstanding lead singer, "we've been singing together for so long and know each other's voices so well, we just naturally bring out the best of each other when we're in the studio or on stage. Personally, we're closer than most real sisters."
The tone of the entire article is positive, and the author goes on to ascribe the group imminent fame status by mentioning that they are already compared to classic artists.
"It's obvious that Destiny's Child is a well-crafted collaborative effort. with an inspired, totally committed group at its passionate center. Already being compared to classic groups like the Supremes and the Emotions, from this point on, beginning with the chart ascension of "No No No." the success forecast for Destiny's Child is undeniably "Yes, Yes, YES!"
Shortly after the Sun Reporter's review of the album, writer Kimberly C. Roberts saw Destiny's Child perform at a live event in Philadelphia hosted by Power 99 FM, featuring artists on Columbia Records. The event was billed as the Young Soul Power Revue, and included 11 year-old Kimberly Scott, Destiny's Child, Jagged Edge, and John Forte.
Roberts spends most of her time reporting on Scott's performance and John Forte's closing act, but she mentions that.
"The men in the house were a lot more impressed with Destiny's Child, four pretty ladies from Houston, Texas. Beyonce' Knowles, Kelly Rowland, La Toya Lockett, and La Tavia Robeson are currently riding the phenomenal success of their certified platinum hit "No, No, No," which also climbed to #1 on the R&B charts.
Exuding class, and reminding one very much of En Vogue, the ladies gave a performance that was provocative without being sleazy.
Beyoncé (which rhymes with fiancé) handled most of the lead vocals, but undoubtedly, they are all quite capable. They combine youthful exuberance with professional polish."
Roberts notices that Beyoncé was well on her way to becoming the front woman of the all-girl group even as early as March of 1998. It's a strategic positioning that paid off well for her in the end.
Both Roberts and the Sun Reporter review want to make sure you know her name, and know how to say it. Beyoncé, sounds like fiancé.
First Reviews is a new series that finds and evaluates early reviews of artists and albums that later became highly lauded.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.