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"Say My Name" 20 Years Later: Why The Destiny's Child Staple Is Still On Everyone's Lips
Destiny's Child's sophomore album The Writing's On The Wall is the final project from the original four members of the iconic girl group: Beyoncé Knowles, LeToya Luckett, LaTavia Roberson and Kelly Rowland. It was released to a moderate response, debuting at No. 6 in July 1999 and receiving mixed reviews from critics. However, one of the LP's breakout singles revitalized the album after its initial release, assisted in catapulting the group to superstardom, and earned DC4 their first pair of golden GRAMMYs.
"Say My Name" hopscotches through various sonic elements, shifting from a slow, sexy bass to syncopated, synth-heavy strings and DJ scratches. Adlibs, vocal riffs and stunning harmonies from the Texas songbirds are peppered in throughout the over four-minute song. The track, which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 after 12 weeks on the chart, permits listeners to eavesdrop on a woman confronting a triflin', good-for-nothin' type of brotha who she suspects is fooling around behind her back.
"When no one is around you, say ‘'baby, I love you,' if you ain't runnin' game," they urge their fellas, followed by the assertion, "You actin' kinda shady, ain't callin' me 'baby,' why the sudden change?"
The theme of "Say My Name" was inspired by a relationship experienced by LaShawn Daniels, who—in addition to the ladies of Destiny’s Child, Fred Jerkins III and producer Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins—is one of the song's award-winning writers.
"I would be places, I would be at work, and if [my girlfriend] would call or hear anyone laughing, or speaking, or doing anything in the background, she'd be like, 'Who is that?'" the New Jersey native tells the Recording Academy of his inspirational (yet "insecure") ex-flame. "Then she'd be like, 'Well, say my name then, and tell me that you love me.' [The song] was actually the premise of what I would go through, and we had the conversation of 'how embarrassing is that?' Beyoncé was in a relationship at that time, and she could relate well to the situation."
While Daniels notes that he and longtime creative collaborator Darkchild constructed the "perfect marriage" of instrumentation and lyricism on "Say My Name," Destiny's Child was equally as hands-on when it came to contributions that worked best for the track's overall theme.
"As time went forward, their creative input was undeniable," he notes of the quartet. "If you came up with a melody or something, and it just didn't sit well with them, or if they didn't think it was dope, their creativity would absolutely speak back. We always had a respect of each other's creativity. There were no egos to stop any idea from making it out of any of our mouths."
While the musicians involved were focused on creating the very best material for the group, they had no idea the song would amount the levels of success it eventually attained. Daniels notes, however, that Darkchild went back to the drawing board and started the track entirely from scratch, proving that there was something different about "Say My Name." Not even a "synthesizer line" from the original stayed on the track we know now.
"It wasn't until we got into the mix session of the record, [Darkchild] listened back, and the song was more dominant than the track was," he recollects. "While we were all prepared to mix down what we had, he said, 'Wait a minute, you have to give me a couple of hours. I have to make this track as exciting as the song…'"
"Once he finished and played it back, he invited the girls to come back. They were blown away," Daniels continues. "We knew we had written a great song, so much so that Rodney [Jerkins] felt the he had to redo the track."
The alterations paid off in a huge way. "Say My Name" brought The Writing’s On The Wall back into the Top 10 of Billboard’s 200 Album Chart, where it peaked at No. 5 in May 2000. It was the girl group’s second song to hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 after "Bills, Bills, Bills," and it was the sixth-biggest single of 2000. The song holds a Gold RIAA certification, and the album itself is certified 8x Platinum.
So, from where does "Say My Name" garner its allure? Daniels points to the song's universal relatability and well-fleshed out conceptualization. "The people on the other end of the phones saying 'say my name' felt like it was the anthem for them, and the people going through it felt like it was the anthem for them," he says. "I'm so glad [the song] was able to resonate with whatever the spectrum you're on."
Additionally, he suggests that "Say My Name" still resonates decades later due to the musical era whence it came. The song’s sonic freedom, authentic instrumentation and emotion-evoking chord progressions helps to classify the track as a quintessential late-'90s staple, as well as a flagship record for Destiny's Child.
"['Say My Name'] was more intimate and more detailed in their standpoint of why [Destiny's Child] don't tolerate foolishness from men," he explains of the song. "'Bills Bills Bills' and all of the other songs [were] broad strokes––this was a situation. This was a moment in a relationship where everybody would listen and go, 'Oh, dudes do that, it's not them bashing men, it's them telling the truth…' All of the elements, sonics, the lyrics... it just became a closer look as to why they were so fed up in certain relationships. It took on its own life."
Daniels has a long history of writing R&B hits with themes of empowerment. Having co-written such '90s and early-aughts hits as Brandy and Monica’s "The Boy Is Mine" and Toni Braxton’s "He Wasn’t Man Enough," his mission has always been to inspire listeners to create a change.
"I'm one of the guys who believes that women are extremely smarter than men," he chuckles after acknowledging his discographic track record. "I think if you empower a woman, you empower the world. Even the influence from a great woman can make a great man… Right now, it's my thought to just do the best I can in creating positive language, positive melodies––especially those that can be regurgitated by younger women."
Every factor put into creating "Say My Name" contributed to its accolades, which paid off in spades. In 2001, the song won Best R&B song and Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals at the 43rd Annual GRAMMY Awards. It was also up for wins in the Record and Song of the Year categories. The pair of gramophones were Destiny’s Child's first, and, as we know decades later, they were not the last of their respective careers. Daniels says that he is "happy" that he was able to be part of a monumental moment for the talented women.
"If you look at the ladies now, it was just a stepping stone for them," he says of the group, which formally disbanded in 2006. "They have [gone] far and beyond what the call was. It's just great to have a page marker in their legacy, because it makes you feel like, ‘Hey, we were a part of the whole movement, and we started together, and we believed it in the beginning.’ Everything that we thought these ladies were, they absolutely are. It did not stop for them."
While "Say My Name" is nearly two decades old, it continues to inspire and excite R&B fans, and finds itself continually referenced in popular music to this day. Singer/songwriter James Fauntleroy sang the hit’s chorus during his appearance on Drake’s version of “Girls Love Beyoncé” in 2014. Kehlani’s 2016 video for "Distraction," off of her album SweetSexySavage drew parallels to DC's famously colorful music video. Rap superstar Cardi B referenced the track on her husband Offset's 2019 song "Clout." While no one could have predicted the legacy the song would carry, Daniels—such as the other musicians involved—is pleased beyond words with its turnout.
"You look up 20 years later, and it's like, 'Wow, I was a part of history, and didn't even know it,'" he beams. "We knew we had an opportunity to be in the studio to be with Destiny's Child, and it wasn't taken lightly. We stayed up days thinking and trying to put it together. We did everything we possibly could to make sure we were successful, and lo and behold, 20 years later, I'm doing an interview about a song that we did. I think the mission was accomplished."