original destiny’s child member latavia roberson on finding her own sound
Seventeen years after her dramatic exit from the iconic R&B group, LaTavia Roberson is telling her story with a memoir and documentary series.
Photography Ryan Barker. Hair by Dallas Christopher.
Since the beginning of her career, LaTavia Roberson has been battling to tell her story on her own terms. It started when she was dismissed from Destiny's Child — the legendary R&B group she co-founded with Beyoncé Knowles, Kelly Rowland, and LeToya Luckett in Houston in 1997.
Beyoncé's father, Mathew Knowles, had been serving as the group's manager since they began their careers together in 1990, and Roberson says that when she and Luckett asked for different management for themselves in 2000 (after tensions had already been brewing between them and Knowles), they were unceremoniously dumped from the group. They found out by seeing the video for "Say My Name" on TV with new members Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin lip-syncing their parts. This led to brutal gossip and speculation from both the press and the public, which continues to this day.
While Roberson has tried to move on, others continue to focus her narrative on this and other painful events in her life: depression, addiction, miscarriage, and relationships and career moves that didn't quite pan out. Roberson has endured a lot of tragedy, sure. But she's also had incredible triumphs: selling over 25 million records with Destiny's Child, winning two Grammys, co-writing some of the most beloved R&B songs of all time (including "Say My Name" and "Bills, Bills, Bills"), acting in movies, launching her own hair extension business, and giving birth to her now four-year-old daughter, Lyric.
2017 marks 20 years since the formation of Destiny's Child, and it's clear that Roberson holds no grudges. "I was eight years old when I auditioned for the group [in 1990], and just to see the progress that we made with the first album and then the second album, and then even with my dismissal, to see how the name of a group that I was a part of building — it's just amazing," she says over the phone from her home in Atlanta. Yet people continue to suggest she's bitter. "It's just so bizarre that they think, 'Oh, she's the bitter one.' I don't understand it. I've supported every single project that all of the girls have put out. So when people tell me stuff like I don't like Beyoncé, I'm like, 'Wait a minute!'"
Roberson says "it gets a little redundant" when people keep talking about her past relationships, but that "people are going to ask because they don't know." A recent episode of the documentary TV show Unsung revealed just how controlling the environment in Destiny's Child was for her. It alleged that Roberson's relationship at the time with Brandon Casey (of fellow 90s R&B group Jagged Edge) "displeased" Mathew Knowles so much that it contributed to his reason for dropping her from the group.
After dealing with people telling her who she should — or shouldn't — date, Roberson then had to deal with people telling her she should be making music, when she just didn't want to. That all changed this year when she recorded and released a song called "Best Time of Your Life." An upbeat EDM anthem about equality and self-expression, the track is a response to being told what to do and be for so long, she says, and is inspired by her work with the LGBT community in Atlanta. "I just think that even for one night of your life, who gives a shit what anybody thinks about you? Everybody's gonna say what they want, so just be who you are and don't let anybody tell you what you should do!"
It's arguably the first step in her quest to reclaim control of her life and her story. The next will be the release of her memoir, I Am LaTavia: My Story. My Destiny, this spring. "I went through a lot of traumatic things during the ten years where no one could see my face. So that's why my book is so important, because people are going to ask — it's in their nature."
Writing it was a painful process, she admits. "It was hard to rehash all of the horrible things that I've gone through. My girls — Beyoncé, Kelly, LeToya — I love them dearly, and I'm glad it was me, because I wouldn't wish the pain that I've been through on any of them."
By publishing her book, Roberson hopes to set the record straight once and for all. "I've heard rumours about myself over the years, so I don't mind telling the good, the bad, and the ugly about myself. You can hear it from the horse's mouth, because I'm not ashamed of anything. All of the trials and tribulations and everything that I've been through has made me who I am. I am LaTavia, and nobody can take that away from me. I'm proud of who I am. Period."
It won't just be her side of the story, either. Roberson says, "Currently I'm working with a production company so that I can produce my own docu-series that's based on my book." Each episode will correspond to a chapter from her memoir, and she's hoping to involve many people from her Destiny's Child days, by serving as a producer on the series. "I'm really excited about this. It'll be a new hat for me, for sure."
With her days of dealing with restrictive labels and management well and truly behind her, Roberson has found her groove working independently, and is savoring being free to explore different mediums. She appeared in the independent horror film But Deliver Us From Evil and the comedy Dirty South House Arrest earlier this year, and says, "Acting has always been a passion of mine — before I got in the group I was doing commercials and things like that." She's working on "perfecting" her craft, "taking acting classes and things of that sort." Roberson also hopes to launch a collection of lingerie, and a clothing line for premature babies, after going through the challenge of trying to clothe her daughter. "Although Lyric wasn't born premature, she was so tiny even extra-smalls didn't fit her. I know that a lot of other women who have small or premature babies want their babies to be in cute clothes too. So I think it'd be awesome to do a preemie clothing line."
And while making more of her own music isn't a priority right now, Roberson is intent on using her platform to help others. She says that while she was in Destiny's Child she dreamed of being "one of the first female producers." That didn't happen, but she did get to work with Missy Elliott on the song "Confessions." Watching Missy work the mixing board clearly left an impression, as Roberson now wants to help up-and-coming talent herself. "Now that I'm older I want to be behind the scenes. I want to help the talent and get them heard so they can have wonderful careers. There are so many people who don't help these artists, they get taken advantage of."
Like anyone who expresses bold ambitions in many creative pursuits, Roberson has faced backlash. "People tell me that I can't do it. But it's just about finding the right people to help you make your dreams come to life." Despite the past, Roberson is finally living her life on her terms. She's truly an independent woman.