15 Famous Artists We Were Surprised To Learn Started Out In Boy Bands And Girl Groups

July 17, 2014  |  
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Everyone has to start out somewhere and somehow, and in the music industry, it’s not easy. Beyoncé started with Destiny’s Child, Justin Timberlake got his start with N’Sync. The following famous folks named in this slideshow have had some crazy success solo (some more than others), but at one point, they tried to get their careers off the ground or hone their skills in bands and groups. These are 15 singers who started in groups.

Missy Elliott

Around the time that New Jack Swing was still everything in music, Elliott was a part of a group called Fayze, and good friend Timothy Mosley (Timbaland) was the group’s producer. Eventually, Fayze’s music was heard by musical genius and Jodeci member DeVante Swing when they sang for him after a Jodeci concert, and he signed them to his Swing Mob label. The women went from Fayze to Sista, and though they worked on an album with Timbaland and DeVante, it was shelved. When Swing Mob went down in ’95, Sista went their separate ways, and Elliott focused on working with Timbaland, and other former Swing Mob members, Ginuwine, Tweet and Playa.


Erykah Badu

Before she was a neo-soul queen on her own, Badu was a part of two different hip-hop groups. While still in school, Badu was MC Apples and part of an all-female rap collective. Speaking about that group to Rolling Stone, she said “We were even better than a lot of the guy groups.” After that she was part of a hip-hop duo called Erykah Free with her cousin, Robert “Free” Bradford. The duo opened for everyone who came to Dallas, including Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, Arrested Development, D’Angelo and more. They were offered deals, but Badu went for a solo opportunity, and of course, Bradford didn’t appreciate that…

Bobby V.

“Blackberry Molasses” is still one of my favorites. Before having some solo success as Bobby V, Robert Wilson was a member of the short-lived R&B group, Mista. The group put out two albums (the latter of which was never released) and after having issues with management, disbanded in 1997.


Bob Marley

Before they were just The Wailers, Bob Marley was part of a vocal group with Peter McIntosh (Peter Tosh) and Neville “Bunny” O’Riley Livingston called the Wailing Wailers. Inspired by some of the R&B music from the States, they weren’t speaking on speaking on political and societal issues just yet. Instead, they were trying to showcase their vocal abilities and learn a few instruments along the way, ones they would eventually perfect and use to make classics as The Wailers.

Luke James

The crooning hunk was in a trio called Upskale in the late ’90s with two of his classmates. After graduating from high school he made the group into a duo with Upskale member Q, and they formed Luke & Q. But when they failed to pop as a group, they decided to disband and do their own things.

Amy Winehouse

Not only was Winehouse in a very short-lived rap group as a teen called Sweet ‘n’ Sour (random I know), but before she blew up on the solo tip with her albums Frank and Back To Black, Winehouse sang alongside a jazz band called the Bolsha Band. But alas, her star was meant to shine bright all by herself, even if it didn’t get to shine for as long as we would have liked.


The Good Girl Gone Bad initially auditioned for producer Evan Rogers with two of her former classmates from high school as a group when she was 15, but Rogers told Entertainment Weekly that she stood out: “The minute Rihanna walked into the room, it was like the other two girls didn’t exist.” Rihanna had to ditch her classmates and went to live with Rogers and his wife in Connecticut. He helped her make a demo, which wound up being heard by Jay Z. The rest is history! 


As a teenager, Ciara formed the girl group Hearsay with two of her friends. They tried their hardest to make waves in the industry, recording demos and everything. However, they couldn’t get along and they finally decided to go their separate ways. From there, Ci Ci signed a publishing deal to do songwriting and met Jazze Pha, who would go on to help her become the Princess of Crunk & B…

Anita Baker

One of my favorites, Baker started singing for the funk band Chapter 8 in 1975. After being signed to Ar*ola records in the late ’70s, Baker was able to shine on songs like “Ready For Your Love.” Unfortunately, when Ar*ola was bought out by Arista, the group was given the boot, and the the members tried to blame Baker. They felt that she didn’t have “star potential.” Boy were they wrong!

Keri Hilson

Hilson had high hopes for the girl group she was part of called D’Signe. The ladies were so good that they had a record deal by the time she was 14. However, the group disbanded, and Hilson focused on songwriting and doing background singing for everyone from Usher to Kelly Rowland and yes, Ciara too. She would eventually step out of the background and shine in the spotlight.


We told you that Tweet was once a member of DeVante Swing’s Swing Mob collective, and was a member through the girl group/trio, Sugah. As Swing Mob folded and Sugah was never able to release or finish an album, Tweet returned to her parents’ home feeling broken and literally broke. Eventually, Missy Elliott, whom she became good friends with while struggling in NYC with Swing Mob, asked her to sing on one of her albums and helped her work on her debut album, Southern Hummingbird.


Before he was Ne-Yo, Shaffer Smith, aka, “GoGo” was part of the R&B group Envy, and they did everything they could to get attention and get signed. They even tried to compete on amateur night of Showtime at the Apollo, only to be booed for some sketchy vocals that we’ll blame on nerves. The group eventually went their separate ways in 2000 after failing to blow up. Smith went on to try and start his solo career, but on the way, became one of the most popular and successful songwriters of the ’00s.


The Decatur, Georgia native joined the teen group N-Toon (though they looked like little kids) before puberty hit, and the group put out an album called Toon Time (with the song “Ready” written by Kandi Burruss and Tricky Stewart). They eventually disbanded in 2001, and Lloyd would go on to be signed by Irv Gotti’s The Inc. Records and drop Southside.


What ya’ll know about Wild Orchid? Before her days making big hits with The Black Eyed Peas, Fergie (Stacy Ferguson) was a member of the female trio, and the group was signed to RCA in 1994. The trio dropped a self-titled album in 1997 that did really well, but when their second album only sold 200,000 copies worldwide, RCA didn’t want to release their third album. Ferguson left the group because of that, as well as a dangerous drug habit she picked up. She eventually got herself together and auditioned for BEP, and went on to do great things. And we all know that she has had some major solo success as well (“Big Girls Don’t Cry” anyone?).

Sade Adu

Before there was Sade the band, Sade Adu was singing background (can you believe it!?) for a soul band called Pride. When she finally decided to step away from the back to try her hand at a solo record (which ended up being the classic, “Smooth Operator”), she signed a solo deal with Epic and took three of Pride’s band members with her to form Sade. She’s been rocking with the group ever since…

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