The teen R&B trio 3LW emerged on the popular music scene in 2000, releasing their self-titled debut album and the accompanying hit single “No More (Baby I’ma Do Right).” Singers Adrienne Bailon, Naturi Naughton, and Kiely Williams comprised the all-girl group, which created a sophisticated brand of music that belied their youth. With Williams’s rap style, Naughton’s soulful delivery, and Bailon’s powerhouse vocals, the three produced a sound they called “ghetto pop”; fans have compared the trio to Destiny’s Child, En Vogue, and TLC. Just prior to the release of 3LW’s second album, 2002’s A Girl Can Mack, Naughton surprised the music world by quitting amid accusations of ill-treatment by her fellow members and managers. Singer Jessica “J” Benson replaced Naughton in early 2003.
The group formed in 1999 as the brainchild of Williams’s mother, Michelle Williams, who manages the pop stars Joe and Jodeci. Young Kiely had entered the entertainment business at age five, appearing in a television pilot directed by Robert DeNiro. When her daughter’s passion and talent for singing became apparent, Michelle Williams decided to create a girl group, seeking talent that would complement her daughter’s.
Members include Adrienne Bailon (born in 1983), vocals; Jessica “J” Benson (born in 1988; joined group, 2003), vocals; Naturi Naughton (born in 1983; left group, 2002), vocals; Kiely Williams (born in 1986), vocals.
Trio formed in New Jersey, 1999; signed with Epic, released self-titled album, 2000; on Sony, released A Girl Can Mack, 2002; released Naughty or Nice, 2002; released Remixes, 2003.
Awards: Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, Best New R&B or Hip-Hop Artist, Album of the Year, 2001.
Addresses: Record Company—So So Def Recordings, PO Box 467425, Atlanta, GA 31146, website: http://www.sosodef.com.
During their auditions, the Williamses discovered Bailon, a Manhattan choir girl of Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian descent. Bailon was raised to the beat of Latin music, with influences including Celia Cruz and La Lupe, as well as contemporaries Marc Anthony and La India. Her talent was first recognized when she was plucked from her church choir, which was performing at an event in New York’s Madison Square Garden, by Latin megastar Ricky Martin, who asked her to sing backup during his performance the same night.
The Williamses next discovered Naughton, a New Jersey native who had been singing with her church choir since age five. Affiliated with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, Naughton emerged as a strong vocalist who would complete the trio. Michelle Williams assumed the role of manager and dubbed the group 3LW, shorthand for Three Little Women, with a nod to the classic Louisa May Alcott novel Little Women.
Signing with Epic Records, the trio released their debut album 3LW in the fall of 2000. Before long, the girls were enjoying radio airplay with their hit songs “No More (Baby I’ma Do Right)” and “Playas Gon’ Play”; both dominated MTV’s Total Request Live (TRL) show. In that same year, the members of 3LW appeared in an episode of the Nickelodeon series Taina, playing an all-girl group called Blue Mascara. The same year, the trio’s song “Till I Say So” graced the soundtrack of the teen movie Bring it On, starring Kirsten Dunst.
By early 2001 3LW had cracked the Billboard Top 40 with their “No More” single; the album climbed to number 29 on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart, giving the teenagers got their first taste of fame, though they had to juggle their music careers with schoolwork. In press interviews, the girls’ individual personalities emerged. “I’m more wild and crazy,” Williams told Jim Farber of the New York Daily News. “Adrienne is more girly-girl. And Naturi is more cool.”
At the 2001 Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, 3LW took home the awards for Album of the Year and Best New R&B or Hip-Hop Artist. Later the album sold more than a million copies, achieving platinum status. Music critics compared 3LW to classic female R&B groups, some dubbing the trio the “Teen Supremes.”
In 2002 3LW sang with Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, contributing vocals to the rap group’s hit song “Get Up and Get It.” By the time the single was released in summer, the girls were recording their sophomore album, A Girl Can Mack. “We chose the title because we wanted something really empowering,” Bailon told fans on the group’s website. “It’s just saying a girl can do anything a guy can do. Women in music are tearing it up.” The album included the dance tracks “Leave” and “Meet Me at the Crib,” as well as the upbeat hit single “I Do (Wanna Get Close to You),” coproduced by Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Mario Winans.
One month before the autumn release of A Girl Can Mack, Naughton surprised fans by announcing her departure from the group. She alleged that management and her fellow 3LW members forced her to leave after complaining about her image and performance. The 18-year-old singer also told reporters that the group’s youngest member, 16-year-old Williams, had thrown a plate of food at her during a dispute. Naughton later filed a lawsuit citing loss of income against 3LW and their management.
Minus a singer, Williams and Bailon were forced to appear as a duo at performances to support their new album. Meanwhile, a plan was hatched to find a replacement for Naughton, with auditions in New York, Atlanta, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles. Thousands of girls turned out to sing 3LW tunes and perform a dance number in the hopes of being selected.
The Washington, D.C., audition led to the discovery of Jessica “J” Benson, a 15-year-old Maryland native with big dreams of a career in music. Benson had sung in her church and high school choirs, and dreamed of running her own record company one day. “One of the things we loved about her was that she got up [to audition] with so much confidence,” Bailon told MTV.com. “It’s like her whole vibe onstage was like she was already a star, like she had this confidence in who she was and her moves and her whole facial expressions. She was a wonderful performer.”
In late 2002, 3LW released a holiday album, Naughty or Nice, recorded when Naughton was still with the group. With Benson replacing Naughton in early 2003, 3LW continued to promote A Girl Can Mack. Meanwhile, Bailon landed a recurring television role on the Disney Channel’s That’s So Raven. In April of 2003 the trio recorded for the first time with newcomer Benson, singing the title track to the film If You Were My Girl, a remake of the 1987 romantic comedy Can’t Buy Me Love. They signed a deal with the So So Def record label in late 2003, and began working in earnest on a new album with the label’s owner, Jermaine Dupri.
3LW, Epic, 2000.
(Contributor) Bring It On (soundtrack), Sony, 2000.
A Girl Can Mack, Sony, 2002.
Naughty or Nice, Sony, 2002.
Remixes, Sony, 2003.
Baltimore Sun, April 22, 2003, p. 1E.
Chicago Sun-Times, August 24, 2002, p. 23.
Daily News (New York), January 9, 2001, p. 34.
San Antonio Express-News, August 3, 2001, p. 13H.
“Babyface Oversees 3LW’s First Track with New Member,” MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1471322/20030416/story.jhtml (June 10, 2003).
“3LW,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (May 23, 2003).
“3LW Become a Trio Again Finally,” MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1470341/20030304/story.jhtml (June 10, 2003).
“3LW Sign to So So Def,” MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1479771/10152003/3lw.jhtml (October 21, 2003).
“3LW: Three Once More,” MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/bands/123/3LW/news_feature_030313 (June 10, 2003).