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February 21, 2018 at 10:15 AM EST

Wyclef Jean always knew Destiny’s Child was, well, destined for stardom. “Before any hit,” he tells EW on the 20th anniversary of the pop group’s self-titled debut album, “before any No. 1, remember that I said, ‘They went from a dream to the young Supremes.’”

He met the then-foursome at a hotel their label had arranged. When he asked them to sing for him, the impression was enormous. “It felt real — and it felt raw,” he said. “There’s two kind of singers: There’s singers that sing and then there’s singers where when they sing you feel something. That’s a different kind of singing, and I felt it.”

He also did, for the record, call them the “young Supremes.” That’s a reference to his verse on the foursome’s debut single, “No, No, No,” which he also produced. The song peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1998, and Jean, now 48, ended up taking Destiny’s Child on the road as his opening act.

“The work ethic was crazy,” he recalls. “Every night, Beyoncé would be along the side of the stage watching my shows. She was studying, sponging every part of the culture. You don’t get that artist development no more. Today, somebody puts up a post and tomorrow they’re the biggest internet star — the next year, none of us remember their name.”

He continues: When Destiny’s Child hit the arena, they were groomed and seasoned not to be a one-hit wonder but a touring act.”

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