Left this world a little better just because I was here…
Growing up, there were three albums that I identified with my emerging womanhood: What’s The 411?, Janet, and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Although I was just a kid when they were released and barely even knew a boy, I knew the emotions in the music would eventually have something to do with them. I had a bootleg copy of Mary J. Blige’s What’s the 411? My mom used white out to write my name on the tape so I wouldn’t lose it at summer camp. All summer, I sang “Real Love” and “You Remind Me” with my friends on the bus with total conviction. Head shaking and hand waving, like I had lived a whole lifetime.
I had just started dancing seriously when Janet was released. Janet Jackson was the reason I wanted to dance, and my instructor used the album as the backdrop for class. The iconic Rolling Stone cover, That’s The Way Love Goes and its mellow groove, and the sexy choreography from the If video I can still do in my sleep, were symbols of what it meant to be a woman in my young eyes. Later on, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was the go-to album for finding my voice. I haven’t connected to a project on such a personal level until Beyonce’s latest album, 4.
Maybe it’s the place I am in my life right now. The “what-if’s” and “when I grow up’s” are being replaced by real life experiences. 4 is filled with power, confidence, and sexiness, a project totally fueled by love. Newly separated from dad and manager Matthew Knowles, the project’s creative limitless is apparent. I’ve always had trouble connecting to the prim package, since her days in Destiny’s Child. But 4 finally feels like a glimpse of Beyonce. The music she listens to, the moves that inspire her, and the fashion she loves. And of course, she’s inspired by the love that started making its way into her music circa Dangerously In Love, and has now come full circle. The result is a memorable project bound for Grammy’s and accolades, and a raised bar for the King herself.
The lead single, “Girls (Who Run The World),” was met with lukewarm buzz from longtime fans, until she brought the track to life with her electrifying Billboard Music Awards performance. Inspired by Fela!, the video features the choreography of Mozambican kwaito dancers Tofo Tofo. Right out the gate, the single set the tone for a groundbreaking sound. The empowering kiss off track,“Best Thing I Never Had,” is the second single. It’s that ultimate feeling when you realize you’re completely over an ex. And for some it may be the inspiration to finally show him the door: Thank God I found the good in goodbye. Preach.
Beyonce brings 4 to life, but it’s the all-star team of writers and producers who give it wings. The brooding “I Miss You” was penned by rising r&b star Frank Ocean. It has the dark moodiness of his previous work. The production gives it an 80s vibe a la Phil Collins and Berlin. N.E.R.D.’s Chad Hugo is behind the rock-tinged and sonically powerful “I Care.” The Dream is responsible for many of the albums shining moments, including the lead single. He wrote “1+1,” further proving that she loves her some Jay-Z. He also wrote “Love On Top,” the feel good track with Tevin Campbell’s “Can We Talk” kind of vibe. I dare you to have a bad day after listening.
It’s safe to say that the album is short on skippable tracks, as hit after hit presents itself. “Countdown” somehow incorporates southern bounce with an island flow. The blazing horns will be a hit with “Crazy In Love” fans, and the Boyz II Men “Motownphilly”sample is pretty genius. It’s a hodgepodge that Beyonce is able to pull off with ease. The album is short on guest appearances, except the Kanye West and Andre 3000 assisted “Party.” Their contributions: another memorable verse from 3000, and the term “swagu” from Mr. West.
I hate to play favorites in an album review, but 4 has a few tracks that are so special to me. “Rather Die Young” is one of them. It starts off like something you’d hear in a smokey lounge, then the beat kicks in and Beyonce powers right through: You’re my James Dean. You make me feel like I’m seventeen. The urgency in her tone and the dreaminess of the lyrics sums up the whirlwind of a new romance.
The other is “End Of Time.” She brought it to life on the BET Awards with MJ meets Fela Kuti moves. The Brazilian beat is so massive, yet the lyrics have the simplest heartfelt of meanings: I’ll be your baby, promise not to let you go. Love carries the track. Whenever I hear it, I can just imagine being on a crowded dance floor that disappears as you’re wrapped in the arms of the one in you love, swaying to the beat.
Finally, the Diane Warren penned “I Was Here” means the most to me. It’s a testament of what Beyonce has accomplished, all before the age of 30. Sampling Trent Reznor’s “Hand Covers Bruise” is as sonically brilliant as it is heartfelt: I just want them to know, that I gave my all, did my best, brought someone some happiness. A life well lived, and filled with love, is probably anyone’s greatest aspiration.
Beyonce’s 4 is her best to date. Emotion meets world sounds meets incredible vocal power, King B. is in a class all by herself.