She started the process by jamming with the band from Fela!, the Broadway musical based on the life of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, and recorded tracks everywhere from New York to Australia to Peter Gabriel’s studio in the English countryside city of Bath. And—hewing again to the “no rules” mantra of the process—she worked with collaborators both old (The-Dream, Babyface) and new (Switch, Sleigh Bells). She even chopped it up with Odd Future. “Jay had a CD playing in the car one Sunday when we were driving to Brooklyn,” she recalls of hearing Frank Ocean for the first time. “I noticed his tone, his arrangements, and his storytelling. I immediately reached out to him—literally the next morning. I asked him to fly to New York and work on my record.”
Andre 3000 is also on board. He makes an appearance on the Kanye West-produced track “Party.” Although it wasn’t her first time working with ’Ye, Beyoncé was particularly keen to reconvene in the studio with the man who made the moody “Runaway,” a song that drove her to the edge of tears the first time she heard it in a van heading to one of Jay’s shows. ’Ye played it for Bey on his birthday.
“The fact that he’s belting out his pain, his confusion, and his anger, with no pre-written lyrics, was so moving,” she says. “He’s singing his heart out for five minutes. He is so vulnerable. I love when an artist can be so honest.”
Released in April, the lead single, “Run the World (Girls),” swagger-jacked the beat from Major Lazer’s “Pon de Floor,” but it’s Bey’s full-throated vocal styling and her trademark feminist stamp that made the insane and souped-up riddim her own.
“I’ve found that with hit records the melody and lyrics come together [naturally],” she explains. “I usually know from the hook if the song is something that transcends language, race, and genre, and if it’s something that affects pop culture. It’s something I can visualize people singing in stadiums all over the world. But my favorite songs on my albums are usually not my singles.”
The world premiere of the “Run” video was, as expected, an event, presenting a post-Rapture world of sandy destruction and kinetic dancing. Bey channeled a bit of Tina Turner in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome mixed with a dash of Grace Jones in Conan the Destroyer, symbolically demonstrating that her drive to take over the world is still in effect.
Before she takes over the world, though, Beyoncé is taking control of her career. In March, she announced that she would no longer be managed by her father, Mathew Knowles. Both sides took pains to describe the split as amicable, but it was nonetheless a giant step for an artist whose family has played such a vital role in her career. Still, it’s a natural progression, and it’s not as if she doesn’t have other family members to bounce ideas off these days.
“Jay’s music is more than music. His lyrics have fathered generations,” she says of her husband of three years. “All that he has overcome gives millions so much hope. There are moments when I see his lips moving and I can see lyrics floating above his head and I think, ‘Wow! How did I get so lucky to be able to witness this level of genius so closely?’”
Whenever I feel bad, I use that feeling to motivate me to work harder,” says a much wiser, more mature Beyoncé, who learned from some early ordeals, including a period of depression during the first breakup of her first group, Destiny’s Child. “I only allow myself one day to feel sorry for myself. People who complain really get on my nerves. When I’m not feeling my best I ask myself, ‘What are you gonna do about it?’ I use the negativity to fuel the transformation into a better me.”
That same call for inner strength was loudly spelled out in Destiny’s Child’s string of smash hits. Songs like “Independent Woman Part 1,” “Survivor,” and the extra-jelly-is-A-OK anthem “Bootylicious” forever linked DC with the term “female empowerment.” As a solo artist, Beyoncé would continue belting out pro-female calls to arms like “Irreplaceable” and “Best Thing I Never Had,” the second single (co-written by Babyface) from 4. Lines like “You showed your ass and I, I saw the real you” and “Oh yeah, I bet it sucks to be you right now,” have become the sassy method by which Bey can connect with her female listeners (the fellas can't deny the tracks either).