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For The Record: The Creative Rebirth Of Beyoncé On '4'

Beyoncé

Photo: Kevin Winter/American Idol 2011/Getty Images

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For The Record: The Creative Rebirth Of Beyoncé On '4'

For the 100th episode of our For The Record series, GRAMMY.com takes you inside Beyoncé's GRAMMY-winning, platinum-selling 2011 album, '4,' an ode to the classics that ignited a personal and creative rebirth for the singer and launched a new chapter

GRAMMYs/Jun 28, 2021 - 03:27 am

Just before the 2010s, streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora picked up where Napster rose and fell in the late '90s, driving the music industry toward a singles-driven market. Beyoncé's 4 album showed she was clearly not having it. In her 2013 HBO documentary, Life Is But A Dream, she targeted the then-burgeoning trend.

"It's a tough time for the music industry. I'm an artist that tours, I'm an artist that makes albums," she explained in an exasperated tone. "People don't make albums anymore, they just try to sell a bunch of quick singles and they burn out and they put out a new one. People don't even listen to a body of work anymore."

Before hip-hop dominated streaming in 2017, EDM and pop wore listeners out on sticky dance floors. Everyone wanted a piece of the mainstream radio pie, with songs like Usher's "OMG," Lady Gaga's "Poker Face," Rihanna's "Only Girl (In The World)," Jay-Z's and Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind," and the Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow" ruling Billboard's Top 40 chart before and during the new decade.

But rewind just a few years before the release of Beyoncé's 4, a time when she, too, was caught up in the same sonic whirlwind she seemingly resented. In 2008, Queen Bey was at the height of her career thanks to her mammoth third solo album I Am...Sasha Fierce.

She scored five GRAMMY wins at the 52nd GRAMMY Awards in 2010, including Song Of The Year for "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)"), becoming the first woman artist to win six GRAMMYs in one night. "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)," "Halo," "If I Were A Boy," and "Sweet Dreams" were inescapable Top 10 singles. Beyoncé later doubled down on her mainstream presence by collaborating twice with Lady Gaga: "Video Phone" off Sasha Fierce and "Telephone" off Gaga's The Fame Monster. Bey's growing trendiness led to I Am... World Tour, her biggest and highest-grossing international trek at the time.

"After the last tour I was a bit overwhelmed and overworked," she explained in her 2011 Year of 4 documentary. "My mother was the person that preached to me and almost harassed me every day after I was doing the last world tour: 'You really need to live your life and open your eyes. You don't want to wake up with no memories and never really being able to see the world.'"

After the tour, Beyoncé announced a year-long hiatus to catch up on sleep and rethink her life's purpose. Her worldwide exploration of places like the Great Wall of China, the Egyptian pyramids and the Red Sea gave her insight, grounded her as a human, and eventually inspired 4, whose special title signifies the date of her marriage to Jay-Z, both their birthdays and her mother's birthday.

Released in June 2011, 4 is a 12-track refocus of Beyoncé's artistry on which she disregarded making music solely for mainstream appeal. The album's heightened maturity is reflective of three life changes. Two months prior to the album's release, the artist mutually severed management ties with her father Mathew Knowles, who'd guided her career even before the birth of Destiny's Child in the '90s. Around that time, according to Jay-Z, she became pregnant with Blue Ivy Carter during a Paris trip for the album's cover shoot. And along with being a new mother, she would soon enter her 30s.

Needless to say, Beyoncé was already "Drunk In Love" before the ubiquitous 2013 hit won two GRAMMYs three years later. And what better way to celebrate romance than with R&B? But instead of modernizing the sound as she did on previous albums, the artist opted to highlight the genre's traditional roots.

4 is more stripped-down compared to the gloss of I Am...Sasha Fierce, the liveliness of B'Day, and the contemporary radio-friendliness of Dangerously in Love. Instead, 4 is an ode to the classics. "Love On Top" resurrects the vibrancy of '80s R&B, a time when all-stars like the Jackson 5 and Whitney Houston upheld the heart of Motown's past. The song's retro appeal continues in its music video, with Beyoncé going full New Edition via boy band choreography.

Read: Inside The Visual World Of Beyoncé And Black Is King, Her "Love Letter" To Black Men

Nostalgia proved to be a winning formula: "Love On Top" won the GRAMMY for Best Traditional R&B Performance at the 55th GRAMMY Awards in 2013. The album then heads to '60s Philadelphia soul on "Rather Die Young," where Beyoncé uses the melodrama she picked up from her film roles in Dreamgirls and Cadillac Records to fuel the impassioned vocals and lyrics: "You're my James Dean / You make me feel like I'm 17," she whispers in the first chorus.

"Run The World (Girls)," the lead single off 4, was a total red herring. The female empowerment anthem, which samples Major Lazer's "Pon De Floor," doesn't indicate the album's time travel. (Diplo later pops in to co-produce "End of Time," a wildly addictive tribute to Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer, Fela Kuti).

The unapologetic mushiness of 4 is balanced by uptempos that remind you just why Beyoncé is a superstar. "Best Thing I Never Had," an unofficial sequel to the singer's 2006 GRAMMY-nominated anthem "Irreplaceable," finds her classily kicking a no-good man to the curb while trading Ne-Yo's pen for Babyface. The effervescent "Countdown" is wholly dedicated to her longtime boo, Jay-Z. Sampling Boyz II Men's 1991 hit "Uhh Ahh," the brass-heavy single shows off her signature rap-singing style first debuted with Destiny's Child: "Still love the way he talk, still love the way I sing / Still love the way he rock them black diamonds in that chain."

The '90s pop up on "Party," the laid-back groove dripping in "swagu" thanks to Kanye West's co-writing and co-producing credits. The album's version features Outkast's too-smooth André 3000, while the video features a then-rising J. Cole. 4 then heads back to the '80s for the bonus track "Schoolin' Life." Here, Beyoncé channels Prince as her playful vocals weave between an irresistibly funkified melody.

What makes 4 special is Beyoncé's vocal growth. There's the grit of "I Care," whose rawness cuts deep—"You see these tears falling down to my ears / I swear, you like when I'm in pain"—as she scats alongside the electric guitar solo; the infectious opening run on "Countdown"; the tenderness of "I Miss You," influenced by co-writer Frank Ocean; the emotionally unguarded "1+1," which riffs off Sam Cooke's 1960 classic "Wonderful World"; and the jaw-dropping four-key change on "Love on Top."

"Strong enough to bear the children / Then get back to business," Beyoncé affirms on "Run The World (Girls)." It's the motto of the 4 era: The album is the artist's lowest-selling LP to date, but just as she reassures in Life Is But A Dream, that was never the point. She helped revitalize the album's art form while proving that women can balance their careers and motherhood, all while taking major risks. After parting ways with her father, Beyoncé founded Parkwood Entertainment, a Columbia Records imprint and management company, which helped bring 4 to life.

Of course, this is Beyoncé, so the accolades were still impressive: The platinum-selling 4 continued her hot streak of debuting atop the Billboard 200 chart. And along with "Love On Top" winning a GRAMMY, album single "Party" earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 54th GRAMMY Awards in 2012.

The album's vulnerability led to the world-stopping, industry-shifting surprise drop of Beyoncé in 2013 and the gripping Lemonade in 2016, both revealing more layers of heartache, overt sexuality, postpartum depression, socio-political injustices, feminism, trauma, infidelity, and forgiveness.

That continued intimacy worked in her favor tenfold: At the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show, Beyoncé made GRAMMY history when she became the performing artist with the most career GRAMMY wins with a total of 28, as well as the most nominated woman artist, counting 79 GRAMMY nominations overall. It all goes back to taking a chance on herself with 4, which further shaped a legacy that now matches the same legends she honored on this very album.

"There is room on this Earth for many queens. I have an authentic, God-given talent, drive and longevity that will always separate me from everyone else," she told Complex in 2011. "I've been fortunate to accomplish things that the younger generation of queens dream of accomplishing. I have no desire for anyone else's throne. I am very comfortable in the throne I've been building for the past 15 years."

Black Sounds Beautiful: How Beyoncé Has Empowered The Black Community Across Her Music And Art

Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

Mumu Fresh On What She Learned From Working With The Roots, Rhyming & More

Solange To Play Benefit Show For Hurricane Harvey Relief

Solange

Photo: Daniel C. Sims/Getty Images

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Solange To Play Benefit Show For Hurricane Harvey Relief

GRAMMY winner adds her name to the list of artists who are helping to raise millions in relief efforts for victims

GRAMMYs/Aug 31, 2017 - 04:37 am

GRAMMY winner Solange has announced she will be performing a benefit show to raise money for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. The performance, called Orion's Rise, will be held at Boston's Orpheum Theatre on Sept. 8.

"I'm committed to partnering with organizations on the ground in Houston and making contributions to uplift the city that raised me with so much love," said Solange, a Houston native.

This announcement comes on the heels of other artists pledging their support, including Solange's sister, Beyoncé. But they are certainly not the only ones.

Beyoncé Vows "To Help As Many As We Can" In Wake Of Hurricane Harvey

Houston rapper Bun B and manager Scooter Braun (Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande) are organizing a televised benefit concert that will reportedly air on four national networks on Sept. 12.

Comedian Kevin Hart pledged $50,000 to relief efforts, and the fund he organized has earned nearly $2 million in additional financial support, with contributions from artists such as the Chainsmokers. All funds will go to the American Red Cross.

The Kardashians and Jenners, Nicki Minaj, and DJ Khaled have also announced they will make donations. Jennifer Lopez and her partner Alex Rodriguez joined in the fundraising efforts, pledging $25,000 each to the Red Cross.

In addition, GRAMMY winner Jack Antonoff is matching donations up to $10,000 for the Montrose Center in Houston, an LGBT community center. Chris Brown will donate $100,000 directly to "the people," and T.I. will donate $25,000 to relief efforts.

MusiCares Announces Hurricane Harvey Relief Efforts

ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Ant Clemons

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ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Singer/songwriter Ant Clemons puts his own spin on Bill Withers' immortal "Ain't No Sunshine" in an exclusive performance for ReImagined At Home.

GRAMMYs/Jun 15, 2021 - 08:13 pm

Why has Bill Withers' immortal hit, "Ain't No Sunshine," endured for decades? And, furthermore, why does it seem set to reverberate throughout the ages?

Could it be because it's blues-based? Because it's relatable to anyone with a pulse? Because virtually anyone with an ounce of zeal can believably yowl the song at karaoke?

Maybe it's for all of those reasons and one more: "Ain't No Sunshine" is flexible

In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, check out how singer/songwriter Ant Clemons pulls at the song's edges like taffy. With a dose of vocoder and slapback, Clemons recasts the lonesome-lover blues as the lament of a shipwrecked android.

Giving this oft-covered soul classic a whirl, Clemons reminds music lovers exactly why Withers' signature song has staying power far beyond his passing in 2020. It will probably be a standard in 4040, too.

Check out Ant Clemons' cosmic, soulful performance of "Ain't No Sunshine" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home.

ReImagined At Home: Keedron Bryant Powerfully Interprets John Legend's Love Song "Ordinary People"

 

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"GRAMMY Effect" Spikes Sales

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

"GRAMMY Effect" Spikes Sales
The 52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards drove a 3.3 percent increase in album sales compared to last week, according to a Billboard report. The 2010 GRAMMY Nominees album jumped to No. 5 with sales of 71,000 units, a 55 percent increase. Top GRAMMY winner Beyoncé's I Am…Sasha Fierce rose to No. 14 with sales of 32,000 copies, a 101 percent increase. Other GRAMMY performers experiencing sales increases include Pink (up 234 percent), Dave Matthews Band (up 114 percent), the Zac Brown Band (up 82 percent), the Black Eyed Peas (up 76 percent), Taylor Swift (up 58 percent), and Lady Gaga (up 17 percent). Lady Antebellum, who also performed on the telecast, remained at No. 1 for the second consecutive week. (2/10)

Grainge Promoted To UMG CEO
Universal Music Group International Chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge has been promoted to CEO of Universal Music Group, effective Jan. 1, 2011. He will succeed Doug Morris and report to Jean-Bernard Lévy, chairman of the management board of Vivendi. Grainge will relocate from London to New York to serve as co-CEO of UMG in tandem with Morris for six months starting July 1. Morris, who has served as UMG chairman and CEO since 1995, will remain as company chairman. (2/10)