meta-scriptObsessed With Beyoncé's 'Renaissance'? Keep The Dance Party Going With Albums From Frankie Knuckles, Big Freedia & More | GRAMMY.com
Honey Dijon Performing At Glastonbury 2021
Honey Dijon performs during the Glastonbury Festival Global Livestream “Live at Worthy Farm” on May 15, 2021.

Photo: Anna Barclay for Glastonbury Festival via Getty Images

list

Obsessed With Beyoncé's 'Renaissance'? Keep The Dance Party Going With Albums From Frankie Knuckles, Big Freedia & More

If you love Beyoncé's new album 'RENAISSANCE,' here are five albums to add to your playlist that channel the house music, bounce and Afrobeats vibes on it.

GRAMMYs/Aug 5, 2022 - 02:28 pm

If you've had Beyoncé's stellar new album RENAISSANCE on repeat, you're likely not alone. The 28-time GRAMMY-winner's house music-inspired LP is a tribute to the safe and freeing space of the dance floor, and expertly summons that magical and liberating space.

Throughout RENAISSANCE's 16 tracks, Beyoncé joyfully channels '90s queer Black culture — particularly ballroom pageants and house music, as well as disco, Afrobeats and bounce — for a lively dance party. The superstar taps a stellar, diverse cast of collaborators to create the good vibes, including disco legend Grace Jones, Chicago producers Honey Dijon and Green Velvet, Nigerian queen Tems, and Jamaican-American rap and dancehall experimenter BEAM.

If you're ready to keep the RENAISSANCE dance party going, read on for five albums and EPs that channel its energy and showcase the house music, New Orleans bounce and Afrobeats influences present on the new Beyoncé album.

Frankie Knuckles & Jamie Principle — Baby Wants To Ride / Your Love (1987)

Electronic music was born in the '80s in Chicago, Detroit and New York, from the ashes of the racist disco backlash of 1979. Young Black and queer producers in these cities used then-new music equipment, like the Roland 808 and 909 drum machines, in innovative ways to create futuristic sounds that became known as house and techno.

Those sparkling synths that open pivotal Chicago house track "Your Love" still sound magical. It was the first track produced by New York-born DJ Frankie Knuckles, aka The Godfather of House, to play on tape at his foundational Chicago club the Power Plant. It features sexy, playful vocals written and sung by fellow Chicago house legend Jamie Principle, and is considered a foundational track for both Chicago house and acid house, a futurist early Chicago-founded subgenre using the 909.

After stirring up Chicago dance floors, "Your Love" was originally released on Persona Records and credited to Principle in 1986. A year later, Trax Records released it as a B-side to "Baby Wants To Ride," another sexy, groovy house classic from the legendary pair, but only credited it to Knuckles.

"Baby Wants To Ride" is an 8-and-a-half minute dance romp of pure fun set to spacey acid house synths. It might be physically impossible to sit still while listening to these club classics.

Cajmere — It's Time (2010)

If you are a dance music fan, you probably know who Green Velvet is. Not only is he a tech house innovator, but he remains an in-demand and innovative artist in a subgenre flooded with young acts. One of his most recent credits is co-producing the RENAISSANCE track "COZY."

But Green Velvet is just one of many aliases of the Chicago DJ/producer born Curtis Jones, who has been setting things off with playful dance floor heaters since 1991. He also makes music as Cajmere, which he introduced in the early '90s with "Brighter Days" featuring Dajae and "Percolator," both now certified house classics.

On his 2010 compilation album It's Time, Jones packaged 22 Cajmere bangers released on his Cajual Records imprint from 1992 to 2010. There are several versions of "Brighter Days" and Percolator," along with more groovy '90s gems like "Re Ah Do Da Da Da," "Feelin' Kinda High" with Terence FM and "Let Me Be." There's also swingy numbers like "Horny" and "U Got Me Up" with Dajae, along with others that capture the creativity and rhythm of Jones' and Chicago dance music as a whole.

Big Freedia — Big Diva Energy (2021)

It's about time Big Freedia is celebrated as the superstar artist and next-level performer she is. Known as the Queen Diva, she's been making bounce music since 1999, and has helped popularize the highly twerkable hip-hop sound outside of New Orleans.

Originating in Nola in the late-80s, bounce music is made to make you move, with a banging, bouncy, high-energy bassline often with repetitive, party-starting vocals over it. Before Beyoncé tapped her for 2016's "Formation," Freedia had already received national attention in her own right, slaying SXSW and touring with the Postal Service and Matt and Kim in the early '10s.

As Freedia asserted on "Formation," she "came to slay," and indeed she has. The Queen Diva's voice and energy is also prominent on Beyoncé's "BREAK MY SOUL," which reunites the pair with a sample of Freedia's 2014 track "Explode." (Bey also channels bounce on the subsequent track, "CHURCH GIRL.")

To keep the booties bouncing, Freedia's 2021 Big Diva Energy EP has you more than covered. "BDE" will have you laughing at her humorous lyrics while your body can't help throwing down to the jingling beat. Across the EP's 17 minutes and 6 tracks, Big Diva Energy is full of bad-b— theme songs, like the "bye hater" anthem "Not Today" and the swaggy twerk tribute featuring Tank and the Bangas, "Betty Bussit."

Tems — If Orange Was A Place (2021)

Since shooting into the spotlight with her feature on Nigerian superstar Wizkid's 2020 hit "Essence," Tems'vcaptivating voice has made her a prominent figure in the diverse Afrobeats space herself. And now, the Nigerian singer/songwriter can add a Beyoncé collaboration to her list of achievements: Tems is featured on RENAISSANCE's Afrobeats-leaning "MOVE" (which also delivers a rare feature from iconic pop innovator Grace Jones).

Though putting Tems' vibey 2021 EP, If Orange Was A Place, on your RENAISSANCE playlist may slow things down a bit, never fear — it'll keep things sexy and groovy. The 18-minute EP showcases her wide vocal range and lush production from Ghanaian producer GuiltyBeatz, who co-produced "MOVE" with Nigerian-British producer P2J and Beyoncé.

Tems' gorgeous voice and deft songwriting is front and center on this project, particularly on songs like "Crazy Tings" and "Found," a collaboration with American R&B heavyweight Brent Faiyaz.

Honey Dijon — "Love Is A State Of Mind" (2022)

Chicago-bred DJ/producer Honey Dijon has been a staple of the global underground house scene since the '00s. As a Black trans woman, she channels queer Black culture in her upbeat, infectious dance floor-centric productions.

Dijon co-produced RENAISSANCE tracks "COZY" and "ALIEN SUPERSTAR," the latter of which channels ballroom competitions and the energy and rhythm of early Chicago warehouse parties. She was also tapped for the new BREAK MY SOUL REMIXES EP, on which her version fittingly highlights the "Queens in the front" lyric.

There is a treasure trove of Honey Dijon tracks, remixes and DJ sets online that capture these essential roots of dance music and will keep you voguing 'til you drop. Her latest single, "Love Is A State Of Mind" — featuring inspirational, rich vocals from Ramona Renea atop a banging classic house beat — is perfect for your RENAISSANCE playlist. (After all, Dijon co-produced it with Chris Penny and Luke Solomon, the same team she brought to work with Beyoncé.)

On Spotify, you'll find the track packaged with her last four singles (which should also be added to the RENAISSANCE playlist) along with the dance-floor-ready extended version of "Love Is A State Of Mind." Her 2020 Josh Caffé team-up, "La Femme Fantastique," delivers more ballroom fantasy to your dance party, as the featured London artist delivers confident caramel-toned ball-inspired lyrics over a spacey acid house production.

All of the songs are part of Dijon's Black Girl Magic project, which she has promised has more tracks to come — all of which will likely fit right into your RENAISSANCE dance party.

10 Essential Calvin Harris Songs: A Primer For 'Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2'

Post Malone holds and acoustic guitar and looks at the crown during his Super Bowl LVIII performance
Post Malone performs during Super Bowl LVIII in February 2024.

Photo: Perry Knotts/Getty Images

list

Post Malone's Country Roots: 8 Key Moments In Covers and Collaborations

Ahead of Posty's upcoming performance at the Stagecoach Festival, catch up on the many ways he's been dabbling in country music since the beginning of his career.

GRAMMYs/Apr 24, 2024 - 07:25 pm

Editor's Note: This article was updated on May 20, 2024 with information about Post Malone's collaboration with Morgan Wallen, "I Had Some Help."

Since Post Malone burst onto the mainstream nearly a decade ago, he has continued to flaunt his genre-defying brand of musical brilliance. For his latest venture, it’s time for gold grills and cowboy hats: Posty’s going country.

Though his musical origins are in rap, Malone has seamlessly traversed pop, R&B, and blues, always hinting at his deep-seated country roots along the way. In the last year, his long-standing affinity for country music has moved to the forefront, with appearances at the CMA Awards, a country-tinged Super Bowl LVIII performance, and a feature on Beyoncé’s COWBOY CARTER. Next up, he’ll make his debut at California's Stagecoach Festival alongside some of country music’s biggest names — and pay tribute to some of the genre greats.

While it’s unclear exactly what the Texas-raised hitmaker will be singing, his 45-minute set on Saturday, April 27 is labeled “Post Malone: Performs a special set of country covers.” After years of performing covers for and alongside country stars, the performance is arguably one of the most full-circle moments of his career thus far.

Ahead of his Stagecoach premiere, read on for some of Posty's biggest nods and contributions to the country music scene over the years — that could culminate in his own country album soon enough. 

A Slew Of Classic Country Music Covers

Malone has a history of channeling his musical heroes, often pulling on his boots to deliver heartfelt covers. He's paid tribute to country icons many times, including covers of Hank Williams Jr.'s classic, "There's A Tear In My Beer” in a 2018 fan-favorite video

During a 2022 Billy Strings tour stop at The Observatory in Los Angeles, Malone made a surprise appearance and used the moment to honor Johnny Cash alongside Strings. The pair delivered an acoustic duet of Cash's infamous murder ballad, "Cocaine Blues."

And just this year, Malone covered Hank Williams Sr. during a surprise performance at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. On April 3, he closed out the annual Bobby Bones' Million Dollar Show with a rendition of Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues." 

A Longtime Kinship With Dwight Yoakam

Malone has long collaborated with Dwight Yoakam, marking a friendship and professional partnership that spans his career. Yoakam is a GRAMMY-winning trailblazer known for his pioneering blend of honky tonk, rock and punk that shook up the country scene in the 80's with his blend of "cowpunk." 

The pair frequently joined forces on Yoakam's SiriusXM Radio spot "Greater Bakersfield," where one standout 2018 appearance features Malone covering Yoakam's own “Thousand Miles From Nowhere” as the two laugh, strum and belt out the lyrics together in perfect harmony. 

On April Fool's Day in 2021, they playfully teased fans with the prospect of a double country album release — which may not seem so far-fetched three years later.

It's fitting that Malone would find such deep inspiration in folks like Yoakam, a man who first rode onto the country scene with a new take on a traditional sound. Much like Yoakam bridged generations with his music, Malone brings a new yet familiar energy to the country scene, embodying the spirit of a modern cowboy in both style and sound.

A Country Tribute To Elvis

Malone teamed up with Keith Urban for a duet rendition of "Baby, What You Want Me to Do" during the "Elvis All-Star Tribute Special," which aired on NBC in 2019. Originally written and performed by blues musician and songwriter Jimmy Reed, "Baby, What You Want Me to Do" was famously covered by Presley and commemorated through Urban and Malone's unique blend of modern guitar-slapping country-rock charisma. 

That wasn't Malone's only country collab that night, either. He also covered Presley's "Blue Suede Shoes" alongside Blake Shelton, Little Big Town and Mac Davis.

A Celebration Of Texas With Country Legends

In March 2021, Matthew McConaughey and his wife, Camila, hosted the "We’re Texas" virtual benefit concert, to help Texans coping with that year's disastrous winter storms during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Following performances by George Strait, Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson, and Miranda Lambert, Malone — who moved to Dallas when he was 10 — served as the night's final entertainer. He performed Brad Paisley's "I'm Gonna Miss Her" followed by Sturgill Simpson's "You Can Have The Crown" backed by Dwight Yoakam.

A Rousing Tribute At The 2023 CMA Awards

At the 2023 CMA Awards, Malone joined country stars Morgan Wallen and HARDY on stage to cover late icon Joe Diffie‘s “Pickup Man” and "John Deere Green." Malone's first-ever performance at the CMAs felt more like a reunion than a debut, with Malone right at home among his collaborators.

“I’ve manifested this for years," HARDY told Audacy's Katie Neal. "Slight flex here, but I started following [Post Malone] when he had like, 300k Instagram followers. I was on the 'White Iverson' terrain, like the first thing that he ever put out and I was like, ‘this is dope,’ and I've been with him ever since.” 

After the performance, Malone hinted to Access Hollywood that it might be the start of a new chapter. When asked if a forthcoming country album would be in the works, he answered, “I think so. Yes, ma'am.” (More on that later.)

A Countrified Appearance At Super Bowl LVIII

Before Beyoncé announced COWBOY CARTER in a Verizon Super Bowl ad, Malone offered Super Bowl Sunday's first country-themed clue at the top of the night with his tender rendition of "America The Beautiful." Sporting a bolo tie and brown suede, Malone delivered his patriotic performance with a characteristically country drawl while strumming along on acoustic guitar before Reba McIntire's star-spangled rendition of the national anthem. 

Malone's performance followed in the footsteps of a long line of country artists who have kicked off the national sporting event, which started with Charley Pride in 1974 and has included Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Garth Brooks

A Tip Of The Hat To Toby Keith

During a performance at the American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas, on March 9, Malone paid tribute to the late Toby Keith, who passed away in February. After pouring one out and taking a sip from a red solo cup (an homage to Keith's playful hit of the same name), Malone performed a cover of "As Good As I Once Was" for the Texas rodeo crowd.

His TikTok video of the performance quickly garnered over 4 million views, sparking enthusiasm among fans for more country music from him. "Sir. I'm now begging for a country album," wrote one user in a comment that has received over 11,000 hearts.

A (Potential) Full-On Country Album

His much-teased country album may not be too yonder. After confirming that a country album was in the works during a live Twitch stream on his channel, Malone has spent much of this year teasing forthcoming new work. There is no scheduled album release date as of press time, but Malone has shared snippets of new songs including “Missin’ You Like This” and dropped sneak peeks of collaborations with Morgan Wallen, HARDY, Ernest, and Luke Combs

In February, Malone posted a sample of a collaboration with Combs, "I Ain't Got A Guy For That," the first in a series of song snippets shared across his social channels. 

Malone and Wallen have been teasing a collaboration since the end of 2023. After building plenty of anticipation, they debuted “I Had Some Help” during Wallen's headlining set at Stagecoach in April. Officially releasing the track on May 10, the song didn't just prove to be a banger — it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and broke the record for most streams in a single week with 76.4 million official U.S. streams, according to Luminate and Billboard.

No matter when the album may come, Post Malone’s Stagecoach set will only up the anticipation for some original country music from the star — and from the looks of it, fans and genre stars alike are more than ready for it.

12 Must-See Acts At Stagecoach 2024: Tanner Adell, Charley Crockett & More

Curtis Jones, aka Cajmere & Green Velvet, performing live. Jones is wearing dark sunglasses amid a dark background and green strobe lights.
Curtis Jones performs as Green Velvet

Photo: Matt Jelonek/WireImage

interview

Dance Legend Curtis Jones On Cajmere, Green Velvet & 30 Years Of Cajual Records

As Green Velvet and Cajmere, DJ/producer Curtis Jones celebrates everything from Chicago to acid house. With a new party and revived record label, Jones says he wants to "shine a light on those who sacrificed so much to keep house music alive."

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2024 - 02:19 pm

Curtis Jones is a dance music legend, whose multiple monikers only begin to demonstrate his deep and varied influence in the genre.

Jones has been active as a producer and DJ for decades, and is among a cadre of dance music acts forging a connection between the genre's origins and its modern iterations. Crucially, he  joined Chicago house legends Honey Dijon and Terry Hunter on Beyoncé's house-infused RENAISSANCE, providing a sample for "Cozy." He’s also produced tracks with house favorites Chris Lake and Oliver Heldens, and DJed with Dom Dolla and John Summit.

Jones contributed to the aforementioned collaborations, young and old, as Green Velvet. He’s been releasing dance hits like "Flash" and "Answering Machine" under that name since the mid- '90s. He is also currently a staple of the live circuit, his signature green mohawk vibing in clubs and festivals around the globe — including at his own La La Land parties in Los Angeles, Denver, Orlando, and elsewhere.

Green Velvet is appropriately braggadocious, even releasing the popular "Bigger Than Prince" in 2013. But by the time Jones had released the heavy-grooving tech house track, his artistry had been percolating for decades as Cajmere.

Where Green Velvet releases lean into acid house and Detroit techno, Cajmere is all about the traditional house sound of Jones’ hometown of Chicago. When Jones first debuted Cajmere in 1991, Chicago’s now-historic reputation for house music was still developing. Decades after the original release, Cajmere tracks like "Percolator,” have sustained the Windy City sound via remixes by prominent house artists like Will Clarke, Jamie Jones, and Claude VonStroke.

"I love doing music under both of my aliases, so it’s great when fans discover the truth,” Jones tells GRAMMY.com over email. Often, Jones performs as Cajmere to open his La La Land parties, and closes as Green Velvet. 

But beyond a few scattered performances and new tracks, Cajmere has remained dormant while Green Velvet became a worldwide headliner, topping bills in Mexico City, Toronto, Bogotá and other international dance destinations. He’s only shared two original releases as Cajmere since 2016: "Baby Talk,” and "Love Foundation,” a co-production with fellow veteran Chicago producer/DJ Gene Farris.

This year, Jones is reviving Cajmere to headliner status with his new live event series, Legends. First held in March in Miami, Jones' Legends aims to highlight other dance music legends, from Detroit techno pioneers Stacey Pullen and Carl Craig, to Chicago house maven Marshall Jefferson. 

"My intention is to shine a light on those who sacrificed so much to keep house music alive," Jones writes. "The sad reality is that most of the legendary artists aren’t celebrated or compensated as well as they should be."

Given that dance music came into the popular music zeitgeist relatively recently, the originators of the genre — like the artists Jones booked for his Legends party — are still in their prime. Giving them space to perform allows them to apply the same innovation they had in the early '90s in 2024.

Jones says the Miami Legends launch was an amazing success."Seeing the passion everyone, young and old, displayed was so inspiring."

Curtis Jones Talks House, Cajmere & Green Velvet performs at Legends Miami

Curtis Jones, center, DJs at the Miami Legends party ┃Courtesy of the artist

The first Legends party also served as a celebration of Cajual Records, the label Jones launched in 1992 as a home for his Cajmere music. Over the past three decades, Cajual has also released tracks from dance music veterans such as Riva Starr, as well as contemporary tastemakers like Sonny Fodera and DJ E-Clyps. 

Furthermore, Jones’ partnership with revered singers such as Russoul and Dajae (the latter of whom still performs with him to this day) on Cajual releases like "Say U Will” and "Waterfall” helped to define the vocal-house style.

Like the Cajmere project, Cajual Records has been moving slower in recent years. The label has only shared four releases since 2018. True to form, though, Jones started another label; Relief Records, the home of Green Velvet's music, shared 10 releases in 2023 alone.

Jones says he's been particularly prolific as Green Velvet because "the genres of tech house and techno have allowed me the creative freedom I require as an artist."

Now Jones is making "loads of music” as Cajmere again and recently signed a new distribution deal for Cajual Records. The true sound of Chicago is resonating with audiences in 2024, Jones says, adding "it's nice that house is making a comeback."

Jones remembers when house music was especially unpopular. He used to call radio stations in the '80s to play tracks like Jamie Principle's underground classic "Waiting On My Angel,” only to be told they didn’t play house music whatsoever. In 2024, house music records like FISHER’s "Losing It” were certified gold, and received nominations for Best Dance Recording at the 66th GRAMMY Awards. Jones is embracing this popularity with open arms.

Read more: The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC

"The new audience it’s attracting is excited to hear unique underground-style house records now. This is perfect for my Cajmere sets,” Jones says. "I never saw Green Velvet being more popular than Cajmere, and both sounds being as popular as they are even today.” 

While Jones is finding success in his own artistic endeavors, he points to a general lack of appreciation for Black dance artists in festival bookings. Looking at the run-of-show for ARC Festival, a festival in Chicago dedicated to house and techno music, legendary artists play some of the earliest slots. 

For the 2023 edition, Carl Craig played at 3 p.m on Saturday while the young, white John Summit, closed the festival the same night. In 2021, the acid house inventor, Chicago’s DJ Pierre, played the opening set at 2 p.m. on Saturday, while FISHER, another younger white artist, was the headliner.

In 2020, Marshall Jefferson penned an op-ed in Mixmag about the losing battle he is fighting as a Black DJ from the '90s. He mentions that younger white artists often receive upwards of $250,000 for one gig, whereas he receives around $2,000, despite the fact that he still DJs to packed crowds 30 years after he started.

Jones is doing his part to even the playing field with Legends, and according to him, things are going well after the first edition. "Seeing how much respect the fans have for the Legends was so special,” Jones says. "Hopefully they become trendy again.” 

The story of Curtis Jones is already one of legend, but it is far from over. "I feel it’s my duty to continue to make creative and innovative tracks as well as musical events. I love shining the light on new upcoming and emerging artists as well as giving the originators their proper dues,” Jones says. 

How LP Giobbi & Femme House Are Making Space For Women In Dance Music: "If You Really Want To Make A Change, It Can Be Done"

Beyoncé accepts the Innovator Award onstage during the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on Monday, April 1.
Beyoncé accepts the Innovator Award onstage during the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California, on Monday, April 1.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartRadio

feature

Beyond Country: All The Genres Beyoncé Explores On 'Cowboy Carter'

On 'COWBOY CARTER,' Beyoncé is free. Her eighth studio album is an unbridled exploration of musical genres — from country to opera and R&B — that celebrates the fluidity of music and her Texas roots.

GRAMMYs/Apr 3, 2024 - 08:50 pm

"Genres are a funny little concept, aren't they? In theory, they have a simple definition that's easy to understand. But in practice, well, some may feel confined."

With those words, spoken on "SPAGHETTII" by Linda Martell — the first commercially successful Black female artist in country music and the first to play the Grand Ole Opry solo — Beyoncé provides a proxy response to her original call on Instagram 10 days before COWBOY CARTER was released: "This ain’t a Country album. This is a “Beyoncé” album." 

She delivered on that promise with intent. Through a mix of homage and innovation, Beyoncé's latest is a 27-track testament to her boundless musicality and draws  from a rich aural palette. In addition to its country leanings, COWBOY CARTER includes everything from the soulful depths of gospel to the intricate layers of opera. 

Beyoncé's stance is clear: she's not here to fit into a box. From the heartfelt tribute in "BLACKBIIRD" to the genre-blurring tracks like "YA YA," Beyoncé uses her platform to elevate the conversation around genre, culture, and history. She doesn't claim country music; she illuminates its roots and wings, celebrating the Black artists who've shaped its essence.

The collective album proves no genre was created or remains in isolation. It's a concept stoked in the words of the opening track, "AMERIICAN REQUIEM" when Beyonce reflects, "Nothing really ends / For things to stay the same they have to change again." For country, and all popular genres of music to exist they have to evolve. No sound ever stays the same.

COWBOY CARTER's narrative arc, from "AMERICAN REQUIEM" to "AMEN," is a journey through American music's heart and soul, paying tribute to its origins while charting a path forward. This album isn't just an exploration of musical heritage; it's an act of freedom and a declaration of the multifaceted influence of Black culture on American pop culture.

Here's a closer look at some of some of the musical genres touched on in act ii, the second release of an anticipated trilogy by Beyoncé, the most GRAMMY-winning artist of all-time: 

Country 

Before COWBOY CARTER was even released, Beyoncé sparked critical discussion over the role of herself and all Black artists in country music. Yet COWBOY CARTER doesn't stake a claim on country music. Rather, it spotlights the genre through collaborations with legends and modern icons, while championing the message that country music, like all popular American music and culture, has always been built on the labor and love of Black lives. 

It's a reckoning acknowledged not only by Beyoncé's personal connection to country music growing up in Texas, but the role Black artists have played in country music rooted in gospel, blues, and folk music. 

Enter The World Of Beyoncé

Country legends, Dolly Parton ("DOLLY P", "JOLENE," and "TYRANT"), Willie Nelson ("SMOKE HOUR" and "SMOKE HOUR II"), and Martell ("SPAGHETTII and "THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW") serve mainly as spoken-word collaborators, becoming MCs for Queen Bey. Some of the most prolific country music legends receiving her in a space where she has been made to feel unwelcome in music (most notably with the racism surrounding her 2016 CMA performance of "Daddy Lessons" with the Dixie Chicks) provides a prolific release of industry levies. Martell, a woman who trod the dark country road before Bey, finally getting her much-deserved dues appears as an almost pre-ordained and poetic act of justice. 

"BLACKBIIRD," a version of the Beatles' civil rights era song of encouragement and hope for the struggle of Black women is led softly by Beyoncé, backed by a quartet of Black female contemporary country songbirds: Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts. 

Beyoncé holds space for others, using the power of her star to shine a light on those around her. These inclusions rebuke nay-sayers who quipped pre-release that she was stealing attention from other Black country artists. It also flies in the faces that shunned and discriminated against her, serving as an example of how to do better. The reality that Beyoncé wasn't stealing a spotlight, but building a stage for fellow artists, is a case study in how success for one begets success for others. 

Read more: 8 Country Crossover Artists You Should Know: Ray Charles, The Beastie Boys, Cyndi Lauper & More

Gospel, Blues, & Folk (American Roots)

As is Beyoncé's way, she mounts a case for country music with evidence to back up her testimony. She meanders a course through a sequence of styles that serve as the genre's foundation: gospel, blues, and folk music.

"AMERIICAN REQUIEM" and "AMEN" bookend the album with gospel-inspired lyrics and choir vocals. The opener sets up a reflective sermon buoyed by  the sounds of a reverberating church organ, while the closer, with its introspective lyrics, pleads for mercy and redemption. The main verse on "AMEN", "This house was built with blood and bone/ The statues they made were beautiful/ But they were lies of stone," is complemented by a blend of piano, and choral harmonies. 

Hymnal references are interlaced throughout the album, particularly in songs like "II HANDS II HEAVEN" and in the lyrical nuances on "JUST FOR FUN." In the later track, Beyoncé's voice soars with gratitude in a powerful delivery of the lines, "Time heals everything / I don't need anything / Hallelujah, I pray to her." 

The gospel-inspired, blues-based "16 CARRIAGES" reflects the rich history of country songs borrowing from the blues while simultaneously calling back to songs sung by field laborers in the colonial American South. "Sixteen dollars, workin' all day/ Ain't got time to waste, I got art to make" serves as the exhausted plea of an artist working tirelessly long hours in dedication to a better life. 

Rhiannon Giddens, a celebrated musician-scholar, two-time GRAMMY winner, and Pulitzer Prize recipient, infuses "TEXAS HOLD 'EM" with her profound understanding of American folk, country, and blues. She plays the viola and banjo, the latter tracing its origins to Sub-Saharan West Africa and the lutes of ancient Egypt. Through her skilled plucking and bending of the strings, Giddens bridges the rich musical heritage of Africa and the South with the soul of country, blues, and folk music.

Pop, Funk, Soul & Rock 'n' Roll 

All in, Beyoncé is a pop star who is wrestling with labels placed on her 27-year career in COWBOY CARTER. Fittingly, she brings in two other pop artists known for swimming in the brackish water between country and pop, Miley Cyrus and Post Malone. Her intentional inclusion of two artists who have blurred genres without much cross-examination begs the question, Why should Beyoncé's sound be segregated to a different realm? 

On "YA YA" Linda Martell returns as the listener's sonic sentinel, introducing the track like a lesson plan: "This particular tune stretches across a range of genres. And that’s what makes it a unique listening experience." The tune sinks into the strummed chords of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" before leaping into a fiery dance track that features reimagined lyrics from the Beach Boys, with soulful vocal flourishes and breaks that show the throughline connection between '60s era rock, funk, and pop music.

Robert Randolph lends his hands on "16 CARRIAGES" with a funk-infused grapple on his pedal-steel guitar. It's a style he honed through his early years touring and recording with his family band and later in his career as an in-demand collaborator working with names including the Allman Brothers, and Norah Jones

The lesson is solidified as the album transitions into an interlude on "OH LOUISIANA," featuring a sped-up sample of a classic track by Chuck Berry. This moment emphasizes the pop superstar's nod to civil rights era music history, spotlighting a controversial artist celebrated for his pioneering contributions to rock 'n' roll. (It's a part of music history Beyoncé knows well, after starring as Etta James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records, a veiled biopic of the legendary Chicago label Chess Records.)

Classical & Opera

Opera was missing from many listeners' Beyoncé Bingo card, but didn't surprise those that know her background. Beyoncé was trained for over a decade starting at an early age by her voice teacher David Lee Brewer, a retired opera singer who once lived with the Knowles family. 

COWBOY CARTER gives sing-along fans a 101 opera class with "DAUGHTER." In Italian, Beyoncé sings passages from the 1783 Italian opera "Caro Mio Ben," composed by Giuseppe Tommaso Giovanni Giordani. The aria is a classic piece of vocal training that fittingly shows off her full range — taking us back to the earliest days of her vocal teachings.

Hip-Hop & R&B

Midway through the album on "SPAGHETTII" Beyoncé announces, "I ain't no regular singer, now come get everythin' you came for," landing right where expectations have confined her: in the throes of a romping beat, experimenting with sounds that blend hip-hop with R&B and soul. The track notably highlights the talent of Nigerian American singer/rapper Shaboozey, who also shows up to the rodeo on "SWEET HONEY BUCKIN'" brandishing his unique mix of hip-hop, folk-pop, and country music. 

Beyoncé worked with longtime collaborator Raphael Saadiq on this album, a career legend in the R&B industry, who lends his mark to several tracks on which he wrote, produced, and played multiple instruments. Beyoncé also utilizes the Louisiana songwriter Willie Jones on "JUST FOR FUN," an artist who draws on a contemporary blend of country, Southern rap, and R&B in the hymnal ballad. 

The violin-heavy "TYRANT" and "SPAGHETTII" both underscore hip-hop's long love affair with the classical string instrument (See: Common's "Be," and Wu Tang Clan's "Reunited" as the tip of that particular iceberg) with a blend of soulful R&B lyrics paired with beat-based instrumentalization. 

In a world quick to draw lines and label sounds, Beyoncé's COWBOY CARTER stands as a vibrant mosaic of musical influence and innovation. Ultimately, Beyoncé's COWBOY CARTER isn't seeking anyone's acceptance. As a Texan once told she didn't belong, her critical response claps back at this exclusion.  It's also a reminder that in the hands of a true artist, music is limitless.

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Beyoncé Is The Genre-Bending Queen On 'Cowboy Carter': 5 Takeaways From Her New Album

On 'act ii' of her three-part album trilogy, Beyoncé explores the world of country and beyond — and makes a statement with every track.

GRAMMYs/Mar 29, 2024 - 09:12 pm

When Beyoncé released RENAISSANCE in July 2022, she revealed that the album would be part of a "three-act project." One year and eight months later, she delivered on her promise in a big, bold way with act ii: COWBOY CARTER.

The expansive 27-track project finds the star experimenting with country, folk and Americana, pushing the boundaries of genre in a way she never has before — and, in classic Bey fashion, serving up a poignant response to naysayers.

"It was born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed…and it was very clear that I wasn't," she shared in an Instagram post the week before the album's release. "But, because of that experience, I did a deeper dive into the history of Country music and studied our rich musical archive."

From thoughtful cameos to old-school instrumentation, COWBOY CARTER is the culmination of everything that makes Beyoncé one of the most influential artists of her time, flexing her knack for statement pieces as well as her versatility. 

Here are five key takeaways from Beyoncé's long-awaited new album, COWBOY CARTER.

It's Not Country, It's KNTRY

Beyoncé revealed the COWBOY CARTER track listing in a rodeo-inspired concert flyer posted to Instagram on March 27. The artwork shared an important tag at the bottom: "Brought to you by KNTRY Radio Texas."

KNTRY Radio is a fantasy station with a wide open format created for COWBOY CARTER, and hosted by Willie Nelson in two short "SMOKE HOUR" interludes. Throughout the album, you'll hear samples of old songs by Chuck Berry and other classic artists. 

As Beyoncé stated in another pre-release Instagram post, COWBOY CARTER isn't a country album. Instead, popular styles are blended together in surprising ways to create a new sound that's purely Beyoncé. (There's even a moment, on "DAUGHTER," where she sings a verse from a famous Italian opera called "Caro Mio Ben.")

Whether through an intro, an interlude or a powerful verse, it's clear that Beyoncé and her guests are trying to open minds musically with these songs. "If there's one thing you can take away from our set today, let it be this," Nelson said in the second of his two "SMOKE HOUR" radio-style interludes on the album. "Sometimes you don't know what you like and someone you trust turns you on to some real good s—. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I'm here."

It's A Unique Continuation Of Her Mission

COWBOY CARTER begins the same way as it ends, with Beyoncé proclaiming, "Them big ideas are buried here, Amen," in the intro of opener "AMERICAN REQUIEM," and then "Them old ideas are buried here, Amen" in the last line of closer "AMEN."

Those statements reflect exactly what Beyoncé set out to do with COWBOY CARTER: celebrate the Black community's roots within the country space, while addressing the lack of cultural acceptance of it. The album celebrates Blackness in the way she's always done, but in a way that feels even more revolutionary.

This is perhaps best exhibited in the trap-infused track "SPAGHETTII." "Genres are a funny little concept, aren't they?" asks Linda Martell — who was the first Black woman soloist to appear at the Grand Ole Opry — on the song's intro. "In theory, they have a simple definition that's easy to understand/ But in practice, well, some may feel confined."

As Beyoncé adds in the first verse, "Now we on a mission, tried to turn me to the opposition/ I'm appalled 'bout the proposition/ Y'all been played by the plagiaristic, ain't gonna give no clout addiction my attention."

Beyoncé has long been at the forefront of honoring Black culture, and COWBOY CARTER is her most boundary-pushing addition to the conversation yet — and she hopes to change the "old ideas" into "big ideas."

It Takes Her Cinematic Love To The Next Level

It's no secret that Beyoncé loves her visuals. Though COWBOY CARTER isn't a visual album like some of her previous releases, a press release revealed that each of the songs on the album are inspired by Western films. In a statement, Beyoncé named five specific films as primary influences: The Harder They Fall, Killers of the Flower Moon, Urban Cowboy, The Hateful Eight, and Five Fingers For Marseilles

Several of the COWBOY CARTER visuals have elements of Western films, from the desert and mountainous landscapes of "AMERIICAN REQUIEM" and "OH LOUISIANA" to the rainy ashtray in "AMEN." And it's likely not a coincidence that a track called "SPAGHETTII" ended up on an album inspired by Westerns. 

Beyoncé even made a new catchphrase out of the most famous Western movie actor of all time on "BODYGUARD," where she declares she'll "John Wayne that ass."

It's Her Most Organic Sound Yet

Pivoting from the electronic landscape of RENAISSANCE, Beyoncé favors analog instruments over digital sounds on COWBOY CARTER. As "TEXAS HOLD 'EM" foreshadowed, there's plenty of banjo, boot-stomping beats and guitar plucks — and even Beyoncé's fingernails as percussion — across the album.

Raw instrumentation is also sprinkled throughout, particularly on "FLAMENCO" and her stunning cover of the Beatles' "Blackbird" (whose title is given an act ii twist as "BLACKBIIRD"). And if anything sounds a little unpolished, Beyoncé wants you to know it was completely intentional.

"With artificial intelligence and digital filters and programming, I wanted to go back to real instruments, and I used very old ones," Beyoncé explained in a press statement. "I didn't want some layers of instruments like strings, especially guitars, and organs perfectly in tune. I kept some songs raw and leaned into folk. All the sounds were so organic and human, everyday things like the wind, snaps and even the sound of birds and chickens, the sounds of nature."

It's Another Family Affair

Now that Beyoncé's first-born daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, has played a prominent role in her mom's career — winning a GRAMMY in 2021 for her part in "Brown Skin Girl" and famously dancing on the RENAISSANCE World Tour — it was time for her little sister to shine.

Six-year-old Rumi Carter contributes an intro on "PROTECTOR," by asking Bey if she can "hear the lullaby." Though Rumi isn't featured in the rest of the track, hearing her voice at the beginning makes the song's sweet sentiment all the more impactful: "And I will lead you down that road if you lose your way/ Born to be a protector," Beyoncé sings on the chorus.

With so much to uncover in COWBOY CARTER, Beyoncé already has the anticipation high for the final part of her album trilogy. Will act iii feature Rumi's twin brother, Sir Carter? Will the rumors of Beyoncé exploring her rock side be true? We'll hopefully find out soon enough, but for now, get lost in the world of COWBOY CARTER — a testament to Beyoncé's prowess as an ever-evolving trailblazer. 

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