Initially I was relatively blasé about Beyoncé—not the person but the self-titled album released in December of 2013. Granted I never really scoped out the work in depth. But that’s because Beyoncé is so huge you can pretty much sit back and wait for her music to come to you. And when I encountered the lead single “Drunk in Love” on the radio, I just wasn’t feeling it.
“Oh, she’s on that Tina Turner tip again,” I thought as I took in her grinding vocals. I wasn’t mad at it, but I felt she already played that card before.
A few weeks later my friend Janet and I had a “meeting.” Janet is a coder and was developing my personal website. Inevitably, the “meeting” devolved into a viewing party of Beyoncé’s collection of secretly-produced music videos for each track on her self-titled album.
Janet and I are very different. She’s exponentially smarter than I am. Whereas I judge music at face value and have very visceral reactions to new songs (e.g. “Yaaasss! This beat makes me wanna be a stripper!”), Janet digs a little deeper (e.g. “Shh! This is the part where she samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx talk on black feminisms,” or “You can tell by the wardrobe styling in this one that she’s looking over her shoulder at Rihanna.”)
Janet even showed me the music video for “Partition.” But I was too distracted by the skimpy diamond-encrusted lingerie and busy trying to remember where I had seen those familiar bendy stripper poles before (“Oh yeah! Ciara used them in the ‘Love Sex Magic’ video!”). In other words, I wasn’t really paying to attention to the song itself.
Soon, even my friend Kayla was all up in my ear about Beyoncé: “I’m telling you, Marty. I feel like this is the realest she’s been in a minute. She’s like, ‘Whatever, I’m gonna sing about sex and love and getting sneaky in a limo. And yes, I’m a mama and still classy as hell and btw…I’m Beyoncé!’”
But it wasn’t until I was driving home late one night after basketball game that I tuned into the radio and finally drank the Kool-Aid. Sitting alone in my car, devoid of any visual distractions, “Partition” was playing and I was utterly entranced.
Perhaps the best part about “Partition” is that it’s a two-for-one deal—it’s actually comprised of two very distinct sections: “Yoncé” and “Partition.” Frank Ocean used a similar format in crafting his 10-minute masterpiece “Pyramids” on his Grammy-winning album Channel Orange.
Beyoncé rolled deep in writing department for “Partition,” employing an all-star team of co-writers The Dream, Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, Jerome Harmon, Dwane Weir, and Mike Dean. And it shows.
Despite the sausage fest of writers, any fly girl can relate to the lyrics as early as the first verse when Beyoncé describes entering a dance club:
“…And every boy in here with me got that smoke,
AND EVERY GIRL IN HERE GOTTA LOOK ME UP N’ DOWN*…”
(*Fly girls, is that not the story of our fucking lives?)
And right after this epic line, Beyoncé and Co. throw down one of my favorite hip-hop double entendres in in a long long time: “All on Instagram, cake by the pound.” Beyoncé isn’t shy about explicitly mentioning how her voluptuous figure is serving up a healthy portion of cake (a euphemism for booty) that could very well be measured by the pound while playfully referencing how her derriere is the object of countless Instagram photos tagged “cake” next to the “pound” (i.e. hashtagged).
The production for the song(s) is phenomenal. Once again Beyoncé goes all out, employing Timbaland, Jermone Harmon, Justin Timberlake, Key Wave, Mike Dean, and Boots to put the track together. “Yoncé’s” original drumbeat was allegedly the impromptu creation of Justin Timberlake using a bucket. The DIY composition was ultimately dolled up with “trap elements” meaning heavy 808 sub-bass kick drums, sparse synthesizers, cinematic strings, a thrusting bassline, and many more delicious tricks. The song is a melting pot of different flavors from Caribbean groove and electro to dancehall sounds. The song’s seductive but powerful and aggressive tones go hand in hand with its lyrics. And even Beyoncé’s vocals are sensational using fresh and sometimes experimental techniques that we had yet to hear from the artist.
To top it off, the cut ends with sultry French lyrics that, when translated to English, are nearly verbatim to a set of lines spoken by Julianne Moore from the script of cult classic The Big Lebowski. These lyrics encapsulate one of the major the themes of the Beyoncé’s album as a whole—the marriage between fierce feminism and sex positivity.
Last but not least, the remix! I’m sure there are tons of them out there but I only have eyes for the one featuring my favorite up-and-coming rapper Azealia Banks.
Oh, and Busta Rhymes also has a verse on this remix (but it’s gross and boring). Azealia Banks, on the other hand, throws down a creative verse rife with clever rhymes schemes and chock-full of alliteration. Banks ingeniously plays with the flow going from a rapid-fire, tongue-twistery spit to a slow delivery, all the while maintaining a sultry sound that complements the original song perfectly.
This is hands down my favorite piece of 2014 hip hop to date!