by Emmanuel Agu
Lemonade, Beyoncé’s latest album, is aptly named. In the political climate we live in with constant reminders of the atrocities that black people face, and a music industry that seems to be losing its greatest and brightest this year, nothing could have been more refreshing than this album for popular culture and especially for black women. This is undoubtedly the strongest piece of work Beyoncé has ever produced; musically, visually, and politically. With features and samples from a wide variety of artists including James Blake, Jack White, Diplo and for a second time another sample from Outkast’s’ ‘Spottieottiedopaliciousness’ (which I will never complain about), Knowles-Carter goes from strength to strength and I am truly left to question if it is ever possible for her to release an album less brilliant than its predecessor.
It seems that criticism of her talents do not go unheard of, with a long discography filled to the brim with nonsensical melismatic trills, runs, and bold showcases of a wide range and vocal control (see Love On Top, or Countdown from 4), she sacrifices virtuosic displays instead for songs brimming with emotional content. She truly opens the door wide to her audience, giving us a deeper insight into the complexities of her personal struggles with love, in context of her identity in womanhood and her race; guided by the powerful impassioned verses of British-Somali Waran Shire’s ‘For Women Who Are Difficult to Love’
But it is so much more than an improvement in artistry; as many have stated, Lemonade is #BlackGirlMagic in its most defiant form. The dominance of feminine wrath is evoked in the sense of the mystical and divine from the very offset. Beginning at the cathedral church steps, clad in bright yellow releasing a flood of water, she invokes strong references to the Yoruba Oritisha ‘Oshun’, deity of healing, nurturing, song and dance. She continues to make her way through the street in an almost gleeful vengeance, skipping along merrily to the undertones of a reggae inspired beat, swinging ‘Hot Sauce’ at whatever she fancies.
The rage continues through, powered the most crude lyrics in her discography to date “You can watch my fat ass twist boy// as I bounce to the next dick boy”. Accompanied by the aggression of the powerful rock backbeats, later she affirms her own self worth with nonchalant abandonment of her wrongful lover atop her (well deserved) throne. Serena Williams spares a moment or two to join her, twerking to southern trap beats in defiant glory.
Suddenly there’s a shift in the narrative, the protagonist escapes the urban nature supported by her sisters in arms. With faces painted white in line with the mysticism of ‘Ori’ Yoruba tradition and flames in the backdrop, they lament, “Dear moon, we blame you for floods … for the flush of blood … for men who are also wolves. We blame for the night, for the dark, for the ghosts.” From this point onwards the notions of rage slowly dissipate and through solitude of sorority and self-mediation upon the influence of men in her history as depicted in Daddy Lessons, reconciliation is surely achieved.
One of the strongest moments in the piece remain Don’t Hurt Yourself, sampling Malcolm X’s 1962 speech “Who Taught You To Hate Yourselves” originally debuted at Ronald Stokes funeral (a victim of murder from the LAPD). “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman,” displaying the artists rage at her own situation in context of her relationship, and within society which sets a precedent for the foreshadowing in Forward.
In the albums most powerful visual moment, the mothers’ of the black lives matter movement are depicted solemnly holding portraits of their dead sons (Trayvonn Martin , Michael Brown, and Eric Garner), calling us to remember the atrocities faced by the black community and giving special attention to the devastated women left to mend their communities in the aftermath of tragedy.
Without a doubt this album is a celebration of the brilliance of black culture from start to finish, through exploration of music genres alone. Beyoncé demonstrates the versatility of black cultures’ contribution to modern music, especially in genres where our historical context is often forgotten or removed from (notably rock ‘n’ roll and country music, through Daddy Lessons and Don’t Hurt Yourself). Through subtly evoking imagery of Yoruba Oritsha in the gleeful rage of Hold Up and in the droves of women clad in white drifting into the sea reminiscent of the misery of Igbo slave landings; Beyoncé powerfully reaffirms the African heritage behind her culture.
Beyoncé demonstrates the versatility of black cultures’ contribution to modern music, especially in genres where our historical context is often forgotten
It is clear that this album serves one function above all else; the re-centering of the long suffering black matriarch within her own community and within her won mindset. A place she often is forcibly removed from by the pervasive reach of noxious black masculinity, a place she often sacrifices to shield her children from the ills of society, nurturing them for the time they will have to branch out from the reach of her protection.
It is not only through the self-love and confidence within herself and her community that Beyoncé reclaims this space by attacking the normalization of infidelity and breakdown of love within black communities attributed to patriarchal norms. She boldly challenges the men in her life for some of her suffering;
“You remind me of my father, a magician … able to exist in two places at once. In the tradition of men in my blood, you come home at 3 a.m. and lie to me. What are you hiding?”
“I don’t know when love became elusive. What I know is, no one I know has it. My father’s arms around my mother’s neck, fruit too ripe to eat.”
To summarise, Lemonade remains to be a piece for healing and perhaps a call to arms to arise and get in Formation. The rest of us shouldn’t be attacking the effectiveness of the liberation potential or efficacy for black women, but instead asking ourselves the question: What are we doing to impede this process?