Beyoncé: How A Legend Was Made In 15 Years

Beyoncé: How A Legend Was Made In 15 Years

Written by J'na Jefferson

Graphics by Anita Nixon

Published August 2, 2018

Chronicling the solo career of the greatest living entertainer

Witnessing the greatness

of Beyoncé gives many bystanders Michael Jackson vibes; you couldn’t exactly place your finger on what made him the best at what he did, he just was. Her vocal ability, her stage presence, her persona — it’s all pure je ne sais quoi. It’s been 15 years since she’s become a solo artist, and she’s proved time and time again that she embodies the full artistic package. In her decade-and-a-half as a singular sensation, Bey’s dedication to her craft, adept ear for music, and tireless ability to outdo herself has been remarkable to watch. 

For the 15th anniversary of her solo debut, BET Digital spoke to those involved and those impacted by Beyoncé’s success as a solo star in order to get their thoughts on her artistry and growth from Dangerously In Love all the way to Lemonade. Six features was indeed a lofty goal, but hey, if Bey’s dancers could rehearse for 11 hours before her history-making Coachella performance, then anything is possible. Read on to see what it’s like to be touched by someone with a work ethic as celebrated and commitment to artistry as lauded as the one and only Beyoncé’s.



June 23, 2003. Although we didn’t know it at the time, this was a day that a superstar was born, as Beyoncé released her debut solo album, Dangerously In Love. Songs like the stunning “Dangerously In Love 2,” the Missy Elliott-assisted “Signs” and the iconic “Crazy In Love” featuring Jay-Z catapulted her onto the solo scene and into the upper echelon of music sensations.

“The sound that we were going for was just trying to find new stuff and break ground. I had to experiment a bit,” super producer Scott Storch told BET Digital over the phone about aiming to push the envelope. His influence and production prowess can be heard on the Caribbean-tinged “Baby Boy” featuring Sean Paul, the independence anthem, “Me, Myself and I,” and the sassy, Donna Summer-sampled “Naughty Girl.”

“In one case, I had a Jamaican one-drop, dancehall kind of record, and that was ‘Baby Boy,’” he continued. “These are all sounds and vibes that musically, I spearheaded, then lyrics and melody, you know, she and Robert “EST” Waller worked a lot together. It was a cool little vibe, but she trusted my creative pace and let me guide her as a producer is supposed to.”

After booking a few weeks to record at the now-defunct South Beach Studios in Miami, Storch brought in a team that included Waller, a member of the hip-hop group Three Times Dope, who he explains gave the “street” edginess to Beyoncé’s “polish” when it came to songwriting.

“One of our forefathers of rap [EST]... I put him in and I assured Beyoncé that he would be an amazing asset to us in the studio,” he explained. "Together, they made a really cool sound.”

Through Dangerously In Love and the release of its singles, Beyoncé emerged as a musician in her own right, separate from her longtime girl group, Destiny’s Child. The album won her five Grammy Awards, a record for a female artist in one night (and a record she broke herself in 2010). As of 2018, the album has been certified four times platinum, her highest platinum-ranking album.

Storch says that Knowles was “one of the greatest singers” he’s ever worked with, and although he was “a little overwhelmed” to meet her due to her star power, he was thrilled to be making music with her.

“Her vocal capabilities go beyond, and she's just one of the greats,” he said. “It's incredible when you work with an artist who comes in knowing what they want. I can compare it to all the greatest female singers, from Aretha Franklin to Patti LaBelle and all the best down. She's the best of the best. It was an honor to be a part of that.”

Compared to other R&B albums released in 2003, such as Ashanti’s Chapter II, Alicia Keys’ debut, Songs In A Minor, and Mary J. Blige’s Love & Life, Beyoncé’s album, according to Storch, set her apart due to the onslaught of timeless hits.

“That particular album, Dangerously In Love, was a masterpiece,” he beamed. “The other albums that you were mentioning were amazing, but Beyoncé's Dangerously In Love, from beginning to end, was a hit after a hit. It had an amazing thread to it, and I just think that it was one of the greatest R&B/pop albums ever released.”


Beyoncé grew up admiring musicians of yesteryear, citing Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and Diana Ross as direct influences. Her sophomore album really shows us her admiration of a few legendary stars.

Released on her 25th birthday, Bey’s aptly-titled B’Day is arguably her most cohesive body of work. It toyed with the different facets of R&B sound, interpolating funk, disco and hip-hop elements. It was reportedly heavily inspired by the work of Curtis Mayfield and The Supremes. Beyoncé also faced new experiences as a leading lady in a few blockbuster films around the time of the album’s release, such as the Academy Award-nominated musical drama Dreamgirls and the comedy The Pink Panther.

“I think in life, all your experiences shape you,” explained songwriter-producer Sean Garrett, speaking on the phone with BET Digital. “Those Hollywood experiences definitely made her sharper...I think all of that shaped her, I think it made her more tenacious, you know, I think it really drove her to another level, to another level of understanding that she was going to be one of the greatest ever.”

Garrett, who is a musician in his own right, is responsible for co-penning B’Day bangers "Ring The Alarm,” "Get Me Bodied," "Upgrade U” and "Check On It,” which was featured on Destiny’s Child’s #1's and as a bonus track on B’Day. Previously, he worked with Destiny’s Child on Destiny Fulfilled, with songwriting credits on "Soldier," "Lose My Breath," "Is She The Reason," "T-Shirt" and "Girl.”

B’Day was created in a time frame of three weeks. Garrett noted that this time crunch added excitement and pressure to the songwriting and production team, which consisted of musicians such as Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, Swizz Beatz, Ne-Yo, Pharrell and The Neptunes. Despite the tight window, the creative juices continued to flow.

“It was an enormous amount of pressure, and we didn't really know that we were gonna finish that quick, but the vibe was just so great,” he explained. “We were knockin' out records, it was just bomb after bomb after bomb...I don't think it was meant to happen that fast, but it was just a God-given moment in time.”

While an overall sound was not set, B’Day was praised for being generally cohesive, as it featured different lanes of R&B. Garrett wanted to make sure his tracks highlighted the fun we’ve come to expect from a Beyoncé song.

“...At least for me, I don't really remember if it was so much based on a sound, it was just creating,” he said. “We were trying to do some of the most amazing sh*t possible. It wasn't particularly a sound. I was just trying to aim for the fence, you know?”

Being in your mid-20s should signal a transition in personal and emotional maturity, and this album solidified that Bey was beginning to take control of her powers.

“I hear you be the block, but I’m the light to keep the streets on,” she spits in the Jay-Z assisted “Upgrade U,” asserting her acceptance of her immense gifts as that girl.

B’Day also portrays Beyoncé on her “grown and sexy” tip. So long were the teasing feelings emanating from albums of yore; we were introduced to Beyoncé’s earliest forms of sexual liberation, as evident in “Freakum Dress,” “Green Light” and “Suga Mama.”

Garrett, who also co-wrote Usher’s “Yeah” and “Buttons” by The Pussycat Dolls, said that his Southern upbringing and understanding of the sweet-yet-sultry Southern belle archetype has helped him pen sex-tinged hits over the years without crossing the line into sleazy territory, as many young musical ingénues often do when they’re trying to mature musically.

“I can just so relate to Southern belles,” he explained. “They're very beautiful women, but at the same time, they have rules. They're lady-like, they have manners to a certain extent. They're sassy, but they ain't gon' let you completely take advantage of them, but they'll cook for you, they'll give you their heart.

“[Beyoncé] just exudes sexy, I don't know how to explain it!” he continued. “Sometimes she can be silly, but there’s just a certain sense of maturity there that makes you respect her...she would always get to the line but never go too far, it all was just enough. It was precision based on class, but being sexy at the same time. She exudes all of it.”

B’Day gives fans the sassy dance anthems we’ve come to love from Beyoncé, as well as smooth ballads that put us right in our feelings, which prompts the question: “Is B’Day quintessential Beyoncé?” The answer depends on who you’re asking, but Garrett believes that B’Day captures her “essence” better than her other five albums, and that it solidified her as an untouchable force.

“[B’Day] separated her as the biggest superstar in the world,” he said with conviction. “Not the biggest female superstar in the world — the biggest superstar in the world. Period, point-blank, end of story, end of interview.”


If there was any body of work in Beyoncé’s discography that displayed her mass appeal and broad sense of her gifts as a musician, it’s I Am...Sasha Fierce. The Grammy Award-winning album, which dropped in 2008, exhibited the musical panorama of her talents long before the genre-bending mega-albums BEYONCÉ and Lemonade.

The two-disc LP featured the two avenues of Knowles’ personalities. I Am... highlighted her gentler side with show-stopping ballads such as “Halo” and the soft-rock inspired “If I Were A Boy.” ...Sasha Fierce showcased the ferociously magnetic side of the Texas songbird by way of her then alter-ego of the same name, evident in songs like “Diva” and the worldwide-smash “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It),” produced by Terius “The Dream” Nash and Tricky Stewart. Additionally, the music videos for the album’s singles proved the power of simplicity by scaling back on big-budget productions in favor of black-and-white masterpieces, a stark contrast to the colorful visuals accompanying B’Day.

“I feel like for Beyoncé, it almost doesn't matter what kind of genre she does,” said songwriter Tobias “Toby” Gad during a phone interview with BET Digital. “We pick up on her voice, and the song instantly just becomes a Beyoncé song, whatever she does.”

“If I Were A Boy” was co-written by Gad and singer-songwriter BC Jean, who initially shopped the song around as a single for herself to no avail. Gad, who is also responsible for writing John Legend’s “All Of Me” and Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” met with Beyoncé after The Dutchess’ hit began picking up steam. After working for a few days with Bey, Gad played her the demo of “If I Were A Boy,” after which it was recorded during their meeting, then and there.

“She did a few practices, and after an hour or two, she had the vocals for the whole song finished,” he said. “She sounded incredible, she was such a professional, really amazing.” Gad additionally noted that during the writing process with Jean, he knew that this would be a “number-one hit.”

“Sometimes, it's hard to get a song where every word feels like it has a purpose, where every line flows into the next, and everything feels authentic,” he explained of the track. “I guess that's what makes a hit: every part of the song means something to somebody.”

During this era, there was a recurring query: “Who Is Sasha Fierce?”

Destiny’s Child group mate Michelle Williams revealed in a mid-2000’s E! Special titled “Beyoncé Revealed” that “Sasha” has been her friend’s on-stage persona since their days in the girl group. In essence, “Sasha” is the confident, sassy and sexy star that Beyoncé becomes when she performs — the “Ziggy Stardust” to her David Bowie.

"...When people see me, sometimes I think that...when they meet me and speak with me, they're expecting Sasha...I'm really kind of shy,” she said in 2006’s special, BET Official Presents Beyoncé. “...Not really shy, but more reserved and nothing like Sasha...I guess I wouldn't be very entertaining on stage, so Sasha comes out, and she's fearless.”

However, during an interview with Allure in 2010, Beyoncé revealed that Sasha Fierce was killed. Her sudden passing was due to the fact that Beyoncé Giselle herself began to grow as a person and was “able to merge the two.” According to Gad, Bey was fierce in the studio, and her own strength of self was a very admirable trait.

“She knew exactly what she wanted,” he said. “Usually, I try to motivate singers and try to get the best out of them, but she pretty much brought the best out of herself...she's very much in control as a woman and she really knows what she wants and how to get there...When I met her those two days I worked with her, she was already a very powerful, beautiful person, and also very nurturing, warm.”

I Am...Sasha Fierce’s legacy lies in the importance of multi-facetism to Beyoncé’s artistry, as well as her ability and willingness to experiment both sonically and thematically. This wasn’t just R&B; the album covered all musical bases and listener demographics, which broadened the appeal. “The album was very accessible across the board,” said Gad of the attractiveness of the artist’s third album. “Whenever you're going more pop and embracing the other genres, I always feel like that makes a difference, allowing yourself to really explore…[Beyoncé] totally expanded her audience, because the album before [B’Day] and the album after that [4] were albums that were genre-specific."

“I think that this album deliberately tried to go across the boundaries of the genres she had dipped in before and afterward,” he continued. “That was sort of showing that it doesn't matter what kind of music you like, [she’s] going to do something everybody likes. I admire that and respect that.”


In what many view as the first step towards her full embrace of creative freedom, 4 proves that Beyoncé’s eagerness to experiment knows no bounds. Now managerially independent from her father, Mathew Knowles, the 2011 album broke away from the mission of creating radio-ready tracks in favor of cohesive, well-rounded bodies of work.

Grammy Award-winning songwriter and producer Shea Taylor had a heavy hand in helping to create this particular album. His contributions can be found on “I Miss You,” “Best Thing I Never Had,” “Start Over,” “Love On Top,” “Countdown,” “End Of Time,” “Schoolin’ Life,” and “Run The World (Girls).” While Taylor notes that Beyoncé never showed any outward apprehension about the directional changes in her career, he believes that she likely channeled her emotions through her admirable work ethic.

“I remember her singing from 12 noon until 12 noon,” he wrote in an e-mail to BET Digital. “[I was] amazed...and [she was] a force to deal with in unfamiliar areas — I believe new skills developed. She’s a champ, worked hard and got back on track...I was too busy trying to keep up.”

The 4 album saw Beyoncé taking more creative risks in terms of content. Taylor wrote that this album was originally heavily inspired by the music of Nigerian multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti and the Broadway musical based on his life and contributions to music and society. However, she soon realized that she wanted the album to take a different route. The album, which was certified platinum and recently reached one billion Spotify streams in the U.S., favored '80s and '90s R&B stylings.

“This album was a labor of love. It was not about singles,” she revealed to Reuters in July 2011. “I felt like the emotion and live instruments and just soul [were] missing out of the music industry, especially the popular music that’s out. I wanted to bring it back to the music I grew up listening to.”

“[Beyoncé is] about connecting with her audience and recording albums that depicts short stories of her life,” wrote Taylor, who said that this directional change proved her growth as an all-around musician and not just a performer.

The 4 album provides listeners with glimmers of insight into the ever-so-private singer’s life. Much of the material focused on monogamous relationships, such as the Tricky Stewart and The-Dream produced “1+1” and the funky, Fela Kuti-inspired “End Of Time.” It also interweaved elements of feminism and femininity, which Beyoncé has been vocal about since her Destiny’s Child days. With interpolations of Major Lazer’s dancehall-tinged track “Pon de Floor,” we were gifted with the female empowerment anthem “Run The World (Girls),” curated to inspire women to live their best lives, reminding us that “we run this mutha.”

“Run The World (Girls)” will connect and spread female empowerment [and] women’s equal rights for future generations,” wrote Taylor on the legacy of the track, which he helped produce. “[Future generations] will continue exercising these rights until equality has been served.”

4 was able to marry the two themes (relationships and feminine independence) without being contradictory. Many critics have argued that Beyoncé’s lyrics could be seen as subservient to men, while she still tries to push a feminist agenda. Author Roxane Gay’s critique of comments made by bell hooks during the BEYONCÉ era explains that women can absolutely be “independent women” while also “catering” to their man.

“Feminism is not a free-for-all where anything goes, but I would like to think that feminism (in addition to helping women overcome oppression in all forms) allows for women to make choices — even choices with which other feminists would disagree,” she writes.

Was 4 the catalyst for more exploratory work from Beyoncé? Many signs point to yes. The album can be seen as the benchmark of her musical journey towards curating deeper, more versatile and creatively ambitious works of art as displayed in her self-titled fifth album and her sixth opus, Lemonade. Taylor also concludes that 4’s legacy displays an immense amount of growth in Bey as a person.

“The 4 album holds learning from your past, living in the present, and building the future,” he wrote. Her personal growth as depicted on wax has only continued to grow and inspire others.


Much like the artist herself, the songbird’s fifth, self-titled album, BEYONCÉ, needed no introduction. Mere hours before the clock struck midnight on Dec. 13, 2013, the music world was rattled with the news that a new Beyoncé album was available for purchase...without any promotion whatsoever. Even more astounding, visuals accompanying each track as well as bonus tracks were filmed as well.

“I miss that immersive experience,” Beyoncé explained in her multi-part “Self-Titled” mini-doc. “[People] don’t really invest in a whole album...I just want this to come out when it’s ready, and from me to my fans.”

BEYONCÉ explored darker and more personal themes for the then first-time mother, who gave birth to her first-born daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, in early 2012. She enlisted previously unknown producer BOOTS to create sounds that encapsulated the directional change in her subject matter. A self-proclaimed “weird kind of eclectic avant-garde dude who loves pop music,” BOOTS’ sound can be described as shadowy and mysterious. He implements alternative sound stylings such as synthesizers while also interweaving elements of hip-hop into his productions.

“To say, ‘Working with Beyoncé changed my life!’ would be an understatement...she is the hardest working person I’ve ever witnessed in my life,” wrote BOOTS in an e-mail to BET Digital. The Floridian signed to Roc Nation shortly before connecting with the Houston native. On BEYONCÉ, he’s credited as a co-producer, co-writer, or additional producer on “Haunted,” “No Angel,” “Drunk In Love,” “Partition,” “***Flawless,” “Jealous,” “Heaven,” “Superpower” and “Blue.” Four of the songs were completely written by BOOTS.

Beyoncé gushed about BOOTS during an interview with iTunes Radio in 2013, hailing him as a “complete innovator” who has gained her respect. He told BET Digital that working with the superstar inspired him to work tirelessly.

“Watching [Beyoncé] work is an honor that I will carry with me for the rest of my life,” he wrote. “She lit a flame underneath me to aspire for greatness. She taught me to trust my instincts and never be afraid to push myself harder to dig deeper.”

Before Lemonade joined the conversation, BEYONCÉ portrayed the superstar at her most vulnerable. Tracks involving sex, feminism, insecurity and loss were sung about with both candor and éclat, both of which have steadily become hallmarks of Beyoncé’s artistry since she’s taken control of her career. Perfect examples of these honest tracks are “Heaven” and “Pretty Hurts.”

“I wanted people to hear the songs with the story that’s in my head, ‘cause it’s what makes it mine,” she revealed. “My message behind this album was finding the beauty behind imperfection.”

Releasing an album seemingly out of thin air was obviously monumental for any artist, regardless of their status. Through this dynamic approach, BEYONCÉ was a game-changer in terms of album rollouts and releases. Musicians such as Drake and Kendrick Lamar have since “pulled a Beyoncé,” and released albums similarly, without notice. The industry also made a change in the weekday of official global music releases, switching it from Tuesday to Friday in the summer of 2015, thanks in part to influence from the surprise success of the self-titled LP.

The stamp that BEYONCÉ indelibly leaves on the music world is the proof that Beyoncé no longer had anything to prove. She rewrote the rules, she shook up the game, she did everything on her own terms. As her never-officially-released track “Grown Woman” states, she can do “whatever [she] wants.”

BEYONCÉ also showed a human side to the superhuman talent, which has always extended far beyond the booth. BOOTS, who admitted he was homeless before securing a production and songwriting credit on the self-titled album, said that Beyoncé was helpful and comforting during this period of difficulty in his life.

“One night, B asked me where I lived,” he wrote. “I must have turned red in the face, humiliated to let them know that I really didn’t live anywhere. Her reaction was warm and kind. After that, I stayed in a hotel up until I signed with Roc Nation. Suddenly, I could afford a place for the first time in my life...Every day I wake up, I am thankful for the opportunity of life.”

How will she continue to best herself — and only herself — as she continues to create more “world stop” moments? Only time will tell.

“[Beyoncé] is a brave, empowering, mighty mother Goddess,” BOOTS continued. “However she raises the bar next (because, come on, it’s Beyoncé!), I can’t wait until it leaves us all breathless and shook.”



What can be said about Lemonade that hasn’t already been fleshed out, dissected and, ultimately, praised? Beyoncé’s sixth opus bended genres well outside of what we expect from the R&B songstress by exploring facets of rock (“DON’T HURT YOURSELF” featuring Jack White), country (“DADDY LESSONS”), alternative R&B (“6 INCH,” assisted by The Weeknd) and more. Emmy Award-nominated visuals accompanied the 2016 effort. The subject matter revolved around her husband Jay-Z’s past infidelity, which he apologized for on his own Grammy-nominated effort, 2017’s 4:44.

Due to the high-profile nature and relative newness of Lemonade, it became increasingly difficult to connect with artists, songwriters or directors associated with the visual album. What was the next best thing? Speaking directly to the album’s base. The film spoke to the importance of emotional healing, solidarity and strength of an often disrespected human, the Black woman, and the album is ultimately about the power Black women wield, but often forget they hold.

“[Lemonade] came right on time for me, in a very selfish way,” said Taryn Finley, a Black Voices editor at the Huffington Post. The self-proclaimed “stan’s” writing has also been seen on The Root and ESSENCE. “I didn't know exactly how to heal, I didn't know how to deal with guys who were doing me dirty. I feel like a lot of times, we as Black women short-sell ourselves. We are so poppin', so glorious, and we don't always see that in the now.”

As opposed to earlier projects in which she tackled intersectional feminism, Beyoncé used Lemonade to reclaim Black feminism by talking directly to Black women. The visuals, shot by directors like Khalil Joseph and Melina Matsoukas among others, featured past, present and future examples of “Black Girl Magic.” Poetry from British writer Warsan Shire was heard throughout the hour-long production. Beyoncé spoke candidly about Black female equality, personal emotions and feminine agency in a nuanced way. Lemonade poignantly tackled subject matter and issues that not many musicians would dare touch or address.

“The way that the media and society in general sh*ts on Black women, even when they're doing their thing and excelling, exuding top tier's always a criticism, it's always a fight, it's always something,” said Finley of the importance of an artist like Beyoncé to use her platform to speak to a marginalized group. “It spanned generations. I can't wait to sit down with my nieces and watch Lemonade...just the images in it are so beautiful and so important for young, Black girls to see. To see themselves in this very regal and high light on film is so important.

“All of these things [music, visual, poetry] are calculated in the most beautiful way,” she continued. “Black women are able to hurt, we're able to be angry, we're able to be sad, we're able to be jealous, be all of these things...but we're also worthy of healing. We deserve healing. I think the latter half of that album really represents…[Black women’s] mental and emotional health always takes a back seat, because we are catering to and caring for others. It's just in our nature to be selfless, and I love how selfish [Beyoncé] was, in that she reclaimed her time.”

Despite the accolades and the obvious amount of hard work put into the album and the visual, it still highlighted the struggle of Black artists in that it wasn’t enough. Although she was the most nominated person at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards in 2017, Beyoncé only went home with two out of nine possible awards. Many saw her loss to Adele in the Album of the Year category as a snub, which Adele spoke about on stage during her acceptance speech.

“...This album to me, the Lemonade album, is just so monumental, Beyoncé, it’s so monumental,” the “Hello” singer told the tearful expectant mother as she sat in the audience (she gave birth to her twins, Rumi and Sir Carter, that June). “...And so well thought out, and so beautiful and soul-baring, and we all got to see another side to you that you don’t always let us see. And we appreciate that...the way you make my Black friends feel is empowering. And you make them stand up for themselves.”

“The fact that we relegate her to urban's wild,” said Finley regarding the snub, which says a lot about how Black artists are viewed by higher institutions. “[Black people] influence culture, period. We influence mainstream so much, and the fact that we keep getting ignored is telling about how far we still have to go.”

Despite the mountains Black musicians still have to climb, Lemonade serves as symbolism of Black women’s relationship with the world. Additionally, the album has had an indelible impact on its listeners, which likely fills Beyoncé with more joy than any Grammy could.

“I don't know who was there with [Beyoncé] when she was really going through the trials and tribulations with her relationship, with the miscarriage, with the world scrutinizing her baby, scrutinizing the way she looks, her hair, all of these things...attacks on her Blackness,” said Finley.

“[Black women] always saying, ‘Listen to us, we're hurting, we need this, that and the third, we need support,’” she continued. “I think that's why she wanted to make a strong point about her Black womanhood on Lemonade. Not even as a defense or response, but as an affirmation.”


The album also amplifies her message as a newly formed woman and shows her growth, as the layers of her complexity are becoming more visible.

“I love how much she's able to show her femininity, her sexuality, she's able to be raunchy, and it's OK,” said Finley. “Beyoncé's clearly set up boundaries, not even just in her relationship, but also in her career. What she can and cannot stand for. She was like, ‘I know more about me than anyone else does. I got this from here on out.’ She took it to an entirely different level.”

With great power comes great responsibility, and with great strength comes the bravery to speak about personal topics. As displayed in her solo efforts, Beyoncé uses her artistic ability to verbalize the feelings, pride and joy that come with being a Black woman in today’s society.

Something that has been clear throughout her 15 years as a solo artist is that Beyoncé is not afraid to bear her soul. As we’ve observed recently with her Coachella headlining performances and Everything Is Love, she’s not afraid to be unapologetically Black. Through her joint album with hubby Jay-Z, the amplification of Black pride, the power of romance and love of oneself is front and center. The Carters trade bars about melanin magic, working through struggles in their marriage, and finding the strength to be Black and beautiful in a world where people who share their hue were not meant to succeed.

Not only does her self-love make her stronger, but it enables others to feel pride in the skin they were born in. In a world where we’re always told what we can and can’t do as Black people, it’s amazing to see that there’s a walking, breathing, performing exception to that rule who is not only supremely gifted, but is an earnest rider for her people.