February 25, 2018

Something Different: Beyonce - Dangerously In Love (June 23, 2003)

So here’s the deal, folks: I’m fully prepared for today’s post to be ignored, dismissed, and likely trashed in the comments. But I don’t give a fuck: there is something about the ascension of Beyoncé Knowles that has fascinated me throughout her career, something more interesting than her actual musical output, and after completing her husband Jay-Z’s discography again earlier this month (at least until he drops something else, which, well, who knows if/when that’ll happen), I found myself thinking about her own body of work, both as a member of the group Destiny’s Child and as a solo artist. There’s an evolution that happened with her music: she hit a point where the love songs took on more raw and poignant feeling, and where she celebrated her independence with far more confidence and audacity than she ever did on her former crew’s “Independent Women” (both parts). I think there’s a fascinating parallel between her own work and that of Shawn Carter, and I’m not just referring to the whole Lemonade / 4:44 cheating thing, and I wanted to discover for myself whether that was the case, or if I was just imagining shit.

So, because this is my blog blah blah blah, today’s post will explore Beyoncé’s debut solo album Dangerously In Love. Tomorrow we’ll get back into some more rap shit, but today’s as good a day as any for me to start yet another project I may not ever finish.

Dangerously In Love follows four full-length Destiny’s Child projects, including a Christmas album that I am certain nobody remembers, because I definitely didn’t, and as this blog has proven time and again, my feelings are the only ones that matter. Members Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams, and Knowles had planned on taking a brief hiatus from the group to record separate solo albums, with the plan being to reunite shortly afterward, which did actually happen, albeit briefly, so already Bey has one-upped most rappers when it comes to keeping her promises. Williams, surprisingly, was first out the gate with a gospel album, Heart To Yours, which did feature one song credited to the group: Rowland followed shortly thereafter with Simply Deep, which did not include a single Destiny’s Child member but did feature Beyoncé’s sister Solange, and was considered a best-selling project because of a song she did with rapper Nelly, “Dilemma”, also being included on her own album. (“Dilemma” is notable for being the video where Rowland tries to text Nelly by using a spreadsheet on her phone, the close-up on which is both unimaginable and hilarious.) In a power move everyone expected, Bey was the last to drop a solo project, but Dangerously In Love quickly eclipsed everything else in the Destiny’s Child orbit, and unsurprisingly, neither Rowland nor Williams were invited to contribute.

On its surface, Dangerously In Love follows the 2003 R&B album blueprint to the penny: it includes features from some of the hottest rappers of the day, production that was tailor-made to be listened to in club settings as loudly as possible, and dozens of proclamations of love and/or lust, since most R&B songs are about being in love, whether or not it’s reciprocated, kind of like my beloved New Wave tracks. In a twist that will shock no one, Columbia Records put their promotional all into Dangerously In Love, as Knowles was positioned as the savior of the genre: the album was supported by four singles, three of which were dance-friendly while the fourth was designed to appeal to the independent women in the audience, and their respective music videos were played on MTV and BET all. The. Fucking. Time. You also couldn’t turn on the radio in 2003 without hearing at least (her now-husband, then-secret-boyfriend, I think?) Jay-Z’s bars on the project’s first single “Crazy In Love”; hell, they still play that shit on the radio today, and not just during flashback rush hours.

Dangerously In Love isn’t structured around a narrative arc as some of her later projects would be: it’s simply a collection of tracks, most of which are about being in love, wanting to be in love, and/or fucking. Beyoncé served as one of the album’s executive producers (alongside her father and then-manager, Mathew Knowles) and co-wrote and co-produced nearly every song on the record, so from the start she knew exactly what she was aiming for when it came to taking control of her solo career. Her fans didn’t seem to miss the other two Destiny’s Child members, a story that would unfortunately become the norm for the music industry as a whole: Dangerously In Love sold over five million copies in the United States alone, solidifying Knowles as a solo star, one who shines much brighter than Jay-Z when you look at the rest of the planet (it’s easy to forget, especially when reading a blog written by a Hova stan such as myself, that Jay-Z is really only a huge megastar Stateside: a lot of hip hop doesn’t translate well in the rest of the world).

So enjoy this first entry in the Beyoncé saga. As of right now I don’t have any plans to go backward and look into the Destiny’s Child projects, but never say never. That comes across as a threat, and it’s not intended as such, but whatever.

Beyoncé’s first single for the project is also the first track on the album, which is helpful: Rich Harrison’s production (co-handled by our host herself) is bombastic enough to confidently announce our host’s arrival, and also, it’s catchy as fuck. “Crazy In Love” is just a great pop song, from the horn-filled instrumental that almost commands that the audience dance or at least sing along, to Bey’s platitudes about being in love with, apparently, guest star Shawn Carter (was their relationship public knowledge at this point?), who delivers a verse that (a) isn’t dumbed down for the radio: he keeps it clean, but the wordplay is on par with that of his own shit, and (b) drops a reference to a character from The Simpsons, which already makes this one a winner in my book. Get off of your high horse and enjoy something for once: if more pop music sounded like “Crazy In Love”, I’d probably want to listen to the radio more often. This doesn't mean I want to hear this on a loop, however.

Apparently this was the fourth single from Dangerously In Love, although I swear it dropped shortly after “Crazy In Love”. Wikipedia says I’m crazy, but Wikipedia is also a dick. Bey interpolates Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” so distinctly that both she and producer Giorgio Moroder receive writing credits on “Naughty Girl”, which appears to be about her evolution from being “Crazy In Love” to being generally horny all the time. Scott Storch provides the beat, which is decent, bit somehow more bland than I remembered: maybe he wasn’t hopped up on blow that day in the studio? Side note: his eventual casual hookup Lil’ Kim appeared on an official remix, but I haven’t listened to it and didn’t even know it existed until I started researching Dangerously In Love today. “Naughty Girl” isn’t bad, and I wouldn’t shut it off or skip it, but it also wouldn’t ever end up on any of my playlists, so.

The actual second single from Dangerously In Love features a Sean Paul guest appearance and a Jay-Z writing credit alongside the Originoo Gunn Clappaz, whose “No Fear” is quoted by our host toward the end of the track, so good for them. Probably never saw dime one from any of this, though. Bey plays around with her breathy flow over Scott Storch’s instrumental, which feels fuller than his work on the previous track, even with their general similarities. Dangerously In Love dropped during that weird era in pop music where producers were obsessed with Middle Eastern sounds as sample sources, which is why both of Storch’s beats sound similar, but to her credit, our host’s performances are vastly different, even though they land on the same side of the subject matter fence. “Baby Boy” is much catchier, though, and Sean Paul complements the music well.

Not a single, and it makes sense why: it’s kind of ridiculous. Beyoncé is still on her permanent flirt shit that defines a lot of her early work (and most of the Destiny’s Child catalog, to be fair), but she comes across as awkward laying her come-ons down over a Bryce Wilson instrumental that trades in the Middle Eastern influence for fuzzy guitars that could have been pulled from one of those audio samples that are included on a computer mixing program that you use to test drive the motherfucker before you commit to buying the full version, and besides, she wasn’t a “Hip Hop Star” back in 2003, so. Bonus points awarded for having two Big Boi guest verses that weren’t bad (they are censored, though: Queen Bey hadn’t yet embraced the parental advisory sticker), along with some Sleepy Brown crooning, though. My guess is that a lot of you two had no idea Big Boi had once guested on a Beyoncé album, so you may feel compelled to listen to this one. Don’t.

I swear I heard this one played on the radio during the promotional lifespan of Dangerously In Love, but I might have just been at someone’s house when they were playing the album. Regardless, “Be With You” slows the energy down considerably for a Rich Harrison production that sounds like a bunch of better-known R&B songs mashed together, likely because our host cribs from the playbooks of the Brothers Johnson’s “Strawberry Letter 23” and Bootsy’s Rubber Band’s “I’d Rather Be With You”, the latter a choice that brings with it an unfair comparison to Adina Howard’s “Freak Like Me”, which our host is matching in subject matter, but not quite in tone. Whatever, this song just made me want to listen to those two songs again instead of this. Okay, those three songs: “Freak Like Me” is a good track, alright? Also, the idea of our host singing other people’s songs on “Be With You” reminded me of Mariah Carey’s later hit “We Belong Together”, so take that as you will.

A paradigm shift of sorts: “Me, Myself and I”, the third single from Dangerously In Love, features a Beyoncé who dumps her man for cheating on her, celebrating and appreciating herself as an independent woman and trying to convince herself that she is happier alone. Our host doesn’t sound bitter: she’s clearly upset, but accepts everything as a lesson learned, delivering her vocals in a calm tone, a far cry from what she would end up doing with her future breakup anthems. I suppose she was too blinded by her love for this dude from the last few tracks not named “Hip Hop Star” that she couldn’t see all of the signs, so she’s also blaming herself? Scott Storch’s production is carefully paced for the subject matter, and Bey sounds pretty good over it.

7. YES
Producer Focus… gives Dangerously In Love one of its most interesting beats: it’s slow-burn, vinyl-crackling vibe comes off as an inadvertent predecessor to Drake and other current rappers of his ilk. And speaking of Wheelchair Jimmy, “Yes” is about toxic masculinity, as Bey responds incredulously when her man reacts horribly the first time she declines his request to bone down. I’m willing to bet that a lot of women felt this track, as it’s an issue they have to still deal with even in this age of #MeToo: a lot of men are trash. At least he’s seeking consent first? Although that shit doesn’t matter if he still feels entitled to her lady parts anyway. The music is pretty fucking good, and Bey is talking about something different and doing it well, so.

Beyoncé appeared on Missy Elliott’s Under Construction, if you’ll remember my post from a week ago today, and that was one year before Dangerously In Love, which was apparently a lifetime ago, as our host was still credited with her last name back then. So on “Signs”, Melissa pops up to return the favor, producing a rather dull instrumental alongside Craig Brockman and Nisan Stewart, the same team that producer our host’s contribution to Missy’s project. Knowles spends the vast majority of the track just naming astrological signs, but not a lot of time helping the listener determine which ones are compatible with which: she just wants companionship from whoever. Our host doesn’t spend a lot of time on Dangerously In Love alone, does she? Although that’s probably why the album is called Dangerously In Love and not, say, Relationships Are For Suckers. Anyway, this song is awful.

Beyoncé wants to fuck. That’s this song in a nutshell. So, clearly, “Me, Myself and I” was an outlier. The musical backing slows things down to a crawl while our host belts out her finest euphemisms for getting boned senseless. It was a nice touch that the title of the track is hardly used throughout, though, thereby giving the word more power.

Oh right, Hov scored two guest appearances on Dangerously In Love: here’s the other one, which takes place over a D-Roy and Mr. B instrumental inspired by Southern bounce music, although Bey still isn’t rapping (yet). Unlike “Crazy In Love”, Jay kind of blows on here: as a fun exercise, someone should swap out his verse with one from “Poppin’ Tags” or “Is That Your Bitch” just to see if it makes more sense lyrically, as the bars would fit the beat, no question. At least I’d find it funny. Beyoncé sounds okay, but “That’s How You Like It” is so slight (by design, to be clear) that it doesn’t warrant much in the way of criticism or promise. It exists in a middle ground where you two can choose to listen to this or not. Whatever.

This duet with the late Luther Vandross is a cover of a standard made popular by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. (It also appears on Vandross’ final project, Dance With My Father.) Apparently critics hated this song upon release, and I can absolutely hear why: it sounds like an R&B song from the early-to-mid 1990s, eschewing the modern twists Bey favors for what really is a boring-ass song by an old man serenading a much younger woman where you can feel the dust from the CD cover underneath your fingertips even though you’re likely listening to this on TIDAL, if at all. Your parents would have played this cassingle in their car back in 1991. Nothing against Luther Vandross, but this song was a horrific misfire from our host, yet one that still copped her a Grammy. So you know those awards aren’t shit. Seriously, whose idea was this, anyway? What audience was this created for?

Not a sequel to “Crazy In Love”, which is good, because then the title would make no sense, but a follow-up to a Destiny’s Child song from Survivor where our host removes all of the sexual connotations from the hit singles present here, leaving only the declarations of love (for Hova, presumably?). I suppose it’s okay for what it is: Beyoncé sings about seeing a future with her man, and the sentiments within are sweet enough for someone to want to read too much into a dance set to this track at a prom. But, you know, it isn’t great. I really hoped she would sing the title of the song and shout the number “two” randomly throughout the track, but I’m an asshole.

“Dangerously In Love 2” ends with a brief spoken-word interlude from our host, which leads into… this spoken word interlude from our host. Clever.

Beyoncé Knowles has spent a not-insignificant portion of her career making sure that everyone knows that she’s a Virgo (hell, she mentions that multiple times on “Signs”, or maybe she said it once and I’m projecting, I don’t care), so naming a track “Gift From Virgo” is more than a bit self-serving. This is mostly just a glorified interlude wearing an elaborate Halloween costume, though, with musical backing and our host singing whatever the first thing is that popped into her head. What is happening?

Bey ends Dangerously In Love with a tribute to her father, Mathew Knowles, that seems icky as fuck once you consider (a) he was her manager at this point in time, which means (b) he signed off on all of those earlier tracks about his then-twenty-one year old daughter getting some. But, I mean, there’s never a good time for a song like this, right? I can appreciate that the two have a complex relationship, but there’s no way this song wasn’t going to sound cheesy, so kudos to our host for going all-in, and three cheers for me, a guy who never has to listen to this track ever again.

Everyone outside of the United States that picked up Dangerously In Love has the following bonus track. Well, there’s more than just the one, but I’m only writing about this song for a very specific reason.

A song produced by the Neptunes, at the height of their respective careers, didn’t make it onto Beyoncé’s solo debut, a project with incredible buzz. I assume it’s because it was originally released as a single from the soundtrack for Austin Powers in Goldmember, a flick Bey co-starred in, and that movie dropped a year prior to Dangerously In Love, so “Work It Out” was simply too old. More likely, it’s because “Work It Out” failed commercially and nobody remembers it today. It’s a horn-heavy funk throwback that ends up being one of the lesser Pharrell and Chad compositions, although I still kind of dig it, and I do think it could have been a bigger hit today if it were re-released as a single, because people seem to enjoy this sound now. Bey’s performance is also much more playful and unorthodox than anything else present on the album proper: if this shit had taken off, her project could have sounded completely different. But as it is, it’s not my favorite Neptunes production, so maybe it’s best that Columbia Records left it across the pond when they were checking out of their hotel.

FINAL THOUGHTS: As I mentioned above, Dangerously In Love isn’t a concept album, and there’s no narrative arc. These were just the thoughts of a twenty-one year old woman who loved being in love, never giving any thought to what could happen when times got tough. This isn’t a criticism: a lot of people feel the same way as Beyoncé: she’s just someone who verbalized her thoughts in song form. But that line of subject matter grows tiresome after a while, and without enough changes in the thematic lineup, Dangerously In Love peters out fairly quickly. Hearing our host pine after her love becomes exhausting after a while, so the brief reprieves we get in the form of “Me, Myself and I” and “Yes” are welcomed. Production-wise, a few of these songs still hit pretty hard today: there’s a reason they still play “Crazy In Love” on the radio. But as weird as this may be to read, Beyoncé wasn’t a known quantity back in 2003: she was unproven talent, and she was still working on her identity as a solo artist. Unlike a lot of debut albums, she didn’t feel the need to cram as many ideas as she could onto the project: she had already released four with her former group, so this was just a woman dipping her toe into the pool to see what the temperature was. Some of Dangerously In Love is excellent, and a lot of it is boring as shit, but what is evident is that she was a star and didn’t need to feel confined to the Destiny’s Child brand any longer. I am looking forward to the actual music becoming more challenging, though.

BUY OR BURN? I mean, an album with four great songs would usually merit a “buy” recommendation from me, but the rest of the project is kind of meh, so maybe just buy the songs listed below. Those are the real winners here anyway.

BEST TRACKS: “Crazy In Love”; “Yes’; “Baby Boy”; “Me, Myself and I”; maybe “Work It Out”



  1. I don't think I've ever heard a song off this album besides Crazy In Love, which is fantastic. I'll definitely check out the songs you recommended though.

    I find Beyonce to be kind of overrated as an album artist. She covers good topics and is interesting, but just doesn't hold my attention through a whole project.

    And I personally love when you cover non hip-hop stuff.

  2. Should I say what I really want to say about this creature and her mate?

    Bleh, I’ll just stick to saying that I haven’t entertained R&B since the 90s.

    1. Creature? Hmm.. Something I would expect a Trump supporter to say. But go ahead and let your true feelings out dude

    2. Wow! Humanity is so lucky that people like yourself are among its ranks! Really helps with the progression of the species!

      Not that it’s any of your fucking business, but I loathe organisms like Kid Rock or fucking Gene Simmons to death. Hell, if this post was about that cunt Natalie Portman you’d bet your shriveled balls I’d be saying the exact same thing.

      Finally, since you brought up the cheddar bag of sewage, I constantly daydream about sawing him, Netanyahu, Putin & Alassad in half from the head down. So, fuck you and your preconceived notions about people.

  3. Do boy bands count as R&B? Honest question because I truly don’t understand the difference.

  4. 1) That cover is so 2003 that I don't even...
    2) Middle Eastern samples you've mentioned were my pet peeve back then. You could smell a Scott Storch track from mile a way.
    3) I'm not from USA, and I would guess you're right about Jay-Z not being an international superstar - not because hip hop is not relatable, but because he was never revered as one of the greats, at least not in this region of Europe. Personally, I'm not a fan, and think he is overrated.
    4) Hopefully you'll review those New Wave tracks/albums before any more Beyonce/R'n'B stuff :D

  5. I personally really enjoy it when you tackle non-hip hop stuff. everyone needs a break from rap from time to time, and it's a testament to your writing that this is still as entertaining to me as your rap reviews. keep on, son