the evolution of beyoncé the rapper

i-D chart the rise of Queen B as MC. It’s been years in the making, but 2014 was the year she really began to rhyme.

03 January 2015, 9:40am

Whether you ride with the #BeyHive or not, you've witnessed the meteoric rise of Beyoncé from diva to demigod over the last five or so years. That ascent is punctuated with moments where Bey's built-in-wind-fan-against-her-hair badassness has often left us wondering whether or not she was even a human being. Beyoncé was (and still is at times) an enigma, but her iconic status transformed her into an unattainable dynamo who lacked any semblance to the real women she so vehemently defends in her music.

Her personal life was tucked tightly under wraps too. All we really knew was that she had an equally famous husband and a baby with a song already on the Billboard charts (see Blue Ivy's birthright hit, Glory). Musically, everything was "epic." Whether she was Sasha Fierce, or Queen Balladeer, her songs required a stadium to be heard adequately. It was a life undoubtedly constructed by her father Mathew Knowles, and an image that Bey almost immediately shook off the moment she retired her Dad-ager in 2013.

Beyoncé started to stage her own quiet rebellion, shirking her responsibility to be a pillar of perfection. It started with the music. And when you're raging against the machine, what better soundtrack to evoke than hip hop? Ever since we met Bey during her Destiny's Child beginnings, there have been some hip hop undertones. She collaborated with rappers — from Wyclef Jean on DC's introductory single No No No to Lil Wayne and T.I. on Soldier. She even married a rapper, making music with him before and after their nuptials. Even on a solo tip, Beyoncé added hip hop elements; check the call and response on Run The World for a loose example. By 2013, however, her love of Hip Hop became more focused.

I Been On was the track — a sewn-in b-side to her street single Bow Down (which later evolved into the Beyoncé cut Flawless). On it, Miss Third Ward gets chopped and screwed, delivering an actual rhyme:

Pop them bottles in that club
I heard your boo was talking lip
I told my crew to smack that trick
Smack that trick, smack that trick
Guess what they did, smack that trick
Gold everything, gold ass chain
Gold ass rings, gold ass fangs
You can see me stunt when you turn on ya screen
You can see me stunt when you turn on ya screen
I'm bigger than life, my name in the lights
I'm the number one chick, ain't need no hype
The capital B means, I'm 'bout that life
The capital B means, I'm 'bout that life

The lines were hugged by the hook "I been on, I been on, I been on. Tell me who gon' take me off, take me off, take me off?" She tempered the track with reflections on appearing in Geto Boys' video for Gangsta (Put Me Down) as a child (she even shouts out Willie D) and then tops it all off by reciting some lyrics from UGK's Something Good. It became clear that Beyoncé didn't just love hip hop; she loves rap.

That adoration grew stronger as the year progressed. Bey was rocking her lower grillz more frequently, and by the close of the year we received a brand new Bey. Her eponymous album was the real turning point. Songs like Drunk In Love aggressively elaborated on her sex life (plus possible love of booze and inventing words like "surfboardt"), while tracks like Yoncé brought her back on the block with that '80s boom bap: "I sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker / Yoncé all on his mouth like liquor."

By 2014, there was no turning back. For the earlier part of the year, Bey was still riding off the fumes of her fifth studio album, while piecing together the On The Run tour with Jay-Z. Hip hop was still prevalent. During live performances of Flawless, she would do a breakdown to the beat of Outkast's pottieDottieDopalicious and even danced Houston's signature Southside move during her hometown tour dates — for the other cities she would rock with her best Shmoney Dance.

Cracks started to appear in her private life. There was the elevator incident, then rumors swirled that she and Jay-Z were divorcing and that she lived in a different apartment from her husband. Perhaps this "human thing" wasn't all it was cracked up to be. During the Parisian leg of the On The Run tour, Beyoncé unveiled a remix to the track Flawless, flanked by Nicki Minaj. Arguably, they're both rapping on the track with Bey delivering her first public service announcement since "elevator-gate": "Of course sometimes shit goes down when there's a billion dollars on an elevator." Straight and to the point, Beyoncé relied on her bars to deliver her message like any real rapper would. The evolution was apparent: MC Bey was here to stay.

No, Beyoncé isn't in the middle of some cypher with a hoodie and a JanSport backpack spitting passionate bars to the tune of some dude beatboxing. Instead, she's rhyming in a 2014 pattern — that sing-songy, trappish, fast, drill-ish, auto-tuned, syllable-flipping scheme that most rappers deliver nowadays and most listeners cram to understand. It sounds damn good on her too. She can bring out a song like 7/11, which could've been Future's next biggest hit, but it wasn't. It was Bey's. Even a slightly sung cameo on Nicki Minaj's Feeling Myself couldn't be complete without Beyoncé's new cadence on the track and rhythmic chant on the hook.

This may feel like new Beyoncé territory, but it's been years in the making. The closer she gets to street level, the more human she appears. Will Beyoncé eventually release her own half-singing/half-rapping project like others have done in the past (Lauryn Hill, Drake, Nicki Minaj)? Only 2015 will tell. But if you're at all uncomfortable with the new rap skin Bey's in, just deal with it. She's fresher than you.


Text Kathy Landoli
Photography Matt Jones
Styling Marina Burini
Dress Prada, bracelet by Chloé.
[The Health Issue, no. 268, August 2006]