Beyoncé is such a cultural monolith that the little nuances of her music — the small details that really make her Queen Bey — sometimes go unheralded in the larger narrative. Stylistic versatility, breathtaking vocal range, and elaborate dance routines can seem par for the course, even if her skills on those fronts set her apart from her peers.
On Everything Is Love, her surprise new collaborative album with JAY-Z, she continues to hone one of her secret weapons: rapping. Like the fielding of homerun slugger Barry Bonds, rapping will never be Beyoncé’s marquee trait, but she’s slyly great at it — and can put her contemporaries on notice on a dime.
Beyoncé has rhymed for some time, dating back to her double-time flow on early Destiny’s Child songs like “No, No, No Pt. 2.” and her impressive turn in the 2001 TV movie Carmen: A Hip Hopera. She refined her craft on tracks like “Yoncé” and “7/11” from her self-titled era, and in 2016 — with an assist from trap powerhouses Mike Will Made-It and Rae Sremmurd — released the quaking “Formation” which, on top of everything else, was arguably one of the year’s best rap songs. Her interest in rapping has picked up in recent months: In September of 2017, she spit fire on the remix of J Balvin and Willy Williams’ “Mi Gente” and, just this March, she delivered a verse alongside DJ Khaled, Future, and JAY-Z on “Top Off” that inspired Chance the Rapper to tweet, “Beyonce my favorite rapper.”
Her forays into the sphere make sense. Throughout her career, Beyoncé has worked with influential hip-hop producers like Timbaland, Swizz Beats, and the Neptunes, and the genre’s increasingly blurred line between rapping and singing only plays to her strengths. And now, in a month where rap legends like Kanye West, Nas, and JAY-Z have all released material, Beyoncé’s bars on Everything Is Love hang right with them. (She clearly put more effort into her Everything Is Love lyrics than West did into his half-baked Ye verses.) Who needs someone to sing a hook when you’re Beyoncé and can pivot back to melody in a split-second? (Your move, Drake.)
Below, Billboard picked five standout moments that show how much Beyoncé is coming into her own as an MC.
“Gimme my check, put some respeck on my check/ Or pay me in equity, pay me in equity / Or watch me reverse out the dick” (“APESHIT”)
Following their late 2017 collaboration “Stir Fry,” Migos and Pharrell reunite on Everything Is Love‘s de facto lead single — and this time, hip-hop’s royal couple is in tow. Bey dexterously adopts the Migos’ signature triplet flow, putting her own spin on the rhyme scheme that has ruled the airwaves in recent years. (Notably, she uses the male-dominated style to discuss the gender pay gap.) She takes to it more naturally than her husband, who still sounds a bit like the “How do you do, fellow kids?” meme when he shares tracks with artists like Quavo and Offset. But clearly the Carters were in a mood to show Bey off: As the only Everything Is Love track to receive a visual (for now, at least), “APESHIT” makes Bey’s stylistic experimentation a centerpiece of the whole project.
“Representin’ for my hustlers all around the world / Still dippin’ in my low-lows, girl! / I put it down for the 713, and we still got love for the streets” (“713”)
Yes, Beyoncé’s just interpolating Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre’s 2001 anthem “Still D.R.E.” on the hook of “713,” but her performance is still thrilling on its own. On Everything Is Love and this song in particular, Bey leans heavily on her harder-edged Yoncé persona — the same one ostensibly responsible for lines like “Suck on my balls, pause, I’ve had enough” from Lemonade‘s “Sorry” — and here she deploys that swagger to boost her home zipcode after a year in which it endured tremendous hardship. Still, Beyoncé’s rowdy hook is more than just an homage to West Coast greats: Dre and Snoop have confirmed that JAY-Z ghostwrote large portions of the iconic song.
“My friends are goals, your friends are foes / We fly, why cry, our souls exposed” (“FRIENDS”)
With “My friends are goals, your friends are foes,” Beyoncé has penned another lyric bound for t-shirt ubiquity — and this time, she delivers those words in a woozy Auto-Tuned cadence over a bleary trap beat. From the Lil Wayne comparisons that “Diva” garnered in 2008 to the chopped-and-screwed vocals of 2013’s “I Been On,” which later got a remix from Houston hip-hop mainstays including Bun B and Scarface, the native Texan has long embraced rap’s Southern strains. Here, she uses the style of confessional sing-rapping that MCs like Future have popularized; in a not-so-subtle nod to his beverage of choice, she raps, “I love my life, Styrofoam cups, no ice” on the same verse.
“Louis slugger to your four door / Careful you get what you asked for” (“HEARD ABOUT US”)
Rap is often a self-referential art form — look no further than JAY-Z’s call-backs to his previous work on Everything Is Love. (That’s him shouting out his 1997 track “Streets is Watching” in the chorus of “713.”) Naturally, Beyoncé flags one of the unforgettable images from Lemonade’s visual component, which accompanied some of her most memorable bars on that project.
“In a glass house still throwing stones / Hova, Beysus, watch the thrones” (“LOVEHAPPY”)
Hip-hop heads spent much of the last month following the raging beef between Pusha-T and Drake, and Everything Is Love gives onlookers plenty more to chew on. Just look at the timing: The album dropped a day after JAY-Z’s once-rival Nas dropped his first album in six years, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “Nas Album Done.” Any rapper worth her salt knows when to throw shade, and Beyoncé effectively targets Nas’ Nasir collaborator Kanye West on closing track “LOVEHAPPY,” suggesting that her “Beysus” has replaced West’s “Yeezus” on the throne he shared with Jay earlier this decade.