There are many things to love about Beyoncé, but if you hail from Houston, your love tends to be shaped by the specificity of shared experiences. That love is magnified if you are closer in age: Beyoncé just turned 35 and I am 32.
When I listen to Beyoncé, I hear home. I know she’s the most celebrated singer and entertainer in the world, but she, like me, went to Welch Middle School and probably heard boys and girls doing the same slow, hazy, kind of flow heard on songs such as Lil’ KeKe’s “Pimp Tha Pen” and Big Moe’s “Barre Baby” during lunch in the cafeteria. I know Beyoncé is someone who listened to 97.9 The Box and heard the same New Orleans bounce mixes played throughout the day. When Beyoncé does her choreography, she reminds me of the same majorettes I saw at Madison High School, Yates High School and Willowridge High School football games. There is no finer example of Houston Beyoncé — her singing, rapping, dancing and art creation all seeping with the many variances of life in Houston — than her majorly up-tempo and entirely glorious 2006 B’Day, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary on Sept. 4, on her 35th birthday — her celebration had a Soul Train theme.
Initially, Beyoncé planned to make her sophomore album a serving of leftovers. In December 2003 — six months after the release of the good but not excellent Dangerously In Love — Beyoncé revealed to MTV News that come spring, fans could expect a sequel consisting of songs that didn’t make the final cut of her debut. Having recorded some 45 songs for that project, she explained, “I love so many songs, and they’re just kind of going to waste sitting there.” Those leftovers — including “Summertime,” “My First Time” and “What’s It Gonna Be?” — should have just gone on the first album. It would have made Beyoncé’s debut a classic. Instead, those and other mostly unheard tracks such as a “metal ballad” called Scent of You never rose from their seats as Beyoncé ultimately opted instead to record a new Destiny’s Child album, Destiny Fulfilled, and take on a role in the film adaptation of Dreamgirls. Those choices proved to be for the better. Because with her somewhat delayed second solo album, 2006’s B’Day, Beyoncé made a larger and more definitive statement as an artist.
“I’m,” Beyoncé said at the time, “happy in my life.” She was dating rapper Shawn “Jay Z” Carter. Her first solo album and the Destiny’s Child reunion album and tour had both done well. She was more or less the solo star some of us knew she could be from the terribly underappreciated “Work It Out,” from the 2002 soundtrack to Austin Powers in Goldmember. So while she often said that she herself was “boring,” she channeled feelings of rejection and being taken for granted — and created with B’Day an album that “speaks for every woman.”
How? Beyoncé, reportedly without the knowledge of her father and then-manager Mathew Knowles, booked studio time and with her chosen collaborators — Sean Garrett, Rich Harrison, Rodney Jerkins, the Neptunes and Swizz Beatz — and crafted an album in two weeks. She smartly made the best of the best compete with each other — to assist her in upping her own creative ante.
As integral a role as her father (and mother) played in her professional development, for Beyoncé to do this album without her dad’s knowledge was one of the first indicators that Beyoncé was capable of steering her own career. Also, consider the optics: Though all of the producers are male, this young black woman was very much in charge of her vision. The producers had distinctive styles, but all catered to Beyoncé’s taste to help create a sound all her own. Beyoncé was not simply jumping on whatever hot track was handed to her. “This is about female empowerment,” Beyoncé said of the album in 2006. “This album is different, it’s conceptual and I do things with my voice that I haven’t done before.”
On B’Day, her ideas of female empowerment varied. In some instances, it’s letting your man have it on jilted lover-themed songs such as her cover of the album’s “Resentment” or “Irreplaceable.” In others, it’s by way of consumerism and the ability to ball out as heard on songs such as “Upgrade U.” Sometimes it’s as simple as “Freakum Dress,” where she throws on something nice, tips out, and not so subtly reminds her significant other that it’s best to not lose this good thing. But in all these songs, she’s asserting control — a theme that has ultimately defined her career narrative.