Beyoncé’s appearance on “Savage (Remix)” is the latest example of the artist flexing her MC skills. We take an extended look at Beyoncé’s flirtatious relationship with rapping throughout her career.
In late April, Beyoncé did what she does best: she shocked the world, appearing on a remix of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage.” A song that’s been tearing up the charts thanks to its virality on the TikTok social app, the remix further amplified the song’s success. Beyoncé’s signature vocals are a focus throughout: the harmonies that accompany her verses; the sung ad-libs she provides on top of Megan’s animated performance; and, of course, the raps. The most exciting part of the song is hearing Bey bar the fuck out. “Big B and that B stand for bands / If you wanna see some real ass, baby, here’s your chance,” she exclaims in her first full verse that made headlines for its references to Demon Time and OnlyFans, sounding like she could take over hip-hop alongside Megan or the City Girls. It’s her latest attempt at rapping — and it’s her most well-oiled performance thus far as a rapper.
Beyonce has been flirting with hip-hop since she began her musical journey. In the early ‘90s, Beyoncé competed on the talent show Star Search as a member of the nascent version of Destiny’s Child, Girls Tyme. Before the group performed, they were introduced as “the hip-hop rappin’ Girls Tyme.” Later, as a member of the fully formed Destiny’s Child, Bey took her dalliances with hip-hop to the next level. On songs like “No, No, No Part 2” and “Jumpin’ Jumpin’,” Beyoncé gently pushed the boundaries of R&B, employing a hip-hop cadence and weaving it together with soulful vocals. In a 2011 interview with Billboard, Bey said the stylistic choice was deliberate, especially on the 1999 single “Say My Name.”
“Those melodies and that fast, staccato way of singing created a new style,” she said. “It inspired a whole movement in R&B. Being part of that was amazing.”
That melding of rap and R&B continued as Bey embarked on her solo career. She gave us a hint of her interest in rhyming on songs like “Kitty Kat,” a standout from her 2006 album B’Day. During the track’s bridge Queen B casually drops a set of lax, understated bars in a boastful pocket, coolly declaring, “Got diamonds on my neck / Got diamonds on my records / Since 16, I was coming down ridin’ Lexus.” In its brevity, the moment also foreshadowed Bey’s use of Houston rap enunciations in her music, particularly “coming down,” often written as “comin’ dine.”
On 2008’s I Am…Sasha Fierce, Bey gave fans what is arguably her first-ever rap song with the braggadocious “Diva.” Unmistakably similar to Lil Wayne’s mainstream hit “A Milli” — both were produced by Bangladesh — Bey spouts cash shit about her status in the game in one of the most openly arrogant tracks we had heard from her at that point.
“How you gon’ be talking shit? You act like I just got up in it / Been the No. 1 diva in this game for a minute,” she sing-raps. It was a proper introduction for what Bey was capable of as a rapper.
Five years after Sasha Fierce came the SoundCloud loosie “Bow Down,” which eventually became the front half of the Beyoncé track “***Flawless.” The surprise track showcased Bey’s rapping abilities through an overt homage to Houston rap, the hook built around the slang (yet another use of “comin’ dine”), culture (candy paint custom cars, commonly known as “slabs”) and sound (deepening the pitch and slowing down her vocals, a technique known as “screwing” that was popularized by the late DJ Screw) that continues to define the city’s rap scene. By borrowing flows and extended enunciations from rappers like the late Pimp C, she sounds like a girl from around the way, taking her stab at freestyling. At the end of the song, she also reminisces on her early introductions to Houston rap, recalling her early appearance in a Geto Boys music video, and shouting out UGK’s raunchy “Something Good.”
Bey also played with public perception of her relationship with JAY-Z in the track; the line “I took some time to live my life / But don’t think I’m just his little wife,” is a coy response to her heavily publicized marriage to the entrepreneur and rapper. The moment foreshadowed how Bey would use rap to speak on her relationship with Jigga in future releases.
Where “Bow Down” highlighted Bey’s commitment to celebrating Texas rap, 2014’s “***Flawless (Remix)” and 2015’s “Feeling Myself” proved she could handle her own on mainstream records alongside one of rap’s greatest female rappers — Nicki Minaj. On the former, she addressed the infamous elevator incident, but instead of shying away from the controversy she turned the incident into a badge of honor, bragging: “Of course sometimes shit go down when it’s a billion dollars on an elevator.” The line made headlines as the first — and only — time Bey has addressed the moment between herself, Jay, and Solange. But it also highlights how well Bey gets the competitive nature of rap, able to spin such a widely-reported incident into one of the most memorable rap flexes of the 2010s.
That flexing is also present in “Feeling Myself,” where Bey, in the most ostentatious manner, offers a brief but memorable six bars speaking to her influence as a culture shifter: “Changed the game with that digital drop / Know where you was when that digital popped / I stopped the world. Male or female, it make no difference / I stop the world, world, stop — Carry on.” A reference to her 2013 surprise self-titled album, the lines are made even better by the brief silence that comes at the end of it, bringing Minaj’s track to a halt before resuming accordingly.
“Top Off,” a DJ Khaled single from 2018, served as Bey’s next notable rap offering. She sing-raps her way through yet another too short verse that can only be categorized as straight stunting: “How I’m the only lady here, still the realest nigga in the room? / I break the internet, top two and I ain’t No. 2.” These lines bring out the vanity in Bey, a side of her fans seldom get to see because of her pristine public image. But vanity is a rapper’s best friend, and it lends itself to the queen well.
Later that year, she would fuck it up again courtesy of her Everything Is Love collab album with Jay. Throughout the project she teases listeners with samples of her capabilities as an MC, but it’s lead single “ApeShit” where she truly comes out swinging. Borrowing the Migos’ triplet flow, she adds her own sauce to the signature rap style for the track, demanding “respeck” and “equity” in her first verse, and basking in her riches and sex appeal in her second verse, declaring: “My body make Jigga go kneel.”
All of this has led us to Bey’s moment on “Savage.” It’s a case-study in what makes her a good rapper. As a songwriter first and foremost, Bey knows the power of a good song, which she extends to her bars. She builds anticipation and excitement in her first verse, the low timbre that comes with “Hips tick tock when I dance (Dance) / On that Demon Time, she might start an OnlyFans (OnlyFans)” building to a triumphant roar when she raps, “If you don’t jump to put jeans on, baby, you don’t feel my pain.” She plays with listeners’ emotions in the most evocative way, masterfully knowing how a certain rhyme should be delivered not only in cadence but tone.
Compared to the vast majority of stars at her level, it’s a simple fact that Bey’s vocals are tighter, her runs are cleaner, and her performances snap harder. This is the reason why she’s considered the Michael Jackson of a generation. She carries this same precision to her rapping, and although her instances with it may be touch-and-go, it grants her the opportunity to express herself in a way that fans wouldn’t get from her as a singer. To put it simply, Bey is doing what these niggas wish they could do. “Savage” is but the latest example of Bey proving that she has graduated from being an aspiring MC to actually doing the damn thing, taking inspiration from the Texas rap luminaries that gave her her first taste of hip-hop, while also showing she’s capable of being a rap luminary not only for the lone star state but the rest of the rap world.
Kiana Fitzgerald is a proud Texan. She’s written for Rolling Stone, NPR, Paper Magazine, Vibe Magazine, Complex, and many others. You can follow her @KianaFitz.