Lórenzo J’s Mid-Aughts Music Review, Week 3.5
"Kitty Kat" x Beyoncé
I saved the above tweets in my drafts maybe six weeks ago, after TIDAL’s shuffle serendipitously landed on “Suga Mama,” track three on B’Day, Beyoncé Knowles’s second solo studio album. Maybe midway through the song, I vocally expressed my amazement at how seasoned she sounded; granted, she did have the luxury of developing into a whole superstar while in a girl group before going solo, but that’s almost beside the point. 25-year-olds shouldn’t sound this good, I don’t care. Listening to literally anything on her first album Dangerously in Love is incredibly jarring in comparison — she sounds more like a newly liberated teenager on Dangerously in Love's “Baby Boy” and “Naughty Girl” than the capital-g Grown woman she introduces her audience to throughout B’Day. (As an even starker comparison: she sounds like JAY-Z’s kid girlfriend on “That’s How You Like It”; three years later, she spends all of “Upgrade U” enumerating the reasons why Hov would be so lucky to have her around.)
I’d argue this version of Beyoncé set the path for the where we see her now: B’Day is really Beyoncé’s first adult album, her purposely choosing to express her sexuality on record more than we’d heard from her while also leveraging that sexuality as self-empowerment. Although Beyoncé’s evolved into ubiquity over the past decade, I think we forget a time when she didn’t have universal acclaim: when folks questioned her vocal talent, thought her relationship with a much older gangster rapper was cryptic at best and suspect at worst, and wondered if Ashanti (!) could be considered her contemporary. If B’Day doesn’t work, her shot at the ever-elusive transition from teenaged stardom into producing art with more adult themes, is Beyoncé still Beyoncé?
(The answer to that question is probably yes, still. She’s so freaking good.)
I doubt I'm well-versed enough in All Things Beyoncé to rank her albums with sufficient enough justification for any of her acolytes who may read this, but B’Day is definitely a personal favorite, for both the musical reasons and my own personal attachment. Moving into my dorm as a high school freshman (shoutout Cranbrook Kingswood), I conned my mom into buying B’Day (on its release date, no less) while at Target grabbing some other odds-and-ends for my room. Now fully immersed in the shady world of illegal music downloading, I was devastated that evening to find the dorm’s internet protected by the strongest firewall I’ve yet to encounter. No file sharing platforms worked: not Morpheus, not Limewire, not Frostwire, nothing. Working with a faulty laptop that lacked the capacity to store my then-tiny music stock, I was largely forced to play my CD collection on my old-fashioned boombox. (Why am I calling CD players old-fashioned? How old am I?) I won’t lie: I definitely wanted B’Day primarily for JAY-Z’s two guest appearances; having “retired” a few years prior, every new Hov verse was like manna from heaven for stans like myself. But after giving the album a few rotations, it was Beyoncé — not Jay — that got me hooked. I spent that entire fall semester blasting her CD from my box of a dormitory, welcoming the judgment of essentially every non-black man on my floor (and probably a few of the black men, too). I regret nothing.
I think B’Day is criminally underrated in her personal canon, and I don’t think I’m alone; it was curious to notice the amount of tweets during early Sunday morning’s Coachella performance thanking her for tapping into that track list. (Related: God bless Mrs. Carter for that concert. Amen.) Aside from “Irreplaceable” — which is definitely the people’s champ of that album — and “Ring the Alarm,” which I can definitely admit to overrating because of the music video, “Kitty Kat” emerged as my personal favorite, a four-minute farewell to a (now-former?) lover, Bey setting him straight for choosing apparently everything else over fulfilling her sexual needs. I was 14 the first time I’d heard this song; I honestly don’t think I realized to what the song’s title was referring until I was much older. Didn’t really care. The beat is immaculate — produced by Pharrell and Chad, because of course — and she sounds like such a boss the entire track. On what definitely has to be considered a statement album, “Kitty Kat” might not be the loudest declaration, but it is definitely the most unabashed. She’s unapologetic throughout B’Day, but her cool on “Kitty Kat” takes it up just a notch. This is “know yourself; know your worth” years before Aubrey said it, “if you don’t want me, then don’t talk to me” without any of Fantasia’s heartbreak. Beyoncé doesn’t need you. Don’t you ever for a second get to thin... wait, that’s an entirely different song. Regardless, you get the point.
I’m sure this has long gone the way of urban fan-fiction no longer remembered, but the internets broadly defined were speculating at the time that Hov may have been philandering with a then-neophyte Rihanna during the period around B’Day’s release, providing a supposedly anguished Beyoncé with plenty of source material for her new album. (I don't really feel compelled to link to it; if you've forgotten or don't remember, the evidence is still on Google.) When Beyoncé first released B'Day, after hearing songs like “Ring the Alarm” and “Kitty Kat,” it was irrationally fun as teenagers to seek out the context clues, trying to decipher whether these rumors had even a kernel of truth. Ultimately, as fun as the speculation and projection could be, I never seriously considered the idea of any rational man ruining his chances at spending personal time with one of the most beautiful women on the planet — especially a man with his, er, unique facial features. All things considered, now I am wondering if B’Day was about Big Homie.
(Which, if so, means his careless behavior has been the impetus for my two favorite Beyoncé albums.)
((So thanks, Jay?))
(((I dunno. I am the .gif of Oprah throwing her hands up in bemusement.)))