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Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’: A Guide to Samples and Interpolations

How Led Zeppelin, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Outkast helped create an instant classic

Soulja Boy; John Bonham; Panda Bear; Beyonce; Samples

Animal Collective, Soulja Boy and Led Zeppelin are credited on Beyonce's 'Lemonade'

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Many of Beyoncé's collaborators in Lemonade's long list of credits aren't collaborators at all. Her sixth album makes strategic use of samples and interpolations, wedding older references and new, with a purposefulness that transforms the source material into something fresh. Under-sung Southern hip-hop anthems and critically hailed rock stars are both raw tools to be subsumed into the most ambitious project of Beyoncé's career. Here is the what, why and how of Lemonade's many ingredients.

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Animal Collective, “My Girls” (2009)

The only real similarity to avant-pop crew Animal Collective's "My Girls" and Beyoncé's epic "6 Inch" is a rough approximation of the song's chorus during Beyoncé's bridge — "I don't mean to seem like I care about material things" becomes "She too smart to crave material things." According to co-songwriter Boots — believably — it was a coincidence. In this case, their co-writing credit feels more like a post-"Blurred Lines" effort at avoiding a lawsuit.

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Soulja Boy, “Turn My Swag on” (2008)

If seen through the lens of Beyoncé's high-profile marriage to Jay Z, "Hold Up" is a darkly autobiographical exploration of romantic betrayal. Yet "Hold Up" is built upon an inner confidence that lets her strike more complex notes than sadness. In trying to understand the situation, a bit of caustic irony is her weapon, as she lightly sings the chorus to the popular 2008 Soulja Boy record "Turn My Swag on" at the song's close as if it were a nursery rhyme: "I hop up out the bed and get my swag on/I look in the mirror, say 'What's Up'?" An oddly optimistic end for a lost lover's lament? Or self-assurance in the face of another's mistake?

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Maps” (2003)

Heartbreak anthem "Maps" was a song about loss and yearning, the exposed nerve on an album otherwise armored with brash punk energy. Its use here was diluted by layers of songwriting process, as co-writer Ezra Koenig explained on Twitter. In its final form, the interpolation is somewhat distant from its source material, yet the underlying message is still there: a confusion, the recognition that the singer and her lover were working with differing frames and irreconcilable expectations.

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Outkast, “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” (1998)

A cornerstone of Outkast's classic Aquemini, "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" seems at first glance an unlikely record to have such longevity: the seven-minute song was never commercially released as a single. Yet with its distinctive horn line and memorable, nearly spoken-word narrative, it's become one of the duo's most fondly remembered records. It's a song of an ill-fated relationship, but the horns have a triumphant feel, capturing the same paradox at the heart of Lemonade. "All Night," in turn, is a song of hope and love, promising reconciliation between the album's principal characters. "Nothing real can be threatened," Beyoncé promises, allowing for forgiveness, even if reality may have other plans.

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Led Zeppelin, “When the Levee Breaks” (1971)

With its booming drum break, this Led Zeppelin's classic is perhaps best known for providing the beat to the Beastie Boys' 1986 anthem "Rhymin' and Stealin." On "Don't Hurt Yourself," the beat is replayed — it lacks the echoing heft of the original — for a feature with White Stripes mastermind Jack White, who received co-producer credits with Beyoncé and Derek Dixie. However, the Zeppelin song it more closely resembles is "Whole Lotta Love." Here, Beyoncé's distorted vocals seem to channel Tina Turner, who transformed the song in a cover with Ike back in 1975.

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Kaleidoscope, “Let Me Try” (1969)

An obscure Puerto Rican funk band — the group's self-titled debut had an initial run of 200 copies — provided the simmering organs for the Just Blaze-co-produced "Let Me Try." For a crate-digging hip-hop producer like Just Blaze, the song is in his wheelhouse, a slab of East Coast-derived intensity similar to records he provided for everyone from Atlanta rapper T.I. to Los Angeles' Kendrick Lamar. It provides a classic hip-hop touch on an album that leans towards sonic diversity.

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Isaac Hayes, “Walk on By” (1969)

Isaac Hayes' 12-minute version of Burt Bacharach's "Walk on By" from his legendary 1969 LP Hot Buttered Soul is a bold choice for a sample. Not only is the original a classic, but the record has already been sampled by a hip-hop who's who: Tupac, Biggie and, perhaps most memorably, the Wu-Tang Clan, who rapped over the record unmolested, even giving Hayes a feature credit. Yet producers Danny Boy Styles, Ben Billions, Boots, Dixie and Beyoncé transform the record. On an album focused on a relationship's fall, it's not a surprising sample — but it's used on "6 Inch," an anthem of affirmation for working women. It's as if the song reminds its empowered protagonists of the heartbreak lurking in the background.

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Andy Williams, “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” (1963)

Conceptually, using 1963 smash "Can't Get Used to Losing You" feels like a brilliant marriage linking past and present. Beyoncé, Diplo and Ezra Koenig gave the sample a reggae lilt — perhaps inspired by the English Beat's 1980 ska cover. Beyoncé and co. slow the beat down and give it a more relaxed groove. The original has a jaunty feel, giving "Hold Up" a tone of bitter amusement. It's a dynamic Beyoncé herself replicates, transforming the sincere lament of "Maps" into sardonic irony, as if — surprise! — her man did exactly what she'd expected, even though it wasn't what she'd hoped. She sees everything for exactly what it is, running through heartbreak's clichés — "How did it come down to this? Scrolling through your call list" — while recognizing their predictability.

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Reverend R.C. Crenshaw, “Collection Speech/Unidentified Lining Hymn” (1959) and Prisoner “22” at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, “Stewball” (1947)

Alan Lomax's folkloric field recordings documented the lives of thousands through interview and song, a collection preserved by the United States Library of Congress. For an album grounded in a seemingly personal experience of infidelity and love lost, Lemonade is strongly intertwined with American history and politics, these recordings are an implicit illustration of the links between the personal and political.

In This Article: Beyonce

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