Beyoncé‘s Lemonade, released on April 23rd, was a triumph of sound and storytelling, an intense and adventurous “visual album” (accompanied by an hourlong film) about race, infidelity and marital meltdown. It was also a marvel of project management. Beyoncé, famously controlling and tight-lipped about her creative process, oversaw a cast of nearly 100 collaborators, from Jack White and Diplo to dozens of unknown producers and songwriters. “Beyoncé is really involved at all stages,” says Jonny Coffer, a London-based singer-songwriter who co-wrote and co-produced the stirring anthem “Freedom.” “She runs the show and will say what she likes and doesn’t like and is always making suggestions. She knows exactly how she wants it to sound and how to get there.”
Brooklyn rapper-producer MeLo-X, who had a hand in writing the reggae-tinged “Hold Up,” produced the skittering, not-at-all-apologetic “Sorry,” and scored the album’s accompanying film, was similarly impressed with Beyonce’s process. “She has a way of creating that I’ve never seen before as an artist,” he says. “She produces, alters and arranges tracks in ways I wouldn’t think of.”
Lemonade is in many ways the ultimate collage, a potpourri of competing sounds, images and ideas plucked from a dizzying variety of far-flung sources. “Hold Up” is a good case in point: The song originated with a tweet sent in 2011 by Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig, that was itself a re-working of a lyric from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ 2003 song, “Maps.” Later, he wrote lyrics based on that tweet during a studio session with Diplo, and incorporated a loop of the 1963 Andy Williams song “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” that the producer was working with. Josh Tillman, a.k.a. Father John Misty, provided lyrics and a melody that became the first verse, and British songwriter MNEK added the bridge.
When MNEK met Beyoncé, the singer already had the idea for each song to correspond to a different title card in the film, featuring words like “Intuition” or “Redemption.” “She told me, ‘This is the direction I want the lyrics to go,'” he says. “But the great thing about her team was that they were just like, ‘We asked you to be a part of this because we like what you do, so just do your thing.’ I did a few verse things, and she heard one bit, that middle eight, and loved it.”
Eventually, “Hold Up” made its way to MeLo-X, who finished the song with Beyoncé. “I wrote a portion and added background vocals,” he says. “I love how my vocals were used because it feels like it’s a sample under her voice during the chorus.”
The process was similarly piecemeal for “Freedom.” Coffer had been working in London with British artists Carla Marie Williams and Arrow Benjamin – who had previously been featured alongside Beyoncé on Naughty Boy’s U.K. hit “Runnin’ (Lose It All)” – when he was tapped by Beyoncé himself. “She heard some stuff I’d been working on and asked us all to come to L.A. to jam,” he says. “She asked us to write more stuff and sent us ideas which inspired us to write ‘Freedom.'”