It's always a blessed day when Beyoncé drops new music, unexpected or not. But, Queen Bey made Lion King's release day into an even more memorable event by dropping a companion album to the official soundtrack, called Lion King: The Gift. The 27 track album, including 14 new songs and 13 interludes, is inspired by the film and features multiple African artists along with A-list collaborators like Pharrell, Kendrick Lamar, Tierra Whack, and Jessie Reyez.
The Beyhive has already latched on to a couple of tracks, floating them to the top of our must-hear playlist. "Brown Skinned Girl" features vocals from none other than Blue Ivy Carter, Bey & Jay-Z's first daughter (who was also featured on "Blue" from Bey's 2013 self-titled album). Blue's voice is the first one heard on the track, singing along with SAINt JHN (a Brooklyn-born artist whose family is from Guyana). "Brown skin girl / Your skin just like pearls / The best thing in the world / Never trade you for anybody else," Blue and JHN sing. Bey makes an appearance in the song's second verse, when she comes in to drop some names: Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong'o, and Kelly Rowland all get a shout out, with Bey paying tribute to the beauty of dark skin. Beyoncé sings to every woman with dark skin in the third verse, praising the "complexities in complexion," natural bodies with curves, and calling it all beautiful. The song also features Wizkid, a Nigerian Afropop artist whose also collaborated with Drake on "One Dance."
Of course "MOOD 4 EVA" is the other stand-out track. This lyric alone is going to be one you need to memorise: "Why would you try me? Why would you bother? / I am Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter / I am the Nala, sister of Yoruba / Oshun, Queen Sheba, I am the mother / Ankh on my gold chain, ice on my whole chain / I be like soul food, I am a whole mood."
The song sounds like an outtake from The Carters' 2018 album, EVERYTHING IS LOVE, with Bey and Jay riffing verses back and forth in true Bonnie and Clyde fashion. But, the appearance of Childish Gambino (the project of her Lion King co-star Donald Glover) gives it a different kind of shine. The song gets a Caribbean-influenced beat and a breakdown in the bridge. Jay also does his part to bring some African flavour to the track, referencing Nelson Mandela, Fela Kuti, and ruler of the Mali empire Mansa Musa. Plus shout outs to Black icons now passed: Prince, the Notorious B.I.G., Nipsey Hussle, and (in a sick burn?) Nas in 1994 — a reference to his iconic Illmatic album.
With this album, Beyoncé and her collaborators masterfully turn a film designated for children into a whole mood — and a political statement. In "Mood 4 Eva" especially, she raises consciousness and visibility for issues of race, colourism, intersectional feminism, and African culture that too often gets written out of history.
It's truly a gift.