Album review: Beyoncé - The Lion King: The Gift

Album review: Beyoncé - The Lion King: The Gift | Random J Pop

The Lion King: The Gift made Beyoncé's involvement in the film make a lot more sense. She wanted her foot in Disney's door to be able to do this. Create a body of work off the back of one of Disney's most popular films of all time, and use the platform to put a spotlight on Africa, and some of the sounds and artists from the continent.

Beyoncé featuring Africa and Disney.

Afriyoncé deciding to throw her wig into African sonics makes sense. Nigeriyoncé has always given us some Afrocentricity, whether it's been in her music ("Grown Woman" and "The End of Time"), in her choreography ("Run The World (Girls)") or her fashion. So Ghanayoncé deciding to go full pelt with it here doesn't feel weird. It just feels like Beyoncé doing Beyoncé. But, pulling from the sounds of the continent along with the narrative of The Lion King grounds her and gives her what is possibly one of her most varied and accessible albums.

The Gift feels like part of the evolution that Surpriseyoncé's been on since her 2014 self-titled album; her first album following the birth of her first daughter, the Chairwoman of Digital Outreach and the COO of the Wig Treasury at Parkwood entertainment, Blue Ivy. Beyoncé's trajectory since has seen her become far more omnipotent as a persona, whilst her music became more grounded. Her self-titled album was a reclamation of herself. Lemonade was a reclamation of her feelings. The Gift is as the album implies, a gift to the things she loves. Africa, Blackness, her daughter, her family and her fans - all told through the story of The Lion King, which could also be considered a story and a love letter to all of these things. So Beyoncé doing this makes sense. The Lion King was the perfect vessel for her and provides an obvious context to her teaming up with African artists, songwriters and producers. She could have worked with this roster of talent on an album separate from The Lion King if she wanted to. Who the fuck is saying 'No' to Beyoncé!? But the Disney umbrella provides a bigger platform than just hers alone, and she knows it. And the collective talent on this album do not squander their chances.

Album review: Beyoncé - The Lion King: The Gift | Random J Pop

Even though Beyoncé has given us touches of Africa in her music before, it's never been as authentic as it has here because of the use of African producers. The first song on the album is "Bigger", but the true album starter for me is "Find Your Way Back", which is a perfect introduction to the album concept. This is an Afrobeats song, through and through. And Beyoncé sounds great on it. There is literally not type of beat nor style of music that Genreyoncé can't do. The great thing about Beyoncé here is that she truly gives herself up to the sound and her collaborators. "Find Your Way Back" is just Beyoncé singing over an Afrobeats song. But on songs like "Water" and "Already", Beyoncé fully commits to the genre; bringing the energy you'd expect her to bring, but also keeping in theme with the style of music. Her ululating. (That's her at the start of "Water", but pitched down). Her enunciation; the way she says wah-tah instead of wah-dur and Already with the hardest of Ds. It makes all the difference and adds a colour to the way she sings that we've not really heard before.

But the star of this album isn't Beyoncé herself, its the talent around her, and in most instances, they outshine her. Burna Boy does what Burna Boy does best on "Ja Ara E". Tiwa Savage holds it down on the almost Reggae sounding "Keys to the Kingdom". Tekno, Lord Afrixana, Yemi Alade and Mr Eazi give you swag in absolute excess on "Don't Jealous Me". And Tierra Whack, Nija, Busiswa and Moonchild Sanelly give you a relay of serves "My Power". Beyoncé featuring on the song makes sense within the context of The Lion King, with this being about Nala gathering the female lions of Pride rock to scratch the shit out of Scar. It is also the female empowerment anthem that comes with the territory of Beyoncé. But you could remove her verse and the shit would still bang and be absolute fire. The only negative thing about this song is that Moonchild Sanelly gets short-changed. Her verse is so good, but so short. It is literally the outro the song.

Moonchild Sanelly's short-changing on "My Power" highlights something I couldn't help but notice about the songs on The Gift, which is that some of the them feel like they could have made better use of some of the collaborators and / or been longer. I would have much rather had another African artist on "Water" over Pharrell Williams. "Keys to the Kingdom" feels like it ends earlier than it should. "Don't Jealous Me" ends shy of another verse. "Nile" should have been longer than 1 minute and 48 damn seconds. I have nothing against songs which are short and sweet, but "Nile" feels like it ends before it should. And given that the song is about crossing over and being in this state of limbo, I wish the song let us float there for a little more, to really allow us to soak in the mood. It feels like before we get to really absorb the song, it just ends. Like awakening from an abrupt dream. Maybe that was the point. "Mood 4 Eva" should have had Childish Gambino far more centred on the song. "Scar" should have featured an African artist. "Spirit" is so big, yet has this really odd bridge section which pulls everything back and then just jumps back into the chorus. Then we get a key change and then the song goes back to that odd bridge and it just ends. I wish the song had a big-ass middle-8 which then led into a key change and then had the song end in more spectacular fashion.

I kept finding my elbow, knee knocking sessions cut short because songs would just end out of nowhere.  I know Beyoncé said there wasn't much time to put this together, but DAMN. And there are probably various versions of these songs which feature these additional verses and sections which sound better. Yemi Alade had let the cat out of the bag and said she's contributed a verse to "My Power" which didn't make the cut.

Album review: Beyoncé - The Lion King: The Gift | Random J Pop

As time has gone on, Beyoncé has slowly started to learn the art of streamlining and providing over-arching themes to her albums, presenting them as a package, as opposed to a 14 song set which has a couple of great songs on it. Beyoncé got this right with B'Day, but then veered way off with I Am... Sasha Fierce, making B'Day seem like a fluke. Then there was 4, which was hampered by bad sequencing. Beyoncé's self-titled album was the first album which felt well put together and thought out. Then Lemonade followed suit with tightness and consistency. The Gift even more so. Beyoncé seems to work best when she has a theme or a narrative as a framework for the music.

The Gift's tracklist seems sprawling, but it never feels boring and hits more than it misses. There are only a couple of lulls in this album. "Mood 4 Eva" does nothing for me. It's cut from the same cloth as "Shining", "Top Off" and the Everything is Love album. So it feels more like a case of Afriyoncé carrying The Carters brand into this album than any real consideration for making it part of the arc of the story being told. Beyoncé cheated the system a little with "Brown Skin Girl", which has no obvious connection to The Lion King at all, yet it still fits because it features so much heart and so much paternal energy, which is what The Lion King is about ultimately. "Mood 4 Eva" is just a flex song. Throwing Nala's name into the mix and slapping Donald Glover onto the end of it doesn't help make it any more contextual. And it's also placed in the tracklist between "Nile" and "Water", when the two should have been sat right beside one another, for obvious reasons. It's one of the only two songs on this album that I skip. The second being "Scar". I just don't like this song. It feels like the entire album just grinds to a half when it hits. I get wanting to have a moment for reprieve after the assault that is THE banger of the album "My Power" and having a slow moment before transitioning into "Spirit". But this song feels like a vacuum. And as is the case with "Mood 4 Eva" is placed within two songs which could would have sat better side by side. But for an album with 14 songs, 12 outta 14 isn't bad at all.

Rangeyoncé's vocals have changed a lot of the years. I always thought that it was just her delivery which was changing, as she became more aggressive and starting playing with affectations more. But The Gift reveals that Altoyoncé's voice has changed considerably and that it's far lower and huskier than it's ever been before. Beyoncé has always had a naturally low speaking voice in contrast to how she was known to sing which was clear and high. Beyoncé has a far more reserved approach to singing on The Gift and sits into her lower registers far more than she ever has before. Listen to her on this and then listening to her on B'Day is like listening to two completely different singers. Beyoncé rarely if ever on this album goes really high, but what she doesn't give you in soaring high notes, she provides in texture and richness. Even though Beyoncé doesn't flutter around the octave scale as much as she used to, there's still so much power in her voice. Beyoncé's biggest vocal flex on this album for me is on "Otherside", where she goes the lowest I think she's ever gone on a song since "Dot" on the Charlie's Angels soundtrack. She sounds amazing, and shows that there's more to good singing than singing high. Because not every vocalist could do what she does on "Otherside". (Side note: Beautiful song, with STRONG Brandy vibes). Beyoncé not continually giving you big belts and all the runs, and reserving them for songs like "Bigger" and "Spirit", which start and end the album, make these moments so much more powerful, because you're not hearing them all of the time.

Album review: Beyoncé - The Lion King: The Gift | Random J Pop

The Gift is not only a good album by itself, but a truly well crafted companion to the film itself. In light of the release of Black Is King, it's clear that Disneyoncé always envisioned this being the soundtrack to a story told in a different image to that of the animation. And Black Is King is really something special. But I also feel that some of these songs could also have worked in the The Lion King film itself. I'm hoping some eager fan does an edit of the film with some of these songs in it, to show it'd work.

The Gift's charm is in how much it does, without feeling like it's too much. It's so easy for albums like this to feel bloated and as though it features one too many ideas. But the consistency in the sound and the songs sticking within a concept help create this tight package of songs, which take you through a journey of not just sounds, but feelings too. From feeling inspired, to feeling insecure, to feeling lost, to feeling empowered, to feeling loss, to feeling bald-headed.

👍🏾 A feel good album
👎🏾 Coulda done without "Mood 4 Eva" and "Scar"


Album highlights:
■ Find Your Way Back 🏆
■ Don't Jealous Me
■ Ja Ara E
■ Nile
■ Water
■ Keys to the Kingdom
■ Already
■ My Power
■ Spirit