Today in 2011, Beyoncé released her fourth studio album, 4. In many ways, it marked a new phase in Bey’s career. With Dangerously in Love a whole eight years behind her, she was now a veteran solo artist, and whatever novelty she might’ve enjoyed on her first three albums had waned. Also, it was during this era that we found out that she was expecting her first child, Blue Ivy — in fact, Bey herself found out about the pregnancy while in Paris to shoot the album cover.

With “Run the World (Girls)” being chosen to lead that era, you kind of got a sense that its parent album would be artistically unfocused at best — and at worst, trash. The song sampled — and by “sampled,” I mean “repurposed the beat of” — a Major Lazer song that was less than two years old at the time. And its lyrics were every bit as unimaginative as its production. It was followed by a second lead single, “Best Thing I Never Had,” which was an improvement but still unremarkable.

When 4 finally dropped, it became clear that Beyoncé was holding out on us. “Run the World” was literally the worst song on the album and “Best Thing” was by no means a highlight. From “Party” (featuring Andre 3000) to “Love on Top” to “Start Over,” 4 was stacked with songs that were easy to fall in love with. Artistically, it was a clear break from the typical Beyoncé sound, and depending on who you ask, it is her “poppiest” and most “adult contemporary” album (i.e., it doesn’t have a lot of songs that the girls can get ready and party to). However, regardless of what genre you place the album, its quality cannot denied.

Unfortunately, 4 was released at a time when the music industry wasn’t particularly receptive to an artist like Beyoncé. First of all, the media was actively trying to make Lady Gaga the “white Beyoncé” — but fetch never really happened. But elsewhere in the industry, it just seemed like audiences had a taste for something else — Katy Perry and Rihanna, for instance, were at the height of their popularity. And lest we forget Adele, who was in the midst of a history-making era.

4 failed to crack the top 10 with any of its singles, but it was Bey’s fourth consecutive No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Looking back, the album seems to have been a victim of bad timing (and perhaps the poor lead singles didn’t help). A decade later, it has not only aged well but is even thought of as one of Bey’s better albums.

Favorite track: “Party” (featuring Andre 3000)

Britney Spears appeared in court via video call earlier today to ask a judge to end conservatorship that has controlled her life for over 12 years. Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, has been her sole conservator for much of that time. He has been co-conservator with an independent organization since November 2020, which was a preceded by a 14-month period where was temporarily replaced.

During the hearing earlier today, Britney made a 24-minute statement where she said she is being abused by her family and would like to sue them. She also said that the conservatorship is preventing her from making many personal decisions, including getting married and having a child. With regard to the latter, Britney says she is being made to wear an intrauterine device (IUD) against her will.

According to reports, confidential court records from previous hearings reveal new details about the singer’s years-long fight to end the conservatorship. A report from 2016 quotes Spears as feeling taken advantage of and describing the conservatorship as oppressive, lamenting that there are restrictions on who she can date and even the color of her kitchen cabinets.

In November 2020, when Jamie Spears was reinstated as a co-conservator, Britney told the court — through her attorney — that she is afraid of her father and that she will no longer perform as long as he is in control of her career.

Y’know…we give Madonna shit every now and then (and for good reason), but the lady has quite a catalog. As a matter of fact, until 2018, she had more top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 than any other artist in history. Thanks, Drake.

One of my favorites from Madge is “Take a Bow,” the second single from her sixth studio album, Bedtime Stories. Written and produced by the singer and Babyface, “Take a Bow” is a smooth R&B ballad about a lover who is only affectionate when he has an audience. Production-wise, it has all the signature markings of a Babyface song of that era. And if you doubted his presence for one second, Babyface provides rather prominent background vocals on the track.

For as Babyface-ish as the song may sound, it is worth noting that he only had a beat and chords laid down when he and Madonna started working on the track. This is important to know because there is a tendency among music writers to question the veracity of the contributions of female artists who are credited as writers and producers on their songs. Respect Madonna’s pen.

“Take a Bow” was Madonna’s 11th No. 1 as an artist and 9th as a songwriter on the Billboard Hot 100 — both records among women at the time, and both records that now belong to one Mariah Carey. The song would rule the chart for seven weeks, becoming one of her biggest hits. Check it out below.

Music moguls Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine have announced plans to launch a new high school in the South Los Angeles neighborhood of Leimert Park.

“This is for kids who want to go out and start their own company or go work at a place like Marvel or Apple, or companies like that,” Iovine said to the Los Angeles Times.

Th LA Board of Education has approved plans for the school, which is being called Regional High School No. 1 for the time being. The school, expected to launch in the fall of 2022, will accommodate as many as 250 students.

After decades of writing hits for others, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis are putting their pens to use for themselves. The duo is releasing their first album, but as you can imagine, they won’t be singing. If Calvin Harris and DJ Khaled can do it, why can’t they?

The album, titled Jam & Lewis: Volume 1, drops on July 9 and features a who’s who of vocalists that includes Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton, Heather Headley, Charlie Wilson, Boyz II Men and Morris Day, among others.

The third single from the album is “Somewhat Loved (There You Go Breakin’ My Heart),” which features Mariah Carey on singing duties. Mimi also co-wrote the song with the duo (along with The-Dream).

“Somewhat Loved” starts off very slow, but that beat drops and the chorus kicks in, and you quickly realize we have a winner. The song could benefit from stronger verses, but the book more than makes you for it. Check it out below.

The ’90s was arguably the greatest decade in popular music because it gave us so much variety. In the midst of all the gangsta rap, angsty rock and lavish R&B ballads, we also got a bit of reggae fusion.

The first reggae fusion hit of the decade was Maxi Priest’s “Close to You.” Released in July 1990, the song was the lead single from the singer’s fifth studio album Bonafide. As far as reggae fusion goes, it was light on the reggae and heavy on the fusion, but regardless of how it’s classified, no one can deny that it was bonafide chune. Pun totally intended.

“Close to You” would become Maxi Priest’s biggest hit, peaking at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and cracking the top 10 in multiple European countries.

Today is Maxi Priest’s 60th birthday, so join me in celebrating the man and this iconic contribution to popular music!

Today in 2001, Alicia Keys released her debut album, Songs in A Minor. Before we go any further, we must acknowledge the superb double entendre in the title. It references a piano key, but also, Alicia was only 14 years old — a minor — when she started writing songs that would eventually become tracks on this album.

The industry hadn’t seen a mainstream R&B instrumentalist for decades, and in 2001, we were living in a J.Lo world, which is to say that R&B had moved away from the big vocalists that reigned in the ’90s. While Alicia isn’t necessarily a big vocalist, she was decidedly different in an era dominated by sexpots.

Alicia’s splashy debut — though impressive — had the benefit of Clive Davis leaning into her promotional campaign. The industry titan personally wrote Oprah Winfrey a letter to have Alicia appear on her show. He also reportedly made phone calls to other major shows and media outlets to secure appearances for his new artist ahead of her album release. With that kind of weight behind you, you simply can’t lose. And if you ever doubted the impact of his concerted effort, I’d like to point out that “Fallin’” — the album’s official first single — didn’t even crack the Billboard Hot 100 until June 16, 2001, almost two weeks after its parent album dropped and more than two months after  it was released.

While one could argue that Alicia got a bit of an unfair advantage, no one can deny that she made a solid album. Songs in A Minor was a traditional R&B affair with just enough hip-hop sensibilities to make it contemporary. The album definitely skews toward piano-driven ballads, but every now and then, Alicia gave us something to bounce to like “Jane Doe” (co-written, co-produced and featuring an uncredited Kandi Burris).

In many ways, Alicia Keys plays very directly to the preferences of the critics. She has the quintessential singer-songwriter aesthetic — you know, because you have to perform with an instrument to write songs (sorry, Mariah). And with her relatively “modest” presentation in the midst of Britney- and J.Lo-mania, the Recording Academy couldn’t wait to give her all of the awards. She would go on to win five Grammys — including Best New Artist and Song of the Year for “Fallin’” — at the 2002 Grammy Awards, tying the record at the time (set by Lauryn Hill three years prior).

With over 12 million copies sold worldwide, Songs in A Minor was also a commercial success. And while it’s tempting to point out all of the establishment support it got, the fact of the matter is that it is an excellent album from a talented artist who has gone on to recreate that same magic many times over.

Favorite track: “Mr. Man” (with Jimmy Cozier)

For as long as this website has existed, I have always wanted to have this song as a TBT selecton, and with today being Deniece Williams’ 71st birthday, there is no better time.

“Silly” was released as the second single from Williams’ fifth album, My Melody. Written by Fritz Baskett, Clarence McDonald and Williams herself, the song is sung from the perspective of a forlorn woman who can’t seem to get her man — or rather, the man she wants — to reciprocate interest. And because silly is the name of the game, said woman is lying to her friends about happy she is in her make-believe relationship.

From the lyrics to the vocal delivery, “Silly” captures the sadness of unrequited love in a special way. The song would only make it to No. 53 on the Billboard Hot 100, but any true R&B knows it is an absolute classic. It has been covered by Patti LaBelle (among others) and was even sampled by Monica on her 2010 hit, “Everything to Me.”

If you haven’t heard this song before, thank me later.