4 is Beyonce's fourth studio album that was released on June 24, 2011 by Columbia Records and Parkwood Entertainment.
- I Care
- I Miss You
- Best Thing I Never Had
- Party (featuring André 3000)
- Rather Die Young
- Start Over
- Love On Top
- End Of Time
- I Was Here
- Run The World (Girls)
Following the release of her third album, "I Am... Sasha Fierce" and a world tour, Beyonce took a career hiatus to "live life and to be inspired by things again."
During her hiatus, she "killed" Sasha Fierce, the alter-ego that she used in her previous studio album, as she felt that she could now merge her two personalities.
She also severed professional ties with father and manager Mathew Knowles, who had guided her career since the 1990s with Destiny's Child, noting that the decision made her feel vulnerable.
In an interview for Complex, Beyoncé expressed dissatisfaction with contemporary radio. and intended "4" to help change that status, commenting: "Figuring out a way to get R&B back on the radio is challenging ... With 4, I tried to mix R&B from the '70s and the '90s with rock 'n' roll and a lot of horns to create something new and exciting. I wanted musical changes, bridges, vibrata, live instrumentation and classic songwriting."
On her website, Beyonce wrote: "The album is definitely an evolution. It's bolder than the music on my previous albums because I'm bolder. The more mature I become and the more life experiences I have, the more I have to talk about. I really focused on songs being classics, songs that would last, songs that I could sing when I'm 40 and when I'm 60."
Beyoncé also sought to make more artistic music, rather than purely commercially oriented songs.
Three months into her hiatus in March 2010, Beyoncé began recording at her husband Jay-Z's Roc the Mic Studios in New York City.
The song "Party" was recorded because she wanted to see what working relationship would develop with engineer DJ Swivel.
Kanye West assisted the production of "Party" after Beyoncé was impressed by his work on his album, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy."
André 3000 (the only featured artist on the album) contributed a rap verse to the song, which he recorded in Georgia.
Six weeks later, in May 2010, she asked Swivel to work on the entire project.
Concerning his working relationship with Beyoncé, he commented, "There was no 'We're doing this today.' It was a very kind of open project, where whatever she felt like recording at that time was what we'd work on. It was based on how she felt, her mood, and also her listening to the demos that writers would give us."
With Swivel, she experimented with horns, drums, guitars and percussion instruments. Mostly inspired by the Fela! sessions, Swivel began to formulate beats using their own recordings and those from Fela!
The project was moved to KMA Studios for a week and a half because Roc the Mic was not large enough.
They began recording "I Care", "Best Thing I Never Had" and "Rather Die Young", and completed "Party". They recorded the songs "Schoolin' Life", "1+1" and "Start Over" at Jungle City Studios in New York.
MSR Studios was the final New York City-based studio used, and where most of 4 was recorded—only "Party" and "I Was Here" were recorded entirely at other studios.
At MSR, Beyoncé emphasized the use of live instruments on songs such as "I Care" and "End of Time" Consequently, most of the instruments (including drums, keyboards, guitar and bass work) were recorded there and performed by Jeff Bhasker and Shea Taylor.
Beyoncé asked Frank Ocean to write and record "I Miss You" at MSR, saying to Complex: "[Jay-Z] had a CD playing in the car one Sunday when we were driving to Brooklyn. I noticed his tone, his arrangements, and his storytelling. I immediately reached out to him—literally the next morning. I asked him to fly to New York and work on my record."
After listening to each song, Beyoncé would often request the addition of specific instruments, leaving her production team to make the sounds cohesive. Her vocals were recorded through an Avalon Design 737 preamp and compressed in a 1176 Peak Limiter with a 4:1 ratio.
After recording the lead vocals for a track, Swivel cut them in different ways and he and Beyoncé picked the best, then recording the backing vocals.
Beyoncé composed her own vocal arrangements and harmonies for each song. Her microphones were carefully placed to achieve a blend of sounds with a clear quality
Swivel spoke of her work ethic in an interview for Sound on Sound, saying: "She's so fast and good at what she does that you can't afford to waste time on anything, so if we're ready to record drums, for example, we're going to work with whatever we have available right there and then. That's why we worked in such great studios, because we know they have great gear, and we don't need to worry about renting gear. Part of my job as an engineer is to make sure the sessions are not only moving along, but moving along at her pace."
After the move to MSR, Beyoncé and her production team began travelling. In the United Kingdom, they worked at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios in Wiltshire—particularly using Gabriel's multi-instrument room—to create "Love on Top."
Soon after, Beyoncé joined Jay-Z in a Sydney mansion, as he was working on his collaboration album, "Watch the Throne" with Kanye West. There, they created a "primitive studio" using a microphone, a rig out and Pro Tools software to record. Sessions were also held in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Honolulu.
In February 2011, MTV reported the project was nearing completion.
The album was mixed mostly at MixStar Studios in Virginia and mastered at Sterling Sound in New York City. The audio mastering was delayed by a week following the unexpected recording of "I Was Here".
Diane Warren had played the song to Jay-Z during a telephone conversation, leading him to put Warren and Beyoncé in contact.
In May 2011, Beyoncé submitted 72 songs in preparation for the album's release. According to Swivel, an eclectic range of songs were recorded, including ballads, "weird ethereal things" and 1990's R&B and Afrobeat-inspired songs.
Columbia Records were reportedly overwhelmed with the "sheer volume of material she presented to them."
"1+1" demonstrates Beyoncé's vocal-flexing over "magnificent guitar bombast" and a soft backing beat while "Start Over", a mid-tempo R&B ballad, uses a futuristic beat with electric elements and synthesizers.
"I Miss You", with its "layers of atmospheric keyboards," ambient synthesizers and tinny 808 drums was sung in a half-whisper to exhibit intense emotion.
"I Was Here", an understated pop-R&B ballad with indie rock inflections, primarily concerns self-reflection with dramatic vocals.
On other songs, Beyoncé explores womanhood. "Best Thing I Never Had", 4's fourth track, was described as a moment of self-realization and a "female call to arms." With vocals that allude to a "wounded bird turned resilient lioness," the song is built on a "winkly piano riff and beefy bass drums".
"Dance for You" conveys a more sexual tone through breathy vocals and blaring electric guitars. It forgoes her typical empowerment themes in favor of sensual imagery and comfort with one's partner.
"Run the World (Girls)", a female empowerment anthem reminiscent of Beyoncé's more contemporary work on "I Am... Sasha Fierce" uses an energetic sample of Major Lazer's "Pon de Floor."
The song incorporates "layered melodics", most prominently a military marching drumbeat, while Beyoncé's near-chanted delivery encompasses her full vocal range.
The tracks "Countdown" and "End of Time" were distinguished by their musical and lyrical experimentalism. "Countdown" was described as "everywhere on the genre map" although predominantly dancehall-led with a "bristling brass arrangement." Its chorus describes a relationship by counting backwards from ten, using a sample from Boyz II Men's song, "Uhh Ahh".
"End of Time"'s pulsating, brass sound (reminiscent of a marching-band) was heavily influenced by Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti. Kuti's use of horns and percussion instruments was recreated and combined with elements of electronic music and synthesizers.
"Lay Up Under Me" is also built on retro horns, featuring upbeat vocals, a sound Ryan Dombal of Pitchfork associated with Michael Jackson's 1979 album, "Off the Wall."
Other tracks were noted for their retro stylization. "Rather Die Young" is a throwback to 1960s doo-wop and Philadelphia soul with a slow tempo and modern drums.
"Party" achieves a vintage aesthetic through minimalistic production, replete with heavy synthesizers and a 1980s smooth-funk groove. The song is unique for its conversation-like structure, in which Beyoncé and guest-vocalist André 3000 sing verses that allude to socialization at parties. Elements of Prince's style was found on "Schoolin' Life" and "1+1."
"Schoolin' Life" is an uptempo funk song, with lyrics that advise the listener to live life to the fullest while cautioning them about the consequences of excess.
The chorus of "1+1" was compared to "Purple Rain", with themes of sadness and resentment, the song uses soft background vocals and dense percussion.
"Love on Top" was noted for its energetic key changes with a joyful tone, evoking the work of Michael and Janet Jackson. Its retro sound is marked by a melding of horns as well as sweet backing harmonies that are most prominent on its bridge and chorus.
"4" debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, making it Beyonce's fourth consecutive album to debut on top of the chart, making her the second female artist (after Britney Spears) and third artist overall (tied with Britney Spears & DMX) to have their first four studio albums debut on top of the Billboard 200.
The album was certified platinum by the RIAA in August of 2011, having shipped 1 million copies to retail stores. As of December 2015, it has reached sales of 1.5 million copies in the United States.
"4" received positive reviews from music critics.
At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, it received an average score of 73, based on 36 reviews.
Michael Cragg of The Observer called "4" Beyoncé's "most accomplished album yet".
Slant Magazine's Eric Henderson believed that it succeeds vocally as an album of mostly intimate and slow-tempo ballads.
Mikael Wood of Spin magazine applauded its ballads, mid-tempo songs, and evocations of late 1970s and early 1980s pop-soul.
In his review for Rolling Stone, Jody Rosen wrote that Beyoncé eschews contemporary production styles for a more personal and idiosyncratic album.
Jon Caramanica of The New York Times viewed the album as a good showcase for Beyoncé as a torch singer, because she convincingly sings about heartbreak and the strong emotional effect of love.
Pitchfork critic Ryan Dombal found it easygoing, retro-informed, and engaging because it shows "one of the world's biggest stars exploring her talent in ways few could've predicted".
AllMusic's Andy Kellman said that the quality of Beyoncé's singing and the songwriting compensate for the assorted arrangement of the songs.
Uncut viewed it is an exceptional album in spite of occasionally trite lyrics.
In a less enthusiastic review, Adam Markovitz of Entertainment Weekly said the first half of "4" is marred by boring ballads and the songwriting in general are not on-par with Beyoncé's vocal talent.
In his review for The Guardian, Alexis Petridis was ambivalent towards the album's 1980s influence and argued that, despite well written songs, it is not very consequential.
Time magazine's Claire Suddath said the songs lack lyrical substance, even though they are performed well.
Greg Kot, writing in the Chicago Tribune, called the album "inconsistent, short, and unfinished."
NME magazine's Hamish MacBain felt that Beyoncé did not progress from her past work and that "even the OK bits here" sounded "uninspired".