Beyoncé Knowles-Carter has been making chart-topping singles since she was a teenager, first with the Houston girl group Destiny’s Child and then as a solo artist.
A preternaturally gifted singer and a legendarily hard-working performer, Beyoncé grew slowly into her reputation as an album artist, becoming one of the creative leading lights of R&B and popular music in general. Tonight she’s sharing the stage of the U.S. Bank Stadium with her husband, rap veteran Jay-Z, on their co-headlining On The Run II Tour. But you can pregame with a playlist of the moodier, funkier, and more confessional tracks from her six solo albums, linked below.
While no R&B diva could rule the charts in the ‘80s and ‘90s without a healthy helping of ballads, Beyoncé broke the mold—nearly all her best known songs are danceable uptempo tracks. Still, even her blockbuster solo debut, 2003’s Dangerously In Love, recorded in the early months of her relationship with Jay-Z, made time for softer, more left field tracks like “Yes.” 2006’s B’Day introduced a theme that would recur on future Beyoncé albums—a wronged woman singing of a partner’s infidelity—on songs like the Curtis Mayfield-sampling live favorite “Resentment.” (At the time, she said that those troubled relationship lyrics were inspired by her role in Dreamgirls). “Crazy In Love” producer Rich Harrison returned for B’Day, lending his percussive, go-go-influenced sound to explosive dance tracks like “Freakum Dress” and “Suga Mama.”
After a decade of hits, Beyoncé began to take more risks on her fourth album, 2011’s 4. It was her first album without a #1, or even a Top 10 hit, but it laid the groundwork for everything that came after. Falling in love with the music of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti inspired the marching snares and ecstatic horns of “End of Time.” And a 4 outtake that appeared on a deluxe re-release of the album, “Schoolin’ Life,” is Beyoncé’s most Prince-influenced track, where she revels in growing up fast in the spotlight: “I had my first heels by the age of 13/ Mom and Dad tried to hide the boys, I swear that just made ‘em want me more.”
Beyoncé wasn’t the first major artist to “surprise” release an album. But her 2013 self-titled album was the first unannounced release to become a blockbuster without the benefit of advance publicity, decisively moving her career’s focus away from Hot 100 peaks and towards emotional and immersive “visual albums” with a video for every song.
Her next visual album, 2016’s Lemonade, was even more ambitious: a song cycle that centered on one story, a rocky period in her marriage, but pushed her sound into several new directions. She teamed with Jack White of the White Stripes for the seething rock track “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” and performed the country blues track “Daddy Lessons” with the Dixie Chicks at the CMA Awards (Note: Lemonade is streamed exclusively on Tidal, so we have a Tidal version of the playlist along with the Spotify playlist, which does not feature the tracks from that album). But while Lemonade made headlines for revealing the imperfections in Beyoncé’s relationship with Jay-Z, they seem to have emerged from it stronger, finally teaming up as the Carters for their first album-length collaboration, Everything Is Love, this year and showcasing her steadily sharpening skills as a rapper.
1. Freakum Dress
2. Schoolin’ Life
4. Don’t Hurt Yourself (featuring Jack White)
5. Scared of Lonely
6. I Care
7. Blue (featuring Blue Ivy)
8. Signs (featuring Missy Elliott)
9. Heard About Us (with Jay-Z as The Carters)
10. Kitty Kat
13. Daddy Lessons
14. End of Time
15. Suga Mama
18. Flaws and All