Beyoncé is a genius. As an artist the way she crafted this album both visually and lyrically is incredible. I think we’ll still be attempting to deconstruct all the layers to symbology and meaning embedded in this album for years to come.
I could write an essay on each of her songs alone, a novel on the visual album and all of it’s lyrical imagery. The timing of the album alone pulled me out of the depressed funk I’ve been in since the loss of the legendary, revolutionary Prince, and while I know it was already schedule I’d like to think Beyoncé coordinated it to bless the grieving masses with music that carries more than just a catchy tune. It soothes the ache in my soul.
Her album is a smoothly compiled showcase of the diversity of Black music–a homage to the beautiful sounds Black people throughout history. It’s a love letter to Black womanhood–in its complexity, its strife, its evolution. But as much as I’d love to delve into that, right now I want to focus on one of my favorites on the album, Daddy Lessons.
This one resonated immediately, within the first lines, because at the surface level, she is literally “strummin’ my pain with [their] fingers, singing my life with [her] words…” I “came into this world Daddy’s little girl and daddy made a soldier out of me.” If you’ve met me before, you know how incredibly accurate this is. I’m close to my family, and my relationship with both of my parents has always been close… so when Beyoncé sang about how her dad “made a soldier” out of her I literally screamed “YASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS” to my empty house.
But listening critically, she probably is talking about her relationship with her father, yes, but it’s a different relationship dynamic overall. She’s talking about the Black existence–about our ancestors and the survival mentality that’s passed down generation to generation. She’s talking about how my grandmother’s mother had to “toughen her up”; how my grandmother’s father treated her like a man because that’s the life she was born into, and the existence she had to live.
Beyoncé’s talking about legacy. About “face”. About the Black existence in a white America. When she says her Daddy made a soldier out of her she’s talking about the fact that Black children are taught there are specific things we will have to deal with, fight against and for, that other people will not have to. Other people who don’t look like us. Who don’t have our ancestry. Who haven’t had generations of people who have come before who’ve been brutalized for the color of our skin. She’s talking about being a soldier in an involuntary war for liberation–for civil rights and the right to be human. Black women are placed in this cutesy role in relation to the Black man – an existence that is adorable, like “Daddy’s little girl”, but is also diminishing.
If you are seen as “respectable” you are also sheltered and forced into this role of possession rather than autonomy. Additionally, you are expected to carry the mission that has been dictated to you from childhood, because the greater enemy – the massive system of white supremacy is the greater issue.
In the song, this is “men like you” – it’s the white man in my grandparents’ generation who cheats the Black family because he’s assumed Negroes don’t know any better. It’s the Black man since then, who’s fallen into the archetypes created by white supremacy and the misogyny of the patriarchy. The caricatures of the drug dealer, the playboy, the cold, unfeeling power-hungry social climber. These are what we are warned against, and our Daddies say to “shoot”.
Not a warning shot. “Shoot.”
He waits, in the song, to say “take care of your mother/watch out for your sister” before gives her the gun and tells her to shoot when they are threatened. He teaches her to protect the family, protect the legacy by choosing action. He doesn’t say, “when trouble comes in town, sit em down and talk it through” he teaches her to shoot.
So much imagery of this song is tied deeply to the roots of Southern Black America – the Bible, the whisky in his tea, the blackjack and classic vinyl. The layers go deeper with each line, but what I want to finish with is this one:
“My daddy warned me about men like you
He said baby girl he’s playing you
He’s playing you
Cause when trouble comes in town
And men like me come around
Oh, my daddy said shoot”
Yeah… she’s tellin’ all her business about her relationship. She’s also talking about the smooth-talking men I mentioned above. She’s talking about the trouble that enter our lives when unsavory folk come in. Bey’s talkin’ ’bout a girl who’s told to watch out for men period, because of the society we have–because “men like me” refers yes, to his personality, his essence, but it also refers to men in general. It hints at a power imbalance between men and girls, and a mirrors a similar dynamic in terms of white vs. Black America.
It’s pretty interesting when you replace “Black male patriarchy” with “Daddy”, but hey, that’s just me.
If you haven’t watched it yet, you can check it out on Tidal. Personally I got it on repeat. #Lemonade