Breaking Barriers and Building Community- An Indie Girl’s Guide to Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter

Breaking Barriers and Building Community- An Indie Girl’s Guide to Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter

April 3, 2024 in DJ Picks

by Dj Pants

Before Pressing Play- A Quick Country History

Prior to Cowboy Carter’s release, the announcement of the record introduced a prompt for bigotry to show its face. Many ‘country elitists’ claimed that Carter-Knowles did not have a claim or a place in the country space. This even extended to KYKC a radio station in Oklahoma refusing to play her singles when requested with the simple justification of “we are a country station”.¹ It seems as though we may need a re-education.

Country has always had roots in Indigenous and African instrumentation, the banjo the staple of early 30-40s bluegrass and later the prominence of yodel, was based upon the West African Lute.² The basis of modern country in the early 20s is brought upon through the choral music of Black hymns; our legendary Carter Family even attributed the Carter Picking style to the mentorship of Lesley Riddle.³ Black artists and influencers have always been at the forefront of the revolutionizing country industry– from the start.

Something that had become completely explicit in the features, samples, and interludes of Cowboy Carter is Beyoncé’s reverence for music as a whole, not just country music. This is something that had been clear in her prior projects, especially the club mixes of Renaissance. The first thing that stuck out to me as I saw the tracklist, it the presence of Linda Martell. Linda Martell is considered the first commercially successful Black Female Country artist; she is also the first Black Woman to play at the Grand Ole Opry in 1970.⁴ For reference, The Opry opened in 1925, and the first Black Man to play The Opry was DeFord Baily in 1927.⁵ Linda Martell released her studio album Color Me Country in 1970; it's a personal favorite of my show, and if you are interested I recommend you listen to her version of Before The Next Tear Drop Falls (1970).

Carter-Knowles is quick to silence the limitations that were put upon her in the country space; her Instagram post introducing the album states “This ain’t a Country album. This is a ‘Beyoncé’ album”. This theme is echoed throughout the record. The first interlude of the record SMOKE HOUR★WILLE NELSON starts with a radio tuning from Son House’s Don’t You Mind People Grinning In Your Face (1965) into Sister Rosetta Thorpe’s Down By The River Side (1944) into Chuck Berry’s Maybelline (1955) ending in Roy Hamilton’s Don’t Let Go (1958).

All of the aforementioned tracks were staples of genres that are major influences in the evolution of country– Blues, Rock, and Gospel respectively, all featuring significant Black Artists of their genres. Country music as a whole has always been one of blend and fluidity.

Prominent examples of this include Conway Twitty starting as a Rock artist and Elvis being voted as the most promising country artist in 1955 before being drafted in 1958. (Elvis is also notorious for the influence that he took from Thorpe and Hamilton, which many now acknowledge as theft or appropriation.)⁶ The criticism of not making ‘country music’ seems to be one that is overwhelmingly given to Black Country artists while their white counterparts are praised for innovation. A more recent example of this is Lil Nas X’s track Old Town Road (2018) being taken off the Billboard Country list in 2019 for not “embracing enough elements of today’s country music”.⁷

In a simple 50-second interlude, Carter-Knowles is capable of making her right to the country genre so clearly evident while also using prominent Black artists of the past to show the prejudice and bigotry she faced in a genre that is built upon Black foundations. This is all tied in the bow of Austin’s own Willie Nelson stating “if you don’t want to go, find yourself a jukebox”. She has bent over backward to make it clear to audiences that don’t want to accept her– not only will she not dim her own prowess, but she will create a space when she is denied one.

As a defender of the importance of intersectionality in modern country, I almost screamed when I read saw the feature list. As we have reached the modern era of country music, there has been a capitalistic right-wing shadow that has plagued the genre. I would be remiss to not mention that the current country state is one of exclusion and singularity. The hand of country has given white artists platforms to actively oppress black people, not only in ideology but in using their platform to build political strength to further segregation and white supremacy in America for almost a century. Despite this, there is a shining light of queer, BIPOC, and female country artists who are trying to forge their own space to reclaim a genre they love, but they often lack an inclusive audience to support them.

Carter-Knowles has made the intentional effort that in all of the new ears she is introducing to the country, she is sharing her platform with current Black Artists who have been fighting for inclusivity for years. This is exemplified in the second track of the record BLACKBIIRD, a cover of the iconic Beatles track. Bringing in the beautiful choral support of Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts, the sentiment is incredibly powerful bringing a new perspective to the line “you were only waiting for this moment to arise” Beyoncé is utilizing the years of work she has done to cultivate commercial success, using all of her flowers to germinate the seeds of younger artists.

On to the Music- Cowboy Carter: Imaginative, Incomparable, and Simply Iconic

Cowboy Carter follows the long tradition of strong female country vocalists in the powerhouse that is Beyoncé. From the opera stylings of Caro Mi Ben in DAUGHTER or the energetic rap stylings of SPAGHETTI, this record showcases the diversity in vocal instruments, yet the familiar guitar themes build familiarity throughout the record. It is truly fascinating the ability to have a span of so many genres without inducing auditory whiplash in the audience. One of my personal favorite traits in an artist is one that is well listened. You can tell that there is a real love of music in all forms in this record. A love that is in no way superficial or surface level, but one that is well-researched and longstanding; this record defines Beyoncé as a true scholar of all things regarding musicality.

In a more holistic view of the record, the flow from one song to another has such masterful transitions. It is clear that there was some sort of scope of the record as a whole rather than individual successful singles. This is heavily instrumented through the interlude tracks of the record. Tracks such as SMOKE HOUR★WILLE NELSON, DOLLY P, and THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW, allow for a seamless transition whilst showing the audience the stamp of approval given by icons of the industry in such a fun way. This is also a more responsible action of Carter-Knowles, ensuring that more green country fans have an opportunity to learn some of the hallmarks.

The record has this really unique aspect of harmonization that can build tension within tracks. The vocal chorus in FLAMENCO, consisting of all of Carter-Knowles, has this alternation of harmony and unison that push and pull making it one of the most melancholic Beyoncé tracks in an understated fashion. I would dedicate this as my sleeper hit for this record. As some of the record feels a little played up, pushing into the cowboy persona, this track feels so authentic and powerful in a way that truly resonates.

If I were to give a critique, I think that there was an underutilized aspect of country instrumentation. There is so much color that is in country instrumentation. Most of the tracks have really prominent guitar picking, which of course, is a genre staple. I was however disappointed that there wasn’t use of any brass instruments. Especially with tracks such as RIIVERDANCE, there is space in which an orchestral section would add tonal color that would be appreciated. The exception to this is the track TYRANT making a fantastic fiddle trap mix in the words of Alabama, If you’re going to play in Texas, you’ve got to have a fiddle in the band. Such a critique would not be complete without acknowledging that a lack of traditional instrumentation is filled with almost flawless vocal instrumentation and emotionally charged choral sections in tracks such as JOLENE and the finale track AMEN, though I still wish there was a highlight for a full country band.

Unfortunately, LEVII’S JEANS sticks out like a sore thumb on the record. Perhaps, it is the fault of my underlying prudish nature but surrounded by meaningful ballads of family, love, adversity, and triumph, a track about getting your ass grabbed felt below the par of the rest of the record. It generally lacks when compared to the rest of the record’s lyricism, and the Post Malone feature left some to be desired. That being said, for this being the record’s worst track, it is not horrible by any means. Just a weak spot when the rest of the record is so impactful.

I anticipate other reviews criticizing the prominence of samples within the record. Though I agree at times it may seem a little derivative, I think it is vital this album is approached with the scope of the genre Carter is emulating. Country is a genre that is born from hymns and folk songs. Especially in the 70s, one of the most revered country eras, artists were constantly covering and reimagining the songs of fellow artists. There are a couple of songs that somewhat get passed around including You Are My Sunshine, Act Naturally, Crazy, and Wabsash Cannonball have been covered in immense quantities. Even one of my favorite country songs Fancy (1991) often attributed to Reba is actually a cover of Bobbie Gentry’s 1969 track. Personally, I see this more as Carter-Knowles paying homage to all of the artists that she reveres and wants to pay tribute to in this album. Every sample and interpolation is placed with such intention and purpose, I can’t imagine the record without them.


In the sea of Facebook Aunts asking “Why is Beyoncé writing a Country Album?” Cowboy Carter leaves you asking why hasn’t she done it sooner. It is undeniable that Beyoncé’s musical expertise transcends the restrictions of genre. The fantastic dichotomy of this record is that it holds an impact not only in lyricism and content but in the cultural significance of uplifting marginalized artists in country's past, present, and future. Truly a highlight of the country discography that I recommend readers to appreciate.


Bottoms (If you held me at gunpoint): LEVII’S JEANS, II MOST WANTED

Works Cited

Schmall, Emily. “Beyoncé Fan's Radio Request Reignites Country Music Debate.” The New York Times, 21 February 2024, Accessed 29 March 2024.

“Lute | Musical Instrument & History of the Stringed Instrument.” Britannica, 16 February 2024, Accessed 29 March 2024.

Turner, Jessica. “In Search of Lesley Riddle - The Birthplace of Country Music.” Birthplace of Country Music Museum, 13 June 2017, Accessed 29 March 2024.

Browne, David. “Linda Martell: Country Music's Lost Pioneer.” Rolling Stone, 2 September 2020, Accessed 29 March 2024.

Ray, Rayburn. “DeFord Bailey.” Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Accessed 29 March 2024.

Hagney, John. “Rock 'n' roll was stolen from Black musicians. Elvis Presley was well aware of his debt.” Inlander, 23 February 2023, Accessed 29 March 2024.

Laver, Mark. “Perspective | Lil Nas X and the continued segregation of country music.” Washington Post, 20 June 2019, Accessed 29 March 2024.

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