Album Review

3 Reasons why Beyoncé's Cowboy Carter Stands Out as a Musical Masterpiece of the Decade

Beyoncé's tribute to Black and country music history through sampling, covers, guests, seamless tracklist, and expert record production.
Lou Rochdi

April 11, 2024

Beyoncé by Mason Poole

Diving into Cowboy Carter as someone who isn't - or perhaps wasn't - a Beyoncé fan and rarely listens to country music, I pressed play with minimal expectations. An hour and eighteen minutes later, my jaw was on the floor. From the guests' lineup to the intricate songwriting, skillfully integrated samples, interpolations, covers, and flawlessly executed production, every aspect of this album felt intentional. As I browsed Google to investigate the underlying messages of the record, it revealed itself as more than just a collection of songs.

Let's explore together what makes Cowboy Carter stand out as one of the best albums of this decade.

1. Sampling and interpolation: revisiting musical history and paying homage. 

Let’s clarify the difference between sampling and interpolation. Sampling is incorporating a segment of an existing recording into a new composition, while interpolation means reinterpreting and rerecording a portion of a pre-existing song into a new composition.

Historically there’s been stigmas around the two practices. Some viewed sampling as a shortcut and lack of originality in music production, and interpolations as a lazy approach to writing melodies and lyrics.

Over time, perceptions have evolved and laws have changed to legalize both practices. Today sampling is a very common practice in the electronic and hip-hop world, but it’s not common in country music. The genre is inherently focused on storytelling, songwriting, and live instrumentation. 

Yet, Beyoncé boldly incorporates seven samples and officially four interpolations in her seemingly country album.

All of Beyoncé’s samples in Cowboy Carter:

  • SPAGHETTII: O Mandrake with DJ Xaropinho “Aquecimento Das Danadas” (2020)
  • YA YA: Nancy Sinatra “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” (1965)
  • OH LOUISIANA: Chuck Berry “Oh Louisiana” (1971)
    • Son House “Grinnin’ In Your Face” (1965)
    • Sister Rosetta Tharpe “Down by the River Side” (1949)
    • Chuck Berry “Maybellene” (1955)
    • Roy Hamilton “Don’t Let Go” (1957)

All of Beyoncé’s interpolations in Cowboy Carter: 

  • DAUGHTER: “Caro Mio Ben”
  • YA YA: The Beach Boys “Good Vibrations” (1966)
  • YA YA: Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange” (1955)
  • SWEET ★ HONEY ★ BUCKIIN: Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” (1961)
  • II MOST WANTED: Fleetwood Mac “Landslide” (1975) - not recognized as an official interpolation

We recommend opening the playlist on Spotify for a better experience.

These samples and interpolations are intentional, highlighting songs from pioneering Black American artists of the 50s and 60s who shaped blues, R&B, rock and roll, and gospel music.  They also pay tribute to innovative female artists like Patsy Cline, one of the most influential country voices of the 50s, and Nancy Sinatra, whose iconic pop hit served as a symbol of female empowerment in the Swinging 60s.

Beyoncé's selection of these musical pieces is a testament of her dedication to honoring Black musicians and songwriters who have significantly contributed to America's musical heritage.

It also serves as proof that sampling and interpolation rather than being ‘lazy’ and ‘unoriginal’ practices can bring substantial creative depth to an album.

2. Reimagining albums: welcoming back interludes, seamless transitions, and longer songs. 

Over the past decade, the rise of streaming platforms has shifted focus from albums to singles, optimized for algorithms to maximize stream counts. Artists tailor their content to these algorithms, making shorter songs (2-3 minutes) that can be repeated quicker, and releasing one single at a time to focus streams and climb up the charts. Hence, many have recently argued that ‘albums are dead’ and Beyoncé was one of the pioneers of that message.

"People don't make albums anymore. [...] They just try to sell a bunch of lil quick singles. And they burn out, and they put out a new one, and they burn out, and they put out a new one" - Beyoncé, in HBO documentary ‘Life is But a Dream’ (2013)

In her eighth studio album, she challenges this message straight-on. By releasing two singles simultaneously, she defies the conventional single-by-single rollout strategy dictated by algorithms. A month later, she surprises fans with an expansive 27-track album, double the industry average, and seven of her tracks are over four (4) minutes long - two being more than 5 minutes.  These bold moves contradict the prevailing trend of shorter, algorithm-friendly releases.

When listened to from top to bottom, you’ll also notice Cowboy Carter’s seamless transitions showing intentional planning in the order of the tracklist and the record’s production.

Some songs connect through repeated sampled sounds: OH LOUISIANA's eagle screech at 0:46 also starts the next track DESERT EAGLE. 

Other songs are lyrically and musically intertwined: The outro of RIVERSIIDE borrows the instrumental of the following song, II HANDS II HEAVEN. RIVERSIIDE also ends with the lyric ‘No hands’, and the next song starts with the lyric ‘Bottle in my hand’.

Some tracks are rhythmically tied: AMERICAN REQUIEM ends with a tempo beat, it’s the tempo of the next track BLACKBIIRD. Similarly, the outro of II HANDS II HEAVEN borrows the clapped rhythm of the next song TYRANT. 

We’re also counting a rich collection of 4 spoken intermissions and at least 2 interludes (if not more). They serve to introduce the following songs and blend the tracks into each other. For instance, the crowd claps in the outro of THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW are faded into the intro of the following track, YA YA. 

Various other techniques are used to link tracks to each other and enhance the experience of listening to the album beyond the one of picking singles. Creatively it feels like Beyoncé created a seamless show, and the KNTRY radio show as depicted by the intermissions.

3. Covers and guests: honoring Black history and anchoring Black artists in the country genre. 

Beyoncé covers two songs in Cowboy Carter. The first, 'Blackbird' by the Beatles, occupies a hot spot as the second track. This iconic song, released in 1968, carries a heavy historical weight. It’s inspired by the struggles of the Little Rock Nine, a group of Black students who fought to desegregate public schools in the United States in the late 50s, and was released amidst the aftermath of Martin Luther King's assassination and the signing of the Fair Housing Act. Lyrics, like "All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free", echo the civil rights movement's fight for equality and the end of segregation in the United States. 

Beyoncé by Blair Caldwell

Beyoncé uses the opportunity of this influential cover to collaborate with four Black female country artists. This act not only honors the legacy of the Little Rock Nine and the civil rights movement but also serves as a show of support to all Black (female) artists in the country music genre, which has historically marginalized Black artists. For Beyoncé, this gesture carries meaning, as she herself faced racist backlash after performing 'Daddy's Lesson' at the 2016 Country Music Awards, ultimately inspiring the creation of Cowboy Carter. 

The second cover is Dolly Parton's “Jolene”, a renowned country classic that broke international charts, a rare thing in the genre mainly confined to the US. By inviting Dolly Parton to introduce the song in the intermission DOLLY P and later feature in the track TYRANT, this collaboration sends a message: a respected country artist acknowledges Beyoncé's contribution to the genre, countering racist criticism from 2016. 

The album also includes two spoken intermissions featuring Linda Martell, the first Black artist to perform at the Grand Ole Opry (a historical weekly country concert, and symbol of recognition for country artists), and Willie Nelson, a legendary figure in country music. Their support puts the last nail in the coffin, burying any remaining racist backlash from 'Daddy’s Lesson.'


We could endlessly dissect this album, whether through the lens of the song’s alleged western movie influences, Beyoncé's personal connections to the lyrics, her extraordinary vocal performance, or the use of acoustic and live instruments in today’s electronic world - but this article needs an end.

It's no secret that Beyoncé's albums historically received little attention from the Recording Academy. However, with Cowboy Carter, she raises the bar significantly for all artists of this decade. While features are often only used to promote songs and expand fanbases, the collaborations on this album carry deeper significance than simple marketability. It's a record that pays homage to Black American musical history and country tradition while innovatively building upon it. Not only is the album meaningful, the production work on the tracklist transitions and effects is incomparable in today's streaming world.

Overall, Cowboy Carter strikes as the perfect balance of heartfelt songwriting, expert production, rich historical context, and intentional messaging.

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