FORMATION as Propaganda: Beyoncé’s History-Making Art & the Future of Black America

The Lyrics — An Annotated Perspective

“My daddy Alabama. My maw Louisiana. You mix that Negro with that Creole, make a Texas bama.” Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter

Writer’s Note: If you are just joining my writing on Beyoncé’s newest hit single Formation, consider checking out the Prelude — A Personal Connection segment of this piece Formation as Propaganda. It is indeed my bow down, a written curtsy to the most vicious black Creole cultural icon I — and the world — might ever know.

Photo credit: christian.senger via Foter.com / CC BY

The Lyrics — An Annotated Perspective

“My daddy Alabama. My maw Louisiana. You mix that Negro with that Creole, make a Texas bama.” Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter

Beyoncé’s hook brings us to Formation by positioning her first as an individual and then as an artist. She centers herself, providing information and asking us to get in formation. Line by line, it is a lyrical journey through my childhood.

In a similar vein, I must center my understanding of Formation around my lived experience. I will annotate my perspective below.

I imagine this is what people do for an app some of you may have heard of called Rap Genius, which is apparently now simply Genius. And, I know because it exists and because of the commentary that has been shared over the past couple days that the subjective lens is what makes art great art — everyone has a take. It is how the crowd-sourced lyrical background content is produced.

From my point, I have yet to see the angle I come from in Formation thoroughly and well-reflected in popular commentary.

Bear with me, as it’s the only way I know to come at this with some focus, as I sincerely know, as does much of black America, that there can be books and semesters of college-level coursework taught on the many subjects in these lyrics — love them or hate them.

Maybe this is the start of my future dissertation. Who knows? Le’geaux!

FORMATION — Released: February 6, 2016 — Length: 4:52

CREDITS:

Artist: Beyoncé

Guest Artists: Big Freedia — Messy Mya

Label: Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia Records

Produced By: Mike WiLL Made-It — Pluss

Written By: Beyoncé Knowles — Khalif “Swae Lee” Brown — Ashton Hogan — Michael Len Williams, II

LYRICS:

[Intro: Messy Mya]

What happened at the New Orleans?

Have you ever seen the New Orleans festival and holiday schedule? Something is happening every weekend. Chances are ya’ mama and ya’ cousins, ‘nem gon’ be at something down in New Orleans this year. Bet.

Unfortunately, you’ve heard of crime and violence in the City. But, reducing this lyric to that alone is too simple a reduction in the post-Katrina landscape. A man-made disaster also happened there, and it was exacerbated by man’s inability to see the humanity in one’s fellow man.

The dead will haunt you, and Messy Mya is here with a message for us even in their death. Kudos to whoever shared or sold the rights to this clip.

Bitch, I’m back — by popular demand.

Ten years later, people wanna know what happened in New Orleans.

And, they still want to be in dat number of folks who visit one of the oldest, most historic cities in the country in spite of its crime statistics or the devastation a levee failure wreaked upon it and its culture.

People from home are also finding ways back to the City, even if they are not of that population of people who were ushered out in the storm’s immediate aftermath. They are the descendants who now own their late parent’s or parents’ properties, they are the Solanges who are one or two generations removed, and they are the folks who grew up in other Louisiana communities who find that in living and working to recover New Orleans they can take sustainable economic development and social justice models back with them to other regions across the state.

Many of that latter group may find New Orleans home for generations to come, as they are also joined by the transplants who were called to service so that America’s city is more than just the one that care forgot.

New Orleans is back like it never left, although it is not the same.

[Refrain: Beyoncé]

Y’all haters corny with that illuminati mess

What Beyoncé said. Next.

Paparazzi catch my fly and my cocky fresh

Beyoncé is undoubtedly one of the most photographed women in the world, even with the ban she had to put on photos amid the Mrs. Carter Show World Tour. She’s attractive. Her styles are fresh. She looks “so fresh and so clean.” She knows it.

I’m so reckless when I rock my Givenchy dress (Stylin’!)

Good thing she’s married, because Mrs. Carter does not know how to act when she looks good. You ever quip in front of your boo thang that he only got play because [insert a scenario]?

Yea… Reckless. Like make Drake sing a song — feelin’ herself.

I’m so possessive so I rock his Roc necklaces

This line speaks for itself. If you don’t know ‘da Roc is in ‘da building, I got nothing. Google is your black friend today, boo.

My daddy Alabama. My maw Louisiana. You mix that Negro with that Creole, make a Texas bama.

Matthew Knowles, whose name I would not say yesterday, is from Alabama.

Celestine Ann “Tina” Beyincé-Lawson is from Galveston, Texas, but her people are from Louisiana with roots tracing into New Iberia and even all the way back to Canada. In real terms, Beyoncé and her mother’s family are both Cajun and Creole, but we’re black and keeping it simple is best for the purpose of this lyric.

So, Tina is the descendant of a long line of Louisiana Creoles. In the census days of old, Matthew’s family may have well been marked on the census as Negro. Tina’s was most likely marked something else, and even where they were not allowed to self-select for the purpose of a census or other official records, it was the Beyincé family’s racial and cultural heritage.

New Iberia is closer to Lafayette than New Orleans, but…

Beyoncé was born in Texas. Texas is the country where I’m from and so is Alabama. You can be a country bama or assumed to be one by sheer birth place alone. Kids are cruel.

Writer’s Note: Bama likely got started as a derogatory term, because Alabama uses “bama” for short everywhere. The place is the Deep South that people think I’m from, and I’m not sure I’ve been more than passing through. The place had to be the birthplace of the modern Civil Rights Movement.

The woods up and through there feel like strange fruit still hangs. Anyone from and of something so country are some bamas. Folks don’t typically care whether they or their people fought for our liberation or not. Again, kids are cruel and where we’re from water can be the enemy. (See: roll tide.)

I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros

Beyoncé is here for letting her child be a traditional black baby, where we brush out the baby hair and let them rock their natural hair for as long as possible. If I recollect correctly, my mother did not put a relaxer in my hair until I was 8. On an updated personal note, my cousin wants to shoot my head shots next Saturday and I’m 4 weeks in, so I’m tryna’ veto.

Yet, relaxers are dangerous, damaging things to a developing child and a developing hair grade. See Chris Rock’s annoying documentary for a modern take on black hair care.

I like my Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils

Beyoncé just told y’all she came to slay with this “nigger nose” of hers. If you’re from where I’m from, you get it.

But, Beyoncé came to slay even nose job rumors, which I imagine come with the trade. European standards of beauty are also normalized as the mainstream and preferred by some in Creole culture.

The facts are the facts, though. You can be Creole without the features, whether your Grandma or MeeMaw ‘nem like it or not. It’s the same as white Creoles saying “there’s no such thing as a black Creole.” Knowing they ya’ cousin… Next.

Earned all this money but they never take the country out me.

Beyoncé is Beyoncé is Beyoncé is Beyoncé is Beyoncé. Any questions?

I got hot sauce in my bag (swag)

Come through with the double entendre, Bee, come through…

Apparently people think she actually totes hot sauce in her purse (chuckles). Fire like cayenne… spicy Cajun… Caution!

Ya’ nasty aunt is happy for the homage paid. And, she got you at Red Lobster, too, with the stuff we all get — ’cause you gon’ need the seasoning for that frozen mess they call a seafood platter.

[Interlude: Messy Mya & Big Freedia]

Ooooh, yeah baby! Oh yeah! I… li.. Ohhhhh, oh yes, I like dat!

Because, who doesn’t like a hot girl?! Messy Mya was killed leaving the baby shower for their unborn son.

And, this coming interlude is truly a conversation among friends.

You know when you step up in the house — looking fresh? And, ya’ know what we do when we have guests? We feed them.

So Messy Mya like, “Yassssssssssssssssssssss, Freedia, yassssssssss! I like this outfit ya’ got on here.”

I did not come to play with you, heaux! (Heuhaaa!)

And, Freedia accepts the love offering, complete with the oral “lol” to acknowledge that she feeling herself.

I came to slay, bitch!

Let ’em know, Free’! Let ’em know! Now Freedia looking around like “where the rest of the guests you told me was gon’ be here at…”

Picture Messy Mya over the stove motioning at what they got good to eat, and in true call and response fashion, Freedia says:

I like corn bread and collard greens, bitch!

And, Messy Mya give her dat, “‘Oh you do’ face.” Then they bend over the stove and open the oven to pull out some baked macaroni and cheese in plain sight.

Freedia is positively giddy now bro. Eff ‘dem other people. Feed me. Treat me. We ‘bout to enjoy.

Oh yes, you besta believe it!

[Refrain: Beyoncé] — Repeat. See above.

[Chorus: Beyoncé]

I see it, I want it

I stunt, yellow bone it

Beyoncé gets whatever she wants. It is said that pretty yellow bones do get whatever they want or that life is handed to them (in spite of their economic backgrounds or actual lived experiences).

Some folks watch too much A Different World.

Yet, Beyoncé turns this on its head quickly — well before you can debate your friend about whether she’s a red bone or a yellow bone, precisely.

I dream it, I work hard

I grind ’til I own it

I twirl on them haters

Beyoncé’s work ethic is as public in the way of common knowledge as her lack of interviews. I think the two to be related. She has a vision. She works for it. She grinds until that vision manifests. She twirls on any clown who thinks anything about her stardom, her wealth, or her family just got handed to her.

Albino alligators

El Camino with the seat low

Sippin’ Cuervo with no chaser

If this ain’t a mood… gator boots, riding in the whip, drinking straight tequila… Yuuuup!

Twirl on.

Sometimes I go off, I go off

Sometimes, you just gotta’ stunt. Bey recognizes this. There’s a reason Birdman is on The Language.

I go hard, I go hard

Get what’s mine, take what’s mine

But she goes hard for hers. It wasn’t given. It was earned. And she’s telling you she’s hear to keep taking it. Twirl.

I’m a star, I’m a star

’Cause I slay, slay

I slay, hey, I slay, okay

I slay, okay, all day, okay

I slay, okay, I slay okay

Bey is famous because she kills the game — from product to marketing to performing said product live.

We gon’ slay, slay

Gon’ slay, okay

We slay, okay

Just hit my girlfriend with the “Let’s build” last night. We tight.

Beyoncé is tellin’ you that you tight, boo. Hear her. Get in formation. Her, you, me, we — yea, we slay and we gon’ kill the game together.

This is neatly packaged enough for the enjoyment of all ladies, but Beyoncé is telling you she’s on now. She’s telling you to get information, ask about her, and get in formation. She’s ready to launch this cultural revolution.

She’s ready to march this new #BlackPower movement along, continuing a long legacy of black activism with leadership roots tracing back to Louisiana — including Homer Plessy, Ruby Bridges, and Huey Newton.

And, she’s here to push this continued #CivilRightsMovement along — the one where we #ReclaimMLK. And, the one where we can end police brutality now.

#BlackLivesMatter

She needs you at her side doing your part where you are in life. Are you ready?

I slay, okay

I slay, okay

Okay, okay, I slay, okay

Okay, okay, okay, okay

Roll with this pep talk. Beyoncé is giving you her stamps and receipts here about where she stands. She needs you ready to geaux to war.

Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get information, ’cause I slay

Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation, ’cause I slay

Prove to me you got some coordination, ’cause I slay

Slay trick, or you get eliminated

Come through, or you can’t be on the squad. It’s life or death in these streets — literally.

Get in where you fit in. Beyoncé is owning her domain — entertainment.

She needs you in formation. It’s a must you come coordinated and ready for war or you will be eliminated. Facts matter.

“They” might not kill you, but you won’t be rolling with the squad that ushered in the next global revolution of human rights for black peoples in these United States and across the Diaspora.

So, come correct or move it along.

[Verse 1: Beyoncé]

When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster, ’cause I slay

When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster, ’cause I slay

If he hit it right, I might take him on a flight on my chopper, ’cause I slay

Drop him off at the mall, let him buy some J’s, let him shop up, cause I slay

Do you know how cheap a date Red Lobster is? There’s a reason I’ve found out that black people go to this place en masse, parties of 20 and such. You know what it is with black wealth. And, Red Lobster is affordable. It’s edible — maybe. And, people can at least stomach the cheddar biscuits.

Writer’s Note: Shade aside, are there Red Lobsters in Louisiana? I tried them biscuits in a more recent year, and I didn’t want to vomit. When I first heard of the concept, I scoffed. When my seafood platter came out looking like cafeteria popcorn shrimp, I was quiet. When a relative pegged me as rude, I tasted a crumb of the biscuit and was glad I was legal. *Sips Vodka tea.*

This is the Jazmine Sullivan “every black woman” lyric drop of the century, and it’s well-played given the heavy content of Formation. We need everybody, and everybody has a role to play in the continued Civil Rights Movement.

Geaux, get ’em, Bey! Let ’em know — we are one!!!!!!!!!!!

But, for those that know — and now you will, too — there’s a deeper meaning here and a homage being paid to New Orleans bounce culture. (See: NolaBounce.com)

Bey sees your three-piece white, D.J. Jimi. And, she raises you a cheddar biscuit.

She must think she Ms. Tee, ’cause she actin’ bad!

I might get your song played on the radio station, ’cause I slay

I might get your song played on the radio station, ’cause I slay

See what she did there? Who knew about these New Orleans bounce original cuts but us? I hear Wild Wayne running a Formation bounce mix on Q93 so clear right now — I’m teleported.

You just might be a black Bill Gates in the making, ’cause I slay;

Beyoncé (just like that girl you think you played) could prop you up to be the next Bill Gates, but you outchea stuntin’ while she tryna’ put you on, ’cause she and…

On second thought…

I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making.

Curtsies to Bill Gates, Oprah, Madame C.J. Walker, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and all of those who show us what wealth and paying it forward look like.

Receive this love like you’re walking down through Black Wall Street before the haters came through.

[Chorus: Beyoncé] — Repeat. See above.

[Bridge: Beyoncé]

Okay ladies, now let’s get information, I slay!

Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation!

You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation.

Feel yourself… But…

Always stay gracious; best revenge is your paper.

In other words, “don’t Kanye yourself.” Beyoncé is in a unique position to bust certain moves due to how she carries herself with grace.

And this Louisiana lady is here for it.

Love it or leave it, but it’s a philosophy that has worked for Bee. Haters can’t say a thing if you’re making that guap and focused on your art or your work.

Let that tell your story. After that, money talks. Bull… walks.

[Outro]

Girl, I hear some thunder.

This is just the calm before the storm. Beyoncé is putting the ladies — yes, all of us who identify as one — in formation. She signals this through the use of Messy Mya’s voice here.

Gaaaaaaaw, lee! Look at dat water, boy. Whew, Lord!

You know this is a hit. Beyoncé didn’t just formulate any storm with this art. She created “the storm” — a la Hurricane Katrina.

Previously:

Prelude — A Personal Connection

Up Next:

The Video: A Visual Call to Arms

More Than Art: Propaganda for the People