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Did Beyoncé just surprise-drop the best live album of all time?

Los Angeles Times staff writers, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

During the opening two songs, her band plays melodies from '90s Southern rappers C-Murder and Juvenile that are instantly recognizable to black listeners. There are also a few chords from the Emerald City scene in the Motown classic "The Wiz" that feel like a knowing wink. After years of maintaining a pop-star remove from political and social issues, Beyonce now unapologetically embraces her blackness and takes every opportunity to celebrate the culture that has always championed her.

It can't be overemphasized just how revolutionary it was for her to transform Coachella -- a predominantly white festival --into an HBCU halftime show, to "swap out a flower crown" to bring "our culture" (as she says in the Netflix documentary). Beyonce's star wattage exceeds almost any other musical artist from the last decade, and still it took until 2018 for Coachella to book her as its first black female headliner.

RANDALL ROBERTS: This is certainly one of the biggest live albums ever released, both in terms of onstage participation and thematic breadth. Across the record, Beyonce and her band riff on work by Nina Simone, Fela Kuti, Parliament-Funkadelic, Led Zeppelin, second-line New Orleans brass bands and heavy-hitting drumlines. Listening to it at full volume this morning was an overwhelming experience. So much action. So many cues and rhythms, so much narrative momentum. Its melodic and rhythmic quotes need footnotes to fully absorb, and her voice resonates with history.

Still, calling it the best live album of all time may be a stretch. Is this "better" than "Nina Simone at Newport," Fela Kuti and the Africa 70's "Live," "Parliament Live" or "James Brown Live at the Apollo"? What about Aretha Franklin's "Amazing Grace" or the Staple Singers' "Freedom Highway"?

Hell if I know, but it ranks way, way up there.

MAKEDA EASTER: I agree with Sonaiya: Beyonce's "Homecoming" at Coachella was a revolutionary act. Performing such a black show in such a white space was a way to say to so many people, "I see you," even if most people in the audience didn't quite get it.

 

As someone from Houston, whose family is from Mississippi, I did get it. "Homecoming" is a way of saying my family's culture has value.

While I didn't attend an HBCU, both of my parents did. I grew up going to HBCU football games. I remember waiting in anticipation for the halftime show. To watch the drum major strut out and the band play soulful versions of my favorite songs. To see the beautiful black dancers in the stadium bleachers absolutely kill it. My cousin was a Jackson State University Prancing J-Sette (the innovators of the style of dancing seen at Beyonce's Coachella performance), which is still a source of pride for my family. "Homecoming" takes me back to that place. It makes me proud to be black. It makes me proud to be black and from the South.

This album is a piece of black history.

KELLEY: One of the songs that stands out the most to me is the bonus studio cover of Frankie Beverly & Maze's "Before I Let Go." That '80s classic is absolutely treasured in the black community, providing the soundtrack for many of our fondest memories of celebration and togetherness. It's the perfect addition to the album, and a timely reminder of Beychella's message of black excellence.

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