Inspired by one of the most anticipated movies of the year, The Lion King: The Gift showcases Beyoncé’s talent as a music curator and artist while drawing from multiple African influences to make one of the best albums of 2019.
The last time Beyoncé released music was summer 2018, in the form of EVERYTHING IS LOVE, a surprise collaborative album with her husband Jay-Z. The Houston native is back in the spotlight to provide music for Jon Favreau’s “The Lion King,” as well as the voice to one of the film’s main characters, Nala.
The Lion King: The Gift is richly drenched in sub-Saharan African beats, rhythms and soul, paying homage to the Southeast African homeland of the movie. Throughout the album’s interludes, Beyoncé weaves the original story of the movie while providing a unique and refreshing take on the music of “The Lion King.”
The film’s album is packed with an impressive lineup of performers from today’s music — the likes of which haven’t been seen since Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther: The Album (Music from and Inspired By). Beyoncé included artists such as Tierra Whack, Jay-Z, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, 070 Shake and Pharrell Williams to bring the music to life. This stream of collaborative efforts pays off in tracks such as “NILE” and “WATER.”
Beyoncé opens the album with James Earl Jones, who voices Mufasa in the film. The king of the jungle kicks off the album, talking about love, pride and harnessing the power within oneself — a core message found in the heart of the animated 1994 film and the first song of the album, “BIGGER.”
In the opening hook for “BIGGER,” Beyoncé sings: “If you feel insignificant, you better think again. Better wake up because you’re part of something way bigger. You’re part of something way bigger. Not just a speck in the universe.” This opening reflects the struggle that Simba faces throughout the majority of the movie after losing his father. It also alludes to Beyoncé’s sense of empowerment — a message she has been championing since the start of her music career.
Songs like “FIND YOUR WAY BACK,” “DON’T JEALOUS ME” and “JA ARA E” are true gems within the album because Beyoncé brings the fruits of African music into the pop spotlight. The Nigerian voices in “DON’T JEALOUS ME” sonically give the album a voice and a beat that runs with the soul of the movie.
Though the album has many strong points, “SCAR” is probably the lowest point in the album. The album’s conclusion is an anticlimactic finish to a strong movie. Unlike the movie’s ending scene, the song feels unfinished and fails to unite the narrative.
The Lion King: The Gift may be based off of the film, but it is very much a Beyoncé album. “FIND YOUR WAY BACK” is a spiritual sequel to “DADDY LESSONS” in Lemonade while “MOOD 4 EVA” is an ode to her success as an artist. The singer incorporates her husband, daughter and story into the album.
4 out of 5 stars
Listening time: 54 minutes and 19 seconds