Going it alone takes guts, especially when you’ve spent over half of your life as the frontwoman of a wildly successful group, selling millions of records and establishing a mountain of platinum hits. Riding solo means that the public’s criticism grows harsher and the expectations become preposterously higher, but Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter pulled off the transition seamlessly.
At the time, R&B trio Destiny’s Child, who started their musical career in 1990 as Girl’s Tyme, were on a hiatus. Michelle Williams’ Heart to Yours and Kelly Rowland’s Simply Deep were both released within six months of each other respectively. Beyoncé was riding high off the success of Austin Powers in Goldmember, The Fighting Temptations, as well as the smash hit “‘03 Bonnie & Clyde” with future hubby JAY-Z.
Meanwhile, the young starlet’s first solo project was quietly bubbling beneath the surface.
Behind the scenes, Beyoncé was patiently waiting for her turn to dazzle critics. The long-awaited Dangerously In Love had been postponed, which allowed the then 21-year-old more time to record additional tracks, including “Crazy In Love.” Determined to carve out her own destiny (pun intended), Beyoncé enlisted several well-known hitmakers, including Rich Harrison, Scott Storch, Missy Elliot and Bryce Wilson, to create the most anticipated album of 2003.
“I wanted to have an album that was timeless, and I wanted to have an album that everyone could relate to and would listen to as long as I’m alive and even after,” Beyoncé told MTV News. “Love is something that never goes out of style. It’s something everybody experiences, and if they are not in love, people usually want to feel that. So if you hear the album, it’s very romantic.”
Debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 200, Dangerously in Love produced the hit singles, “Crazy In Love,” “Baby Boy,” “Me, Myself and I,” “Naughty Girl” and “Dangerously In Love.”
“After playing the songs for my record label, they told me I didn’t have one hit on my album,” Beyoncé shared during her 2009 performance at the Wynn Las Vegas. “I guess they were kind of right. I had five.”
But the accolades didn’t end there– Dangerously In Love went on to sell 11 million copies worldwide and racked up five Grammy Awards, including Best Contemporary R&B Album.
Dangerously In Love is a classic R&B album at its core, but ‘Yonce flirts with funk (“Naughty Girl”), reggae (“Baby Boy”) and hip-hop (“Hip-Hop Star”). Lyrically speaking, the 15-track LP showcases a very love-struck Beyoncé, which is likely the reason why it resonated with teens and forty-somethings alike. The singer-turned-savvy businesswoman set the music industry on fire with Beyoncé and Lemonade, but her reign officially began on June 23, 2003.
Delivering a sleek performance from start to finish, Dangerously In Love remains one of the most impressive solo debuts of all time because it not only solidified Beyoncé as a breakout star but an icon in the making who was worthy of our attention.
In celebration of Dangerously In Love’s 15th anniversary, VIBE ranked all 15 tracks to determine which song reigns supreme.
Check it out below.
After taking listeners through the ups and downs of a romantic relationship, Beyoncé ends her solo debut with a sweet lesson about unconditional love. “Daddy” serves as a heartfelt ode to the megastar’s father Mathew Knowles, who managed her career from 1990 to 2011.
“I want my unborn son to be like my daddy/I want my husband to be like daddy,” she sings on the chorus, before reminiscing about the time she called Mathew crying because of her tattoo, which can be spotted toward the end of the “Naughty Girl” music video.
Beyoncé professes her love for old-school R&B in an alluring remake of Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway’s classic 1978 hit, “The Closer I Get To You.” The late Luther Vandross’ distinct vocals blend perfectly with Queen Bey’s mezzo-soprano voice, making the track extra special.
Ms. B didn’t come to play in “Hip-Hop Star.” Featuring Big Boi and Sleepy Brown, the edgy, rock-infused track is one of the most underrated tunes of the 22-time Grammy winner’s entire discography. Ditching her good girl image, the former pageant queen coyly asks, “Do you want to get nasty?” before daring a curious onlooker to undress her.
“Dangerously In Love” first appeared on Destiny’s Child’s Survivor album, but the melodramatic ballad acted as Beyoncé’s signature song during the early part of her career as a solo artist. Although Bey and Jay’s love story was still on the hush-hush, the five-minute track offers an unexpected glimpse into their flourishing relationship. Despite not being released as an official single, the title track was a moderate success, reaching No. 17 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
What’s better than one Beyoncé and JAY-Z collaboration? Two. The power couple blessed fans with “Crazy In Love” and “That’s How You Like It.”
On the track, which interpolates DeBarge’s “I Like It,” the future Mrs. Carter spells out exactly what she loves about Young Hov: “I like the way you are/ The way you ain’t/ I like your honesty, integrity/ It levels me, so please don’t ever change.”
Taking influences from Janet Jackson’s “Let’s Wait Awhile,” Beyoncé’s not afraid to knock some sense into her man on the pro-abstinence anthem, “Yes.” The lyrics are sure to resonate with any woman who’s ever dealt with an impatient man, especially when Bey sings about showing an “ungrateful” lover to the door after saying she moves “too slow.”
Interestingly enough, the song’s inspiration actually stemmed from a fan encounter. “I can sign a million autographs and the first time I have to say, ‘Sorry, I’m gonna miss my plane,’ it’s like I never signed the other million,” Beyoncé explained. “That happens all the time with all different situations of life. That’s why I thought it was such a good concept.”
From interpolating Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” to experimenting with Middle Eastern music, Beyoncé’s willingness to take risks has always been the key to her longevity. Co-produced by Scott Storch, “Naughty Girl” is a sizzling tale about a woman’s desire for an exhilarating rendezvous. Case in point: “I’m feelin’ kind of n-a-s-t-y/ I might just take you home with me.” The disco-laden club banger solidified the singer’s sex symbol status and is in many ways a precursor to 2013’s “Blow.”
“I was in love with a Sagittarius,” Beyoncé croons on the astrology-themed “Signs.” On the ultra smooth number, the singer oozes charisma, flexes her vocal range and manages to drop not-so-subtle hints about her then-boyfriend JAY-Z, who is coincidentally a Sagittarius. Horoscope lovers will rejoice as Bey, a Virgo, travels through all 12 signs in the name of love. Produced and co-written by Missy Elliot, “Signs” is fun and easygoing, but guaranteed to spark plenty of conversation, making it one of the most memorable tracks off the album.
On “Be With You,” ‘Yoncé serves up sexiness on a plate. “I love the way you make me feel/ It slows down time/ Come in my bedroom and turn off the lights,” she purrs in the first verse.
Featuring interpolations of Bootsy Collins’ “I’d Rather Be With You” and The Brothers Johnson’s “Strawberry Letter 23,” as well as a sample from Tyrone Davis’ “Ain’t Nothing I Can Do,” the steamy track is foreplay disguised as an R&B slow jam. The superstar’s sultriness is captivating, making even the most scorned woman want to reconcile with her man between the sheets.
Bey and Sean Paul hypnotize in “Baby Boy,” which spent nine weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the diva’s second longest running No. 1 single. “Ah, oh, my baby’s fly, baby, oh/Yes, no, hurt me so good, baby, oh,” she softly groans over the mid-tempo record, which is sprinkled with doses of reggae, dancehall, and Arabian music. The notoriously private singer takes listeners on a rare trip through her fantasies, where “the music is the sun” and “the dance floor becomes the sea.” Now that’s paradise.
The minute the slow burn of “Speechless” comes dripping through your speakers, it’s obvious you’re in for a treat, especially when that rambunctious guitar solo takes over. This fan favorite consists of Beyoncé at a loss for words (well, sort of) with tantalizing lyrics that’ll make you blush: “Only sweat between us/ Feeling you kissing and pleasing me/ I rub your back/ I kiss your neck.”
The diva’s passionate wails (skip to 5:15) are guaranteed to send chills up and down your spine.
Female empowerment has always been at the forefront of Beyoncé’s music, but “Me, Myself and I” is one of her most relatable songs to date. The timeless tune echoes Mary J. Blige’s “Not Gon’ Cry” with a slightly more modern sound, but the lesson is loud and clear: You can’t keep a good woman down. Bey’s testimony on “Me, Myself and I” serves as a stark contrast from Dangerously In Love’s otherwise romantic feels, but hearing the Queen chuck deuces to a trifling dude over a slinky groove is priceless.
Buried 14 tracks deep, listening to “Gift From Virgo” almost feels like an invasion of Beyoncé’s privacy as the singer’s sultry vocals glide over borrowed elements from Shuggie Otis’ “Rainy Day.”
At times, Bey’s deeply personal lyrics i.e. “I love everything about you from your old school tennis shoes” could be mistaken for a diary entry, making it one of the album’s most sophisticated offerings. “Gift From Virgo” taps into the entertainer’s artistry, which sometimes gets overlooked, but real fans know the magic that lies within this hidden gem.
There are certain songs that set a precedent of unwavering success in a young artist’s career. “Crazy In Love” is one of those songs. Accompanied by JAY-Z, Dangerously In Love’s electrifying lead single blatantly propelled the Houston native into full-fledged superstardom and prepared her for world domination.
During the summer of ‘03, “Crazy In Love” skyrocketed to the top of the charts and stayed there for eight consecutive weeks. The catchy hook (sampled from The Chi-Lites’ “Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)”) almost didn’t happen per Rich Harrison, who co-wrote “Crazy In Love.”
“From [Beyoncé’s] face, she was kind of like, ‘I don’t know, but I’mma ride with you anyway,’” Harrison told MTV News. “I knew I was going to have to sell it a bit because when it comes on it doesn’t sound like anything that was being done at the time.”
Fifteen years later, the world is still recovering from “Crazy In Love.” In all fairness Bey warned us, asking “You ready?” before snatching our edges indefinitely.
Princess Gabbara is a multimedia journalist and storyteller. She’s a former reporter for the Lansing State Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, who has written for outlets such as Shondaland, Bustle, The Boombox, Ebony magazine, Jetmag.com, Essence, Sesi, and Greatist. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram: @PrincessGabbara.