How A Stirring Guitar Instrumental Formed Into Beyonce's Favorite Lemonade Track
There's a sense of familiarity sewn into Beyonce's "All Night" song. A sense of closeness that was probably felt worldwide by listeners since "Me, Myself and I" or "Heaven." So it comes as no surprise that Queen Bey deemed this Lemonade track as one of her favorites off her critically-acclaimed album.
Serving as a possible anthem for forgiveness, fans experienced Beyonce in one of her most stripped down vocal performances on the Rock City-penned melody. But to make you feel it in your chest, the instrumental played an even greater part in pulling on our heartstrings.
Rising producer Henry "King Henry" Allen served as the brainchild behind the beat. After becoming one with the guitar since first grade, the Don't Stay Away creative was tasked with the job of crafting a beat from scratch that rode the strings of the instrument.
With co-producer Diplo as his mentor on "All Night," the Bob Marley-influenced artist constructed the soundscape at the top of 2015. Once songwriters Rock City swooped in to scribe an infectious hook, the melody was out of Allen's hands and found a year-long home within Beyonce's possession. It wasn't until the "Hold Up" singer played the final version -- two months before Lemonade's birth -- that Allen realized he'd have a credit on one of music's most captivating artists.
Here, the New Mexico native discusses how "All Night" changed his outlook on Beyonce's artistry, and the magic that OutKast's "SpottieOttieDopalicious" added to the melody. ~ Camille Augustin
VIBE: How did you and Diplo connect to create "All Night"?
Henry "King Henry" Allen: I met him probably like three years ago now, maybe a little longer, through a friend who was producing stuff with him, and we started making music together. He’s an awesome dude. I’ve always respected him and looked up to him before I even got to meet him. I was a fan of Major Lazer when I was in college. I loved that they were pushing the envelope, doing different sounds that nobody else was doing. These Caribbean influences, they reached out to other cultures to bring those elements into pop music here. He’s always been someone I looked up to and to work with him was really cool.
I started getting so much into production, and right after I graduated, I started working with Diplo. I had a moment where I spent my whole life playing guitar, but I’m not really using it in the music I’m making right now. It’s stuck in the computer and maybe a couple of keyboards. It was actually Diplo who told me, I think I gave him a beat and placed guitars in it, and he said, ‘Do way more guitars, that sh*t is really dope.’ I went through a phase where I started making more songs centered around guitars. One week I made a couple of beats and “All Night” was one of them, basically the guitar part. I played it for him and we worked on it a little bit more. I played some bass, he added some keys, cleaned it up. A couple weeks later, Rock City, these dope writers from St. Thomas, they came up with the hook together. We had a demo and I said, ‘Wow, this is really dope.’ We actually made it for Rihanna. Our initial thought was, ‘This should be for Rihanna.’ Then later Beyonce said, ‘Just hold on, I’m saving it.’ We were also working on a Major Lazer project and at some point we were sick of waiting to hear back, and we said, ‘Why don’t we just put that song as a Major Lazer song?’ Finally, she decided to put the album out [laughs], but it was a long process of waiting.
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I think on your Twitter account, I saw that you said it was almost a year-long wait until Beyonce debuted the song on her album. What was that feeling like once Lemonade dropped to hear your production on one of the biggest artist’s album?
It was weird because we made the beat in January of 2015, and then Rock City wrote the song a couple of months later. As soon as we heard that she liked it, we were like, ‘Okay cool.’ I’ve learned with songs before, even though someone likes is and is cutting it, or wants it, it doesn’t ever really mean anything until they cut the song and it’s out. I had my hopes crushed a few times. With [“All Night] it was this mythical feeling, and because we waited so long I stopped believing in it. Also because she’s so top secret [laughs], and then it all happened so fast. They played us the song with her vocal on it and that was maybe in February. They played it for us and I was, ‘Oh, sh*t.’ The next two months I was anxiously waiting for it to come out. It was worth the wait, especially since the first record I co-produced for someone is a Beyonce song. It feels pretty cool [laughs].
Even when she performs that song, she said that it’s her favorite off of the album. What makes “All Night” stand out above the others, that were also genre-spanning?
I heard her say the same thing and initially I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy!’ A lot of people like that song probably for the same reason she likes it. It feels like a really honest song, raw, and really real. The whole album for that matter, it was a crazy artist album that she did. Every song you feel is so real and there’s so much depth and meaning there. “All Night” feels so good when you listen to it, and it’s so easy to sing-along to.
Within “All Night” there’s a breakdown portion where it sounds like all the instruments are turned down low and Beyonce’s vocals are the driving force. How did that section of the song come about?
That part she wrote after us. We left it open and she wrote that really raw bridge. The bass player who actually played it [Marcus Miller], he’s a legend. I had played a bass part, but they had [Miller] play bass. That was the decision that she made in the end. There was no reverb on her vocals, so that whole part was super upfront. I think that’s super powerful. It feels so honest and stripped back and real. They did a really good job of finishing that song because we gave it them as a demo and they never gave it back to us to work on to finish it. She kept most of the stuff we did, but they recorded a live drummer. All the decisions they made were dope, and the horns, which made a big difference. I wish I could take credit for the horns, but shoutout to OutKast.
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I was going to ask about that because I feel like Beyonce has an attachment to those horns. Even on her “Flawless (Remix)” with Nicki Minaj, she sampled it there too.
When she played it for us in February I heard those horns and I thought it was so dope. At the time, Diplo and I were both like, ‘Those horns are so sick,’ but it didn’t connect in our minds that it was “SpottieOttieDopalicious,” until it came out and it came to the whole deal of having to basically decide that it was an OutKast sample even though it wasn’t a sample because it was played live, it’s basically referencing it. It made things more complicated, but it worked because it added something to the song, for me at least.
What do you think that says about Beyonce’s artistry, about her being the final architect of her songs?
The depth that she goes to to craft an album, I think there’s so much respect for that because you can tell each song she didn’t rush any of it because it took so long to do the record. She embraces collaboration and there are so many people who collaborated on this album that she didn’t have too much pride about wanting it be only her on this or that. That makes it such a strong album and a timeless record because it was crafted in such a micro, detailed way. I can only say that from the song we did, and “Hold Up,” Diplo and I did a lot of versions on that one in the beginning. Just knowing how much time and detail she goes into to make every song perfect and the year she spent on it. Even though I may be biased because I have a song on it, but I think it’s a really good album [laughs].
Say you’re using a sample in one of your original songs, what do you look for?
I always use samples on the weirdest looking vinyl or the ones that have the weirdest instruments listed on the back. For me, I’m always drawn to weird, Eastern European instruments. My mom collected a bunch of records and it was fun to take these records, sample them, and make beats out of them, which I did in college. She had Macedonian music, Bulgarian folk music and I think for me it’s the weirder instruments and the textures you get from those and the melodies are so cool because it’s all different scales. These certain European folk music is so weird. Diplo also has the coolest samples ever on his computer and he’ll say ‘Check this out,’ and it’ll be the craziest thing I’ve never heard, or most people have never heard. He has a way of finding these weird sounds from different pockets of the world. For me, it’s finding these weird sounds, trying to find things no one has ever used before. With the OutKast horns, I think that was a sample on its own before. I think they referenced something before. It’s like this constant sample. Something like that is undeniable. I can understand why Beyonce has used them again. It’s easy to put on a song like “All Night” and bring it to another level. There’s endless amounts of music out there to sample. It’s about taking the effort to sit and sift through weird sounds and vinyl. Sometimes the pay off is really cool. That’s how you’ll find something like those OutKast horns.
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What was your initial vision for “All Night” before you sent it to Diplo?
Looking at the original session that we made, it was called “Guitar Beat January.” Literally I sat down, I made more ideas for the guitar and other than that it was four chords and I definitely know that Diplo sent me some references of other songs. I think initially we were trying to make something simple, that felt like a classic record, not over produced, not over digitalized. We tried to make something raw and feel good. I think that one really worked right. We created some beats for Rock City, and immediately they felt something [with “All Night”] because the hook came so quick for them.
What do you think goes into writing or producing a powerful love ballad? I understand everyone has a different concept of love these days, but what goes into creating a ballad that music fans will always gravitate towards, like an “All Night?”
I think there’s a lot of factors. Fierce-ism is a big part, which she nailed on that record, and being honest and pure. It’s not really trying too hard. It’s a super real song. I think musically, not to toot my horn [laughs], but finding that right rift, that right when you hear it, you say, ‘This is that song,’ or ‘This is that feeling.’ With the guitar, the rhythm of it, the feeling of it, even the sound, that wasn’t supposed to be the final guitar take, it was the one I recorded in my house with my guitar. My set up wasn’t really nice, but Beyonce in the end really liked it because she thought it sounded like a sample. That’s why she liked the sound. They kept the first guitar take that I did in my bedroom studio because it had a feeling that it came from somewhere and they thought it was a sample. When I told them it wasn’t they were glad because it made it easier [laughs]. Even Rihanna’s “Stay,” it’s such a good song with the piano rift right away. Sam Smith, the melodies in the piano, the keys, or the guitar. I think ballads are easy, well not easy to make, but they’re the songs that can really be timeless. They never really go out of style, a good ballad is never going to go out style.