RIFFS AND VARIATIONS
(Alternate Takes, Live Versions, and Early Mixes)
Beyoncé - “Sexy Lil Thug” (Beyoncé Week: Day 2)
In 2003, 50 Cent suddenly and improbably became the most famous famous person in America. His meteoric rise was so unexpected that I specifically remember watching the debut of the video for "In Da Club" and wondering beforehand whether or not he would ever be able to top "Wanksta," a middling hit from the 8 Mile soundtrack that had a strangely massive influence on my middle school friends. In the end, of course, “Wanksta” was totally eclipsed by monumental success of “In Da Club” which wound up becoming one of its era’s defining tracks.
Proof of this can be found in the track at the top of this post. If you have someone like Beyoncé doing a quick bit of coattail-riding on your track you’ve officially made it. That’s not to say, however, that her version isn’t a worthwhile listen. Actually, her take on the song, entitled “Sexy Lil Thug” is a rare artifact from a time before she was an untouchable force in pop music.
When she recorded this track in 2003 her viability as a solo star was still somewhat in question. She had, of course, had massive success as a part of Destiny’s Child, but everyone was still a bit skeptical about her transition to solo artist. We’d heard her successful collab with Jay-Z “03 Bonnie & Clyde,”1 but there was still the question of whether or not she could succeed with her name in the lead artist slot. Of course, by the end of the year, she’d conquered the world with her own era-defining track "Crazy in Love" and a slew of other hits.2
That’s what makes this track such a unique piece of her discography: it’s a relic from a time after she had ventured out from Destiny’s Child, but before she had achieved megastardom. There was only a brief window in which she would have made a track like this, and as far as I know she’s never really done anything else quite like it.
But, again, this track’s only redeeming quality isn’t in its relation to the rest of her discography; it’s also a solid rework that flips the original in a really fun way. She adopts an R. Kelly-esque sing / rap hybrid style during the verses and even throws out a few solid lines, such as the tongue-twisting “I’m the sexy mami with the Marilyn Monroe body.” In that line and in others she displays an impressive knack for interior rhyme and assonance / consonance, particularly when she employs a catchy AAB / AAB rhyme scheme.
Finally, I think this track is noteworthy because of its sex positive viewpoint. Another artist might have flipped 50’s track by playing the coy, demure object of his affection, but Beyonce flips it by making it about her looking for a guy to hook up with. She’s even explicit about only wanting him physically in the chorus, which goes, “Don’t wanna be your girl, I ain’t lookin for no love / So come give me a hug, you a sexy little thug.” She also sings about rejecting in-fighting with other women over men via a peace offering in the line “If the ladies wanna hate, then I just send them a bottle.” Beyonce doesn’t get a whole lot of credit for being progressive when it comes to women’s rights, but many of her songs (including this one) feature solid feminist ideas and views.
I guess, in short, there are a lot of things to appreciate about this song, from its basic construction to its place in B’s discography. If you’d like to download this song, it was collected on Speak My Mind, which compiles outtakes and rarities from the Dangerously In Love sessions.
1. The video for that song is really precious in hindsight. Jay and B are both obviously kind-of sort-of flirting with each other and they’re both soooooooooo young!
2. Speaking of later hits, the last two lines of B’s second verse are “I know I got it, but don’t flaunt it even though brothas want it / Dancin’ dirty while I’m flirtin’, cause he checkin’ up on it” which are very similar to her song "Check On It" which was released two years later. I think it’s a distinct possibility that this was the seed from which that track eventually grew.