The Queen Bee’s solo debut, “Work it Out”, was a song for the soundtrack of the Austin Powers franchise’s ’70s film, “Austin Powers Goldmember.” On this funky delight, B performs somewhat in character, the movies heroine Foxxy Cleopatra, a Foxxy Brown/Cleopatra Jones mash up that represents the “bad ass soul sister” image of 1970s blaxploitation. But, I also suspect B’s alter ego “Sasha” was in the house as well with Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo on the recording session for this one. “Work it Out” is brimming with soulful sexual confidence, with B telling her man, “we can’t wait for the bedroom, we just hit the floor.” I must admit, as a fledgling musican dying to drop the funk bomb, this joint had me kinda jelly in ’02. Skateboard P and Chad made some real true ’70s funk in 2002, and at the same time it was old school, it had the instrumental tone of the Neptunes space age funk as well.
“Work it Out” is an example of the Neptunes mastery at the song writing skill called “interpolation.” Of course, they’re being sued right now for doing the same thing on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” When I heard this song, I knew it was an arch funky riff but I couldn’t figure out where I’d heard similar. It was something about the combination of the heavy bassline that leaves space enough for God to walk through it and the rhythmically active Clavinet part. It just hit me recently: “Work it Out” is an interpolation of Herbie Hancock’s 1973 version of his song “Watermelon Man” from the “Headhunters” LP. Just dig on “Watermelon Man’s” intro. Heavy bass hitting on the one, and then jumping into the upper registers after that opening statement, with the clavinet dancing over and through the holes the bass leaves. For this song though, Pharrell and Chad make the clavinet line a little bit more repetitive and simpler, cutting it down to a one bar pattern. Of course, the interpolation is interesting because “Watermelon Man” in it’s Headhunters version was also a cut MC’s loved to rhyme over in the ’90s.
The Neptunes borrow that basic funky motif, just as a funk band would, and lay a unique track for B to show her ass performance wise over. The drum track is very heavy on snare drum, like a New Orleans beat, with very little kick drum, the kicks only thump on the upbeat leading into beat one and on beat one. On the chourus of “Work it Out”, a sax riffs behind B, which I thought was a corny synth sax sound at first but I can stomach more now. When B says, “Chad blow your horn now”, we get a taste of baritone sax, which gives the piece a James Brown vibe, reminiscent of the James Brown Orchestra (not the J.B’s), when the Baritone sax added to the bottom of the music.
B takes this funky track and goes off, singing super soulful melismas, and adding all kinds of soul ad libs, like “looka here.” At one point she says, “Now that you’ve given me a taste of your honey/I want the whole beehive.” Which might be interesting to her similarly named fans. B’s vocal performance though, is magic, confident, sexy, powerful, soulful and funky. The video is also an orgy of groovy ’70s funk band aesthetics, rivaled in that time period maybe only by Cee Lo’s unheralded classic, “Closet Freak.” Beyonce began her solo career with a bang, deep in Neptunes assisted, Herbie Hancock and James Brown derived funk, channeling strong women like Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin and strong men like James Brown. And therein lies my admiration for B, her ability to dominate on funky groove tunes while the whole world thinks R&B is simply about slow love songs. Of course, this is an avenue I’d love to see her pursue more, let Sasha out girl! Now that some 12 years have passed I have to go back on my earlier resistence to this as light funk and put it up there on the one where it belongs. And also, with the time period of Virgo drawing near its end, I have to send a big shot out to the one thing I always dug about the video, namely, the word “Virgo” written across the back of B’s low ride Jeans and her hula hooping. Whew…. we gonna work it out indeed!