4 is the fourth studio album by American recording artist Beyoncé Knowles, released through Columbia Records on June 24, 2011. The twelve-song set (eighteen on the deluxe edition) marked the singer's first release since severing professional ties with her father and manager, Mathew. In 2010, Knowles began a career hiatus, which she claimed helped reignite her creativity. In recording the album, she drew inspiration from Fela Kuti, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Lionel Richie, with additional musical influences from The Jackson 5, Florence and the Machine, and Adele.
According to the singer, her biggest challenge on 4 was to record songs that were more subtle and natural. She expressed her creative freedom by incorporating 1970s R&B, 1990s rock and roll, and hip hop. The album's instrumentals included an array of horns and classic live organs, with the intent of creating a more musically diverse album. Knowles yearned to bring back the usage of live instruments and soul music, which according to her, were missing from the current music scene. In a further effort to produce an album with a more raw sound, she left a lot of the brassiness and grittiness in her voice, and chose not to polish over her vocals in the studio.
The album is predominately composed of R&B and pop; critics noted influences from late 1970s and early 1980s R&B and soul. Structurally, 4 was composed as a mixture of ballads and mid- and up-tempo numbers. The album's main lyrical themes revolve around womanhood and monogamy, which Knowles developed alongside a slew of staffwriters. Upon release, 4 received generally positive reviews from critics, who viewed it as a progression from Knowles' previous albums. They commended its mid-tempo musical style and understated production, though some criticized its balladry and songwriting.
4 debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 310,000 copies in its first week. It also topped the album charts in Brazil, France, Ireland, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The album's first two singles, "Run the World (Girls)" and "Best Thing I Never Had", both reached the top ten in several worldwide charts. "Countdown" and "Love on Top" were released as the third and fourth singles respectively. The latter peaked at number one on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for seven consecutive weeks. "End of Time" was released as a UK-only single in March 2012.
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