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Beyoncé

Dangerously in Love (Columbia)

Well, it's official: Beyoncé Knowles's "Crazy in Love" is the new "Hot in Herre."

The first single from her solo debut, Dangerously in Love, is, well, "destined" to be the summer anthem. You'll hear it blasting out of passing cars and booming out of nightclubs. It will blare out of your kids' rooms from now until their lazy, sullen asses go back to school. With its big-band horns, straight out of a Chi-Lites sample, ushering listeners to the booty-shaking ruckus that's soon to come, it's a surefire seasonal hit. As Dan Patrick would say on SportsCenter, you can't stop "Crazy in Love," you can only hope to contain it.

It's also the highlight of the long-awaited Dangerously, Knowles's first chance to shine now that her sisters-in-arms Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams and her real sister, Solange, have all released albums of their own. As most of the tracks pale next to "Crazy," the album feels underwhelming at times, even when she trots out the star power. Cases in point: Dancehall rude boy Sean Paul joins her on the Dr. Dre-ish, Bollywood booty-bass of "Baby Boy," and Beyoncé riffs on past loves with Missy Elliott on "Signs," and both fail to match the jolting luster of "Crazy."

With most of Dangerously produced or co-produced by Knowles, she puts her vulnerability on display. Knowles presents herself as a lovesick lonely heart so wrapped up in a dude, she just doesn't know what to do. Sample the love-junkie chorus she coos on the guitar-driven, white-hot "Speechless": "Going outta my head I think I'm losing all my mind / Drive me crazy burning candles making love all night." You see, she's just a girl, standing in front of a boy, begging him to love her -- and to hit that without any hesitation.

Knowles has dropped her surname with this platter, perhaps in an attempt to contend with all those other young one-named R&B divas. She's changed the way she does business in other ways as well. Listeners accustomed to the Knowles who wickedly declared her independence (even though she didn't mind you paying her bills) or who boasted about her bootylicious body may be surprised at how submissive she is on Dangerously. Listeners are left to speculate if her headstrong Destiny's Child persona is merely a facade and if this is the real Beyoncé -- bare, butt-bald-nekkid and pleading.

Inevitably, people are already busily reading between the lines, and they're busy pointing out Jay-Z's hands-on involvement in the album. Young Hova appears on two songs and receives songwriting credit on three more -- enough to make some wonder whether Dangerously would've been better entitled You Don't Know What You Do to Me, Jigga. But as difficult as this is to believe, that's totally irrelevant. What matters is that Knowles is setting herself apart from the pack of generic R&B honeys. Whenever Knowles is truly on point, such as on "Crazy" and the erotic heaters "Be with You" and "Speechless," she gives off a rare 1970s disco-queen vibe.

Nelly was dubbed "Elvis for a summer" by one critic when "Hot in Herre" finally reached terminal exposure, and Beyoncé will soon be the Donna Summer of this, well, summer. On "Naughty Girl," she evens cops the legendary chorus from Summer's dance-floor grinder "Love to Love You, Baby." Yes sir, Beyoncé Knowles is working hard for her individuality, so you better treat her right -- and that goes for you too, Mr. You Know Who!

 
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