When Lemonade first dropped, everyone freaked out that Jay-Z and Beyoncé might be on the rocks. The focus shifted from the cultural implications of Lemonade as a work of art to an all-out witch hunt for “Becky with the good hair.” People largely ignored the nods to African-diasporic traditions and instead scrutinized Beyoncé’s personal life and the superficial significance of the lyrics. There were hundreds, if not, thousands of memes featuring Jay-Z, Rachel Roy spiked in popularity, and the tabloids even talked about Rita Ora for a hot second. Meanwhile, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why is no one talking about Ibeyi?”
Ibeyi is a musical duo from Paris made up of Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz. They are the daughters of famous Cuban conga player Angá Diaz and have been playing music together since they were kids. However, their first (and only) album came out just last year. Ibeyi is not well-known. They won’t be found on the Billboard top 100, nor do they have any best-selling albums in Apple music. So, why, of all people, would Beyoncé choose to have Ibeyi make an appearance in Lemonade? My guess is that she saw in them the same thing I did: a mystifying ability to showcase and personify their culture.
The two sisters are descendants of the Yoruba people of Nigeria brought over to Cuba during the African Diaspora. They own this in their music and aesthetic. Beyoncé’s decision to showcase their natural beauty in Lemonade was a nod to her own ancestral heritage and an acknowledgment of black diversity. Ibeyi is in the video for the same reason Yoruba artist Laolu Senbanjo’s work was featured: she wanted to highlight issues of African-Diaspora seldom talked about in mainstream media.
The Lemonade feature brought the hip hop scene a gift by introducing Ibeyi to her fan base. Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz are doing something revolutionary in their music. They fuse together acapella Yoruba chants, indie electronic beats, modern jazz overlays, and hip-hop and R&B influences to create a unique sound. The hip-hop influences are undeniable. Their rendition of “Better in Tune with the Infinite” by Jay Electronica is evidence of this, and taking a look at Naomi’s Spotify playlist you will see names like The Notorious B.I.G., Kendrick Lamar, Erykah Badu, and Joey Bada$$ to name a few. Not only are they inspired by the Hip Hop we know and love, but very much like these artists, Ibeyi pulls inspiration from their roots. They are, in effect, an indie group with Hip Hop soul who puts their culture on display for all to see.
So why do I say they are the real surprise cameo of Lemonade? For one, it was completely unexpected. Ibeyi is not a big music name quite yet, and a working relationship with Beyoncé is huge. But also, to see Yoruba culture and the African diaspora so overtly represented in mainstream pop culture is a much bigger surprise than Jay-Z appearing on any screen.