Listening to Dangerously in Love, it's hard not to think about Jay-Z, who's long been rumored to be Beyoncé's beau. Most the material is vague enough to be about any relationship, but there are subtle hints. For example, on "Signs," a collaboration with Missy Elliott, she sings about being in love with a Sagittarius, which happens to be Jay-Z's sign.
"People can come to whatever conclusion they like," Beyoncé says when asked about the lyric. "That's the beauty of music."
Beyoncé hasn't always been so secretive about her personal life. That all changed a few years ago when she told a reporter she didn't have a boyfriend and it made headlines the next day.
"They wanted to make me the most desperate thing in the world," Beyoncé recalls. "It was like, on the cover everywhere: 'Beyoncé is lonely. We need to find her a boyfriend.' So I [decided] I shouldn't even talk about my personal life, because it just makes it a lot easier. And I know people speculate, and I know people wonder, and I respect that and understand that because I've always wondered about people. I mean, before I was a celebrity I did the same thing, so I know people are interested."
She pauses to collect her thoughts. "I just like to feel that I have something to myself."
Beyoncé says she realizes that addressing her relationship might keep the press off her back a bit, but she doesn't care. "I'm a singer, I'll talk about writing songs all you want. But when it comes to certain personal things any normal person wouldn't tell people they don't know, I just feel like I don't have to [talk about it]."
That she's so protective of her relationship with Jay-Z is likely an indication of how much he means to her. It's not as if being his girlfriend would hurt her career. Before the two began appearing together at basketball games and restaurants, she was not nearly as hip to the hip-hop crowd. Destiny's Child were even booed at Summer Jam, a star-studded concert thrown each year by a New York hip-hop/R&B station.
"I feel like those moments in your career are very necessary," she says. "And I feel like I'm very happy all of those things happened, because when that happens you have to look at yourself and see what you need to improve on."
Even Beyoncé admits that being with Jay-Z — on albums anyway — has given her credibility.
"I'm very grateful," she says. "He's helped me a lot on my album. He helped me write some of the songs and ... actually, before the hip-hop was in ['Crazy in Love'], some people didn't even accept it as much. He gave the song exactly what it needed."
"Crazy in Love" is one of Beyoncé's proudest moments on her album. What she considers its bread and butter, the horn hook, she picked from a bunch of tracks producer Rich Harrison played for her at the start of the project. As it came together, she worried it might be too complex for her audience.
"It's not really an obvious hit to me," she says. "I love that it's quality music and my generation is able to hear that and like it and enjoy it."
Beyoncé is credited as a co-producer on several Dangerously in Love tracks — an honor she earned by working closely with her producers, coming up with melodies and sharing other ideas for tracks. She doesn't make beats herself, but she's learning. "I wish I could, because I have songs in my head that I can't quite play."
Since the album was pushed back so many times, it gave Beyoncé time to work on lots of material. Altogether, she and other writers and producers completed 43 potential songs for the project. Beyoncé's father and manager, Mathew Knowles, oversaw all but one of them, a ballad she secretly wrote about him called "Daddy."
"I actually didn't write it for the album," she says. "I didn't want to put it on it. I just kind of did it for him. And he was speechless. He didn't know what to say or how to react really, because it is really a heavy song."
In the hidden track "Daddy," Beyoncé sings about wanting to be with a man who has similar qualities as her father. As different as it is from the other relationship songs on Dangerously in Love, it's a powerful message.
"My mother and father have been together for 23, 24 years, and I've seen them go through a lot," Beyoncé explains. "And he has always supported his wife and supported his family and supported me and my sister and [my cousin] Kelly. That loyalty and that strength that he has, those certain qualities I just want in all the people around me."
"Yes" people need not apply.