4 is the fourth studio album by American recording artist Beyoncé Knowles, first released on June 24, 2011, on Columbia Records. The album marks the first release by Knowles since separating, professionally, with father and manager, Mathew Knowles.
Preceding the album's release, lead single "Run the World (Girls)" was released for digital download worldwide on April 21, 2011. The single was rushed for release after an early demo leaked on April 18, 2011. "Best Thing I Never Had" was released on June 1, 2011, as the album's second single.
She remained inspired by Fela Kuti and worked with the band from the Broadway musical, Fela!. When speaking about her inspiration by Kuti, Knowles stated that she appreciated his "feel for the soul and heart of his music; it's so sexy, and has a great groove you get lost in," stating that is takes a major inspiration on 4 with drums and horns and "how everything was on the one".The album was also inspired by '90s R&B, Earth, Wind & Fire, DeBarge, Lionel Richie, Teena Marie with additional influences by The Jackson 5, New Edition, Adele, Florence and the Machine, and Prince. Knowles added that with certain influences she added her character of hip-hop for a more broad sound. Knowles stated that she allowed herself more freedom to really belt out some songs, and bring soul singing back stating, "I used a lot of the brassiness and grittiness in my voice that people hear in my live performances, but not necessarily on my records."
Los Angeles Times writer Randall Roberts called 4 "a surprising, confident turn, even if the surprises are of a subtler variety." James Reed of The Boston Globe called the album "low-key and effortless" and commended its production as "tasteful, sometimes even a bit tense." Nitsuh Abebe of New York complimented Knowles' "newly settled mood" and "charming" ballads, adding that "She does a wonderfully convincing job of making [vulnerability] seem like a form of bravery." Consequence of Sound writer Chris Coplan dubbed the album "pure pop excellence" and commented that "the truly dazzling aspect of the record is what it does with minimal production and simplistic lyrics."
On its first day of sales, 4 shipped more than 10,000 copies in Poland, more than 120,000 copies in Brazil, and sold around 89,211 in the United Kingdom. According to The Official Charts Company data, 4's opening day sales were more than the combined sales of its three nearest challengers, being Adele's 21 (2011), Lady GaGa's Born This Way (2011), and Adele's first studio album 19 (2008) for that day. After a complete week of sales, 4 debuted atop the UK Albums Chart on July 4, 2011, with first-week sales of 89,211. In the United States, 4 debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, with first-week sales of 310,000 copies. This gave Knowles her fourth solo debut at the top of the chart and makes her the second female artist and third artist overall, to have her first four studio albums debut atop the Billboard 200. However, 4's first-week sales serve as Knowles' lowest sales start with a studio album to date.