Beyoncé Knowles in "Carmen: A Hip Hopera," from 2011. (MTV/New Line Cinema)

Beyoncé and Philly certainly aren’t strangers to each other.

You might remember the Houston-born star — who’s heading to Lincoln Financial Field for the first U.S. performance of her Renaissance World Tour on Wednesday — headlining the Made in America festival in 2013 and 2015. Or maybe you recall hearing about her celebrating her birthday twice with confections from Cake Life Bake Shop in Fishtown, or about how she commissioned a Philadelphia designer to make her a mirror-tiled cowboy hat for her tour announcement.

But she’s got a Philly connection that goes even further back than any of those — to when she was just 19 years old.

In 2001, back in her Destiny’s Child days, Queen Bey played the leading role in “Carmen: A Hip Hopera,” an MTV made-for-TV film that featured a storyline set in the City of Brotherly Love.

The project was effectively her movie debut, save a cameo in 1999’s “Beverly Hood” as “Girl #1.” “Carmen” wasn’t exactly critically acclaimed, but Amazon reviewers apparently love it (4.6 stars).

Wait, though… a “Hip Hopera”? Yes. The film, which also starred Mekhi Phifer, Mos Def, Rah Digga, and Wyclef Jean, was a (somewhat loose) 21st-century interpretation of the French opera “Carmen,” a semi-famous Georges Bizet work that debuted in 1875.

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Rather than centering the narrative around a soldier who runs off with an alluring cigarette factory worker who then leaves him for a rodeo star, the movie focuses on an on-the-run Philly police officer who flees to Los Angeles with an aspiring actress (Carmen Brown, Beyoncé’s character), who eventually tries to leave him for a famous rapper. That’s a pretty broad strokes summary, but worry not, there’s lots of drama involved.

And instead of just singing, the actors — including Mekhi Phifer, Mos Def, Rah Digga, and Wyclef Jean — perform a bunch of hip hop and R&B numbers to get the story across during a runtime of less than an hour and a half.

It makes for a film that’s essentially a series of early 2000s music videos with some spoken dialogue in between, featuring transitions, montages, and visual effects that you really just don’t see in the movies anymore. (See the video below for an example.)

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About half the movie’s storyline happens in Philadelphia and the other half in LA. 

It was apparently filmed on location in Los Angeles, per the credits, but there are still a handful of nods at the former setting, probably thanks to writer and executive producer Michael Elliot, who grew up in Philly.

As the title sequence begins, a camera pans around the Billy Penn statue atop City Hall. An early scene shows a quick shot of someone reading a copy of The Inquirer at the bar, and another depicts a pair of cops driving around in a PPD cruiser and getting a dispatch message telling them to head toward 29th and Ridge.

There’s also a scene later in the movie where Blaze, the LA-based hip hop star after Carmen/Beyoncé’s heart, asks, “What’s a sister as fine as you doing in Philly? Small town masquerading as a big city.”

Her reply? “I won’t be here for long,” she says. “I have dreams. I have plans.”


Philadelphians who count themselves as part of the BeyHive can stay right here in this “small town” to live out their dreams on Wednesday at 7 p.m., when Queen Bey herself plays the Linc.

Philly is the second city Beyoncé is gracing with her presence on the North American leg of the Renaissance World Tour, a two-and-a-half-hour spectacle that marks her first solo tour in seven years. It’s also her only Pennsylvania tour stop this time around, since the Pittsburgh concert scheduled for August was canceled.

If you’re looking to score tickets, there are still some available for resale on Ticketmaster. They don’t come cheap, though — expect to pay $200+ for a nosebleed ticket, or a lot more ($20,000 + fees, anyone?) if you want to be closer to the stage.

If you’re looking for a more affordable activity, though, “Carmen: A Hip Hopera” is available for rental on Amazon for just $3.

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Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...