Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Beyoncé’s long-awaited seventh record, RENAISSANCE.
If Beyoncé wants you to know anything, it’s that her Blackness isn’t up for debate. During the triumphant, HBCU-oriented BeyChella in 2018 — followed by 2019 concert film Homecoming — Beyoncé flawlessly took over Coachella as the festival’s Black woman headliner. Also in 2019, she celebrated the vibrance of Afrobeats and the diaspora on curated soundtrack The Lion King: The Gift, accompanied with 2020 visual album Black Is King. Now, on her seventh album, RENAISSANCE, Beyoncé gives a nod to her Black predecessors in dance music, while embracing her diehard queer fanbase.
While unveiling the RENAISSANCE album artwork in late-June, Beyoncé prepared the BeyHive for the sonics of her new album. “My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking. A place to scream, release, feel freedom. It was a beautiful journey of exploration,” she wrote. As heard on RENAISSANCE lead single “BREAK MY SOUL,” Beyoncé builds her “own foundation” in dance music, with contributions and samples from queer Black artists including Big Freedia, Syd, Moi Renee, Honey Dijon, MikeQ, Kevin Aviance.
Opening her long-anticipated album with “I’M THAT GIRL,” Queen Bey reminds fans that she’s Southern bred with help from late Memphis rhymesayer Princess Loko. While Beyoncé asserts her influence in music on the disorienting RENAISSANCE introduction, “I’M THAT GIRL” samples Princess Loko’s bars from the 1995 Memphis cut “Still Pimpin” by rapper-producer Tommy Wright III. The song flows seamlessly into “COZY,” where Beyoncé transcends Black pride over a pulsating tempo. She teasingly seduces on the song’s bridge: “I’m cozy / I’m juicy / You hate me / ’Cause you want me.”
Beyoncé’s first dance with ballroom culture lands on “ALIEN SUPERSTAR,” where she serves “unique” realness while entering the categories of “Bad Bitch” and “Sexy Bitch,” crowning herself as “the bar.” Adding to the resurgence of ’70s funk, “CUFF IT” shimmers with instrumentation from soul legends Nile Rodgers and Raphael Saadiq, along with a sample of Teena Marie’s “Ooh La La La,” which Beyoncé interpolates on follow-up track “ENERGY” featuring BEAM.
When “BREAK MY SOUL” dropped on summer solstice, it registered to Beyoncé fans that Mrs. Carter had her eyes on taking over the dance floor. With its ’90s Chicago house hop, “BREAK MY SOUL” fits snugly within the RENAISSANCE patchwork. After hitting the club for a night out, Beyoncé finds the heathen and holiness on “CHURCH GIRL,” which samples 1981 song “Center of Thy Will” by The Clark Sisters. Beyoncé anoints the will to gyrate freely, much to the chagrin of conservative church folk. Resisting judgment from the Black church, Beyoncé pushes the secular envelope, even referencing baptism with tongue-in-cheek wordplay: “Now spin that cash a little harder / And she might let you dive in the water.”
After seven tracks of burning the disco out, Beyoncé slows it down on “PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA” for a romantic night in. Co-written by R&B singer-songwriters Sabrina Claudio and Syd, Beyoncé whispers sweet nothings akin to the duo’s airy soulfulness. Up next — on the longest track on RENAISSANCE — Bey slides “on this magic ride” into “VIRGO’S GROOVE,” which drips in glossy future funk for over six minutes. Featuring elusive new wave icon Grace Jones and Afrobeats singer Tems, “Move” could have been a The Gift throwaway, but on RENAISSANCE, it blasts loudly with Beyoncé declaring her “big boss” status over fierce production.
Beyoncé’s greatest rap moment on RENAISSANCE — or perhaps ever — belongs to “HEATED,” where she rhymes untamed using Jamaican patois. She covers all ground, from indecisive “fans” (“Monday, I'm overrated, Tuesday, on my dick / Flip-flop, flippy, flip-floppin’-ass bitch”) to the album being dedicated to her late Uncle Jonny (her mother’s nephew). Beyoncé and her sister, multi-hyphenate superstar Solange, have both sung Jonny’s praises after the designer, who was gay and HIV positive, died of AIDS-related complications in the ’90s.
Taking it back to Freaknik and the early aughts of Miami bass, “THIQUE” is a love letter to body positivity and Beyoncé’s pockets being equally abundant. Then, in a wink to her I Am… Sasha Fierce era, Bey glitches across the magnetic “ALL UP IN YOUR MIND,” tempting an obsessed suitor in the process.
Highlighted by 1990 Kilo staple “Cocaine (America Has A Problem),” Beyoncé hits the block on “AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM,” subtly alluding to the War on Drugs: “Your ex-dealer dope, but it ain’t crack enough / I’m supplying my man, I’m in demand soon as I land.” By “PURE/HONEY” Beyoncé is a ballroom regular, voguing down the house with three-suite production, which floats into a sample of “Miss Honey” by late New York City drag legend Moi Renee.
Trading ballads for high-energy dance anthems, Beyoncé salutes iconic musicians of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, including Prince, Vanity 6 and Donna Summer, sampling and interpolating the Queen of Disco’s 1977 dance floor staple “I Feel Love” on the album’s aptly titled conclusion, “SUMMER RENAISSANCE.” Like summer, Beyoncé’s vocals intoxicate, transforming the nightlife into an ode to Black and queer empowerment. Three decades into her career, on RENAISSANCE, Beyoncé proves it’s never too late to find her next groove.
Jaelani Turner-Williams is an Ohio-raised culture writer and bookworm. A graduate of The Ohio State University, Jaelani’s work has appeared in Billboard, Complex, Rolling Stone and Teen Vogue, amongst others. She is currently Executive Editor of biannual publication Tidal Magazine.