Reclaiming gentrified genres, the superstar’s first studio album in six years is heavily influenced by house music and New Orleans bounce. To millions, Beyoncé continues to reign supreme. From her accomplished performing abilities to her extended displays of talent, the Texan singer’s reputation over the past two decades appears to have only grown, despite her extensive inactivity in recent years. It has been six years since her last full-length album, 2016’s ‘Lemonade,’ which, with the passage of time, has come to represent her zenith, as she reclaimed her narrative amid rumors of Jay-infidelity. Z’s
‘Renaissance,’ her seventh studio album, is the sound of an artist revitalized: it is her most relentlessly upbeat and fun record to date, with sixteen enchanting songs that explore love, friendship, and relationships. In a note accompanying the album, she describes the three years it took to complete the album during lockdowns as a time that “allowed me to feel free and adventurous” and provided a space where she could “scream, release, and feel freedom.” The pursuit of Black joy is central to the album, as she draws on house music – and especially New Orleans bounce – to join the most recent wave of Black artists reclaiming gentrified genres from which they were previously pushed out. Included among ‘Renaissance’s samples and collaborators are influential Black figures such as Barbara Ann Teer, founder of Harlem’s National Black Theatre, as well as rapper Big Freedia and producer Honey Dijon.
‘Church Girl,’ which samples Cameron Paul’s ‘Brown Beats,’ a song integral to the inception of bounce music, and ‘Break My Soul,’ the album’s massive lead single, pay homage to the scene’s distinctive spirit. On the latter, a sample of Big Freedia’s hook establishes the empowering tone of the album: “Release ya trade, release the stress / Release the love, forget it.” ‘I’m That Girl’ is yet another declaration of self-assurance, and the hypnotic ‘Cozy’ offers: “Comfortable in my skin / Cozy with who I am.” On ‘Alien Superstar,’ she broadens her influences and incorporates ballroom culture. The song pairs a thumping rhythm with an understated, posh-accented rap – the hallmarks of a ballroom MC – and flirts with a fluttering high register; it becomes the album’s most indulgent and intriguing track immediately.
There is also success when she departs from a literal exploration of house music. ‘Cuff It’ pays homage to the heyday of Motown and disco with a seductive song that will soon be a staple on pre-club playlists. Similarly, on “Heated,” she adopts an afro-bashment vibe with the assistance of Drake, who has recently experimented with house music with mixed results. ‘Plastic Off The Sofa’ features groovy R&B that allows Beyoncé to demonstrate her formidable vocal abilities as she riffs and runs all over the punchy jazz band accompanying her hushed voice: “I think you’re so cool / but I’m cooler than you,” she winks.
The credits may be stuffed with notable collaborators and samples – AG Cook, Skrillex, and Giorgio Moroder are all listed – but explicit features are chosen with care and executed with skill. On ‘Moves’, an icon (Grace Jones) meets a newcomer (Tems); here, a bassline synonymous with afro-centric music encourages everyone to join the as a bold Jones declares she’ll “bruk a chick, bruk up / Fumble like we’re about to come up.” Then, Tems takes the spotlight with her brief interlude: “Who is this girl in the back of the room? / It’s the girls, it’s the Yoncé girls.” It’s a lighthearted, superfluous song about girl power, and it reminds us that some of the greatest love we can experience is with our friends. Beyoncé has little to prove to anyone after 25 years, but the beginning of this “three act project” demonstrates that she is still able to push herself and explore new sounds, styles, and philosophies. On ‘Renaissance,’ she’s added another exceptional album to her discography, this one to continue leading the charge to bring Black culture back to the forefront of the house and dance scenes. “Renaissance” is exactly what it claims to be: the revival of Black classics, and she puts a great deal of care into that.
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