On Friday July 30, Beyoncé released her much anticipated 7th studio album, Renaissance. The album dropped 6 weeks after “Break my soul”, the debut single, was released. The single release sent her fandom (and the whole world quite frankly), into a frenzy while waiting for the album to drop.
[DISCLAIMER: This is a long read. It will probably be enjoyed, or at least the efforts appreciated, by music lovers or simply curious minds. However, impatient readers can get a short overview here below and skim through the rest. Either way enjoy 🙂
The long and short of it
“Break My Soul” gave us a glimpse into Queen Bey’s new artistic direction. The release of Renaissance confirmed it. We’re going (back) to the Disco! Upon its release, the album sparked all sort of reactions, ranging from total euphoria from the Beyhive (her fans), to (mostly) raving and positive reviews from the media and music critics. But it also sparked a lot of controversies, think-pieces and dramas on social media. Like with every Beyoncé’s project lately, the reactions are always extremes and polarized.
However, many agree that Renaissance is nothing more than an invitation to dance, party and rejoice. A breath of fresh air, after two years of isolation brought by one of the biggest pandemics of our modern times, the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Break my soul’’ lyrics, an invitation to release everything, (including our job!), perfectly summarize the general mood of the album.
“And we back outside
You said you outside, but you ain’t that outside
Worldwide hoodie with the mask outside
In case you forgot how we act outside”
The album is a mix of disco, soul, and electro vibes. It evokes a feeling of fun, nostalgia and familiarity. To achieve this, Renaissance contains a long list of samples, interpolations and elements of disco, pop and hip-hop songs. One notable ‘sample’ is “Show me love” by Robin S. on the hit single “Break my soul”. Some of her past hits seems to also have been a major influence in the album.
The songs transition and blend smoothly into one another, like a long DJ set, reinforcing the feeling of a big disco party.
Renaissance also boasts a very long list of credits, with notable participation of producers, writers and collaborations. The Dream, Nile Rodgers, Raphael Saadiq, Drake¸ Big Freeda and the latest sensation on the Afrobeats/Afropop scene, Nigerian songbird Tems, make up the list.
Ultimately, the album is a lover letter to the Black Queer community, who are the originators and innovators of many of today’s pop culture trends. In short, Renaissance is a real ode to Black Joy.
N.B Watch here a short clip of how the black queer community created the “Vogue” dance, which influenced is felt throughout the album.
Here is a full, song-by-song, review.
- “I’m that girl”
When the album started playing, my initial reaction after few seconds was an uncertain “hmmm?”. But when the beat drops (at exactly 0.43 seconds), I got immediately hooked. Beyoncé’s invitation to join her big dancing party is accepted!
The song is a succession of singing, sing-talking and rap-singing, a style that the singer started exploring in Lemonade and seems to enjoy
The first track transitions smoothly to what will probably be the self-love anthem of the album: “Cozy”. The track is full of, what we can anticipate, will be social media quotables:
Might I suggest you don’t fuck with my sis (Ooh)
‘Cause she comfortable
Comfortable in my skin
Cozy with who I am
Comfortable in my skin
“Please do not be alarmed. Do not attempt to leave the dance floor” announces a robotic voice through a megaphone”. This intro transports the listener into a retro-futuristic space (cue: Bestie Boy’s Intergalactic) and elevates the sonic experience of the album.
The song also contains an interpolation of ‘’I’m too Sexy”’ by Right Said Fred. “Alien superstar” brings a lot of nostalgia and fun, enhanced by beautiful vocals, blended with her signature rap-talking.
4. “ Cuff-It “
The good mood set by “Alien Superstar” continues and transitions nicely into “Cuff-It”. Here Beyoncé invites us to get lose through the night and get high on the dance floor. Nile Rodgers is credited as one of the songwriters. The song is already a favorite for social media challenges.
Also, For those who don’t know, Nile Rodgers is a legendary American record producer, songwriter, musician, composer, arranger, and guitarist. He is behind some of the world biggest hits: “Like a Virgin” (Madonna), “Le Freak” (Chic), David Bowie’s” Let’s Dance” and Daft Punk’s Ft Pharrell Williams, “Get Lucky”. We can definitely feel his influence on the track.
The transition between “Cuff-It” and “Energy” is probably one of the best on the album. Here Beyoncé enrolls Beam, a Jamaican-American rap artist, who delivers a catchy and dance-hall verse, which provides an excellent bridge between Cuff It and Energy.
Unfortunately, just a couple of hours after the album’s release, “Energy” was at the center of a controversy. The first of many thereafter. Singer Kelis accused Beyoncé of ‘Theft “after some of her fans ‘account spotted her name in the song’s credits and praised the “collaboration”. However, Kelis declared she was not consulted and expressed her anger toward the star. She went on a several days tirade on social media to air her grievance with the star.
For context, Energy contains the interpolation of Milkshake, a song produced by The Neptunes and performed by Kelis. Beyoncé seems like a collateral damage in her years-long feud with The Neptunes, over the song’s rights and ownership. However, she does not own the masters to her music and Beyoncé, or any other artists, are not legally require to go through her, to clear a sample or to credit her. Beyoncé probably thought she was being considerate by crediting her and it, unfortunately backfires. Read the full story here:
[Update on 3 Aug 22 : Beyonce has removed Kelis from the credits]
The song alo contains a nice nod to Fugees’ Oh lalala chorus. The sentence “Them Karens have turned into terrorists” is a reminder that we can still stand for something, even while we’re having fun
6. Break my soul
That’s the debut single that introduced us to the new colour and sound direction of the anticipated album. Beyoncé promised us a good time and to take us back the disco, the ballroom era. She enrolls, once again, Big Freedia (the two have collaborated on Lemonade), to tap into and celebrate the black queer and bounce music culture.
Break My soul is really an “We’re outside !!” anthem. A celebration of the world post-pandemic, where we can hopefully be ourselves again. It’s a vibration and mood lifter. Some media have linked it to the “Great resignation” phenomenon, thanks to “release your fears, release your job” part in the lyrics.
However, it is worth noting that, Beyoncé here interpolates, a very famous disco song of the 90ies, “Show me love ” by Robin S. She went on several media appearances and thanked Beyoncé for honoring her by crediting her song. Hopefully, it will also boost her streaming numbers, with the help of the younger generation who would like to discover the song, and the old nostalgic guard too.
7. Church Girl
That’s the first time that the album actually makes a few seconds stop, contrary to the smooth transition which intertwined all the previous songs together. Probably to let us catch our breath?
Church girl is a very interesting song. One could naively expect a gospel song. But trust Beyoncé to take the stereotype of the good “church girl” and make it a hymn for girls living life into their own terms. She warns:
I’m warning everybody, soon as I get in this party
I’m gon’ let go of this body, I’m gonna love on me
Nobody can judge me but me, I was born free
In a plot twist, the song becomes a twerking anthem:
I’ll drop it like a thotty, drop it like a thotty
I said, now pop it like a thotty, pop it like a thotty (you bad)
Mi seh, now drop it like a thotty, drop it like a thotty (you bad)
Church girls actin’ loose, bad girls actin’ snotty (you bad)
Let it go, girl (let it go), let it out, girl (let it out)
Twerk that ass like you came up out the South, girl (ooh, ooh)
I said, now drop it like a thotty, drop it like a thotty (you bad)
Bad girl actin’ naughty, church girl, don’t hurt nobody
The song contains some notable interpolations, including of fame gospel group, the Clark Sisters, “Center of thy will”.
Side Note: If you have seen the Clark ‘sisters’ biopic, it shows the tension between the need to stay ‘holy’ and abide by the church rules, and a fierce will of emancipation within some of the sisters, making them some kind of Church girls too.
8. Plastic of the sofa
Plastic on the Sofa transitions the heavily disco infused album, into a very smooth R&B atmosphere. The song gives some old school and nostalgic vibes. It evokes a picture of lovers, who have grown old together and are reminiscing the good old times. It is an invitation to let your hair down and be yourself around the person you love.
9. Virgo Growth
As a famous Virgo, Beyoncé offers a cool, unpretentious song that bring us back to the dancefloor. She provides a hymn for her fellow virgos. The song rhythms remind of “Before I let go”, from Franky Beverly and Mase, a song she famously sampled upon the released of her acclaimed “Homecoming” Coachella’s performance.
Another nod to the black queer culture. Move alludes to the synchronized dances originally created in underground black queers’ community. It has been made mainstream by Madonna, in her song, famously titled “Vogue” (1997).
The song features a surprising collaboration by Nigerian artist, Tems and the legendary Grace Jones.
Tems is quietly but surely making moves in the global music industry. It has just been revealed that she is featured on the soundtrack of the much-anticipated Black Panther sequel. Now seeing her on Renaissance album is a pleasant surprise. You go Sis’.
It is interesting to note that, when Beyoncé started teasing her new album, Drake released, a few days before Renaissance drops, a surprising electro-house project.
Media and fans alike were wondering about the odds of two of the biggest superstars, to take a similar creative direction. Pure artistic coincidence or they have enrolled the same producers, writers and one gave the game away?
Now that Drake is credited as one of the producers of the album it all make sense. Although, Drake drew his inspiration into the current Afro-house sounds (hello Amapiano!), Beyoncé leaned toward the old-school US electro and disco scene.
The song is also a tribute to Beyoncé’s late uncle Johnny, a gay man who died young of HIV Aids related complications. He seemed to have been a major influential figure in her life. The chorus “Uncle Johnny made my dress “is already becoming popular on social media.
Another voguing song! Beyoncé once again goes back to her rap-singing voice. The song is light with a repetition of lyrics.
13. All up in your mind in your mind.
Between Move and this one, songs are more laid back and easily transitions into one another, almost monotonously but still a pleasant listening experience.
14. America has a problem
The song breaks the previous monotony with an old-school rap intro. One can imagine the music video like those old school rap videos. Cue: A Run DMC video with rappers sporting heavy gold chains, Adidas track shoes and shoes, tearing up a screen and ready to take you back into a 90ies Breakdance dancefloor.
Interestingly enough, Beyoncé chose to “rap’ in the song.
NB: I discovered afterwards that the song is a sample of an old-school rap song “(Cocaine) America has a problem” by Kilo Ali.
15. Pure Honey
Bad bitches to the left
Money bitches to the right
You can be both, meet in the middle, dance all night
Take it all off or just a little if you like
It should cost a billion to look this good (oh, yeah)
Queen Bey is urging all of her fans “to get into formation”, in perhaps the ultimate voguing song of the album.
16. Summer Renaissance
What best than an homage to the ultimate queen of disco herself, Donna Summer, to close up this heavily infused Disco party we’ve been invited to?
Summer Renaissance gives a feeling of ‘full circle ‘moment. And perhaps, it offers one of the biggest lesson of this album: do not be afraid to take risks (as she did by going full disco). You’re the director of your life, you can hit the spectator with a plot twist and unexpected turn, any time.
You can stream Renaissance full album here: