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Beyonce Rewrites and Rejuvenates Herself With Renaissance: A Review

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Beyonce
image by Carlijn Jacobs

“Renaissance” is the seventh studio album and hotly anticipated comeback for 20+ year hitmaker Beyonce Knowles-Carter.

The 28-time Grammy winner dropped her newest project “Renaissance” this past week (Jul 29). In the weeks leading up to the drop, many wondered, how could Beyonce top herself yet again? Since her first hit with Destinys Child in ’98, she’s conquered music, film and philanthropy. Her previous project “The Lion King: The Gift,” successfully combined all three ventures into one. So how could Renaissance possibly perform as a follow-up?

A pop star onstage alongside Prince, a rockstar on the track with Jack White, and an RnB songstress throughout, she’s beyond versatile. For this installment in her long career, Beyonce designed a devoted tribute to her late Uncle Johnny and her largely black gay fanbase.

Beyonce penned a message on her website to all those who inspired Renaissance. In her message, she props up a member of her family the beehive hasn’t been made privy to before. “A big thank you to my uncle Johnny. He was my godmother and the first person to expose me to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album.” She wrote.

“Thank you to all of the pioneers who originate culture, to all of the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long. This is a celebration for you.”

Beyonce’s mother Tina Knowles provided some additional insight into the significance of Uncle Johnny in an Instagram post. “Johnny was the closest human being in the world to me we were inseparable growing up” she typed in a photo caption last week.

 

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A post shared by Tina Knowles (@mstinalawson)

“Note Johnny died when Beyonce was 17 and Solange was 12 years old and they took it soo hard.” She continued in a separate post. “Johnny was my sister’s son but more like a brother to me so my kids called him Uncle Johnny.”

Renassaince Prologue

When “Break My Soul” dropped into airwaves in mid-July, fans were taken aback by it being strictly in the house music category. Of course, Bey has always made art one can dance to. But house is defined by the beat and ambiance carrying the vocalist, instead of the vocalist carrying the production. It’s an unusual deviation for such a grandiose singer like Bey. Upon the release of “Break My Soul” naysayers quickly compared the single to Drake’s recent drop “Honestly, Nevermind,” calling it an obvious attempt at trend chasing. In spite of this, Bey meticulously crafted the album around something deeply personal to her.

“You see Johnny loved house music! And introduced my kids to it early on,” Tina Knowles typed on Instagram.

For Bey, house isn’t just a trend. It’s a vital part of what developed her taste in music. “He is smiling from Heaven at Bey right now!” Her mother confirmed.

Bey clearly tuned into the spirit of her late uncle throughout “Renaissance.” The record embodies 80-90s house music coolness, but it doesn’t feel like a low-effort throwback. Instead, it’s a celebration of the genre with modern elements of the Houston star’s own design. Throughout Bey’s career, she’s developed an excellent ear for music. This shines in each track on Renaissance. Strangely enough, this is one of Beyonce’s most intimate and revealing albums oftentimes without using words at all.

I’m That Girl

The album precisely sets the tone with the first beat and the first line.

“I pull up in these clothes, look so good

Cause I’m in that ho

You know all these songs sound good

Cause I’m on that ho”

With every word on “I’m That Girl,” Beyonce flexes her well-deserved confidence. It’s a song that pulls no punches. Renaissance immediately lets you know what you’re in for for the next hour, both in lyrical content and production. It’s irrefutably, unquestionably, house. “I’m That Girl” is stylish, futuristic and nostalgic all at once. The house music influence continues and becomes even stronger in the next song “Cozy.”

Cozy

In “Im That Girl,” the house beat was partnered with ethereal, spacey production. But with “Cozy,” Beyonce jumps all the way in. The song belongs in a Harlem drag ball or this year’s Miami fashion week. Renaissance can easily be interpreted as an obscure personal project for Bey, but in reality, it’s a love letter to those who made house and ballroom into the powerhouse trend it is today: black queer men.

“Comfortable in my skin

Cozy with who I am

Comfortable in my skin

Cozy, cozy

Comfortable in my skin

Cozy with who I am

I love myself, goddamn

Cozy, cozy (Okay)”

Beyonce’s repetition near the tail end of “Cozy” reads as a spell, affirmations and a beckoning call to her LGBT fans. Those fans quickly cracked the code hidden for them in “Cozy” in the days following. In the second verse, Bey sings the colors of Daniel Quasars’ pride flag to acknowledge LGBT people living with HIV/AIDS. With this, She also brings awareness to those who tragically didn’t survive the 80s epidemic. Ordinary people, like her revered uncle Johnny who was gay and HIV positive.

Alien Superstar

The undeniable standout of Renaissance is “Alien Superstar.” It’s become a recent tactic for pop stars to drop their album all at once and let fans essentially choose a lead single for them. If that was Beyonce’s intention, “Alien Superstar” is taking it easy.

The production on this track is by far the most lush and exquisite on Renaissance, with fans already using it as a backdrop for edits and fancams within hours of the album drop. It’s no wonder this song shines the way it does, with the powerhouse group behind it. Beyonce, Honey Dijon, Penny and Solomon produced, with assistance from The Dream, Mike Dean and Nova Wav. Each one of those names has a hefty resume, and that shows in every second of “Alien Superstar.” A fitting name, as the song is truly otherworldly and not quite like anything Bey has done before. Yet, she easily slips into the role with her signature vocal riffs and runs. “Alien Superstar” has particularly gained traction on TikTok, only weeks after Beyonce joined the now quintessential social media app.

“Alien Superstar” has perhaps the most obvious sample on an album chock full of them. The chorus is a clear interpolation from the 1991 hit “I’m Too Sexy.” In another odd coincidence for Drake and Bey, the Toronto rapper recently sampled the same song for his 2021 song “Way Too Sexy.” Regardless, Bey effortlessly makes it distinctly her own.

Cuff It

“Cuff It” pivots hard into a 70s disco direction. This record immediately invokes the image of lazy Sunday mornings dancing to Earth Wind and Fire. Again, this feat of immersion is achieved through flawless production.  Blaring horns paired with the high-pitched call and response from Bey truly makes “Cuff It” a love letter to a genre that’s had a hard journey to earn its respect.

In addition to masterful studio work by Nova Wav, “Cuff It” also contains some of Beyonce’s most impressive vocals on renaissance. on an album full of quick time verses and rapping, Bey doesn’t let her audience forget she is the top vocalist of her generation before anything else.

Energy

“Energy” is another quick pivot for “Renaissance.” It’s an electronic/Afrobeats song with assistance from New Orleans bounce icon Big Freedia. The combination of bounce and afrobeat with a dash of techno sounds overwhelming on paper, but in practice works hand in hand.

Big Freedia is one of many LGBT celebs who had a helping hand in making Renaissance the achievement it is. Freedia makes an appearance both on “Energy” and “Break My Soul.” Chicago house music icon Honey Dijon and Syd of The Internet have production credits up and down “Renaissance.” Namely, Honey Dijon had a major hand in the authentic house feel. She hopped on Instagram last week to thank Beyonce for the opportunity, and called it a “life-changing experience.”

“To share my Chicago house music roots and black queer and trans culture with you and the world is profound and emotional,” she typed.

Ballroom and drag legends like MikeQ, Kevin Aviance, and Moi Renee lend their voices to “Renaissance” in order to bring the 90s gay club to 2022. Bey is typically the centerpiece of her work. But for “Renaissance,” she lets those around her tell the tale of finding joy in adversity.

Break My Soul

The transition from “Energy” to the lead single “Break My Soul” cannot be ignored. It’s a major highlight on an album with plenty to go around. The transitions in “Renaissance” show the detail Beyonce and her team put in to make the album a complete project. So often in the music scene albums are seen as a collection of singles firstly, and a real story secondly, if at all. But on “Renaissance,” listening to all 16 songs in order is a must. This makes the record feel like a function you’re a part of, not standing in line for. Several times listening to this album, a song will so smoothly transition into another that it’s barely noticeable until you glance at the phone screen. Moreso than any record in her 24-year-long career, “Renaissance” puts you right in the booth with Bey.

Church Girl

“Church Girl” continues the party playlist vibe with the most playful lyrical content on “Renaissance.”

“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”

It brings back the NOLA-inspired instrumentals only slightly present in “Energy.” Only this time bounce takes charge. The mention of the church within the title is cleverly incorporated with layered choir-like vocals throughout the song. Wrapped around this choir motif is an undeniable twerk anthem that makes you wanna get up and move against your will. It’s obvious Bey had the most fun with this one in the studio.

Plastic On The Sofa

“Plastic On The Sofa” is a nice mid-album break from the admittedly loud beats on “Renaissance.” It’s the welcome return of classic R&B Beyonce. The song feels like a slow stroll through Central Park, a temporary place of quiet and serenity surrounded by mayhem. Although “Plastic On The Sofa” lacks the striking sampling and punch of the rest of “Renaissance,” it stands out just through Bey’s incredible vocal range. Her voice is practically used as an instrument over a beautiful background.

Virgos Groove

Yet another standout transition is the one between “Plastic On The Sofa” and the 6-minute “Virgos Groove” The lowkey RnB song steadily turns into a disco before you can even realize it. One of the biggest feats on “Renaissance” is the ability to switch between genres so quickly and seamlessly. The 70s motifs present in “Cuff It” makes a return in “Virgo’s Groove,” but it doesn’t come off like a cheesy cosplay. “Renaissance” is brought to life by the past, but also through inventiveness that can only come from modern sensibilities.

Move

“Move” is the most clearly afrobeat-influenced song on “Renaissance.” This track impeccably merges queer icon Grace Jones with newcomer Tems to create an addictive melody. Beyonce recognized she had to share the stage for this cross-cultural tribute. Thankfully the trio blends perfectly without stepping on each other’s toes. Each woman plays their role perfectly, Grace Jones with her cool and controlled spoken parts, Tems with her flirty interlude, and Beyonce serenading over the track.

Heated

“Heated” blends the afrobeat feeling of “Move” with traditional house music. “I gotta cool it down” Bey repeats throughout the song, over a hypnotizing melody. The rap in the last minute of this track shows off Beyonce’s everlasting versatility as an artist. She approaches all the rap portions on “Renaissance” with no hesitation or shyness. This is key to her rhymes coming off cool instead of corny, as the genre is rooted in being braggadocio. “Heated” also stands out as the most pronounced tribute to her late uncle.

“Uncle Johnny made my dress that cheap spandex she looks a mess”

Thique

“Thique” is absolutely the most modern-sounding song on the album. The heavy bass booming throughout puts you in a New Jersey club right next to the DJ’s booth. It’s one of several songs on “Renaissance” that forces you to nod your head whether you’re a fan of house music or not. It attests to the excellent production, and It makes for an indescribable feeling when listening with headphones. It can’t be overstated, everything about the way “Renaissance” sounds screams quality.

All Up In Your Mind

“All Up In Your Mind” is a track that echoes the feeling of her controversial 2013 track “Bow Down.” Similarly to that song, Beyonce isn’t afraid to get cocky with her words and rough with her delivery. The glitchy-sounding production grabs your attention and refuses to loosen its grip until it’s over.

America Has a Problem

Without a doubt, the biggest deviation from Bey’s usual style and the biggest hip-hop tribute on “Renaissance” is “America Has a Problem.” Along with “Alien Superstar,” this song has gone viral in a remarkably short amount of time. There’s an obvious late 80s rap influence with Kilo Ali’s “Cocaine” being expertly sampled by The Dream and Mike Dean. It goes without saying, this makes for an extremely fun listen. While “America Has a Problem” is the album’s biggest crowd pleaser, its origins are quite niche. Kilo Ali is an influential artist, but not commonly known outside the Atlanta skate scene. It’s an expert sampling choice that shows a hit can be born from unexpected places.

Pure/Honey

“Pure/Honey” is the premier track for the ballroom community. Shows like Pose recently launched ballroom from a small subculture to a massive global trend. On every end of the world girls and gays are vogueing and death dropping and Bey is paying close attention. Like “Americas Got a Problem” and “Move,” this song is a tribute to a genre Bey doesn’t typically dabble in. However, her deep appreciation for it shines through.

The connection between pop divas and the gay community cannot be overstated. For decades female pop stars and their music have been a form of escapism for patrons of the ball scene. And for years, Beyonce has been the world’s biggest pop idol. This relationship between her and her fanbase has been instrumental in her success. It’s satisfying in this stage of Beyonce’s career that she can look back at her legacy and recognize the beyhive as the engine of her machine. Bey pays it forward by highlighting queer artistry through “Renaissance.”

Summer Renaissance

“Summer Renaissance” is the album closer, and it fittingly feels like a victory lap. It’s an even blend of Y2K electronic with classic 90s house tracks featuring a booming female vocal ala “Good Vibrations” or “Gonna Make You Sweat.” It’s not a particularly unique track from the whole crop, but it does the job as a fitting finale to over 60 minutes of triumph.

Renaissance Prologue

Over 20 years into Beyonce’s career she’s still capable of reinventing herself and engaging the entire globe. In a current music landscape of frozen billboard charts and repetitive repackages, Beyonce challenges her peers and newcomers to inject life into their work. Using one’s own experience as a palette to paint a picture through music is what Beyonce excelled in with “Renaissance.”

“Renaissance” is certainly a unique addition to Beyonce’s catalog. She absolutely excels in dance records, but to have an entire album dedicated to the genre takes a large amount of creativity. It would’ve been quite easy for this album to get stale and monotonous. And admittedly, one has to be in a certain mood to appreciate it fully. But, once you’re in that mood there isn’t a better album yet this year.

“Renaissance” was self-described by Beyonce as “a place to dream and to find escape.” It’s an eerily accurate way to word how this album feels even after the first listen. With each track you’re in Beyonce’s living room, dancing and sipping lemonade with Uncle Johnny.

Written by Dreema Carrington

An ambitious young journalist from Baltimore, Maryland with a passion for releasing candid and accurate information to the public. Has experience in broadcast, reporting, and editing. Always strives to make stories unique and captivating while telling the truth. Currently pursuing a Bachelors Degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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