First Listen: Beyoncé’s New Album “Renaissance”

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The category is…. Bey.

The release of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s highly anticipated seventh solo project, Renaissance, is here! After three years of working on this LP, Beyoncé is ready to show us what she’s been cooking. As we know, “BREAK MY SOUL” was the lead single delivering a dance pop and house flavor, a subtle tease to the album’s overall genre. Some of the collaborators for the lead track include The-Dream, Jay-Z, Big Freedia, and a Robin S. sample, making the widespread acclaim on-brand for the Parkwood singer. In a rare message published on her website, the singer revealed that “creating this album allowed me a place to dream and to find escape during a scary time for the world. It allowed me to feel free and adventurous in a time when little else was moving.” 

While Renaissance is an ode to fun, it also showcases Beyoncé’s ascension to freedom in expression as an artist. Her 2013 self-titled album, Beyoncè, was the commencement of the singer’s assertion of full creative freedom, where each song was accompanied by a visual video. The Houston native’s subsequent album, Lemonade, displayed emotional rawness and powerful visuals. Her latest sixteen track project Renaissance is a blend of raw, yet playful pop and dance tracks. It is evident that this project is centered around escapism, showing love, and receiving love during a time of isolation. 

Beyoncé’s Renaissance

Some of the first words uttered on Renaissance’s opening track, “I’M THAT GIRL” are “All these songs sound good, because I’m on that. Deadass.” This project exudes confidence and empowerment from the moment it starts. Even non-musical decisions made with Renaissance such as the album artwork of Beyoncé atop a translucent horse and the decision to write every song title in all-caps are rooted in confidence.  

From the jump, the album’s opener, “I’M THAT GIRL”, sets that confident tone for this album. In this track, she expresses that what makes her the ‘Queen Bey’ extends beyond diamonds, pearls, and even her marriage to mogul Jay-Z. The song seamlessly transitions into “COZY,” an explicit celebration of blackness and self-affirmation. “Comfortable in my skin. Cozy!” The third song on the album “ALIEN SUPERSTAR” is noticeably influenced by ballroom culture – “category: BAD BITCH.”

Summer of House Music

It’s incredibly tempting to compare Beyoncé’s Renaissance to Drake’s recent album Honestly, Nevermind – and the titles of both albums explain it all. Drake probably heard Renaissance and said Honestly, Nevermind because Bey did a much better job of making a cohesive project utilizing funk, house, trance, and disco sounds to create a modern Summer Party album. The reason “ALIEN SUPERSTAR” is evocative of Drake is because Beyoncé, strangely enough samples the rhythm to Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” which was most prolifically sampled in Drake’s hit-single “Way 2 Sexy” off Certified Lover Boy

Renaissance is a far better and more cohesive album than Honestly, Nevermind. It’s more thematically and sonically cohesive, the sounds on Renaissance are fuller and the songs stand out.

Renaissance has its funky, disco moments in tracks like “CUFF IT” and “BREAK MY SOUL” that are reminiscent of her 2013 self-titled album. Softer trackers like “PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA”, a sweet summer love anthem, shows off Bey’s insane riff ability in between an electric and bass guitar. “HEATED” has a “Feeling Myself”-esque flair, perfect for boosting one’s confidence.  “THIQUE” oozes sexiness while “AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM” is a track-name plot twist because the song is everything but political. The album’s last track “SUMMER RENAISSANCE,” closes on a groovy note. Beyonce’s vocals melt into a dreamy soundscape while channeling the style of  Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”: “It’s sooo good / It’s soo good/ It’s sooo good.” We agree.

This project is filled with homages and samples to the creatures of house and bounce music. The most prolific example of this comes on the track “CHURCH GIRL” when the iconic Trigger Man beat rears its head halfway through the song. The “Trigger Man” beat comes from the song “Drag Rap” by the Showboys; it’s a one-bar drum loop that served as an integral part of New Orleans bounce music. You can hear the Trigger Man beat in Drake’s “Nice For What” and “In My Feelings,” as well as “Go Crazy” by Chris Brown and a number of Lil Wayne songs.  

Upon first listen, we are giving this album 10’s across the board. This album is a dreamy disco escape that fuses influences from the past while still feeling current and even futuristic. The strategic song placement, meticulous sample choice, and intentional production in each track are the ingredients that makes this album an auditory ‘renaissance’ piece.

We are impatiently waiting for the visuals and for Act II and III. This is only the beginning of her story.