A Beyoncé album is always an event these days, especially after she became the patron saint of the surprise album when she dropped her self-titled fifth set in 2013. But from the first announcement in June, something felt completely different about her seventh album RENAISSANCE. Her rollout was low-key (at least by Beyoncé standards), and the set’s lead single “BREAK MY SOUL,” while good, didn’t elicit the same “oohs” and “ahhs” that usually accompany new music from the artist. However, now that we have the whole of RENAISSANCE to listen to, her vision is as clear as a disco ball reflecting light above a crowded dance floor.
The singer made her inspiration for the album clear when she released a letter prior to its arrival that it was dedicated to her late Uncle Jonny, a relative whom she called her “godmother” and who exposed her to the dance, house, funk and soul music that influenced the set, and “all of the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long.” But even without that written confirmation, you can feel the love, appreciation and celebration of that music and the Black and queer innovators, icons and originators that made it possible.
She borrows a lot of the bravado and swagger found in ballroom culture at the album’s start with the opening “I’M THAT GIRL,” “COZY” and “ALIEN SUPERSTAR,” songs where she talks her s**t just as much as she sings. But that feel is woven throughout, especially when it comes to her becoming her own ballroom commentator on “HEATED” and “PURE/HONEY.”
That’s not the only way Beyoncé pays homage to the community or the shapers of the sounds she revels in here. Samples abound on RENAISSANCE, with seminal dance and club cuts being folded into the work — including Robin S.’ “Show Me Love,” DJ Jimi‘s “Where They At,” Donna Summer‘s “I Feel Love” and many more. But the singer also makes sure to include many queer artists in the album’s creation, whether that means sampling the likes of DJ MikeQ, TS Madison, Moi Renee, Kevin Aviance and Big Freedia or bringing Syd and Honey Dijon into her regular cadre of producers and songwriters.
It all results in a rather eclectic mix, swinging from the smooth sounds of funk and soul on cuts like “CUFF IT” and “VIRGO’S GROOVE” to the throbbing electronic bass lines and glitchy synths on tracks like “ENERGY,” “ALL UP IN YOUR MIND” and “THIQUE” with a carefree ease while picking up hip-hop, Afrobeats, disco, bounce and gospel along the way.
Sequencing is also a big thing here. Treating this as a concept album of sorts, each song’s placement is carefully selected, keeping the propulsive momentum going from the very beginning to the climax of “SUMMER RENAISSANCE” and a moment of ecstatic release like only music can give.
With Beyoncé’s previous works, even the critically hailed self-titled project or Lemonade, there always seemed to be a feel that songs were selected based on which would be singles, chart-toppers or awards contenders. Each song on RENAISSANCE feels like it’s there mainly because Beyoncé likes it. There’s an obvious fun and joy that spills through the speakers and it’s quite infectious.
RENAISSANCE is only the first act of three that will be coming from Beyoncé in the near future. If it’s the beginning, we can only imagine the reinvention and revolution that could be coming from the diva down the road.