Beyoncé’s ‘Renaissance’: a landmark expression of Black joy

Look at the shared wobble.

When Beyoncé told fans about her seventh solo studio album Renaissance – and let’s just say this seventh album feels like a big swing like Born in the USA or Ray of Light. or “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” — she said she hoped the music would make her “let go of the wobble,” an endearing phrase borrowed from New Orleans bounce music pioneers Big Freedia.

What Beyoncé meant is that she wants these songs to help people find the encouragement to be their truest selves; The jubilant momentum of the 1990s house-inspired lead single “Break My Soul” (which also features Big Freedia’s Command) predicted a powerful effort that builds on dance music styles created by black and queer people over the past several decades . But not even the most devoted member of the Beyhive could have predicted just how thoroughly the 40-year-old superstar would deliver on her promise with the wild and gorgeous “Renaissance,” which came out Friday and immediately reshaped the conversation about 2022’s important music.

After just a few days, the wiggle seems so far out of the box that it’s hard to imagine anyone ever putting it back in.

The 16-track LP, described by Beyoncé as the first in a planned trilogy, isn’t the first foray into club culture for a singer who commissioned sumptuous house and disco remixes during her teenage girl group days with Destiny’s Child . Nor is she the only pop artist to take up those sounds now, more than two years into a pandemic that has left many longing for the shared experience of the dance floor; Drake, the writer on Renaissance, has just released his own house immersion Honestly, Nevermind, while Doja Cat and Dua Lipa have been scoring monster radio smashes lately with pounding club jams.

Notable: “Break My Soul” is Beyoncé’s first solo single to break the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 since “Formation” six years ago; If the song goes to No. 1, as some analysts are predicting, it will be the singer’s first chart-topping debut since 2008’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” of pop music in the social media era — she just joined TikTok this summer — she clearly wants Hits to draw attention to projects as intellectually ambitious as her 2018 Coachella gig or the short film she made filmed to accompany 2016’s Lemonade.

But in terms of the new album’s erudition – its dense weave of samples, cameos, references and interpolations, all employed to weave broader social and political narratives into the details of her closely guarded personal life, including the time she lived as child with a gay family member she called Uncle Jonny – “Renaissance” is miles ahead of the competition.

“Nobody else on this earth can think like I do,” she purrs over a jackhammer machine groove in “Alien Superstar,” and you wonder who else would make that claim in a song (let alone sell it like Beyoncé) that makes it later imagined himself in “stilettos kicking vintage crystal off the bar”.

Music draws from disco, funk, techno, hip-hop, house, dancehall, afrobeats, ballroom and more; Beyoncé’s collaborators include The-Dream, Honey Dijon, Skrillex, Syd, Hit-Boy, Mike Dean, and AG Cook, among others. (“Alien Superstar” credits two dozen songwriters, not least the guys from Right Said Fred, whose “I’m Too Sexy” apparently influenced Beyoncé’s vocal cadence.)

In the blistering “Move,” Beyoncé enlists Grace Jones and Nigerian singer Tems to deliver a royal warning to anyone foolish enough to stand in their way: “Don’t make it trouble / Because we’re right out of the.” jungle come. “Cuff It,” an exuberant disco fantasy about “Getting f—tonight,” features Chic’s Nile Rodgers on guitar, Raphael Saadiq on bass and Sheila E. on percussion — a living lesson in funk history in 3½ Minutes in which the torso wobbles.

Sometimes the voices literally come from the past, as in “Pure/Honey,” which features drag performers Moi Renee and Kevin Aviance for a flex that looks as good as a billion bucks, and “Church Girl,” which speeds up an old one , samples gospel song by the Clark Sisters; sometimes it’s riffs and licks that Beyoncé recycles, as in the album’s shimmering close, “Summer Renaissance,” which quotes Donna Summer’s epic 1977 “I Feel Love.” It’s like a carefully curated library, all with an amazing depth of knowledge of rhythm and harmony that puts Beyoncé on par with Prince and Stevie Wonder as an arranger and bandleader.

For all its craftsmanship and know-how—there are tear-jerking transitions between songs here—“Renaissance” is intense, almost overwhelmingly emotional, as Beyoncé savors the desire and satisfaction in her own life , while contemplating the availability of these things Sensations for people on the fringes. One of her few explicitly political statements comes in “Energy”, where she mentions “Voting out 45” and calls herself “reined the country with Derringers” with “them Karens just converted into terrorists”. Yet the depictions of black joy in songs like “Plastic Off the Sofa” and “Virgo’s Groove” have a kind of unwavering tenderness that acknowledges their hard-won nature. What a gift that the smartest record of the year is also her deepest feeling.

And the vessel for this feeling? Beyoncé’s vocals, of course, which never sounded better than on “Renaissance.” The range alone is mind-blowing: snarling yet serious on “Break My Soul”, guttural and sensual on “Cuff It”, a ray of swaggering Southern attitude on “Cosy” (about feeling “comfortable in my own skin”) ) and “Thique” (about a guy who “thought he loved me well” whom she told to “go harder”). There’s a section at the end of “Heated” where she goes off in a way we’ve never heard before, hoarsely howling about stolen Chanel and Uncle Jonny and “stretch marks on my t-” with such abandon that She’s tempted to think she’s making it up as she walks.

A deliberately stretched canvas, “Renaissance” showcases Beyoncé’s flexibility over its hour-long runtime. But there are also moments where she switches from here to there in a matter of seconds, like in “Plastic Off the Sofa,” where she coos flawlessly about how safe her lover makes her feel about her self in a world full of conflict feel.

“I love the little things that make you who you are,” she tells him over another juicy bassline on an album chock-full of it, “I think you’re so cool.” Then she turns to us with a little laugh and breaks the spell with a priceless aside: “Even though I’m cooler than you.” It’s another example of Beyoncé taking it all in — and making room for herself to thrive. Beyoncé’s ‘Renaissance’: a landmark expression of Black joy

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