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Beyoncé sent the Beyhive into a frenzy last month when she announced that her seventh album, Renaissance, would arrive in July. Unlike her past surprise releases—including her eponymous album, Lemonade, and her collaborative album Everything Is Love with husband JAY-Z—the Renaissance rollout was strategic, paired with mysterious “Pose” album box sets and an extravagant British Vogue spread. Along with journalist Edward Enninful’s testimonial about music from Renaissance, Beyoncé unveiled lead single “Break My Soul” with a statement about her intention behind the long-anticipated album.
“Creating this album allowed me a place to dream and to find escape during a scary time for the world,” Beyoncé shared. “It allowed me to feel free and adventurous in a time when little else was moving. My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking. A place to scream, release, feel freedom. It was a beautiful journey of exploration.”
Six years since the release of Beyoncé’s last solo studio album, Lemonade—followed by 2019 live album Homecoming and curated soundtrack album The Lion King: The Gift—“Club Renaissance” pulsates with dance music galore. With appearances from Beam, Tems, and elusive new wave legend Grace Jones, Renaissance offers deep grooves that chronicle house music, techno, disco, electronic, and other dance subgenres.
Renaissance nearly had a misstep when the album was leaked two days before its original July 29 release date, but the Beyhive vowed to honor Queen Bey with their patience, giving the album its proper arrival today. Over 16 songs, Beyoncé provides listeners with space to “release the wiggle” without judgment, paying tribute to various eras of dance music and legendary acts including Donna Summer, Teena Marie, Robin S., and Moi Renee.
To celebrate today's release of Beyoncé's first full-length dance offering, we’ve broken down her lyrics and Easter eggs heard throughout the album. Let the Renaissance begin.
“I’m That Girl”
Despite the six-year wait for a new Beyoncé album, Renaissance doesn’t open with Mrs. Knowles-Carter, but with late Memphis rapper Princess Loko. With Loko’s vocals chopped over the gritty production of “I’m That Girl,” the sample comes from 1994 track “Still Pimpin,” from rapper-producer Tommy Wright III, which also featured Princess Loko and Mac-T Dog. On “I’m That Girl,” Beyoncé reminds listeners that she’s a product of the South while exuding a sensual prowess and boasting about “knocking Basquiats off the wall.” In this case, art reflects life, as JAY-Z has grown freeform locs with Jean-Michel Basquiat as hairspiration, with the Carters using a never-before-seen painting in their 2021 Tiffany & Co. campaign.
Renaissance lights up with the throbbing track “Cozy,” where she says “renaissance” for the first time on the album. Beyoncé also makes room for a sample of 1991 Chicago house classic “Nu Nu (Club Mix)” by vocalist, DJ, and producer Lidell Townsell. The song is also the fifth Beyoncé songwriting credit for singer-songwriter Nija Charles, who appeared in Bey’s 2020 Disney+ visual album Black Is King during the “My Power” segment. Bey’s “Might I suggest you don’t f--- with my sis” could refer to the infamous 2014 Met Gala Party elevator altercation between Solange and JAY-Z, but also Solange being an overall stan of her older sister.
Media personality and trans woman T.S. Madison also makes an appearance on “Cozy,” giving an affirmation of Black pride with her 2020 “B--tch I’m Black” message. The 1991 club mix “Unique,” by Danube Dance featuring Kim Cooper, is also on the song; Beyoncé repeats the title on follow-up track “Alien Superstar.” Bey shines light on the LGBTQIA+ community with coproduction from electronic musician and DJ Honey Dijon, who is a trans woman.
For those missing beloved FX series Pose, Beyoncé takes it to the ballroom on “Alien Superstar.” The track opens with a dance-floor warning from 1998 electronic cut “Moonraker,” by Philadelphia-born DJ and spoken-word performer Foremost Poets. Bey also interpolates 1991 dance-pop staple “I’m Too Sexy,” by Right Said Fred, instead switching their “I’m too sexy for my shirt,” into “I’m too classy for this world, forever I’m that girl.” Bey wouldn’t be the first artist in recent history to interpolate “I’m Too Sexy”; 2021’s “Way 2 Sexy” by Drake, Future, and Young Thug was also an homage to the ’90s hit.
“Black Theatre Speech” from Harlem’s National Black Theatre’s late founder Barbara Ann Teer is sampled toward the song’s end before Beyoncé’s voice reappears. A creative visionary and Black activist, Teer founded Harlem National Theatre in 1968, promoting shows and workshops that celebrated Black expression. “Alien Superstar” also features an all-star songwriting lineup, including current R&B singer-songwriters Lucky Daye, Labrinth, and Leven Kali, along with experimental rapper and vocalist 070 Shake.
“Cuff It” contributes to the resurgence of ’70s funk and soul music, including current R&B acts like Silk Sonic, Victoria Monét, Lucky Daye, and Lizzo. Beyoncé also segues into the 1980s, paying tribute to late R&B vocalist Teena Marie and her 1988 hit “Ooo La La La.”
The track also features production from funk and soul veterans Nile Rodgers and Raphael Saddiq; the latter coproduced Solange’s third album, A Seat at the Table, including her Grammy-winning song “Cranes In the Sky.”
The love for Teena Marie flows from “Cuff It” into “Energy,” featuring Jamaican American artist Beam. Perhaps Yoncé is also a Latto fan, saying “big energy” before the beat shifts.
“Energy” has caused quite the stir, even one day prior to the release of Renaissance, when Kelis caught wind that her 1999 single “Get Along With You” and 2003 hit “Milkshake” were sampled on the track, as Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo of production duo the Neptunes were credited.
“Break My Soul”
Lead single “Break My Soul” opens with NOLA rapper and bounce legend Big Freedia, whose vocals also graced “Formation” from Beyoncé’s genre-bending album Lemonade. “Break My Soul” marks their second time working together, as Big Freedia’s 2014 track “Explode” was sampled, turning the bounce cut into an affirmational anthem.
The song, which was cowritten by Beyoncé, JAY-Z, The-Dream, and Tricky Stewart, also contains elements of ’90s house classic “Show Me Love,” by Robin S., with the vocalist expressing gratitude on ITV’s Good Morning Britain. “Thank you so much for giving me my flowers while I’m still alive,” she said during her interview. “I am honored, and I’m excited to see what else can happen.”
“Break My Soul” also got the full single treatment, with an a cappella and an instrumental version just weeks after the song’s release.
Beyoncé drops it “like a thotty” from the club to the pulpit on “Church Girl,” which revamps 1981 gospel song “Center of Thy Will,” by the Clark Sisters. Twinkie Clark, lead singer of the quartet, posted a clip to social media thanking Beyoncé for including her line in “Church Girl,” also playing organ and singing “Center of Thy Will” at the end of the message. Also on “Church Girl” are elements of 1972 Lyn Collins funk song “Think (About It),” written by Godfather of Funk James Brown and early-’90s one-bar drum loop “Triggaman,” a staple of New Orleans bounce music.
Church folks may clutch their pearls at “Church Girl,” where Bey interpolates controversial 2000 Nelly song “Tip Drill,” which was accompanied by an X-rated music video that caused Spelman students to protest against the Country Grammar rapper holding a bone marrow drive at the college.
“Plastic Off the Sofa”
The slowest groove on Renaissance belongs to “Plastic Off the Sofa,” where Beyoncé’s vocals flutter over disco-esque production. The song is also a tongue-in-cheek reference to getting the couch dirty, if you catch our drift. Cowritten by Based on a Feeling singer Sabrina Claudio, “Plastic Off the Sofa” makes the second Beyoncé songwriting credit for The Internet vocalist Syd and singer-songwriter Nick Green, who cowrote “Otherside” on The Lion King: The Gift. While in Tokyo, Syd vibed to “Plastic Off the Sofa” at a gay bar hours before Renaissance dropped.
Clocking in at six minutes and eight seconds, “Virgo’s Groove” is the longest on Renaissance. While The-Dream provided synthesizer and additional production to the track, “Virgo’s Groove” was coproduced and cowritten by Bey and Leven Kali, who released his sophomore album Hightide in 2020. Singer-songwriter Jozzy, Diddy’s first signee to his new R&B record label Love Records, also cowrote the track.
Beyoncé somehow got Grace Jones’s blessing by featuring the iconic vocalist and model alongside Nigerian singer Tems on the fierce Afrobeat-inspired “Move.” On the song’s opening, Bey repeats “Grace Jones,” giving the Slave to the Rhythm her flowers. Both repeat “Brukup, it's Brukup, its Brukup (Brukup)/Humble, like we pon the come up,” in Jamaican patois, referencing ’90s dancehall move “bruk up,” created by the style’s originator, George “Bruk Up” Adams.
The first-time collaboration on “Move” between Bey and Tems is perhaps long overdue, as Tems became a worldwide phenomenon in the past year for her “Essence” feature with Wizkid and “Higher” being sampled on Future’s “Wait for U” and popularized on TikTok.
One day after Beyoncé announced Renaissance, Drake dropped surprise dance-oriented album Honestly, Nevermind, which, like Bey, marks his seventh studio album. In an ironic twist of fate, Drake also cowrote “Heated,” with Beyoncé having similar vocal inflections as the rapper on the song.
Toward the end of “Heated,” Beyoncé raps “Uncle Jonny made my dress/that cheap Spandex, she looks a mess,” referencing her late “godmother” Jonny, who the singer says was the first person to expose her “to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album.” Dedicating Renaissance to her gay “uncle,” Beyoncé last publicly referenced Jonny in 2019 when she and JAY-Z won the GLAAD Vanguard Award.
“He was brave and unapologetic during a time when this country wasn’t as accepting. Witnessing his battle with HIV was one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever lived,” Beyoncé tearfully said in her speech. “I’m hopeful that his struggle served to open pathways for other young people to live more freely. LGBTQIA+ rights are human rights.”
Teasing listeners with her curvaceous figure, Beyoncé references immortalized Black spring break college festival Freaknik, which was held in Atlanta from 1983 until 1999. The annual festival was polarizing, with reports of sexual assault, public intoxication, and safety concerns that were attached to the yearly event. By 1999, police involvement and arrests caused Freaknik to discontinue.
Bey also name-checks Miami bass, arguably the first Southern rap subgenre, popularized in the ’80s and ’90s by rappers Luke Skyywalker, 2 Live Crew, and MC A.D.E. and numerous Florida-based DJs, including DJ Laz and DJ Magic Mike.
“All Up In Your Mind”
Beyoncé gets grungy on the rapturous “All Up In Your Mind,” which unlike other songs from Renaissance has its own exclusive poster on Beyoncé’s official website. Coproduction on the song comes from BloodPop, who produced extensively on Lady Gaga’s sixth studio album, Chromatica. Beyoncé and Lady Gaga collaborated twice during their “phone” era, on Bey’s 2009 “Video Phone” remix and Gaga’s “Telephone” in the same year.
“America Has a Problem”
Beyoncé brings the “Freaknik’ back to Atlanta by sampling the 1991 Kilo Ali song “Cocaine (America Has A Problem).” Although Kilo Ali is an Atlanta rap pioneer, “Cocaine” was helmed as an anti-drug anthem and part of the Miami bass movement years before Atlanta had a true identity in hip-hop.
The “Pure” half of penultimate track “Pure/Honey” opens with drag queen Kevin Aviance’s 1996 track “Cunty (Wave Mix),” with elements of Mike Q’s 2011 song "Feels Like" featuring Kevin Jz Prodigy. “Pure/Honey” reigns as a tribute to the ballroom community, also sampling 1992 song "Miss Honey" by late drag performer Moi Renee, who allegedly died by suicide in 1997.
The Renaissance closer twinkles with the iconic Donna Summer track and arguably the greatest disco song ever: “I Feel Love.” Even the title references the Queen of Disco, who died in 2012 from lung cancer. Toward the album’s conclusion, Beyoncé gets into her bag literally, gloating about her fashion collection, including Versace, Prada, Balenciaga, and Louis Vuitton. Black-owned luxury brand Telfar also gets a look, one year after Bey was spotted wearing its white shopping bag.
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