Beyoncé's 'RENAISSANCE' Is Revolutionary
Published Aug 01, 2022From the moment Beyoncé's RENAISSANCE begins, Queen Bey herself tells you exactly who she is: "I'M THAT GIRL." For her seventh album, her least personal but most confident to date, it is not hyperbolic to say RENAISSANCE is the sound of a once-in-a-generation superstar performing at her peak, akin to Mike Tyson knocking out Michael Spinks in 91 seconds in 1988 or the Chicago Bulls going 72–10 in 1996.
Beyoncé pulls no punches on RENAISSANCE, delivering 62 minutes of sonic joy filled with unabashedly fun, self-assured and sexy lyrics. That the album is fantastic should come as no surprise — it is Beyoncé, after all — but even amid her discography, RENAISSANCE is her most impressive studio accomplishment to date, shifting from her usual R&B, soul and pop to a mix of house, electro dance, funk and disco. RENAISSANCE is an awe-inspiring reminder that Mrs. Knowles-Carter's only real competition is herself.
While fellow megastar Drake made a similar musical move earlier this summer with Honestly, Nevermind, many of that album's best moments were when he went quiet and let the beats take the focus. Meanwhile, on RENAISSANCE, Beyoncé says it best on "I'M THAT GIRL": "These songs sound good because I am on them." Here, Beyoncé lends her voice — sounding as natural as ever — to the album's arrangement of dance tracks mixed with traditionally Black genres like trap, afrobeat, hip house and gospel to create an air of familiarity even for listeners who may be unfamiliar with all of the various sounds. On lead single "BREAK MY SOUL" and second track "COZY," the fast-paced, more traditional house beats are not only complemented by Beyoncé's R&B, soul and gospel vocals but also elements of Chicago hip house and '60s Black disco.
In many aspects, the dance beats stand in for the usual hip-hop and R&B features of other Beyoncé albums, providing variety and overall presence to each song. RENAISSANCE feels very much like a collaborative project with a who's-who of music-making heavyweights, including super-producers such as Hit-Boy, Mike Dean, The-Dream, Skrillex and Syd, with songwriting credits from JAY-Z, Drake, No I.D., Honey Dijon and Boi-1da, to name a few. While Beyoncé will deservedly get the lion's share of praise for her performances on the album, it is important to acknowledge that the members of Queen's royal court have definitely earned their places.
Furthermore, Beyoncé's role as a tastemaker is most apparent in the album's lyrics. Aware of her ability to shift and create culture, RENAISSANCE's mission statement is to bring braggadocious and unapologetic joy and confidence to whoever is listening. On "CHURCH GIRL," a slow-building trap bounce and gospel record (we don't know how she pulled it off either), Beyoncé and crew pen a slew of lyrics that are sure to be memed (and embedded on T-shirts) in the coming weeks, with lines like "Drop it like a thotty" or "Must be the cash 'cause it ain't your face." Similarly, on "HEAT," Beyoncé continues to drop lyrical gems perfect for the pregame, this time on a more rhythmic electro beat with underlining afrobeat drums: "Only a real one can tame me, only the radio can play me, you wish I were complacent." These iconic moments make RENAISSANCE an almost communal religious experience. It is an album best listened to with company, where the trance-like ecstasy of it all can be shared and multiplied as personal favourites come on.
The biggest issue with RENAISSANCE is that it comes to us as the summer winds down. From start to finish, this is the perfect summer playlist for a cookout, day at the beach or house party in a year without a clear-cut song of the summer. However, making a case for a late push for that title is "CUFF IT," a funk-heavy disco track co-written by Nile Rodgers that serves as the album's biggest standout. It's a rush of immediate bliss in the same way as Michael Jackson's "Rock with You," similarly starting with distinct three-line drumbeats and then exploding into a groovy feel-good anthem.
While less vulnerable than Lemonade, RENAISSANCE takes the reins as Beyoncé's grandest record to date because of the technical achievements in production and seemingly effortless experimentation without losing any of her lyrical cool. Marking what is sure to be a new music trend of pop artists experimenting with dance and house music, Beyoncé's RENAISSANCE is a modern classic. The only question now is, how is she going to pull it off two more times? (Parkwood / Columbia)