When Beyoncé released the club-ready single “BREAK MY SOUL” as the first taste of her seventh album, RENAISSANCE, fans prepared for a summer of booty shaking. Now that the album has officially dropped — despite leaking a few days early — the dancing has commenced.
With collaborators like Nile Rodgers, Grace Jones, Green Velvet and Nigerian singer Tems, it’s clear that Beyoncé has spent the last few years immersed in the escapism of dance music’s Black pioneers. As she said herself upon announcing RENAISSANCE, her inspiration for the album was similar to that of club culture: “My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment.”
Dubbed “act i,” RENAISSANCE is the first installment of a “three-act project,” as Beyoncé revealed on her website the day before the album’s release. If these 16 songs are any indication, Queen Bey has only just begun her dance-floor quest.
Here are five key details to know about Beyoncé’s bold new album, RENAISSANCE.
The Album Is A Tribute To Her “Godmother” And The Pioneers Of Club Culture
Beyoncé called her late cousin Jonny, who was her mother’s nephew, her uncle. He died of HIV-related complications, Beyoncé revealed when she paid tribute to him while accepting GLAAD’s Vanguard Award in 2019. She dedicated the album to him and her family, showing pictures of her with her kids and her mother with Jonny.
“A big thank you to my Uncle Jonny,” she wrote in the acknowledgements that appear on her website and on physical versions of RENAISSANCE. “He was my godmother and the first person to expose me to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album.”
She continued, “Thank you to all of the pioneers who originate culture, to all of the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long. This is a celebration for you.”
The album features contributions from several LGBTQIA+ artists that are acclaimed in the world of dance music, including Big Freedia, Kevin Aviance and Moi Renee. Honey Dijon, a transgender producer who worked on “COZY” and “ALIEN SUPERSTAR,” called the RENAISSANCE experience “life changing.”
“Your elegance, beauty, talent, work ethic, and vision is truly inspirational,” Dijon wrote in a Facebook post. “To share my Chicago house music roots and black queer and trans culture with you and the world is profound and emotional. I am honored, humbled, delirious with joy, and proud.”
RENAISSANCE Emulates A DJ Set
The songs on RENAISSANCE track at speeds from 92 to 136 beats per minute, a tempo range that’s aimed straight at the dance floor. And many of the songs sample several other tracks within a few minutes in the way that a DJ set might be structured.
“PURE/HONEY,” for example, samples the bassline from Chicago house classic “Mystery of Love” as well as vocals and stabs from three ballroom anthems: Kevin Aviance’s “Cunty” (1999), “Miss Honey” (1992) by drag icon Moi Renee and MikeQ featuring Kevin JZ Prodigy’s “Feels Like” (2011).
Further, Beyoncé has released a cappella and instrumental versions of “BREAK MY SOUL” on her YouTube channel — a move that signals that she’s open to DJs everywhere using them as tools to create unofficial remixes in their sets.
Beyoncé Is The Drug On RENAISSANCE
The album drips with metaphors on how Beyoncé is the only intoxicant you need to get high. “You know love is my weakness,” she sings in the opening song, “I’M THAT GIRL.” “Don’t need drugs for some freak s—/ I’m just high all the time, I’m out of my mind/ I’m tweakin’…”
On “AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM” — which samples beats from Atlanta rapper Kilo Ali’s 1990 song “America Has a Problem (Cocaine)” — she compares herself to the drug, rapping, “Your ex-dealer dope, but it ain’t crack enough/ I’m supplying my man, I’m in demand soon as I land.”
You Can’t Hear Him, But JAY-Z Is There
Beyoncé has collaborated with JAY-Z on several of her albums, but it would be easy to miss his contribution to RENAISSANCE. Though you won’t hear the rapper’s voice this time around, you’ll still hear some JAY-Z lyrics: he’s a co-writer on “AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM.”
In the album’s dedication, she calls him her “beautiful husband and muse, noting that he “held me down during those late nights in the studio.” Sounds like the couple’s collective creativity is still in full effect.
She’s Leaning More Into Her Own Vocal Production
Beyoncé’s deep involvement in her album production processes is routinely overlooked, but she serves as her own vocal producer for RENAISSANCE — in addition to her writing and producer credits.
“Sometimes it takes a year for me to personally search through thousands of sounds to find just the right kick or snare,” she told Harper’s Bazaar in 2021. “One chorus can have up to 200 stacked harmonies. Still, there’s nothing like the amount of love, passion, and healing that I feel in the recording studio. After 31 years, it feels just as exciting as it did when I was 9 years old.”
Will the next two acts in Beyoncé’s musical story remain on the dance floor, or will the star explore new directions? With no announced timeline for the rest of the project, fans will just have to wait and see — but in the meantime, keep dancing.