The release of a new Beyoncé album is global headline news – comparable to an international sporting tournament or a minor earthquake. So a few weeks back, when the woman generally regarded as the world’s greatest living entertainer announced that she would be releasing a brand new record, ACT I: RENAISSANCE (via a British Vogue cover which saw her atop a white horse, Studio 54 style, naturally), furore ensued.
These flames were only fanned by the subsequent drop of this new era’s first single, the Robin S.-sampling, Big Freedia-featuring “Break My Soul”, which strongly suggested that RENAISSANCE would be influenced by dance music – house music specifically – and that Beyoncé would be embracing the nightclub and all things “oontz oontz” on her new project.
A recently-released list of the songs on the album, and their composers, seems to confirm these suspicions: from the inclusion of Nile Rodgers as a co-writer on one song, to the question mark hovering over a Drake feature, here’s everything we can probably expect on Beyoncé’s first new record in six years when it arrives on Friday.
The subject matter
Information on what RENAISSANCE is about has been fairly thin on the ground, but if “Break My Soul” and her recent, comically brief interview with British Vogue’s Edward Enninful are to be believed, it seems that following Lemonade – the 2016 concept album that appeared to deal with marital problems between the singer and Jay-Z, who are otherwise notoriously private – Beyoncé is very keen to come back and simply have fun.
The Vogue interview focused on just how relaxed she seems right now (“I’m so struck by how tranquil our hostess is,” Enninful wrote. “Her armour is so lowered, her laughter so infectious, her skin so glowy, she honestly looks like a teenager,”) while “Break My Soul”, with its thumping beat and witty lyrics (“Bey is back and I’m sleeping real good at night,” she purrs), suggest that a good time is front and centre.
Almost certainly, too, considering the record’s probable dance and disco emphasis, Beyoncé will use her platform to showcase the pioneering achievements of Black artists within them.
As a 16-song epic ACT I: RENAISSANCE certainly doesn’t skip on runtime, which will be welcome news for fans who’ve been craving new Beyoncé music. “Break My Soul”, the only song from the record that we’ve heard so far, is sixth in the tracklist, meaning that it hits just shy of a third of the way through. Other enticingly-named songs include “Alien Superstar”, “Virgo’s Groove” (Beyoncé was born under the zodiac’s sixth sign), and, simply, “Thique”.
The featured artists
Even without any other information, the small, exclusive club of people confirmed to be appearing on RENAISSANCE alongside Beyoncé make the album an even more exciting prospect. It’ll see her sharing space with Jamaican-American rapper BEAM on “Energy”, and on “Move” we get the one-two punch of the extremely in-demand Nigerian singer Tems and the legendary Miss Grace Jones.
Looking at the list of people involved in making Renaissance is basically like being at a buffet of all your favourite foods and wondering where to begin because it all seems so tantalising.
As tends to be typical for a Beyoncé full-length – simply because there’s a lot that goes into making pop music this complex – there are a lot of credited co-writers (which of course will prompt the usual tedious debate about how “real music” is actually written by one person at the mercy of divine inspiration rather than via collaboration, from people who get angry if you say you don’t like Muse).
First, there are the obvious, long-time Beyoncé collaborators. These include The-Dream, who has worked with her consistently since her days in Destiny’s Child, and of course her husband Jay Z.
Drake, who has also featured on Beyoncé’s music in the past (“Mine” from her self-titled record, released in 2013), is credited as a co-writer on “Heated” – whether he appears, however, remains to be seen.
Elsewhere, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo of The Neptunes pop up, as does Mike Dean, the hip-hop producer who has worked with Beyoncé consistently since 2013.
While the appearances of all of these familiar faces are certainly good news, perhaps more interesting still are the new minds who seem to be helping to take Beyoncé in a more dance-adjacent direction.
On “Cuff It”, Chic’s Nile Rodgers’ name appears in the credits, though whether he is a writer or is sampled is as yet unclear, while “Energy” sees a credit for the DJ Skrillex. Excitingly, too, UK producer A.G. Cook, known for his work as the head of the innovative PC Music pop label, and a close collaborator of Charli XCX, is cited as having worked on “All Up In Your Mind.”
The possible samples
As with Lemonade and other previous Beyoncé records, it’s also possible that some contributors are listed because of the use of samples or interpolations from their music (on Lemonade, for example, the track “Hold Up” credited the Yeah Yeah Yeahs due to the use of the lines “Hold up / They don’t love you like I love you,” which was inspired by their song “Maps”).
Considering the D-I-S-C-O direction of the album, it seems sensible to assume that a) Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer are credited as co-writers on final track “Summer Renaissance” because they’re sampled on it; and b) based on the fact that Beyoncé came straight out of the gate with “Break My Soul”, which interpolated one of the most famous dance songs of all time (“Show Me Love”), there’s a strong chance she’s ending this record similarly hugely by using a sample of Summer’s Moroder-produced 1977 classic “I Feel Love”. It’d be a big moment, but if anyone can rise to it, it’s surely Beyoncé.
Elsewhere, other credits that possibly pertain to samples include James Brown’s mention on “Church Girl” and, as Twitter quickly discerned, Teena Marie on “Cuff It”.
Other upcoming albums?
The fact that RENAISSANCE is labelled as “ACT I” has led some to believe that this won’t be the only album Beyoncé is going to be releasing in the near future. She has, after all, been away for a while (barring her Lion King work and a few singles and features), and for someone who is as capable of defining the culture as Beyoncé, it seems entirely possible that another record (or two) could be on the cards.
Might ACT II be the long-rumoured Beyoncé country album? Anything is possible – for now, however, we’ll just have to sit back and enjoy the RENAISSANCE when it arrives this Friday.
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