I’m not a patient man, but I’ve mellowed in my 30’s. In the heyday of leaks, I wasn’t the plug, but damn if I wasn’t the intermediary. I knew exactly where and when to find them. It was like clockwork. That was a good decade ago. Nowadays I don’t feel that most releases don’t warrant scouring the internet for the first sign of availability. Beyoncé is an exception to that rule. But she already has my coins for this album (I pre-ordered the vinyl) and she’s going to get more of them (I’m buying the CD) so, I went for it.
It’s been 6 years since Lemonade was released, and 16 years since I got my hands on a Beyoncé album through a traditional release, without significant piracy interference (I remember cutting out of a meeting for a group project in college because 4 leaked and I *had* to go home and download it). Renaissance is the most traditional release of a B record since 4 dropped 11 years ago, making it the most liable for a leak. At 16 tracks, it’s also the longest Beyoncé release since 2008’s I Am… Sasha Fierce. That fuels the already sky-high anticipation.
Something started to itch in me Wednesday morning. There was an air on Twitter, and then there were pictures of Renaissance on the shelves in Europe. The leak was coming. The Beyhive is, after all, one of the most unhinged and unchecked fan bases in existence, in part thanks to Beyoncé’s radio silence on their abusive behaviors. For every stan commenting on posts about a leak with instructions on how to file a DMCA complaint against a leak, there were a few looking for the leak to get a listen. Can you blame them? They lodge death threats in the name of this woman. Of course they want to hear the new music as soon as they can.
Conversation started on Twitter and the forums. But it wasn’t definitive. People might be lying. People do that, you know. So I started digging. And though I’m rusty, I’m clever. Within a half-hour: boom. 10:44am and Renaissance was on my hard drive, more than 36 hours before its official release in the U.S. This is what I took away after living with Renaissance for 24 hours.
Renaissance is, like its first single, a statement of resistance and a call to action, but also a testament, ode, and expansion of the dance floor. For the first six songs, it’s a continuous and interrupted dance party. The opening sextet of songs are mixed into one another, culminating in the anthemic but cool “Break My Soul.” With a not-quite-sample-but-still-credited nod to Robin S’s classic “Show Me Love” and more samples of Big Freedia (just like “Formation”), Beyoncé blends house and bounce to issue a cool battle cry to the overworked, oppressed, and suppressed.
She’s “one of one” and the setting the bar in the category of ‘bad bitch’ on “Alien Superstar,” which drives right to the heart of the ballroom. It’s braggadocious and boastful, but simultaneously encouraging “unique, that’s what you are,” she proclaims during the hook. “Cuff It” folds at the intersection of funk and disco. It’s a hard beat accentuated by bass plucks that’s sweetened with flourishes of strings, a sonic sibling to the infectious “Blow” of 2013’s BEYONCÉ. It should be no surprise that Nile Rogers had a hand in this one. There’s also a slick incorporation of Teena Marie’s “Ooh La La La.” “Virgo’s Groove” assumes a similar position, with thick synths, heavy bass and guitar parts that evoke late 70’s and early 80’s R&B.
She does switch dance floors from the ballroom and smoothes things out on the multilayered “Plastic Off The Sofa,” which sounds like it could have first lived on Dangerously In Love and has since been updated with a heavier groove. It’s a gorgeously smooth R&B record. This is for those breezy summer nights.
Sparse with features, one of the few rises above the rest, because Grace Jones is, for lack of better words, Grace fucking Jones. In her four and a half decade-long music career, she’s been extremely elusive when it comes to working with other artists. By my count, she’s granted less than 10 artists a feature on their albums. Her dominant voice is unmistakable on the afro-beat driven “Move,” a perfect follow-up to Grace’s last solo release (“Original Beast”) and an expansion on the sounds Beyoncé fully embraced on The Gift. The afro-beat influence runs throughout the album.
Renaissance closes with a very familiar progression: “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer. Beyoncé’s incorporation of the progression and melody indicate the tonal similarities she shares with the Queen of Disco, like she did on 2003’s “Naughty Girl” with “Love To Love You Baby.” It’s a perfect punctuation to this stellar, dance-driven record, the first of an apparent trilogy.