Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” Is an Unapologetic Dedication to Blackness and Queerness

The first time I learned about sampling was because of Beyoncé. I was no older than five or six when my childhood friend and I would curate dance performances for our mothers — and Beyoncé was always the soundtrack. We’d design zany, rather camp outfits using princess dresses that barely fit anymore and random accessories to complete our looks. We strutted and danced to “Crazy in Love” and “Déjà Vu,” two young Black girls turning the small Crenshaw living room into our powerful main stage.

Without fail, every time “Crazy in Love” came on, my mom would remind me: “She got this sound from the Chi-Lites! My generation of music is the blueprint!” She’d play the original song “Are You My Woman? (Tell me So)” during the car ride home. This blew my young mind! Growing up, I was in love with the music that came before me. Truly my mother’s child, I loved music from the 60s-90s with a passion. For Beyoncé to not only honor and reference the sounds that came before, but to push them forward into a new era dripped in her flavor and style — she won my heart and respect from a very young age. With my mother’s ear for samples, I’ve grown to see sampling, when done well, as a love language, a way to remain connected to our history and communicate with the musical innovators who shaped, and continue to breathe life into, our culture.

The cover art for Renaissance by Beyoncé features Beyoncé on an iridescent horse.

Now, of course, Beyoncé did not invent sampling. As The-Dream — a featured writer and producer on her new album Act I: Renaissance, in addition to other Beyoncé hits like “1+1” — pointed out on Twitter, there is a long history of Black artists sampling, especially within the hip-hop and house genres. But what Beyoncé did invent is the lane she has worked hard to cultivate for decades and occupies as one of the few artists alive today who is not only an immensely talented singer and performer, but a fervent, unrelenting student — of music, of dance, of culture. And in her true Virgo Sun Scorpio Moon nature, she makes it clear that she does this out of the purest love, loyalty, and dedication to her family, her culture, her fans, her passion, and her craft.

As a long time and dedicated member of the Beyhive, it was no surprise to me that her newest release, the first act of Renaissance, is a phenomenal piece of art. Executive produced by Beyoncé, it’s thoughtfully written and produced, with each note, harmony, sample, and interpolation intentionally placed and woven throughout to create a cohesive body of work that honors not only the Black queer icons who shaped and paved music and life as we know it today, but also honors Beyoncé’s growth as a musician. However, I am still shocked at how she has once again “raised the bar” — and did it flawlessly. Beyoncé is not afraid of evolution, and her new album is a testament to that.

Through this futuristic album full of 70s/80s house, disco, soul, R&B, and even gospel sounds, Beyoncé shines vocally while giving us a story of rebirth and joy, of renewal of love and light — and not only within herself, but for all who listen. In honor of her late Godmother Uncle Jonny, Beyoncé writes that her album is dedicated to “to all of the pioneers who originate culture, to all of the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long.” Renaissance is like a call into prayer as she invites all of us — but especially Black queer folks and Black femmes — to join her prayer-line during a time filled with such darkness and sorrow and find a renewed sense of love for ourselves, for each other.

Renaissance begins with “I’m That Girl,” which features a sample of “Still Pimpin” by Tommy Wright III (ft. Mac-T Dog & Princess Loko) and a deliberate tone that commands you to sit up and pay attention, as the Queen has arrived and she’s still that girl. She melodically transports you into a sonic cinematic world of soul, harmony, and empowerment. The song builds to a signature Beyoncé bridge full of energy and power as she lets us know that “motherfuckers ain’t stopping” her.

From here, she seamlessly transitions into “Cozy,” the first transitions of many that reflect the excellent music production accomplished on and exhibited by this album. This track utilizes a sample of Lidell Townsell and M.T.F’s’s “Get With U,” providing us with the catchy bassline that grounds the song. From the production power of trans music icon Honey Dijon, the commanding voice of trans activist and TV personality Ts Madison, to the “Unique” adlib and bassline from Peter Rauhofer and Kim Cooper’s New York gay club circuit hit, Renaissance stands firm in its intention to serve as an unapologetic dedication to Blackness and queerness — reminding us that we are “gods,” “heroes,” “confident,” and “lethal.”

In “Alien Superstar,” Beyoncé continues to push her sound forward. Traces of “Sweet Dreams” from I Am…Sasha Fierce and “Haunted” from her self-titled album can be heard as she builds off her music repertoire to give us enchanting, magical, powerful pop melodies and vocals that transport us to outer space. In the same way that Lady Gaga has her Monsters, Beyoncé now has her Aliens — a symbol that represents the embracing of our queerness, our boldness, our uniqueness. Queer folks continue to bring Beyoncé’s music to life with 070 Shake, NOVA Wav, and DJ Honey Dijon giving us the vocals, songwriting, and production needed to create this galactic Ballroom energy. The featured “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred interpolation is catchy, fun, and elevates the mood even further, while the interpolation of “Moonraker” by Foremost Poets further emphasizes the intergalactic tone. She ends this iconic track with an outro featuring words from Barbara Ann Teer, emphasizing the daring eccentricity that is core to Blackness and queerness, highlighting how “We dress a certain way/We walk a certain way/We talk a certain way/ We, we paint a certain way/We, we make love a certain way, you know?/All of these things we do in a different/ Unique, specific way that is personally ours/We just reaching out to the solar system.”

Our previous track took us to outer space, yet Beyoncé still “wanna go higher” in “Cuff It.” Here she captures 80s disco and shows the depths of her vocal range. Images of Beyoncé roller skating in her “Blow” visual flood my mind whenever I listen. “Cuff It” reminds us how joyful and fun experiencing life and love can be. The post-chorus verses are particularly memorable, giving us a deep groove that leaves listeners no choice but to dance and feel the love permeate throughout your body. The samples of Teena Marie’s “Square Biz” and “Good Times” by Nile Rodgers & Chic accentuate the vibe and era that Beyoncé is aiming to embody, with the subtle interpolation of “Ooo La La La” by Marie further defining the track. Between the excellent percussion brought to us by icon Sheila E, the groovy lyrics and composition from Nile Rogers, and the funky bassline and horns from Raphael Saadiq, Beyoncé shows us again that she is a student of her craft.

In “Energy,” Beyoncé asks us to recharge as we get ready to liberate ourselves in “Break My Soul.” New Orleans bounce legend Big Freedia commands us to release our stressors, be free, and love one another as Beyoncé fuses house and gospel through her samples of “Show Me Love” by Robin S. and “Explode” by Big Freedia, while her background vocals take us to church, which perfectly ushers in her next track, “Church Girl.”

Opening with a Clark Sisters sample, in “Church Girl,” Beyoncé takes a moment to preach to the masses, highlighting the plights of her past and of those in the Black and queer community who have to “move mountains” in the face of struggle. As always, Beyoncé incorporates her southern roots, soulfully imploring listeners to embrace ourselves and our culture, because we are the embodiment of love. Similar to the styling of B’Day’s “Get Me Bodied”— which also utilizes the same classic bounce sample “The Drag Rap” by Showboys in the Homecoming version, Beyoncé instructs all the baddies listening to “drop it like a thottie” and “twirl that ass like you came up out the South.”

Her first slow jam on the album, “Plastic Off the Sofa” utilizes Beyoncé’s ability to artistically, yet precisely, manipulate her vocal tone to paint a rich and divine picture of true love. Queer musicians are further highlighted on this track, with Syd featured as a co-writer and co-producer, as well as Sabrina Claudio as a co-producer and background vocalist. I can hear their respective artistry combining to help Beyoncé cultivate a Venusian vibe that Syd (alongside her bandmate Patrick Paige II from The Internet, who is also a co-writer and bassist on this track) and Claudio both curate in their own music. “Plastic Off the Sofa” transitions perfectly into “Virgo’s Groove,” a six minute sensation that transports you to the sweaty dance floor right in your own bedroom. Musically, “Virgo’s Groove” is like “Blow” and “Partition“‘s grandchild, like “Kitty Kat” and “Greenlight“‘s love child. It’s an invigorating, sensual groove that reflects the boundless love that Beyoncé is expressing lyrically, further conveyed with her smooth runs and Destiny’s Child-inspired harmonies at the end of the track.

With runs and harmonies that remind me of “Naughty Girl” and “Beautiful Liar,” Renaissance’s “Move” is for the girls with boss energy. It opens with the great and powerful Grace Jones commanding us to get on our feet, dance, and make room for what is to come. With the help of dancehall producer MeLo-X, Afrobeat DJ Guilty Beatz, and Afro-pop singer Tems,  “Move” has a bold and empowering electric vibe that is reminiscent of Beyoncé’s experimentation on Black is King. Beyoncé continues to build on this Ballroom-meets-dancehall-meets-R&B sound in “Heated,” with the hit-making, songwriting genius of Drake, alongside music production from Boi-1da and Sevn Thomas (both responsible for hits like Rihanna’s “Work“), as the cherries on top that perfect her sound. She gives her beautiful Uncle Jonny numerous shoutouts throughout the track, paying homage to his style and grace as she sings “Uncle Jonny made my dress/That cheap Spandex, she looks a mess” in true Ballroom shade fashion. And with the help of LilJuMadeDaBeat, the same producer that gave us hits like Megan Thee Stallion’s “Big Ole Freak,” Beyoncé follows “Heated” with “Thique,” a hip-hop, pop, electric, house fusion perfect for the club.

Renaissance’s final four tracks are some of the most memorable on the album. “All Up In Your Mind” is an experimental pop track full of raspy, galactic vocals that remain stuck in my head. “America Has A Problem” features a sample of Kilo Ali’s “Cocaine (America Has A Problem)” with orchestral hits and invigorating background vocals that will have you up and pop locking like you’re on Soul Train. While the original song makes a statement about the effects of drug addiction on the Black community, Beyoncé’s version is about the high places her love will take you. “Pure” is the most house-forward song on Renaissance, with audacious, bold, “cunty” lyrics about her technique and fabulous spirit that embody the energy of Ballroom tradition. “Pure” transforms into a Prince-inspired music experience during “Honey,” with unapologetically queer samples such as “Cunty” by Kevin Aviance, “Miss Honey” by Moi Renee, and “Feels Like” by MikeQ ft. Kevin Jz Prodigy. Featuring an interpolation of disco queen Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” the album finishes off just as strong as it began, with Beyoncé giving us a church-like praise break at the end of house/R&B track “Summer Renaissance” — demanding we join in with a round of applause in honor of the celebration of life and love we embarked on together during this album, which leaves us waiting for more.

Renaissance is a musical love letter to the Black queer community. In a time plagued by resurgence of pandemics, transphobia, homophobia, and anti-blackness, Beyoncé reminds us that no one can judge us but us as her heavenly vocals emphasize that we were “born free.” She has made room for us to be bold, breathe, scream, dance, and smile — while honoring the musical genres and cultures born out of Blackness and queerness, at a time when those in power are trying to erase us.

Beyoncé has grown into an unapologetic music superstar that consistently studies and evolves. Her cultivated power has birthed this album that represents the very things she sings about: love, light, togetherness, empowerment, boldness, uniqueness, divinity, and pride. And while the first act of Renaissance is an excellent project based on the production value alone, what is most magical about this album lies within Beyoncé’s loving devotion to her craft and her people. Beyoncé’s music feels like love — and that’s because it is love. Her love is her loyalty, her dedication to evolution, and despite being at the height of her decades-long career, she remains loyal to musicianship and to her fans. She will stop at nothing but perfection, and I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us in the next two acts.


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Amari Gaiter

Amari Gaiter is a writer, aspiring community organizer, educator, facilitator and a lover of music based in New York and Los Angeles.

Amari has written 11 articles for us.

2 Comments

  1. Sis, how you not going to mention that Beyonce literally sings about the ‘Progress Pride Flag’ in the song COZY:

    “I been thick, been fine, still a ten, still here, that’s all me
    Black like love too deep
    Dance to the soles of my feet
    Green eyes envy me
    Paint the world pussy pink
    Blue like the soul I crowned
    Purple drank and couture gowns
    Gold fangs a shade God made
    Blue, black, white, and brown
    Paint the town red like cinnamon
    Yellow diamonds, limoncello glisterin’
    Rainbow gelato in the streets
    Renaissance, yachtin’ in Capri”

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