Beyoncé’s long-awaited follow-up to Lemonade is here, and listeners are in for a treat. RENAISSANCE, the first installment — or act, rather — of Bey’s mysterious three-part project, harkens back to some of the liveliest eras of Black music, from ‘90s Hip-Hop to ‘70s disco, and infuses them into an infectious dance record. The Houston-bred superstar’s seventh studio album is one of her most experimental bodies of work to date, as she explores vibrant new sounds and embraces her confidence as an MC that she showed off on 2018's EVERYTHING IS LOVE. With a total of 16 tracks and a whopping runtime of one hour and two-and-a-half minutes, RENAISSANCE is Beyoncé’s longest solo album since the release of her self-titled epic in 2013, so of course, there’s a lot to unpack.
Fortunately, “I’M THAT GIRL” — the anthemic album intro produced by Beyoncé, Kelman Duran, Mike Dean, Stuart White, Jameil Aossey, and S1 — sets the tone and gives listeners a great idea of what they should expect throughout the rest of the Bey’s sprawling new album. Kicked off by an electrifying chop of Princess Loko’s verse on Tommy Wright III’s 1993 cut “Still Pimpin,” “I’M THAT GIRL” transforms an obscure Memphis Hip-Hop sample into a rhythmic ode to self-confidence. When it picks up during the second half of the song, it’s clear that Bey is bringing the energy on her seventh studio album.
In fact, the opening stretch from “I’M THAT GIRL” to “CHURCH GIRL" is overflowing with good energy. Save for a few hidden gems in the latter half of the album, those seven warm and upbeat tunes are what make RENAISSANCE so invigorating and enjoyable. At the album’s halfway point, listener’s get their first — and arguably only — breather with the endearing and smooth “PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA. After that, RENAISSANCE’s high level of energy is rekindled on “VIRGO’S GROOVE” and maintained until the end of the record.
Prior to its release, Beyoncé described her album as “a place to scream, release, feel freedom” and “help release the wiggle. RENAISSANCE delivers on its promise to make listeners feel good and move their bodies. From the recurring “UNIQUE!” scream on the criminally fun “ALIEN SUPERSTAR” and the funky splendor of “CUFF IT” to the energetic and instant-classic rap verse on the outro of “HEATED” and the nostalgic Donna Summer-sampling "SUMMER RENAISSANCE," RENAISSANCE proves to be a dependable source for catharsis. With that said, the songwriting throughout the project is still pretty incredible, as well, such as the intricate nod to the PRIDE flag colors on “COZY” and the tender lyrics on “PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA.” Thanks to all of those aforementioned standout tracks, RENAISSANCE is an easy album to enjoy, but unfortunately, its lengthy runtime, repetitive nature, and less-than-stellar songs do bog down the listening experience.
An hour of high-energy music is admittedly tough to pull off. While none of the tracks featured on Bey’s seventh album are horrible, there are a nice amount of songs -- like the joyless Beyoncé, Hit-Boy, LilJuMadeDaBeat, and Stuart White-produced “THIQUE” and the stark first half of “PURE/HONEY” — that could have been trimmed off the final product. Even within the admittedly impressive opening stretch of songs, it feels like the album just locked into one, upbeat groove and decided not to let up. Without much variety in energy and pace, the nonstop fun can quickly become tiring. As a result, RENAISSANCE is an album that’s easy to tap out of or skip through, especially in the record’s final five-song stretch.
Despite its top-heavy nature, Beyoncé’s seventh studio album is most certainly a formidable body of work, for both its overall high caliber of music and its dedication to Black pioneers and unsung originators. The long list of sampled Black artists — including Chic, Kilo Ali, The Clark Sisters, and Big Freedia, among many others — and the spotlight on Black queer and ballroom culture, RENAISSANCE showcases how diverse and timeless Black music is. Even if it is a bit spottier than one might expect from a Beyoncé album, you’ve got to respect that.
While it’s definitely exciting to know that more fearlessly creative music from one of the world’s most renowned superstars is on the way, there is still a lot to enjoy and soak up from RENAISSANCE.