Beyoncé has returned. Six years after releasing Lemonade, Queen Bey has now issued her latest solo album Renaissance. The 16-track LP—the first installment of a “three act project”—includes lead single “Break My Soul,” as well as songs with contributions from Jay-Z, Skrillex, 070 Shake, The-Dream, Drake, and more. The largely featureless record does include two songs with guest vocalists: Jamaica-born, Miami-raised reggae artist Beam appears on “Energy,” while Grace Jones and Tems lend their voices to “Move.” Listen to Renaissance in full below. (Pitchfork earns a commission from purchases made through affiliate links on our site.)
Almost three years in the works, Renaissance was recorded over the course of the pandemic. “Creating this album allowed me a place to dream and to find escape during a scary time for the world,” she said in press materials. “It allowed me to feel free and adventurous in a time when little else was moving. My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking. A place to scream, release, feel freedom. It was a beautiful journey of exploration.”
In addition to a diverse cast of co-composers, Renaissance interpolates music written by Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder (“I Feel Love” on “Summer Romance,”) James Brown (on “Church Girl”), Teena Marie, and others. “Break My Soul” features a synth line reminiscent of Robin S.’ classic house hit “Show Me Love” and a vocal sample of Big Freedia’s “Explode,” from the 2014 LP Just Be Free: “Release ya anger/Release ya mind/Release ya job/Release the time/Release ya trade/Release ya stress/Release the love/Forget the rest.”
The album also includes contributions from Nova Wav, No I.D., Raphael Saadiq, Mike Dean, Honey Dijon, Chris Penny, Luke Solomon, and others. Sheila E. contributed percussion to “Cuff It,” which features guitar by Nile Rodgers. “Alien Superstar” interpolates the 1990s pop hit “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred. Kelis’ “Milkshake” is interpolated on “Energy;” Kelis responded to online rumors of Beyoncé sampling her work by calling it “theft.”
Two days before the album was set to arrive, it leaked. Just before the album’s official release, Beyoncé released a statement thanking her fans for waiting. “So, the album leaked, and you all actually waited until the proper release time so you can all enjoy it together,” she wrote. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I can’t thank y’all enough for your love and protection. I appreciate you for calling out anyone that was trying to sneak into the club early. It means the world to me. Thank you for your unwavering support. Thank you for being patient. We are going to take our time and enjoy the music. I will continue to give you all my all and do my best to bring you joy. I love you deep.”
Renaissance marks the first solo studio album from Beyoncé since the release of 2016’s visual album Lemonade. A press release for Renaissance discusses the artist’s decision to stray from the visual album format. Beyoncé “decided to lead without visuals giving fans the opportunity to be limitless in their expansive listening journey,” the release notes. “It is a chance again to be listeners and not viewers, while taking in every gem of the pristine production.” The release also refers to Renaissance as “a celebration of a club era when anyone who felt like an outsider sought each other and formed a community of freedom-seekers to express themselves creatively through the rhythm, which we still celebrate today.”
Since Lemonade’s arrival, Beyoncé has released two other full-length projects: the Jay-Z collaboration Everything Is Love and her live album Homecoming, both of which arrived in 2019. That same year she also led the soundtrack to Disney’s “live-action” CGI update of The Lion King and executive produced the companion compilation The Lion King: The Gift. Beyoncé also joined the voice cast of The Lion King, recording dialogue for the role of Nala opposite Donald Glover’s Simba.
In 2020, Beyoncé shared Black Is King, her first visual album following Lemonade. Black Is King was based on the music of The Lion King: The Gift. It was released via Disney+ and featured appearances from Beyoncé herself, Jay-Z, Tina Knowles-Lawson, Kelly Rowland, Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong’o, and more. The project was written, directed, and executive produced by Beyoncé. Her visual for The Lion King: The Gift’s “Brown Skin Girl” took home the Grammy Award for Best Music Video in 2021. She also won alongside Megan Thee Stallion for “Savage” in the Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song categories. Beyoncé broke a record that year, becoming the woman with the most Grammy wins ever.
Following her Grammy victories, Beyoncé shared the new song “Be Alive” from the film King Richard, which examines the life of Richard Williams (played by Will Smith) as he raises and trains his daughters Venus and Serena—before they took the tennis world by storm. The song was eventually nominated for an Academy Award, but it lost out to Billie Eilish and Finneas’ James Bond theme “No Time to Die.”
Beyoncé also performed “Be Alive” for the 2022 Oscars, although the performance was taped a week before the ceremony aired. Beyoncé was filmed at the Compton tennis courts where Venus and Serena Williams ran drills as children. The Williams sisters introduced the performance, which featured an appearance from Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy. Beyoncé was also flanked by dancers and an orchestra.
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