Beyoncé has released her long-anticipated album Renaissance – her first solo studio record in six years – to a blockbuster response from fans and critics, as well as a spot of controversy.
A 16-track dance record packed with high-profile, genre-spanning collaborators including Drake, Skrillex and Grace Jones, Renaissance is the first in a planned trilogy, Beyoncé said, in a statement uploaded to her website the day before the album’s release.
“This three act project was recorded over three years during the pandemic,” the 28-time Grammy-winning artist wrote. “My intention was to create a safe place. A place without judgement. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking. A place to scream, release, feel freedom.”
In the statement, she also paid homage to her “beautiful husband and muse” Jay-Z and her family, as well as her late uncle Jonny – a gay man who Beyoncé referred to as “my godmother and the first person to expose me to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album”.
Those inspirations come thick and fast on the album, according to a four-star Guardian review of Renaissance which called it the “soundtrack for a feral summer of chaos and joy”, abundant with references to international dance traditions including Afrobeat, Jersey Club and New Jack Swing. “It’s a celebration of living abundantly and outside the realms of others’ expectations,” wrote Tara Joshi.
Rolling Stone lauded Beyoncé’s refreshing curation of collaborators, who also include queer club figureheads Big Freedia and Honey Dijon: “Her wide palette illustrates how the best parties blend racial and gender identities, sexual orientations, and aesthetic sensibilities in harmonious ways that belie our tortured and often bigoted public discourse.”
In a tweet in June, Big Freedia said it “feels surreal” to be on a track with Beyoncé: “I’m so honored to be a part of this special moment.”
Many on Twitter praised the seamless song transitions on Renaissance – each track melding into the next, as if positioned on a club mix.
This album is truly a sonic experience. I’m taking it all in. The pristine vocals. The flawless production & transitions. The empowering messages. Beyoncé, you have outdone yourself again.
The lead-up to Renaissance has been unusually long – at least by Beyoncé’s standards, following the surprise drops of her two most recent records, 2013’s self-titled and 2016’s feverishly acclaimed visual album Lemonade.
Renaissance, in comparison, was preceded by a six-week rollout, including last month’s lead single Break My Soul, a song which – with its call to arms to “release ya job” – was hailed as the anthem of the Great Resignation.
A leak – and a controversy
The release, however, has not been without its problems. It leaked in full two days early, though her legion of fans – collectively titled the Beyhive – immediately called for listeners to “respect her wishes” on Twitter and wait for the official drop.
Beyoncé thanked her fans in a statement made at Renaissance’s official release time. “I can’t thank y’all enough for your love and protection,” she said. “I appreciate you for calling out anyone that was trying to sneak into the club early.”
The album samples many tracks, from Donna Summer’s I Feel Love to Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy. But one in particular has sparked headlines – a song called Energy, whose liner notes list “an interpolation” of Kelis single Milkshake, crediting the songwriting to Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, also known as the Neptunes.
After a fan account claimed earlier this week that Energy would feature a Kelis sample, Kelis commented: “I heard about this the same way everyone else did. Nothing is ever as it seems.”
In a Guardian interview from 2020, Kelis claimed she was “blatantly lied to and tricked” by her early collaborators the Neptunes and, as a result, “made nothing from sales of her first two albums”. In a Vulture interview earlier this year, Hugo brushed off the comments: “I heard about her sentiment toward that. I mean, I don’t handle that. I usually hire business folks to help out with that kind of stuff.”
In a subsequent post on Instagram on Friday, Kelis said the problem was bigger than Beyoncé – but added “from one artist to another, you should have the decency and the common sense to reach out … even if you’re going to do it anyway”. The Guardian has reached out to representatives for Beyoncé for comment.
House musician Robin S, whose track Show Me Love is sampled in Beyoncé’s Break My Soul, has said she was also unaware of the usage before the single’s release – though she received the news more positively. In an interview with Good Morning Britain in June, she said her son was the one who informed her she was trending, before sending her appreciation to Beyoncé: “Thank you so much for giving me my flowers while I’m still alive,” she said. “I am honoured.”