I think about Biggie saying “I let my tape rock ‘til my tape popped” a lot. Back when the sound of music was tethered exclusively to tangible artifacts like tapes and CDs, wear was a sign of pride. Your tape popped because you played it every day. There aren’t many comparable experiences in 2019. There isn’t a foolproof way to quantify the number of times a person listens to a song now. There’s no way for me to tell you how many times I watched my dodgy YouTube stream rip of Beyoncé’s Coachella performance over the last year or to enumerate how many times I “rewound” pieces of it out of sheer astonishment.
There’s a moment in the first five minutes of Homecoming, the Netflix documentary about the show, the audience, and the rehearsals, that captures my thoughts on the show. Beyoncé shoots up out of the floor at minute four, and a woman in the audience in a white cap gasps for several seconds. This is how I feel about Homecoming. What? How? Homecoming is what we talk about when we talk about public figures being “unapologetically black.” It’s steeped in southern culture, HBCU culture, black pride, and black history. It’s full of references you might miss for lack of a specific upbringing. It was a bold move, using music’s biggest stage as a set piece for a celebration of this sort. Most artists who headline Coachella use the opportunity to showcase the versatility of their appeal. Homecoming wants you to know that blackness is rich and vast and deep. Beyoncé wants us to know that, to quote Solange, “this shit is for us.”
Capping off the live-album version of Homecoming with a cover of Frankie Beverly and Maze’s “Before I Let Go” hammers the point home further. You either know it or you don’t. Either it brings back fond memories of hot dogs and potato chips on Styrofoam plates at summertime block parties or it strikes you as a clever cover of an underappreciated ’80s lite-funk song. When the beat switches over to Cameo’s “Candy,” you either picture Larry Blackmon’s high-top fade and codpiece or it draws up one of the 20 hip-hop and R&B songs that sampled it. Certain shit doesn’t translate. Bey’s “Before I Let Go” speaks to a specific people from a specific point in time, but it also attempts to build bridges between generations in the nods to 2010s trap and ’90s Louisiana bounce music. We contain multitudes, see? With any luck, this “Before I Let Go” will be one kids and grandparents love in common at the next warm-weather cookout. We’ve been jamming to the original all along, but now the youth have a point of reference. There’s something to be said for that!