category is: renaissance

Voguing Our Way Through Renaissance

A track-by-track dance reference guide to B7.

Photo: Carlijn Jacobs/Parkwood Entertainment
Photo: Carlijn Jacobs/Parkwood Entertainment

There’s little left for Beyoncé to conquer at this point — including dance music. She’s been doing it her whole career, from early songs like “Naughty Girl,” which sampled Donna Summer, to later ones like “Schoolin’ Life” and “Haunted,” which are rooted in disco and trance. But on Renaissance, Beyoncé’s seventh solo album, she is no longer dabbling. Instead, over the album’s hour-long run time, Bey is channeling dance across various subgenres, attempting to make as full of a tribute to the club as she can. It’s a remarkably focused approach, in a similar vein to the Pan-African music on The Gift and the ballads–pop songs split on I Am … Sasha Fierce. Given the roots of disco and house, Renaissance also continues Beyoncé’s ongoing interest in spotlighting Black culture. Sure, the record may not have any visuals yet — a stark break from her work over the past ten years — but that’s just another homage to dance music, where the best way to experience a song is to listen and move.

Renaissance is a rich text — dauntingly so, with some songs featuring multiple samples, shifting subgenres, and Easter eggs. The album’s core producers include Beyoncé go-tos The-Dream and Mike Dean, and recent collaborators Nova Wav, but each song also brings new faces to the party. Wondering where that bass line came from, who crafted that beat, or what exact style that song is? We’ve got you covered with a track-by-track guide to all the dance references on Renaissance. Give it a read, then get back to grooving.


“I’m That Girl”

Renaissance starts with something more familiar — hip-hop, the dominant mode of Beyoncé’s studio output over the last few years on projects like Everything Is Love, “Savage Remix,” and some parts of The Gift. The song loops a line from late Memphis rapper Princess Loko’s “Still Pimpin,” with producer Tommy Wright III. “You know, all these songs sound good, ’cause I’m on that, ho,” says Beyoncé, before a minimal house beat kicks in. Then, the dance album you’ve been waiting for really starts, accented by pounding percussion and constant bass. There’s a bonus Easter egg, too: Beyoncé sings about “knockin’ Basquiats off the wall,” a reference to her 2021 Tiffany ad campaign with a never-before-seen Basquiat painting.



“Cozy” packs in layers of house references. First, the song samples the bass from “Get With U,” a 1992 track by Chicago house DJ Lidell Townsell and hip-hop duo M.T.F. There’s a second sample too, of Danube Dance and Kim Cooper’s “Unique,” another ’90s house cut. Accordingly, the song features production by Chicago-born house and techno artist Honey Dijon, along with Dave Giles II (a previous Dijon collaborator) and Green Velvet, two more DJs rooted in the Chicago house scene. The song has a typical endlessly looped drumbeat, undergirded with a hooky bass line (somewhat reminiscent of Bey’s other ’90s house-influenced song, “Break My Soul”). In referencing house’s roots with Black DJs, Beyoncé also excerpts ad-libs from TV star and activist TS Madison’s YouTube video “Bitch I’m Black.” “Cozy” later keeps the self-references going, with Beyoncé singing, “Blue like the soul I crowned” about — who else? — her daughter.


“Alien Superstar”

Beyoncé joins the likes of Future and Taylor Swift by tackling Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy”; unlike them, she manages to pull it off, twisting the hook about being “too classy for this world” into another house track. “Alien Superstar” also references a more obscure song, Foremost Poets’ “Moonraker,” which gives it the “Please do not be alarmed, remain calm” introduction. (Also known as Johnny Dangerous, Foremost Poets is a progenitor of deep house.) But wait, there’s a third new sample, too! The “We walk a certain way …” vocal originates from an interview with National Black Theater founder Barbara Ann Teer, as sampled in “Do It Your Way,” a 1996 deep-house cut from Mood II Swing. (Plus, don’t miss the “Unique” sample carried over here, with Beyoncé channeling Kim Cooper through her own “unique!” ad-libs.) Amid all the house references, Honey Dijon nabs another credit, alongside a murderer’s row of musicians including Lucky Daye, 070 Shake, Labrinth, and Beyoncé’s own husband Jay-Z. And “Superstar” drops in one of the album’s first of many references to queer ballroom culture, with Bey declaring, “Category: bad bitch” (à la how the categories for the walks are announced).


“Cuff It”

The most retro song on the album so far, “Cuff It” dips back into the late ’70s and early ’80s. It’s based around a routinely nimble disco guitar riff from Nile Rodgers (with a bass line recalling Chic’s hit “Good Times”), adding in horns, cowbell, and a big vocal breakdown to make for a pretty classic disco construction. (Speaking of classic, Rodgers wasn’t the only icon in the studio, with “Cuff It” crediting percussion to Prince bandmate Sheila E.) “Cuff It” also nods to the funk-and-soul great Teena Marie, with Beyoncé’s “ooo la-la-la-la-la-la” after the first verse (around 0:25) serving as an interpolation of Marie’s “Ooo La La La.”



The love for Teena Marie carries over to “Energy,” with another, more recognizable “ooo la la” around 1:17. On top of that, the song interpolates the percussion track from Kelis’s party-starting hit “Milkshake.” (Kelis wrote on Instagram that she was not informed of the sample, commenting on a post, “​​it’s not a collab it’s theft.” While she’s not a credited writer on the track, Kelis previously told The Guardian that the Neptunes promised her an even split for their early work, but did not give her proceeds.) Via that sample, Bey is reunited with previous collaborators the Neptunes for the first time since B’Day’s “Green Light” and “Kitty Kat.” (Also in the producer credits: Skrillex, working way outside the dance style that he pioneered.) Jamaican rapper Beam contributes the hook for the album’s first official feature, with his delivery over those tropical “Milkshake”-esque drums giving the song a dance-hall feel. As the track transitions into “Break My Soul” in its final seconds, it introduces a Big Freedia sample — a seamless shift any DJ would be jealous of.


“Break My Soul”

Yes, you know this one, but here’s a recap: “Break My Soul” kicked off Beyoncé’s Renaissance era with a nod to the ubiquitous bass line from Robin S.’s ’90s house hit “Show Me Love.” (It’s not quite a sample, with Bey’s producers using a different melody on a similar synthetic bass sound, but Robin S. doesn’t mind. “Everything is complementary,” she told Vulture of the song.) “Soul” also samples Big Freedia’s 2014 bounce track “Explode” — on which she asks listeners to release their job, their anger, their trade, and so on — continuing Bey’s collaborative relationship with the bounce icon, who previously contributed ad-libs to her New Orleans tribute “Formation.” And the song’s lyrical message about escape from work and worldly troubles honors dance music’s history of providing space away from listeners’ day-to-day worries.


“Church Girl”

Beyoncé brings it back to the roots of R&B music, the church, on “Church Girl,” with an opening sample from “Center of Thy Will,” by gospel group the Clark Sisters. Those vocals are shortly looped into a skittering club beat. But Bey brings the church to the club too, interpolating James Brown’s “You bad!” backing vocal from “Female Preacher” Lyn Collins’s 1972 funk hit “Think (About It).” Beyoncé also channels bounce music with her “drop it like a thottie, drop it like a thottie” post-chorus, delivered in the same repetitive nature as the New Orleans genre. Around 1:30, the song introduces another sample, of the xylophone-esque synth line from the Showboys’ oft-referenced bounce track “Drag Rap (Triggerman).” (Think “Church Girl” sounds like “Nice for What”? It’s that beat, which has its own Wikipedia page.) And when Beyoncé says, “It must be the cash, ’cause it ain’t ya face,” she’s interpolating another bounce song, DJ Jimi’s “Where They At” (changing the lyric from “it must be the pussy”).


“Plastic Off the Sofa”

… and samples off the track. That’s right, “Plastic Off the Sofa” breaks Renaissance’s run of sample usage, with Beyoncé and her producers instead crafting the song’s airy disco sonics from scratch. (Notably, it features the album’s shortest list of writers and producers, including alt-R&B singer-songwriter Syd.) Beyoncé makes the most of her whispery upper register here, following disco greats like Donna Summer.


“Virgo’s Groove”

The disco journey continues onto “Virgo’s Groove,” a more upbeat yet equally classic disco song. Kicking off with gurgling synths and a steady bass line, the track also features talk-box effects that recall Daft Punk. The sassy backing vocals in the chorus are a more retro touch, harkening not just to disco but the funk and R&B of the ’70s and ’80s at large. And at six minutes, it’s the longest track on the album — a tribute to disco in and of itself, where songs were often extended for the dance floor.



“Move” contains some of the biggest dance-floor cred on all of Renaissance: a rare feature from Grace Jones, the disco innovator and general club icon. (Even more impressive, Jones is on the album after previously criticizing Beyoncé in her 2015 memoir, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs. In it, she wrote that Beyoncé, among other pop stars, had copied what Jones already did. What’s more, Jones specifically shot down a collaboration with an unnamed pop star in the book. “It will be good for her; she will draw from everything I have built and add it to her brand, and I will get nothing back except for a little temporary attention,” she wrote.) On “Move,” Jones contributes some of her famous spoken-word vocals, declaring, “We coming straight out the jungle” over the house-meets-Afrobeat track, as Beyoncé purrs “Grace Jones” underneath. Speaking of Afrobeat, the song also features the Nigerian singer Tems, who made a splash in the U.S. last year on WizKid’s hit “Essence.” And the song reteams Beyoncé with her The Gift collaborators P2J and GuiltyBeatz, two producers pulling from their respective roots in Nigeria and Ghana.



Drake is back — and he brought the whole crew. Reviving a collaboration from Beyoncé’s “Mine,” Aubrey Graham himself co-wrote this song, alongside a team of his go-to collaborators and OVO’s best, including Boi-1da, Jahaan Sweet, Sevn, and Neenyo. With that combination, “Heated” sounds like an outtake from Drake’s chilled-out, house- and Jersey club–influenced Honestly, Nevermind. (Beam also returns here for some guest vocals.) On this song, Beyoncé raps, “Uncle Johnny made my dress,” a tribute to her mother Tina’s nephew, whom she called Uncle, who died from AIDS. The line comes in a ball-inspired breakdown that also includes lyrics like “Tens, tens, tens across the board” and “Liberated, livin’ like we ain’t got time” — and fan cracks credited to Maurice Harris.



A detour from some of the album’s throwback allusions, “Thique” leans more toward hip-hop, with twitching trap drums over a muted techno bass line. Those affectations make sense given the song’s production team, which includes Hit-Boy, the rap producer who previously helped Beyoncé lean into hip-hop songs like “Sorry,” “Flawless,” and “Haunted.”


“All Up in Your Mind”

Things stay contemporary on “All Up in Your Mind” too, with a woozy bass line and laserlike synths. The track’s producers include A.G. Cook, best known as the figurehead of London collective PC Music and creative director for Charli XCX, and BloodPop, chief architect of Lady Gaga’s Chromatica. The track doesn’t quite dive into Cook’s proto-hyperpop, instead sticking to the bombastic, future-focused synthpop of Chromatica and Charli’s Crash.


“America Has a Problem”

The title that turned heads the most when Beyoncé debuted the Renaissance track list actually comes from a sample (that’s right, the samples are back!). “America Has a Problem” pulls the hook and cinematic synth line from “Cocaine,” an early song by rapper Kilo Ali and his producer DJ Taz, who were central to Miami-influenced bass music in Atlanta in the 1990s. That synth line ends up central to the track, over a rapid, percussive club beat.



Beyoncé’s ball and drag allusions come to the forefront on this song, with samples from three iconic queer performers. First, “Pure/Honey” loops “Feels Like,” a 2011 track by MikeQ, a ballroom DJ known for appearing on HBO Max’s Legendary. The song cuts that with “Cunty,” the house single by Kevin Aviance, a drag queen in New York’s legendary House of Aviance. “That’s my technique,” Beyoncé speak-sings over a vogue-ready house beat, before it takes a turn into disco territory. Then, it closes on that third sample, of another ’90s drag artist, the late Moi Renee, repeating “Miss Honey!” in various tones. (The song of the same name, “Miss Honey,” was an early bitch track, or a house song featuring confident, spoken vocals, usually used for voguing.)


“Summer Renaissance”

How’s this for a last call? Beyoncé closes Renaissance with a nod to what’s often regarded as the best dance song in history, Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” (It’s Bey’s second Summer sample, after she interpolated “Love to Love You Baby” on her Dangerously in Love track “Naughty Girl.”) It begins with a similar bass line that’s been slightly pared back and builds to include some spacey synths also reminiscent of the song. (As the story goes, Summer’s producers, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, wanted “Love” to represent the future on her decades-inspired I Remember Yesterday, so they composed it mostly using a Moog synthesizer — an anomaly when most disco songs at the time were recorded with live instruments.) Beyoncé also pulls a hook from the track, singing, “It’s so good, it’s so good, it’s so good, it’s so good, it’s sooo good,” while channeling Summer’s head voice. The song’s lyrics are about the power of the club itself, with Beyoncé singing about a connection she made that night. Stylistically, “Summer Renaissance” sounds like a culmination of the record: the Summer disco references, a houselike bass line, disco-diva vocals in the bridge, and a bitch track–esque outro with Beyoncé listing high-end fashion brands. As she boasts at the end of the track, “I’m in my bag.”

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Unrelated to dance music but worth noting here, “Church Girl” also features Beyoncé singing the phrases “tig ol’ bitties” and “gray sweatpants.” At the 2019 GLAAD Awards, Beyoncé described Uncle Johnny as “the most fabulous gay man I’ve ever known.”
Voguing Our Way Through Renaissance