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A Guide to the Dance Music on Beyoncé’s ‘Renaissance’

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Beyoncé’s recent album, “Renaissance,” is consciously steeped in dance-music history, cannily embracing a long time of samples and sounds: the Seventies disco of Donna Summer and Chic, Jamaican dancehall, internet-speed hyperpop. She selected collaborators, references and even specific keyboard sounds that pay homage to club-land memories while making her own Twenty first-century statement. Listed here are among the sources she celebrates, and an exploration of their significance.

The album’s second and third tracks, “Cozy” and “Alien Superstar,” feature writing and production by the Chicago-born house-music D.J. and producer Honey Dijon. “Cozy” also features a writing credit for Curtis Alan Jones, often called Cajmere or Green Velvet — considered one of Chicago house music’s biggest producers.

That locale is vital here. Chicago is house music’s birthplace, and Chicago house, particularly, often moves with a heavily pronounced swing, accentuated by octave-jumping staccato bass patterns. The canonical example is Adonis’s “No Way Back,” from 1986, and the bass line of “Cozy” plays like an inversion of it. The song is sort of mnemonically recognizable as early Chicago house without simply sounding like homage.

On “Alien Superstar,” the cadence of the hook (“I’m too classy for this world/Eternally I’m that girl”) is credited to an interpolation of Right Said Fred’s dance-floor novelty smash “I’m Too Sexy.” Taylor Swift borrowed the identical part (also with credit) on her 2017 track “Look What You Made Me Do,” and Drake sampled the 1992 song on “Way Too Sexy” from 2021.

There’s one other direct callback on “Cuff It”: The bass line is immediately recognizable because the progeny of Bernard Edwards’s monster riff from Chic’s “Good Times,” a No. 1 hit in 1979, and Edwards’s partner in Chic, Nile Rodgers, gets credit for writing and playing guitars here. (On bass and drums: Raphael Saadiq.) As Ken Barnes identified in his liner notes to “The Disco Years Vol. 4: Lost in Music,” a compilation on Rhino Records, rewriting Chic became a type of national pastime through the early Eighties, not least via early hip-hop and post-disco R&B. This version of the one, two, three (rest) is as indebted to the various “Good Times” rewrites as the unique: the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and Vaughn Mason’s “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll,” for instance.

“Energy” features writing and production from Skrillex, an EDM-festival superstar through the early 2010s known for his drops — dramatic buildups that resolve right into a fresh beat — but since his heyday, he’s largely worked behind the scenes. (See Justin Bieber’s 2015 smash “Where Are Ü Now,” which he made alongside Diplo.) “Energy” seems to operate on wires; it’s taut minimalism, with the supplest layering of sub-bass tones.

The song also has writing credits for Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, the songwriting and production duo the Neptunes, known for his or her work with a large swath of singers and rappers starting within the Nineties. On Thursday, before the discharge of “Renaissance,” the singer and songwriter Kelis spoke out on social media, saying those credits were for a sample of considered one of her songs (it turned out to be an interpolation of “Milkshake,” from 2003), and that she hadn’t given permission for its use. Kelis wasn’t a credited author or producer on a lot of the early albums she made with the Neptunes, and didn’t have credits on “Milkshake.” In a 2020 interview with The Guardian she said she had signed an agreement with the duo when she “was too young and too silly to double-check it.”

An identical situation arose with the album’s lead single, “Break My Soul,” which is indebted to the central Korg motif from Robin S.’s pop-house hit “Show Me Love.” But whether her 1992 remix was sampled was initially unclear, and for the primary week of the song’s release, the credits shifted. (The most recent version says the Beyoncé song “comprises elements” of “Show Me Love.”) The Robin S. song’s afterlife has been robust: Its riff showed up within the Brooklyn producer AceMo’s 2019 “Where They At???” featuring John FM, which became a key underground dance anthem before and through the pandemic, in addition to in recent releases from Charli XCX and Daddy Yankee.

One other key to “Break My Soul” is the shouting of exhortations (“Release your wiggle!”) by the Latest Orleans bounce artist Big Freedia, whom Beyoncé had earlier sampled on “Formation” (2016). Bounce is a Latest Orleans-bred dance-music style that’s dizzyingly fast, bass intensive and heavy on call and response; twerking emerged in response to it.

Beyoncé glances back to the late ’90s again on “Plastic Off the Sofa.” While the majority of the song is lush digital balladry, there’s a moment in its coda that would have come from “glitch” experimental-electronica, where the tail end of a vocal run, heavily overdubbed, is subjected to a deliberately audible edit. It’s a hair jarring but mostly humorous — an audible wink to the listener, one facet of contemporary pop’s high-tech production laid bare. (For an example from the ’90s, see Oval’s album “94diskont,” or the compilation “Clicks + Cuts,” released in 2000.)

Classic disco asserts itself on the album’s midway point. “Virgo’s Groove” features layers of undulating percussion, synthesizer and bass that updates the production work Quincy Jones did with Michael Jackson — a form of companion piece to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” “Move,” the following track, features a feature from Grace Jones — disco royalty, just in case anyone wondered where Beyoncé could also be coming from.

Just as notable on “Move” — and much more noticeably on “America Has a Problem” — is the swarming low end known within the dance world because the “Reese bass.” The term is a reference to a 1988 record, “Just Want One other Probability” by Reese, considered one of many aliases utilized by Kevin Saunderson, considered one of the primary producers identified with Detroit techno within the mid-80s.

In much the identical way that “Chicago house” refers not only to a mode and its birthplace but additionally that swinging octave-hopping sound, “Detroit techno” tends to indicate attention to detail and an aura of restless invention. The heavy-fog low end of “Just Want One other Probability” was often repurposed by London bass-music styles like jungle, drum & bass, U.K. garage and dubstep — what the author Simon Reynolds has called the “hardcore continuum” of Black British musical styles from urban areas that took root on London pirate radio.

Beyoncé’s use of the heavy, undulant Reese bass on “Move” and “America Has a Problem” further locates the album within the Black dance-music continuum. “Problem” also opens with orchestral stabs, à la Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force’s landmark electronic-rap track “Planet Rock” — or, much more aptly given the title and lyrical theme, Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation.”

“Heated” features Beyoncé in commanding neo-dancehall form over a slinky, wood-block-heavy groove. At the top of the song, she mentions tapping out tracks together with her fingers on the MPC, an instrument designed by Roger Linn that arrived in 1988. The MPC, made by Akai, isn’t played with a keyboard, but as a substitute encompasses a square grid of pads that trigger different sounds, and it has develop into a widespread compositional and performance tool.

“Thique” feels like something that may have been throughout dubstep dance floors in the times before Skrillex, when the subgenre’s distended bass and variable tempos were primarily the province of British producers. Sure enough, the song’s writing and production credits include an artist influenced by those musicians: Chauncey Hollis Jr., a.k.a. Hit-Boy, who produced a dubstep-inflected hit on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Watch the Throne” (2011).

The Plasticine sounds of “Thique” segue into the much more heavily synthetic “All Up in Your Mind,” co-produced by A.G. Cook, the most important mind behind the London label and art collective PC Music, which arrived within the mid-2010s with a sound built on stylish exaggeration: tones that weren’t just high in a machine-music way, but deliberately squeaky. (Sophie, the producer known for exhilarating hyperpop who died in 2021, got here from this camp.) “All Up” is futurist robo-pop, with a sub-bass line that appears to be snorkeling under the speakers moderately than emanating from them.

“Pure/Honey,” next to last, is one other sub-bass monster: The primary part, propelled by a nasty kick drum, is a surprising approximation of techno at its steeliest, or perhaps its most “pure.” The “honey” comes at the two:11 mark, a bulbous neo-disco groove with feathery horns that recalls early Sylvester. The track runs partially off a sample of a Kevin Aviance song subtitled “The Feeling” — considered one of the important thing recordings in a queer house sub-style often called “bitch tracks.”

The album’s final track, “Summer Renaissance,” features Beyoncé singing, “It’s so good, it’s so good, it’s so good, it’s sooooo good” over a really familiar pinballing riff — yes, the finale interpolates Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” the 1977 disco hit with an all-synthesizer backdrop and pulsating rhythm that anticipated the long run sound of dance music. However the most important melodic phrase from “I Feel Love” feels like it’s being played on the Korg keyboard that anchors “Break My Soul,” subtly tying two eras together in a 3rd one.

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