On ‘Renaissance’ Beyoncé is at her curatorial best

Originally published for Andscape on August 11, 2022

To call Beyoncé’s latest album, Renaissance, just a “dance record” would be akin to calling Celine Dion a fairly popular singer. Across 16 tracks, Beyoncé not only pays homage to a soundscape borne from Chicago’s and Detroit’s queer communities (and her Uncle Jonny who introduced her to that world), she also incorporates references from a bevy of Black musical subgenres and subcultures, showcasing one of her most underrated musical skills: archiving and curation.

Take the opening track, “I’m That Girl,” for example. Beyoncé opens the song with the same type of stacked harmonies she perfected during her Destiny’s Child era, employing the airy vocal register she first used in 2013’s “Mine.” Toward the end of the song, a looped lyric from Princess Loko (“B— please, motherf—ers ain’t stopping me“) is set atop a sample of Tommy Wright III’s “Still Pimpin.” Wright’s slow bassline is then layered with a mild house beat that follows a dembow riddim used in reggaeton music, courtesy of Dominican producer Kelman Duran. “You know, all these songs sound good, ’cause I’m on that, ho,” Beyoncé boasts during the opener, later singing about knocking Basquiats off the wall.

A lot has changed since Beyonce’s last project, The Lion King: The Gift dropped in the summer of 2019. House music has been in a resurgence of its own recently. The popularity of DJs such as Kaytranada, the proliferation of Philadelphia and New Jersey club artists on TikTok, and the rise of South African amapiano’s popularity in the United States were a harbinger for the current explosion. We’ve been in a pandemic for over two years, anxious for the day that COVID-19 will finally be over and allow us to experience music the way artists intended. Renaissance speaks to those who are striving for that moment. It captures our desires, transforming them into an album that’s a heady and densely layered mix of house music and club beats intermingled with au courant trends and homages to Black queer creativity. The album is also a reminder of the power and release that can be found among like-minded people in the brief escape of a booming sound system and a dance floor.

Continue reading

‘Flatbush Misdemeanors’ shows the beauty of the Brooklyn neighborhood

Originally published in Andscape on June 23rd, 2022.

Flatbush, Brooklyn, is a magical place. From the sound of rowdy teenagers screaming for the back door of the B41 bus to be opened to the scents of bake and saltfish wafting from Caribbean food shops. But that magic has been hard to capture on-screen. Then, Showtime emerged with a series that shows us how it’s done.

Created by and starring Kevin Iso and Dan Perlman, Flatbush Misdemeanors (airing now on Showtime) is a dark comedy that has arguably done the best job at capturing working-class life in New York City since HBO’s How to Make It in America wrapped a decade ago.

“It’s people trying their best — and they’re all trying — but everyone’s kind of consistently falling short,” Perlman, who portrays a foundering high school teacher with a Xanax dependency, told Andscape.

Continue reading