‘Renaissance Part II’ drops on March 29, 2024, and explores Beyoncé’s Houston influences and multicultural roots in country music.
Beyoncé made headlines yesterday at the Super Bowl LVIII after teasing the release of her next album, “Renaissance Act II,” via a Verizon commercialand dropping two singles from the tracklist: Texas Hold ‘Em and 16 Carriages.
Debuting on March 29, 2024, Beyoncé’s eighth studio album is the second installment of the Renaissance Trilogy, which began with the 1970s disco and house-influenced Renaissance. In under 24 after the drop, Texas Hold ‘Em and 16 Carriages rose to the top two spots of the US Country iTunes Charts, making Beyoncé the first Black female artist to top the list.
‘Renaissance Act II’s’ immediate impact follows a satisfying buildup from Bey’s Verizon commercial, wherein singer and actor Tony Hale challenged her to “break Verizon’s 5G service.” After several attempts, including a recreation of “Lemonade,” running for president, and launching to space for a performance, Bey ends the commercial with the words: “Okay, they ready. Drop the new music.”
What soon followed was a deluge of comments and reactions from the Beyhive—the term for Beyoncé’s fans—toward the commercial, and the momentum kept on going as Bey dropped teaser after teaser, until the two tracks and the release date got revealed.
Beyoncé’s foray into country music combines the genre’s complex racial origins and her own ancestry. The singer has spoken several times in interviews about her Texas roots, her memories from the Houston rodeo, and the figure of the American Black cowboy as an source of inspiration. While Beyoncé’s country album is a first in her repertoire, it isn’t the first time that she has experimented with the genre, what with Daddy Lessons from her 2016 album, “Lemonade.” It’s also not the first time that she’s working with a genre that Black culture has heavily influenced, but whose African-American roots have been obscured through time.
Music and culture historians in America trace the black influences toward country music back to the banjo, a stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a circular frame. While its sound is associated with images of cowboys in the Wild West—often White, macho men—the instrument has its roots in West African lutes, made from split gourds, animal skins, and gut or vegetable fibers, that were brought by slaves to America in the 17th century.
The ancestor of the banjo became a cornerstone of slave music in the South, until minstrel shows—theater performances by white people donning blackface—used the instrument for their numbers. This movement would later heavily influence what would be called ‘hillbilly’ or ‘country’ music. As more white banjo players came to the music and culture scene, black musicians moved on to other styles and instruments.
Hillbilly musicians also drew from African-American styles: field songs, religious hymns, and the like. And while Black artists worked with white musicians for the latter’s songs, the segregation movements in the 1920s further obscured—erased, even—the former’s contribution to the country genre. Despite their contribution and occasional breakthroughs in the genre, Black musicians continued to be pushed toward the margins as country music became the sound of the White and oft-Conservative South.
With Beyoncé’s groundbreaking announcement, it seems that country music will have its watershed moment, if it hasn’t already started. In 2019, openly gay Black rapper Lil Nas X came out with his viral hit, Old Town Road. Contemporary artists Lana del Rey and Post Malone have also confirmed that they’ll be releasing country albums soon. And at the recently-concluded Grammys, Tracy Chapman performed her 1989 Grammy-award winning hit Fast Car with country singer Luke Combs to critical acclaim. Last year, the song climbed the top of the country charts via Combs’ cover, making Chapman win “Song of the Year” at the 2023 Country Music Awards—the first Black woman to do so.