Beyoncé’s Renaissance, According to Four Brilliant Black Women

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Hey, y’all it’s Brittany. So a few days ago, right after the album dropped and y’all already know which one, my husband asked me: How does Beyoncé make you feel? And I immediately responded: Like the baddest chick alive. If you know me though, like if you really know me, you know that in and of itself is a triumph. 

Will Smith recently admitted something. He said, disappointing people is my central trauma. And when he said it, I cried like buckets of tears. And that quote has been etched in my brain for the last week, because self-esteem, that all-important love for oneself that has been and remains a lifelong journey for me.

There was a time I had debilitatingly low self-esteem and climbing my ass up out of that hole has been a long therapeutic humbling, sometimes terrifying, but ultimately gratifying journey. We should recognize that this isn’t just some self-help mumbo jumbo, patriarchy thrives when women feel like crap about ourselves.

White supremacy depends on some of us believing that we need to work our whole lives to appease it. Entire power structures are built on this very premise that when we internalize that we aren’t good enough, we’ll be willing to buy, except, and chase just about anything that benefits the powerful and ultimately harms us.

The Combahee River Collective reminds us that the personal is always political, even anthems of empowerment and how you feel about you. So whether it’s Beyoncé who does it for you or something or someone else entirely, be reminded you were born free. So act like it. We are UNDISTRACTED.

Brittany:  On the show today we got some form of a group chat together to talk about the bomb that our souls really needed.

Candice Marie Benbow: When you have finally walked away from all of the bull, like all of the harmful theologies, all of the negative thoughts, and fully embrace yourself. You get to dance. 

Brittany: I’ll be joined by multi-genre theologian, Candice Marie Benbo; Ayesha Rasco host of NPR’s ‘Weekend edition Sunday’; and legendary music editor Danyel Smith.

That’s coming up, but first it’s the news.

So let’s start with something to celebrate, which can feel all too rare here at UNDISTRACTED Kansans have voted to keep their state’s constitutional right to an abortion. Fifty-nine percent of voters voted against the Value Them Both amendment, air quotes on purpose. 

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davis: This was a win for Kansans, for Kansas families, for our rights. And we saw a broad, diverse coalition of groups coming together to fight, really increase government control over our healthcare decisions.

Brittany: The amendment would have allowed state legislators to pass laws restricting abortion. Kansas is something of an Oasis of reproductive freedom in the Great Plains

Its neighbors, Oklahoma and Missouri, my home state, have full bans on abortion. And Kansas is the closest option for many people in Texas and Arkansas, too. The victory says what we already knew. The majority of Americans support abortion access. And besides setting us back 50 years, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority might have fumbled the bag when it overturned Roe. This fall, the entire House of Representatives is up for election. Thirty-four senate seats are up for grabs and 36 states and three territories are picking governors. And I don’t think Americans seem to be taking too kindly to the GOP trying to kick our asses back to the stone ages.

So listen up candidates, you better get on the right side of history here, so campaign loud and proud for abortion rights. Say the word, cuz your constituents need to hear you and folks, we gotta get to the polls.

Okay. Let’s jump from one healthcare story to another. This one not quite so celebratory: monkeypox. Yeah. And the fear and stigma that’s developing around it. Monkeypox is spread by close physical contact. And many of the folks who have had it so are are men who have sex with men, but that’s because viruses often spread in close community first, not because there’s some pathology among gay men.

Far too many irresponsible media outlets treat monkeypox like a sexually transmitted disease alone and disinformation about the illness is spreading like wildfire. In reality, there are lots of ways the disease can be contracted. Cuddling hugging, sharing towels and blankets, and yes getting sweaty on the dance floor, but there’s nothing specific to gay folks about that. So let me get one thing straight, just because this virus is affecting queer folks does not mean that the virus has anything to do with being queer. Anyone can get it and no one is immune.

These parallels between the monkeypox response and the early AIDS crisis are terrifying. Straight folks are getting the impression that they don’t need to worry about the disease. And they’re once again feeding dangerous homophobic stereotypes to boot. Wrong. Ignorance about how the illness is spread puts you at greater risk for transmission and spreading faslehoods about our queer neighbors puts them at even greater risk. 

I wanna close out with a tribute to the late great Nichelle Nichols, a legend, a TV pioneer, and a freedom fighter. She passed away on Sunday at the age of 89. Nichelle is most famous for her portrayal of Nyota Uhura in ‘Star Trek’, the original series. She was a leading character at a time when most Black roles were demeaning or caricatures, she was one half of the first interracial kiss on American television breaking barriers for Black actors and actresses everywhere.

Her importance and impact is vast, but it may be best summed up with one anecdote. After the first season of ‘Star Trek’ came out, she thought about leaving the show and returning to Broadway. It wasn’t until she met one particularly famous ‘Star Trek’ fan that she changed her mind that Trekkie, y’all, was Martin Luther King Jr.

Nichelle Nichols: He said you can’t. Don’t you know who you are to our movement, to everyone? You are there in the 23rd century. You’ve created a role that has such dignity and everything. It’s powerful. You cannot leave. 

Brittany: I don’t know how you say no to that. I’ll close with one last fact that I love. Nichols actually chose her own name for her ‘Star Trek’ character.

She picked the last name Uhura in reference to the Swahili word Uru, which means freedom. And may you rest in freedom and power. All the freedom and power you gave us.

Coming up, I’ll be talking to three brilliant Black women about the revolutionary power of disco, queer family, and taking a nap before hitting the club.

And we are back. So listen y’all,we got a little bit of coin around here and I do mean a little bit, but we don’t have Beyoncé coin. Okay. So as much as I would like to play her new album ‘Renaissance” and talk about all of the surprises and layers track by track, we can’t afford all that. I did not stay up until midnight to wait for this album to drop, to not talk about it.

The only way to talk about it was to take all of the collective group chats and bring them alive here on the show. This started off as a conversation about Beyoncé, but like her music, it became about so many other things. The evolution of womanhood, loving on our queer siblings, spiritual sexuality, and giving Black women our things.

We’ve got an all-star lineup. We’ve got Danyel Smith, a legend in the world of music and cultural journalism who happened to be the first woman and first Black editor-in-chief of Vibe magazine; we’ve got Ayesha Rosco, host of NPR’s ‘Weekend Edition Sunday’, and the author of the ‘Lemonade Syllabus’ Candice Marie Benbow returns.

We had a lot, lot to talk about because even if you don’t wanna admit it, Beyoncé is the artist of my lifetime and yours too. All right. So we have to start off this conversation the only correct way. Tell me where you were and what you were doing the moment you first heard the introduction and start the album ‘Renaissance”.

Danyel, bring me back to that moment. 

Danyel Smith: Why am I going first, though? Why? 

Brittany: I know that you understood this as an emotional, spiritual musical experience. I know you had your ear pressed tightly to the speaker. 

Danyel Smith: Okay. I’m not, I’m not gonna lie. I am on the beautiful island of Martha’s Vineyard right now. And it’s humid. It’s hot. It’s sexy. I’m with some good girlfriends. My husband’s dipping in and out. My dog’s acting wild. The music is loud and it’s just like she’s back. She’s back. She’s back. 

Brittany: Yeah. Candice, how about for you?

Candice: So I had just woke up from my nap, cuz I mean, at the end of the day, Beyoncé and I are 40.

Brittany:  Yeah. You literally took a disco nap before the dance album dropped. 

Candice: Yeah. I was like, you gotta take a nap before the club. After 35, like you gotta take a nap before you go to the club. So I was in bed and I hit play and when I heard the first line, ‘These ain’t stopping me’I said, oh, if whatever’s coming after this, she’s not playing.

And I literally sat up and was like, oh, like this deserves my full attention. 

Brittany: I gotta tell you I was in a similar place to you, Candice because I had just pumped and I have like a really set schedule now that I have an infant. Right? Cause it’s like, you gotta go to bed at a certain time.

You gotta, cuz he’s gonna be up hungry, but my body would not let me sleep before midnight. Like I was in the bed, I had just finished pumping and it was like, you got five minutes, you can make it. And surely enough, I was like twerking on the mattress for like however many tracks for like 16 songs straight.

And at some point Reggie was listening to it. He was like, come to the baby’s room, changing his diaper. And we were in there dancing before we were changing the baby’s diaper. It was an all family affair. 

Ayesha. What, what was your first listen like? 

Ayesha Rascoe: Well, you know, I, so I got three kids and I work. I feel like I work like 18 jobs, but I got a lot going on. So, and I love Beyoncé. I love her dearly, but I was like, I cannot stay up till midnight. I gotta get my rest. So I was a bad fan. I was like, look, I gotta get my rest. And then I’m gonna hear her in the morning. And so in the morning when I got up and I was like, okay, sitting at my desk, cuz everybody going crazy. I’m like, let me listen to this and see what is going with.

I turned it on and then as it started going, next thing I knew, I felt like I was in the club. I felt like I was in a raid as I’m just sitting here in this exact same chair, but I was like in another place.

Brittany: Yeah. She will transport you, right? This is why I keep saying she’s the artist of a generation because her ability to transport us to wherever she wants us to be is unparalleled, at least for me in this current day and age. 

Danyel, you may disagree, but so here’s the thing. There’s a line in ‘Church girl’, right, where she’s like ‘You could get it tatted if you want to’. Now of course, she’s talking about the dude who’s falling in love with us at the club, getting our names tatted on him. But if you could get any track title from ‘Renaissance’ tatted on you, which one would it be? And where’s the tattoo going? 

Candice: Oh my gosh. 

Brittany: Now think about it. Think about it. I’m gonna tell y’all my answer while you think about it. Okay. All right. I’m getting ‘Church Girl’ tatted for obvious reasons. Candice, we’re gonna come back to this in a second.

I’m getting ‘Church Girl’ tatted, but I’m getting it tatted on my inner thigh. You know what I’m saying? You feel what I’m saying? Cause I’m like, yeah, we gonna be sexy and sanctified. All right. Yes. We gonna do all of that and I’m gonna put it in the place that is both sexy and sanctified. Sorry, mom.

Who knows their answer? 

Ayesha: You know what? There’s so many you could do. ‘Church Girl’ would be obvious, cuz I do love that ‘Alien Superstar’ and then you could put an alien or something like that, but I think ‘Cuff It’ because, and I think you could put that in a very nice classy, just like on the boob.

Brittany: Just right there. Fleshy part.

Ayesha: Just right here on, you know, just on the boob. Like it’s very nice. I think if you put ‘Cuff It’ right there, I think that would get a lot of nice attention. 

Brittany: It sends a message for sure. 

Ayesha: And it would say what it means when you cuff  it. Okay. Like, so yeah, I think that would be a good one. 

Brittany: Candice.

Candice: So, of course I want ‘Church Girl’ and I was thinking two places like, on the inner part of the left ring finger. And then I was thinking like right there on the thigh part, like right in that like little piece part.

Brittany: Oh yeah, right by the fold. 

Candice: Right when she said in ‘Cozy’,  ‘I’m juicy’, like right in that like juicy part.

Brittany: Danyel close us out on this one, cuz I know you got a good one. 

Danyel: I’m going for ‘Summer’. I am. 

Brittany: All right. 

Danyel: I’m going for summer. I’m a June baby, number one. Donna Summer is one of my favorite artists of all time. I wanted to be her when I was a little girl and I love the way, you know, Beyoncé is just grabbing her up and lifting her up right now, her legacy.

And so I feel like I wouldn’t get the full out Summer Renaissance. I would just get ‘Summer’ and I think I would want it right along the back of my neck, so you wouldn’t really see it, but on those days when it’s top knot day. When it’s top knot day you gonna catch all that. Cause that’s summertime. I always go for the top knot in summertime. But I have to say y’all and y’all ‘Church Girl’ tats.  

Candice: I’m  gonna get a ‘Church Girl’ tat. 

Danyel: Mine sounds so like basic, y’all’s ‘Church Girl’ tat sounds like some 

Ayesha:  They wanna drop it like a thotty. 

Candice: Listen.

Brittany: I mean, we’ll get into that a little bit. But Ayesha, I wanna come to you because this is Beyoncé’s first studio album, solo studio album since ‘Lemonade’. And ‘Lemonade’ had some dance tracks, right?  But really it’s, ‘Lemonade’ was all about the story that Beyoncé wanted to weave for us. But, so making this dance album is a step in a new direction.

What do you think this reveals about where she is in her career, in her life?

Ayesha: You know, this could be all in my mind, but I feel like I have grown up with Beyoncé. Right? And you know, we both had three kids. We married, we’ve been married a long time with the same man, a long time. You know, I feel a connection, right?

Like a old, and my man’s like seven years older than me. So it’s like, I feel like a connection.

Brittany: That’s your sistering for real. 

Ayesha: Yeah. I mean, I can’t relate to like the whole cheating thing in ‘Lemonade’, but I recognize being in a relationship sometimes it’s a struggle and you know, like you’re worried about that person not being happy or you not being happy, you trying to connect.

And this is like, whatever it is, doesn’t have to be a, you know, an affair. It can be whatever and then you coming back to each other. I think what this felt like to me was, and this might sound funny, like this is like who I am in my mind. Like I’m in the club, I’m doing all this stuff. I don’t never go to the club, but this is what I feel like Beyoncé is like, yeah, I’m a mom, but I’m gonna show y’all what I can do.

Brittany: Yeah.

Ayesha: I mean, I’m sure she get out there, but. You probably really not doing it like that, but in your mind, this is where you’re at. Like you wanna show I still got it. I can still drop it like a thotty. I can still party. I’m still sexy. I still got all of that. And I think there is a real desire at a certain point to just get out and let loose and have fun.

Like you’ve been a mom. You got all these people on you all the time, the man, whatever, just, and it’s like, I just wanna have fun. I wanna let loose. I wanna be free.

Brittany: She said America has a problem, and the problem is that I’m a bad bitch. Right. Literally, it’s that kind of energy. And as a new mom, I agree with you. I needed that energy and I really feel like, Danyel there’s no better sound. There’s no better music to capture that kind of energy than dance music and specifically house music. You know, Vulture stated that there are decades of history in ‘Break My Soul’ alone. Right? That song samples Big Freedia.

It uses that iconic core and one synthesizer. I’m curious as the music aficionado, why do you think this journey into dance and house is so impactful in this particular moment? 

Danyel: You know, I hear you on all of that and I think the vocabulary that I use isn’t always dance and house. It’s always for me disco.

It’s always for me one of the most unrated forms of music, it comes in that area of time between like Motown and hip-hop. It’s that moment where you could almost see hip-hop in the future, you kind of wave a goodbye to Motown on the back end. And it was an era for Black people that was very.

Like, the voting rights act had just passed. You know what I’m saying? And the thing that I really like about the energy of disco overall, even though I know that there are many wonderful men at the heart of house, but I really think that dsco is a Black woman’s genre. 

Brittany: I like that a lot. 

Danyel: Everything from Gloria Gaynor on down to Cheryl Lynn to you could just keep going and going, you know, Dionne Warwick has great disco records. And I feel like that’s why it sounds so good to us, honestly. And that’s why it sounds  so good to everybody. Cuz Black women are at the heart of all of American party music.  You know, that’s my mantra. It ain’t never gonna to change. 

Brittany: That’s right. Read the book. 

Danyel: Yes. We don’t get the credit where it’s due. All of that. And it just feels like that right now, especially when everything in the world is so damn scary and constantly upsetting. It’s like Beyoncé, so we could still claim our joy a little bit though.

Brittany: Yeah.

Danyel: We could still claim our joy a little bit. 

Brittany: Then we have to, right? Because if we’re going to hold on for whatever this future is that we’re going to build, we have to have that joy 

Danyel: We do.

Brittany:  In order to make it happen. Candice, you know, we’re talking about house music, dance music, disco, Black women being at the heart of those genres. We also though have to talk very clearly about Black queer folk, right?  If you talk about disco, I’m thinking of Sylvester, right? I’m thinking about Sylvester’s children, right? Like Big Freedia and Messy Mya. And like all of those Black queer folks who are bringing us club music, house music, disco, dance music, whether it is popular or not.

Right? And Beyoncé, of course, dedicated this album to her uncle Johnny, who is her godmother and who really she credits for introducing her to these sounds. I don’t know if y’all caught it, you probably did, she even sings out the colors of the progress flag in ‘Cozy’. And I was like, my God, like her mind, right?

The co-writers mind to really say we’re going to honor the fore parents of what we’re doing. You know, she says ‘Black like love too deep, dance to the souls of my feet. Green eyes envy me paint the world. Oh, oh, pink.’ She goes on and on. I can’t play the song cause we don’t have Beyoncé budget, but y’all know where it goes. You know how to listen. 

And I don’t wanna say that we’re the authorities, right, on whether or not she hit the mark on appreciating versus appropriating, but I’m curious, Candice, why you think it’s so critical for straight and straight presenting folks like Beyoncé, like us to honor the power of Black queer folks, not just in music, but in general?

Candice: So what’s, what I think is so powerful and so beautiful about this album is that you really can’t love this album if you don’t love queer folks.  Like that she made very clear that this is an album that centers them and their experiences. Case in point, I literally listened to ‘Cozy’ again and teared up because I was like, all of like my trans sisters and trans brothers have a song. This is a song for them.

Right? That says I’m comfortable in my skin. I’m cozy. Right? We’ve had a rough go of it. Right? We’ve had a rough two years. Everybody’s been in the house. And we still don’t know what’s going on. Like we got monkeypox, like everything is, everything is crazy. And at the same time, we have also seen over the last five to seven years, a rise in assaults and violence against Black queer and trans folks.

To a point where it seems as if you look around and you’re like, does anybody care? You know what I’m saying? Like, the ways that harm against Black queer people has been normalized in conversation, in jokes, on television, and in music. Right? And here you have the greatest-living entertainer that’s has created an album that centers the lived experiences and realities of Black queer folk. 

Like that in and of itself. Like I was reading someone’s tweet, I can’t remember who it was, but it was a non-Black queer person who said that even though this is an album that everybody can get behind, they said even as a non-Black queer person, they had to recognize that she was centering Black queer people.

And that, that matters. And so one of the things that has been important for me is saying as much as I love it. And I love it. Right? That as much as ‘Lemonade’ I felt like was for Black women, you know what I’m saying? And like folks had to make room for Black women to breathe, live, and love ‘Lemonade’, the way that we do and the way that we did.

‘Renaissance’ is for queer folks and that they get to enjoy this. They get to speak to it. Name it. They get loved out loud and public in this way. 

Brittany: That’s beautiful. Yeah. 

Candice: And we can’t let anybody diminish the gift that she’s really given them with this album. 

Brittany: That’s right. And I love the way that you phrased it. You can’t love this album, if you don’t love Black queer people. Right? So if you find yourself in the wrong part of the venn diagram, this is a perfect time to check yourself and figure out how you get on the right side of history, right? How you get on the right side of our siblings, um, who deserve love and affirmation and full vigorous lives.

I wanna talk quickly though, about merch. I’m switching a little bit in part, but the merch is like so queer it’s so Black. It’s so incredible. And what I think is genius about Beyoncé is she understood just how hungry we were for this moment. So she gave us the anticipation for the album instead of doing a surprise drop. And she dropped the merch right at the same time. Did y’all cop anything? 

Danyel: Of course. 

Brittany: My cart was very, very full. 

Candice: Girl,  I don’t even roll and I got a rolling tray.

Brittany: I got a rolling tray too. I put jewelry on it or something, but it is gonna be in my house. 

Candice: Yeah, same, same. 

 Ayesha: But I’m also trying to save my coins for whenever the tour happens.

Danyel: Yeah. I want the earrings. Yeah. I want the ones with the horses in the middle. 

Candice: Wait, I didn’t see those. 

Danyel: Yes, like in the middle of the hoop.  

Candice: That’s on the site?

All: Yes, yes, yes. Yes. 

Candice: Y’all keep talking while I,  

Brittany: I’m gonna tell you guys, I ain’t got no type of wave in my hair, but I got the durag. Let me be very clear, there is a long black flowing durag that says move and rhinestones at the bottom. I will put it right on top of these braids and swing it around like I have a low-cut Caesar with a deep fade, okay. Because that durag had to come home to my house. 

Danyel:  I like that Destiny’s Child reference right there. I like that, Brittany.

Brittany: I’m an OG fan. 

Danyel: I heard you. I heard you. 

Brittany: Okay. So ain’t nobody tell you, I’ve been here since  No, no, no. Part 2, alright. There we go. So, okay. Ayesha back to you for a second, because when we talk about really being lifelong fans of Beyoncé, growing up with Beyoncé, we’ve watched her evolve as a woman.

We’ve watched her evolve in her sexuality. We’ve also watched her politics evolve. She’s become an intentionally political artist, especially over these last few projects, like declaring herself a feminist, being really explicit about intersectionality, releasing ‘Black as King’, which I’ve got enblazed on my chest right here.

But ‘Renaissance” has a political quality that is a bit different, right? I’m curious how you see liberation in this particular work. I know Candice just spoke to it a bit. 

Ayesha: Yeah. I mean, well, Candice spoke to it really well. I mean, this idea of being comfortable in your skin, but especially when you’re directing it towards queer people, Black queer people, I think when you’re at a time where queer people are being, you know, literally by the laws of  this country and being told that they don’t exist or should not exist. 

To have a celebration of them is in and of itself political. You are making a political statement that not only do they have a right to exist, but they should be celebrated. They are a part of the culture and they make you cool. Right? 

Like they setting the tone for like, what you think is hot, it is the queer people who are setting that tone. Like, let’s be real. But you gotta respect what people are delivering, right? Like that. And for Beyoncé to say that doesn’t take away from anybody else to celebrate them does not take away from people who are not queer.

Because sometimes you’ll have those people online talking about, well, you know how you going say that? And I’m a Black woman. I’m not queer. So you saying I’m following you. I’m not following you, but you come on now. It’s like, come on now. Like.

Danyel: No, there’s so many slogans and statements and turns of phrase and stuff that we all use. To come from the queer community. So much fashion, so much music, so much every thing. 

Candice: Exactly. 

Danyel: Who’s doing everybody else’s hair. 

Brittany: Political thought, theology. Like the whole, the whole gamut. 

Danyel: Yes. All of it. Like it’s really kind of meta to me too, because disco was one of the first places I think, where the queer community was out there dancing underneath the twirling mirrored ball and it was like, there were straight people at the club. There was gay people at the club there. Everybody was at the club together, different races and people were at the club together. This is why disco was such a threat to the larger society. And so to me, it’s very clear that Beyoncé thinks on so many levels.

That she’s like, if I’m going to do this album for this community of folk, I’m gonna go back to, to grow zero, essentially. I’m gonna go back to ground zero and pull from that era.

Brittany: Yeah. Talk about it, cuz that whole disco sucks movement was deeply racist and deeply homophobic and deeply transphobic.

Let’s talk about it 

Danyel: Oh yes, disco sucks?  It really was. 

Candice: You know, I was thinking about that, that in addition to like what it has meant to have this album and think of it in light of uncle Johnny, who the majority of us did not know. But have been able to, to think about the uncle Johnny’s in our lives who have allowed us, encouraged us, and ushered us into an acceptance and a love of ourselves. Whether we’re queer or not. Right?  That there was something about these people in our own lives loving us and allowing us to see them love themselves unconditionally, even against the threat of larger society and within our own communities.

Because it wasn’t like Black queer folk were just getting hate from white folks.

Brittany: Talk about it. 

Candice: Right? Like there have many who had to walk away from their own families and create family and community because they could not be who they are. You know, I’ve been reading people’s tweets who’ve been talking about the cousins and the aunties and the uncles. And like, you know, I’ve had friends that we’ve had conversations about what this has made them think about in terms of being queer and being aunts and uncles and what they want to be in the lives of the young people who are in their families. 

That in and of itself also is revolutionary. Right? That like we get to, one honor the village, right. That we have never had these paternalistic, traditional family systems and structures. We have always had people that we could trust and that’s important. Like there have been folks and that our mamas and our daddies could trust that maybe other folks would have side-eyed that and loved for us and loved on us just as much as our mamas and our daddies. 

These are not just mythical people and you know, that we’re talking about in Twitterverse social media land. These are people that come to my house for Thanksgiving that I love. These are people that raise me, that when I’m trying to make a decision about my life they gonna be among the first people that I call. Like, and then it pushes those who may have not even thought on that level when it comes politically. It pushes them to rethink even that. 

Brittany: Candice. I wanna stick with you for a second, cuz I promise we come back to ‘Church girl’.  There’s no way, especially after the last conversation we had on the podcast, we could not talk about ‘Church girl’. You know, I wonder if like, I wonder if Twinkie knew what she was approving when she approved the sample. But anyway. 

Candice: I don’t think she did. 

Brittany: The last time we talked, we talked about your book Red Lip Theology. We talked about being sexual and spiritual. What are some of the layers you’ve been peeling back on that song? Cuz I’ve been seeing people talking about that one everywhere. 

Candice: Yeah, so I wrote this piece for Religion News Service that came out Saturday about it. And one of the first things that struck me was that she used a Clark Sisters’ song for some of the very reasons that Danyel was talking about.

Like when queer folks were being pushed out of church and found sanctuary in the club like that when they couldn’t feel God in church. Right? They could feel it in a club. Right? We’re in a moment where so many Black women of faith, as we get older, are pushing back on a lot of these narratives about who we can and cannot be as women of faith. Right?

And she gives this like bold, brash, like song that you get this first line ‘I wanna be centered in your will’ from that song center that will, and you have really after the first verse like you’re in the first verse and your hand is up. Cuz you just, you have no idea where it’s going. And then when that beat drops. And she said ‘Drop it like a thotty’ and you were like oh, we went somewhere else. We done went somewhere else, right?

And it is, it is this moment, right. Of what it means to say, I am all of these things. And I don’t have to compartmentalize myself. I was born free. Can’t nobody else judge me. Like you don’t have the power to put me in a box.

Like only I can do that. You know what I’m saying? Like only I can sit here and give my power to you. Right? Like, that is what I’m actually doing. And they, I think that the reason that that resonated with so many of us is because she put to words and to music what a lot of us have been feeling, right?

And to do it over a DJ Jimmy and Clark Sisters track, unreal. I think Danyel just said it, like her mind and the ways that she thinks. Like when I wrote the piece, I didn’t even realize that ‘Church Girl’ was track seven and somebody 

Brittany: Number of completion.

Candice: Somebody in my  Instagram was like, not only that, like it is track seven and I was just like shut up, girl. 

You just sit there and you like. And I’m gonna say this and I’m gonna be done. Like there have been, I’ve been watching of course the, like how dare she conversations. And like the, you should be a woman of God. You shouldn’t be a church girl. Right? Those ridiculous conversations.

And someone sent me something and I said, this is exactly why she made the song. Right? One, to know Beyoncé and to know her story is to know she’s born and raised in the church. And she still has a relationship with her church and her pastor, Rudy Rasmus. 

Brittany: They’ve built apartments for houseless people, like yeah

Candice: Like she has never left the church and she’s never left faith. Right? Like there are parts of her that have evolved and we can tell that, and there are other parts and aspects that she’s embraced, but that’s why she made the song. And she gives us an anthem right after ‘Break My Soul’. Right? That you gonna break my soul.

Ahe gives us an anthem that like, when you have finally walked away from all of the bull, like all of the harmful theologies, all of the negative thoughts and fully embrace yourself you get the dance, you get to pop it, you get the drop it, you get to shake it and it is all good. And it is all holy.

Brittany: I love that. 

Danyel: Yes. Amen. To all of that. 

Brittany: Amen indeed. A Thursday circle. You know, you talk about there being levels to this Danyel, one of the levels that I think is so spectacular about Beyoncé is that she gets the fiercest, most wild, most incredible collaborators in the world. I mean, we’ve got, she samples Donna Summer, Grace Jones. We got TS Madison on the album. We got Tems. Drake has a writing credit. Heck, even one of my ex-boyfriends has a writing credit. I’m like, this is like a full, we’re still friends, it’s all good. This is like a full community of brilliant creatives. Right? And you know, it never feels like a stunt, right?

It never feels like you bringing out everybody because you’re trying to manufacture a hit. This feels like organic creativity. And it’s kind of impressive that the potential ego concerns of like all of these creative people are not getting in the way of the art. Are there collaborations that you find particularly  exciting on this album or samples that you’re like, whoa, she really dug in the crates for that, it’s a beautiful thing?

Danyel: Don’t look over here cuz I’m still on ‘Summer Renaissance’. Like don’t even do it.

Brittany: But that’s one of the places where we really feel that the core of the history that she very clearly understands coming through. 

Danyel: It really does. It just wraps me up in a knot and unties me, ties me back up into a bow. Like I’m spinning. Like it just, it’s giving Donna Summer. She’s been giving Donna Summer from the very beginning. The hair was giving it, all of it, all of it, all of it. And so for us to lift Donna Summer up, and Donna Summer is not a perfect person. Donna summer was in the, towards the end of her life, she had some unkind things to say about the queer community.

And then she came back around and because she was such an icon for them, it was like a, you know, a shift to the gut. But she came back around again and I really feel like Beyoncé has all this in her mind. She has all this in her creativity and this hive that she builds every time she puts out an album, really from the Destiny’s Child days. If you really think about it, somebody said something about they’ve been down since no, no, no, no, no. Am I wrong or was it really the remix? Yeah, with Wyclef. 

So that’s why I’m saying it’s, it’s always like, why are they with Wyclef?

Or like, why has she get her to do this? And how did she? Cuz. Beyoncé. Some people say, oh, well, you know, everybody answers the phone for Beyoncé and everybody will do anything for Beyoncé. That’s true, but it’s not true. She has to work like everybody else. 

Brittany: And it takes a really thoughtful coach to understand how to build a team. It’s not just about putting out superstars, right?  Because it’s like, sometimes. I love Marvel, but sometimes you watching it’s like you found every superhero you could find, right? Like, but there are some teams that get put together throughout history that you’re like, wow, right? This is like Lakers-level stuff.

This is Wu-Tang level stuff. Right? You understand how to put the right players together to create something that speaks so clearly to identity, to pride, to loving and valuing yourself. So before I close, if tomorrow is your last day on Earth and there is a song or a lyric from this album that absolutely has to carry you on to glory. What’s the one?

 I’ll tell you mine is that lyric from ‘Church Girl’, where she says ‘I was born free’ and it’s the way she sings it. Right? She gives you this beautiful run and it just kind of lands it gently. And when she does that it just carries me to a place where I’m reminded with all this baby weight and all of these things pulling on me and all of these things reminding me that I’m not allowed to be who I am and that the people who I love are not allowed to be who they are that actually bump all that. We were born free and you can rest in that. Like, somebody can just put that on a loop, roll me on out the church. 

Candice: You took mine. But from that same song, when she says ‘We’re finally on the other side, finally found the urge to smile.’ I have literally been thinking about just the last couple of years. Like, this year will make seven years that my mom has been gone and it was an impossibility at times to think that life could be beautiful again and being able to find color in life and being able to find joy in life. If it’s tomorrow, y’all can play that cuz I’m home with her, so I’m good. 

Brittany: I hear that.  Ayesha, how about you? 

Ayesha: I know we’re all picking from ‘Church Girl’, but I think if I had to, well and, and you know, of course it resonates with me when she talk about, you know, she knows she got church in the morning, but she’s doing the best that she can. That what  I really want, like, I want like that to me is me. 

Danyel: Y’all making me cry. I can’t take it with y’all.

Ayesha: I’m doing the best that I can. And I wanna say that as I’m sitting here I am amazed because I’m on a panel with Danyel Smith. 

Brittany: Yes. Talk about it. 

Ayesha: Vibe magazine. 

Danyel: No.

Ayesha: Like, I’m not joking. Like when I got a subscription to Vibe magazine. I’m getting teary eyed. 

Brittany: Girl, we’re all gonna cry. 

Danyel: But why y’all doing this to me today?

Ayesha: No, I’m serious. Like I was so, my mama would tell you, like, I would be waiting for the mailbox, like dreaming about like the covers and all. It was beautiful, it was amazing. And so now I’m on a panel with Danyel Smith?

Danyel: Where you should be, girl.

Ayesha: Just doing the best that I can. And that’s all I’ve been doing and getting ready for church in the morning. That to me is the blessing, right? 

Brittany: Oh, I love this. 

Danyel: Y’all doing too much. 

Brittany: No, it’s true. 

Ayesha: That’s the blessing. Never in my life did I think I would be here.

Brittany: Give the flowers. I love that. Give the flowers, right? Cuz that’s what Beyoncé did on this album. 

Ayesha: You gotta do it.

Brittany:  Danyel you more than deserving. I remember the first time I met you at the Undefeated. Do you remember this? 

Danyel: Yes I do. 

Brittany: And you popped in and I was like, how does Danyel Smith know who I am?

Danyel: Girl.

Brittany: I used to have to sneak Vibe magazine because I was so much of a church girl that my mom read this one that I had bought with Mary J. Blige on the cover and she read it and she was that is filthy that you bring that in this house. And I was like, I don’t know what to tell you. Like I’m a different generation and these are the words of my people. But, you don’t understand. 

Danyel: I hope I wrote that one. I do. I hope I did. I hope it was me. I hope it was me. Y’all are good, and fine, and fanciness. 

Brittany: No, you, no, we, we appreciate you and this is why, so, okay, so close this out. What’s the song? What’s the lyric that you want to carry you on to the other side?

Danyel: Oh, mine is straightforward. And again, I’m back at ‘Summer Renaissance’ and it’s the simple word, it’s just applause. It really is. Y’all know that in this part of my career, I’m truly, truly about Black women in music receiving the credit that they’re due, but I’m really about Black women just receiving the credit that we are due. Mm. And so I think that we are so denied that.

We are denied it in life. We are denied it in death. We are denied it in legacy. We are just denied the simple sign language. My dog is even co-signing me right now. It’s like we’re denied that. We all know, cuz we’re blessed to be in the places that we are. And I’m blessed to be on this panel with the three of you. You guys are all such amazing women, Black women, just creatives, everything. I’m blessed to be here, but each and every one of you receives tons of applause. But I will also say that you all three deserve much, much more. You do. You do. And so I want that, I could also put that tattoo where I was putting ‘Summer’ on the back of my neck.

It’s like, we all deserve that. It’s a feeling of people lifting you up ,of appreciating your genius and your creativity and just who you are as a person and as a soul on this Earth. It’s sign language. It’s putting your palms together in appreciation of another. And I just really feel like Beyoncé does not make choices like on a whim.

And she chose that word, it’s in the last song, on the song that just really brings Donna Summer back to us all. So for me, they always say, what do you want? You want somebody to say job well done? That’s applause. That’s applause. 

Brittany: That’s right. Well, may we all live with that kind of intention. And may we all get the applause we deserve.

Danyel, Ayesha, Candice, I could not have asked for a better crew to have this conversation with. Thank you all for being who you are. Thanks for having this conversation with me. And thanks for celebrating the Renaissance. I’ll talk to y’all soon. 

Danyel: Y’all are so great.

Brittany: Candice Marie Benbow is the author of Red Lip Theology:  For Church Girls Who’ve Considered Tithing to the Beauty Supply Store When Sunday Morning Isn’t Enough. Ayesha  Rascoe is the host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday. And Danyel Smith is the author of Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop.

And whether you are hive like me, or you just respect the artistry, or frankly, even if you don’t believe the hype , there is cultural richness in this album. I mean, you see how much it opened up for us to talk about. And there’s much left on the table, so many voices to read and listen to on this topic. And it pays, I think, to recognize that culture, society and yes, even pop music can serve as an entry point to the conversations we need to have and open the door for the work we need to do. After all, all of pop culture is influenced by politics and vice versa. I’m old enough to remember when Ellen came out on television or when Lauryn Hill won hip hop’s first album of the year Grammy, or when Colin Kaepernick was kneeling during the Anthem. 

And that began to shift the ways in which we spoke. It shifted what we believed and potentially even how we legislated. Sometimes politics shapes culture, but a lot of times it’s the other way around. Think about the conversations you’ve had because the lyrics to a song, a music video, or a viral television moment had everybody talking. Because before Kanye was wearing those weird ass boots, he said, George Bush doesn’t care about Black people. We have the chance and really the responsibility to reframe the way we talked about and understood Hurricane Katrina to be the latest example of environmental racism and structural poverty. I love this album because even in a moment of chaos, it is a clear eye dedication to boldness, joy, and pride and identity, which is always political, even when we dance.

Cause even if you gotta take a nap before you dance, we gotta dance. In the words of Jewish political activist Emma Goldman: If I can’t dance, I don’t wanna be in your revolution.

That’s it for today, but never, ever for tomorrow.


UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Our lead producer is Rachel Ward.

And our associate producers are Alexis Moore and Marialexa Kavenaugh.

And a big special thank you to Alexis Moore. We know you’ve moved on to do bigger and better things, but we love here at UNDISTRACTED. You can visit us any time. Thanks for all you’ve done to make us great. 

Thanks also to Treasure Brooks, Hannis Brown, Davy Sumner, and Raj Makhija.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media and our team @TheMeteor.

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate and review us on Apple podcasts and most places you check out your favorite podcasts.

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. And thanks always for doing.

I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.