Two years ago, songwriting and producing duo Nova Wav first chatted with Beyoncé over pizza about what would become her seventh full-length album: “Renaissance.”
Released on Friday, the 16-track record is filled to the brim with infectious, danceable tracks, and Nova Wav — made up of Brittany “Chi” Coney and Denisia “Blu June” Andrews — are honored to have a hand in eight of the songs. The duo, who has produced and written for Jay-Z, Rihanna, Ariana Grande, Kehlani, DJ Khaled, H.E.R., Jazmine Sullivan and more, first met Beyoncé in 2014. In 2020, they struck gold as writers on Beyoncé’s single “Black Parade,” which went on to win a Grammy for best R&B performance. So when they got the call to work on “Renaissance” in the midst of the pandemic, the duo was more than ready to dive in.
“She wanted people to feel like they were escaping,” June tells Variety of Beyoncé’s vision for the album. “We’re outside again, and even if things are still iffy right now in the climate of the world, she gave us something to dance to and something to feel good about.”
Below, Nova Wav breaks down a few of the songs on “Renaissance” — including writing “Cuff It” and “Summer Renaissance” after a trip to the strip club — gushes over Beyoncé and shares what the album means to them as women in a male-dominated field.
Before we dive into the songs, tell me about how Nova Wav came to be.
Chi: In 2009, I had someone hit me up on Facebook, a rapper, and he was like, “Yo, I heard your beats on MySpace, could you send me some?” … I was like, “OK, cool. I’ll send it to you.” He was like, “I have this girl coming over to do the hook,” and then when he sent it, I was like, “Oh my god, who is that?” [Blu June’s] voice is absolutely incredible, out of this world. So we worked for maybe about a year, and I was like, “Yo, if you move to Atlanta with me, we’re going to be so freaking huge.”
Blu June: I ended up moving to Atlanta with her in 2011. Quit my job, just left everything behind and moved in with her and her mom. In 2012 is when we got our first placement, so we’ve just been working ever since.
Let’s start with “Cuff It,” which you co-wrote and produced. This song has an insane lineup of writers, including Nile Rodgers and Raphael Saadiq, and features Sheila E. on the drums. How did it come together?
Blu June: We were doing some sessions in Atlanta and a couple of people came out to work on the album. I just remember having a creative block for two days straight, like I didn’t get anything done, so we all went to the strip club. And we came back from the strip club, like 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock in the morning, and Chi said to me, “Yo, I have this beat that I’ve been working on.” I hadn’t heard the beat, because sometimes she works on ideas alone. She played the beat and I’m like, “Wow.” I was almost intimidated, I almost didn’t want to do it, but I was like, “OK, just throw the beat on and I’ll see if I can come up with some ideas.” And like literally, we just started an idea, it was a rough idea, and we sent it to B and she went crazy over it.
Chi: And for it to be something that was just our own, and to give it to her and for her to take it to the next level and bring in other collaborators, it’s so dope just to see the process from the greatest.
I love that you went to a strip club to get over writer’s block.
Blu June: It was so important. We actually did that one, we did “Summer Renaissance” and we did “Energy.”
Chi: We did a couple that night after the strip club. We were very inspired.
Twitter is freaking out over “Virgo’s Groove.” How did you contribute to the writing process on that one?
Chi: “Virgo’s Groove” was a vibe that I haven’t heard in a long time. It was just a different type of pocket, it literally took me to a different time era. We just came in and did what we do, put our sauce on it. The way we talk, we’re kind of pegged for being the girls with the slick mouths, so we just went in.
Blu June: We talk that talk!
Chi: I think that’s one of the main reasons that B enjoys working with us, is that we can do the younger sound, but we also can make it sound very mature and cater to a married woman with kids who is developed in her career. I love when she calls us for records like that because we get to be who we are, but also be sexual, but also be powerful at the same time.
Blu June: When we sat down at her house and she played it the first time — how different it is now and the marriage of the things that she’s done — she’s so incredible.
What was your first reaction when you heard the finished album?
Chi: I was like, “Yo, she’s going to own the summer.” People are going to dance. It just makes me proud of her, because she continuously does what no one else is doing and she’s so fearless, you know? Being how seasoned she is, I feel like a lot of people get stagnant and try to do what’s popular. But she always is pushing to do what’s not popular and she’s continuously setting trends after being in this industry for 25-plus years. That’s a very hard thing to do. She’s an icon, she’s a legend, she is a queen.
Let’s talk about “Move,” which you co-wrote. What’s it like to have your name on a song with Grace Jones?
Blu June: It’s a dream come true. It’s like, the Grace Jones. Just witnessing her greatness — you can never really plan for moments like this, so when it happens it feels like a big surprise. You feel like a fan all over again, and we’re just super humbled.
Chi: On my 2021 vision board, Grace Jones is on there and it says “icon” on top of it. So to be able to cross off things with our vision boards has been so amazing as well.
“Pure/Honey” is so much fun, and samples drag legends Kevin Aviance and Moi Renee. What was it like producing and writing that one, and how did you source those samples?
Chi: “Honey” was the last song we did. We were trying to sit down with B and catch some of her energy and where her headspace was, but she was in and out of town. But we were actually able to create the idea in her studio, so that gave us the energy.
Blu June: We wanted something that felt modern, but also gave you that throwback, retro, disco feel. I remember getting on the keyboard and playing some chords … it just felt cool, it felt funky.
Chi: She loved it. I remember talking to Dream, maybe like a week later in the studio, and I was like, “Who found the ‘Miss Honey’ sample? Was that you?” and he was like “Nah, that was B.” The song was “Honey,” the sample is “Honey”; it’s in the same key. The synchronicity of it was insane.
“Summer Renaissance” samples Donna Summer’s iconic song “I Feel Love.” What about that song inspired you?
Blu June: That’s another one that we produced and co-wrote. She was very inspired by Donna Summer, and so we really wanted to feed her that inspiration. Even Donna Summer being a pioneer of disco — some people don’t know that back story, so we wanted to make people dance, but also give them a little history, too, and say, “Hey, look, we have roots in this.” Being two women of color, to be able to bring that to the forefront is something that we really wanted to do.
Chi: That was a very magical moment in the studio. We definitely did our research about disco. We literally sat down, googled “disco” — how did it start? It literally started with Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” So we did our research about the synths and the delays. It was so good, we couldn’t get around it, we had to sample it. But we also said, “Yo, remember she said she’s never had a house song?” So we just kind of mixed the disco with the house.
What’s your favorite memory from the recording process?
Chi: Our favorite thing was to sit down with her as a person outside of music, outside of the work and just to see her as a human being, to sit together just as friends. Kick it, eat pizza; talk about how we shouldn’t be eating pizza. But just her being a true lover of life and truly being genuine. People think she’s this out-of-reach type of person, and she’s really just a regular human being who wants greatness and she honestly wants love for everybody.
Blu June: I remember we went to her house in 2020, like pandemic times, and I had been working out and shed like 40 pounds. As soon as I walked in and she saw me, she said, “Oh my god, Blu, you are snatched!” And I started laughing and she was like, “No, I’m serious, you look good.” And that stuck with me and gave me so much confidence going into creating those songs. I was feeling good about myself, I was high on life. Just moments like that, very human moments that you can share with an artist as great as Beyoncé — it just means a lot to you. I’m pretty sure she gets compliments all the time, but to give them to someone else, it just meant a lot to me.
Chi: Even the very first time we met her, she stuck her hand out to shake our hands and she said, “Hi, I’m Beyoncé,” as if we didn’t know that she was Beyoncé. She’s so pure.
What does it mean to you to be so involved in this album in the male-dominated field of songwriting and production?
Blu June: Honestly, it’s a dream come true, but it’s something that we knew we were going to accomplish. Because number one, we have each other. And so we both know how talented we are, and just putting that together, nothing can really stop us. But it’s been a long, hard fight, especially on the production side. So to have produced three songs on the album, with two additional production credits, so that’s five total on the album — that’s something that’s never been done before.
Chi: Especially with two of the top songs right now, “Cuff It” and “Summer Renaissance,” for those to be our productions and our writing that started from us, it’s just so incredible. We’re so excited.
Can you tease anything about the next two acts of this project?
Chi: It’s coming.
Blu June: And it’s good.
This interview has been edited and condensed.