'A classic in its own right." "Changed the game." "Flawless." That is just some of the effusive enthusiasm that greeted Beyonce's cover of Before I Let Go.
The song is a bonus track on her live album, Homecoming, which was released — unexpectedly — with her documentary of the same name that fleshes out her Earth-stopping 2018 Coachella performance.
This praise is richly deserved. As Pitchfork's Alphonse Pierre notes in his review, the song is ridiculously infectious, and showcases Beyonce's talent for putting out music that forces you to get up and dance.
But what is most striking about the track is how it works as a sort of cultural talisman.
To label it a "cover" is, in some ways, so inapt it almost feels misleading. Instead of merely rehashing a cherished black tune, one with deep roots in the communal past, Beyonce's interpretation moves black culture into the future, offering a sonic tableau of tomorrow predicated on the yesterdays we have shared.
In short, Beyonce — as always, but especially on this song — preserves and pioneers.
Understanding the resonance of Beyonce's version of Before I Let Go requires looking at why the original is so significant. Released in 1981 by soul band Frankie Beverly & Maze, the song became a black cultural touchstone.
Its lyrics agonise over a relationship that is on the verge of ending: "We were so close, our love was strong/ I can't understand it, where did we go wrong?" Beverly sings. "I won't be hasty, girl, I've got to know/ I want to make sure I'm right before I let go."
Despite the weightiness of its words, the song is a bop: the bravado of the guitar, the strut of the synth, bolstered by Beverly's ethereal crooning. It's this joy, this lighter-than-air ecstasy, that has made the song a staple.
For almost 40 years, Before I Let Go has featured prominently at black social gatherings like the family cookout.
The song's allure is hard to put into words and is perhaps best observed. It has the fascinating effect of drawing everyone, young and old alike, to the floor, pulled into doing the Electric Slide by the sheer groove of the song.
The resulting mass of people can only be described as an embodiment of unified black bliss.
In covering this black anthem, Beyonce taps into a history that is bigger than the song itself, evoking the sense of euphoric nostalgia that comes with that tradition.
"There's so much history in this one song," I texted a friend as I listened to her version for the first time, tearing up.
I'm not alone: After the live album's release, a quick scan of social media revealed this track, in particular, was striking a powerful, visceral chord among many black listeners.
True to form, Beyonce's spin on the song transcends mere duplication.
For one thing, her version has been repurposed with the rhythms of a pep rally (bringing it in line with the broader theme of her Coachella set).
After we hear the cheers of the crowd, the horns, hand claps and high-hats kick in. For the next two minutes or so, Beyonce sings a faithful rendition of Before I Let Go, making a meal of the lengthy note on the song's chorus, before switching gears and gliding into what some critics have pointed out is an interpolation of the popular 1986 song Candy, by the funk group Cameo, another cookout classic and a contender for Electric Slide favourite.
Here Beyonce pivots from lyrics about the past and nods to a future of black achievement she is creating.
"I pull up to Coachella/ In boots with the goose feathers," she sings. "D'Usse and champagne/ I did the damn thing."
It's a boast, but it's true. With her acclaimed performance at Coachella in 2018, Beyonce became the first black woman to headline the festival.
In this light, she almost inverts the song's initial sentiment of departure — rather than leaving, she's arriving.
If it wasn't clear before Coachella, it's unmistakable now that, in the music world, Beyonce is the bar to surpass.
What makes her cover stand out is how firmly, and authentically, the pop star embraces the past — documenting and defending a culture that constantly wrestles with the twin pressures of appropriation and erasure — while also expanding that history.
Ascending right along with her is an arena of blackness, emerging from years of mainstream dismissal.