There is arguably no couple better at controlling their own press than Beyoncé and Jay-Z. When a video surfaced in 2014 showing Bey’s younger sister Solange attacking her brother-in-law in an elevator, rumours of a strained marriage proliferated.
Rather than battle the tabloids, the spouses used the gossip to fuel two critically beloved, commercially successful records: “Lemonade” and “4:44.” And, in them, they offered just as many details as they chose.
They continued their domination of the pop music world on Saturday when the couple surprised the world by releasing their joint album “Everything Is Love,” something of a sequel to those two solo records. Though they have collaborated for at least 15 years, this marks their first joint album, which they dropped under the name the Carters.
Wait wait! You don’t like #Beyonce?? Omg, you think she’s overrated? You must feel so special. What an individual you are! What a free thinker! Now go sit in a corner while the rest of us have fun #👋🏿👋🏿
— S. J. (@dratinidestiny) June 17, 2018
It dropped like a bomb in the midst of Kanye West’s (fairly problematic) rollout of several new records, including a solo record, one with Kid Cudi, a Pusha T album and a Nas album.
— T’Chopped Cheese (@carltonwa_) June 16, 2018
In fact, “Everything is Love” may have benefited from the contrast between Kanye’s release strategy (which included several Twitter rants, an embracing of President Donald Trump and a public declaration that slavery was a choice) and the Carters’ (which simply included a worldwide stadium tour).
The record is a victory lap from a couple who have mined their relationship for universal truths and then presented them as art. It’s a fierce love letter to success, to family, to blackness – but, most of all, to each other.
— Mario (@mtehuitz) June 16, 2018
Here are a few early takeaways:
– The album
The record follows a recent trend of shorter run times, clocking in at 38 minutes and 17 seconds across nine tracks. The song titles also employ brevity, most of them being one word in all caps, such as “Summer,” “Boss,” “Friends” and “Lovehappy.”
Several producers contributed to the album, including Cool & Dre, Pharrell Williams, Nav and Dave Sitek from the rock band TV on the Radio. They have crafted an album of towering horns, racing synths and booming 808s – but one that puts Beyoncé’s and Jay-Z’s vocals at the forefront.
Migos, Pharrell and Ty Dolla $ign all have guest spots, but the most personal feature comes at the end of “Boss,” when the couple’s 6-year-old daughter Blue Ivy addresses her twin siblings (who recently turned 1), saying, “Shout out to Rumi and Sir. Love Blue.”
– The lyrics
The album primarily focuses on two aspects of the Carters: their marriage and their overwhelming success.
Much like “Lemonade” and “4:44,” “Everything is Love” is filled with details of Jay-Z’s infidelity and the couple’s subsequent reconciliation.
“If me and my wife beefing, I don’t care if the house on fire, I’m dying … I ain’t leaving,” Jay-Z raps on “714.”
The two, meanwhile, have a difficult conversation on the album’s closer “Lovehappy.”
Beyoncé: “You” messed “up the first stone, we had to get remarried.”
Jay-Z: “Yo chill”
Beyoncé: “We keeping it real with these people, right?/ Lucky I ain’t kill you when I met …”
Jay-Z: “You know how I met her/ We broke up and got back together/ To get her back I had to sweat her.”
Closing the record, Beyoncé offers this meditation on their union: “The ups and downs are worth it / Long way to go but we’re working / We’re flawed but we’re still perfect for each other, yeah yeah / Sometimes I thought we’d never see the light / We went through hell with heaven on our side / This beach ain’t always been no paradise.”
But many of their lyrics are straight boasting.
“My success can’t be quantified,” Beyoncé sings on the expletive-laden “NICE” adding that if she cared “about streaming numbers, would’ve put ‘Lemonade’ up on Spotify.”
Jay-Z – in a line that cannot be printed in a family newspaper – complains that he didn’t win any of the eight Grammys he was nominated for in 2017. He also raps that he “said no to the Super Bowl/ You need me, I don’t need you/ Every night we in the end zone/ Tell the NFL we in stadiums too.”
Woven throughout are references to police brutality and systematic racism, such as the chorus of “Black Effect”: “Get your hands up high like a false arrest / Let me see em up high, this is not a test.”
The album’s also full of classic hip-hop references.
On “Heard About Us,” Beyoncé belts out the famous line from Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy”: “If you don’t know, now you know.”
And in “713,” the two rap: “I’m representing for the hustlers all across the world. Still, dipping in my lo-los, girl. I put it down for the 713, and I still got love for the streets.” The lines are a play on those by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg on 2001’s “Still D.R.E.,” which were written by Jay-Z. The main deviation from those lines is the mention of “the 713,” which refers to the area code for Houston, Beyoncé’s hometown.
Finally, the pair seem to throw a little shade at Kanye West when Beyoncé raps, “Hova, Beysus, watch the thrones.” In 2011, Jay-Z (Hova) and Kanye, who calls himself Yeezus, put out a record called “Watch the Thrones.”
Beyoncé seems to be implying that she’s taken Kanye’s throne.
– The video
Accompanying the album was an opulent music video for “APES-.” It was directed by Ricky Saiz, who also directed the video for “Yonce” in 2013. It finds the couple lounging, wandering and finally partying throughout the Louvre in Paris, alone save for a group of dancers in nude bodysuits.
As the couple delights in their surroundings, the camera wanders to various museum works, such as those by Jacques-Louis David. These paintings mostly feature white people, though the camera finds and zooms in on the few black and brown faces it can find.
Eventually, the video cuts between the paintings, the Carters and images of people of colour in the real world – a couple making out on their bed, teenagers kneeling, in the same way, the NFL will not allow its players during the national anthem.
The video is a study in juxtaposition: A juxtaposition between the fluid movements of the couple and the still paintings and statues. A juxtaposition between the black and brown dancers and the white faces lining the walls. A juxtaposition between art and reality.
– The timing
Perhaps it was just coincidence – but the Carters don’t traffic in coincidence.
The album dropped the same weekend as Nas’ Kanye West-produced album “Nasir,” which is particularly notable for a couple reasons.
It seemed for a while that Kanye and the couple had a falling out, though it’s unclear why. Both parties have discussed it obliquely during the past two years, skirting around the issue.
Nas and Jay-Z, meanwhile, had a long-running beef during the first legs of their careers. It resulted in Nas’ “Ether,” one of the cruellest diss tracks ever recorded. The two supposedly buried the hatchet in December 2001 (on the insistence of Jay-Z’s mother, Gloria). They’ve even collaborated on a few songs since.
But … maybe there’s some lingering resentment.
This fact was not lost on rap fans, as evidenced by a cavalcade of Twitter memes suggesting that beef might still be on the menu.