Beyoncé and Jay-Z Leave Their Turbulent Past Behind on Surprise Album ‘Everything Is Love’
Late Saturday, Tidal subscribers—and those on their fifth or sixth free trial—were treated to a very special treat: a joint album from music’s first couple.
The Carters casually announced during the second London show on their On the Run Tour II that the joint project they’d been teasing for years finally dropped. With no lavish rollout—no extravagant listening parties at ranches, no preliminary press tours—they delivered this new project that serves as musical closure for the frayed feelings that were at the core of Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Jay’s 4:44.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z are obviously the most scrutinized couple in music, and they’ve spent the past two years inviting the world into their marriage. They haven’t done it via messy headlines or tell-all interviews or social media. They’ve put their shit out there solely via the music. On the one hand, we could scoff at crass commodification of marital turbulence. But when it makes for art this good, we could also celebrate the fact that the Carters gave us two albums worth of marital strain-themed music that would make Fleetwood Mac blush.
On Everything Is Love, the Carters reassure the world that they are still very much a unit. This album is about solidarity and reveling in who they are. It’s similar to Watch the Throne in that it doesn’t pretend to be modest—this is a celebration, bitches. But where that album dwelled on luxury-rap opulence, this project’s muse is domesticity (but of the most ballerific variety). Jay is obviously invigorated by the queen he’s sharing album space with.
The Cool & Dre-produced opener “Summer” is a highlight. The song is another sultry “let’s make love on the sand” track that echoes Beyoncé’s “Drunk In Love,” but there’s also a metaphor here—for a marriage that was once lost at sea. “We never been this far from the shore / We might not ever go back anymore,” Bey coos, as Jay proudly proclaims, “I brought my sand to the beach / Hopped out the Lam’ with the sheep / Skin rugs on the floor / We hugged, made love on the seats.”
The video for “Apeshit,” a banger of a track produced by Pharrell, premiered with the album and a still from that video serves as the Everything Is Love album cover. The image is of Beyoncé’s dancers Jasmine Harper and Nicholas “Slick” Stewart, and the vid was filmed inside the Louvre with Jay and Bey standing in front of the Mona Lisa. But the vid ends on Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s “Portrait of a Negress.” That knack for dropping their brand of Blackness into the most venerated of white spaces remains the Carter’s raison d'être. It’s a titanic moment—made even more gargantuan by the fact that Beyoncé is out here rapping on the track, being her baddest self: “He wanna go with me / He like to roll the weed / He wanna be with me / He wanna give me that vitamin D.”
“Boss” is the album’s most chest-thumping moment—and no one does big-baller boasting better than Jay and Bey. With Jay reminding you once again what rich nigga rap sounds like (“It’s disturbing what I gross / Survey says you not even close / Everybody’s bosses, til the time to pay for the office”) and Beyoncé outmatching him (“Ain’t nothing to it, I boss so I bought my momma a whip / My great-great-grandchildren already rich / That’s a lot of brown children on your Forbes list”). Co-produced with D-Mile and Derek Dixie, the track is the kind of anthem they do really well. And “Nice” is another Pharrell production, featuring Beyoncé’s best line: “If I gave two fucks—two fucks about streaming numbers / Would have put Lemonade up on Spotify.” And “713” gets the Houston shout-out, as Bey provides the hometown reppin’ chorus for Jay’s verses, which again show his admiration for his wife: “Queen, I ain’t mean no disrespect / But the way I network, it’s hard for me to connect / My first time in the ocean went exactly as you’d expect / Meanwhile, you going hard, jumping off the top deck.”
“Friends” is an atmospheric, spacy production from NAV and Boi 1-da, as a somewhat hushed Beyoncé extols the virtues of having her friends by her side: “Damn it, I love my life, Styrofoam cups, no ice, party ‘fore we go inside / Never let them out my sight, they’re right by my side / Them my ride or dies, them my ride or dies.” Jay bemoans a general lack of loyalty while biggin’ up those who stay connected: “Y’all put niggas on a T-shirt, it hurts you ain’t never meet ‘em / You got niggas in the Feds, you ain’t even tryna feed ‘em.”
Co-produced by Boi-1da, Jahaan Sweet, Vinylz and !llmind, “Heard About Us” is another middle finger to all the commentary and critics. A declaration of status that doubles as an announcement of solidarity, it’s evidence that they know exactly who they are (“If you don’t know now you know, nigga”). “Black Effect” opens with Jay asserting how black he is, and declaring, “I’m good on any MLK Boulevard!” Jay and Bey’s more outspoken approach to social issues over the past several years has granted them high currency and clout in the world of celebrity activism, but the hubris behind glad-handing oneself for taking a position—or for being “unapologetically Black”—can sometimes sound like pandering.
“Y’all know how I met her, we broke up and got back together / To get her back, I had to sweat her / Y’all could make up with a bag, I had to change the weather,” Jay raps on the album closer, “Lovehappy.” The song is playful and honest, where Jay admits (again) how far he fell, while Bey acknowledges that she wasn’t always ready to pull him up. “You did some things to me, boy, you do some things to me,” she sings as a sort of denouement on the album, “But love is deeper than your pain and I believe you can change / Baby, the ups and downs are worth it, long way to go, but we’ll work it.”
The music on Everything Is Love is an affirmation of the chemistry Jay and Bey have displayed for 15 years. It wasn’t necessarily the album fans wanted; there’s a sense of fatigue surrounding the couple, with some fans wanting less Jay in the mix and more of Beyoncé as the singular force of nature she’s become. But Bey loves her marriage and this journey has been important to her art—and to Jay’s creative evolution, as well. This is an album that sounds like a pair of superstar lovers gleefully exhaling. They sound engaged and inspired—which is what we most want from our artists.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z make engaging music without needing to stir up extraneous nonsense around that music. Other stars should take note.