Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s ‘Everything Is Love’ is a graduation to the rest of their lives
The joint album is truly defined by two tracks: ‘SUMMER’ and ‘LOVEHAPPY’
The most poignant lyric describing Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s already massively successful surprise joint album Everything Is Love isn’t actually from either of them. It’s from SZA: My loyalty is sensitive, so please don’t cross me, on Jay Rock’s “Redemption” (the title track from his recent album) with backing from Kendrick Lamar. Show me the real you/ The real truth.
They have been married just over 10 years, and nearly half of that has passed since footage was leaked of the rapper being accosted in an elevator by his sister-in-law Solange as Beyoncé stood by. The altercation, which took place after the Met Gala, was so incendiary because, in real time, it contradicted a pop culture edict as old as social media itself: Jay-Z And Beyoncé Are Married And That Marriage Is Good.
Kris Jenner and LeBron James aside, no other megastars had controlled the narratives of their careers and personal lives quite like the notoriously guarded and reserved Carters. The elevator moment appeared to be not only the first dent in what was thought to be impenetrable armor, but one that could cripple their empire altogether.
Everything seemed possible in that moment — except for Everything Is Love. You can taste the dishonesty, Beyoncé vented on Lemonade’s opener, “Pray You Catch Me.” It’s on your breath as you pass it off so cavalier. Rumors eventually gave way to reality. Jay-Z cheated on Beyoncé. How she found out is unknown. Maybe she heard through a reliable source and confronted him. Maybe she read a private conversation between Jay-Z and his mistress. Maybe it all started from a chance meeting on a flight. The identity of “Becky with the good hair” will likely remain a mystery too.
Beyoncé’s loyalty was tested. Jay-Z’s loyalty was questioned. And, because they both are artists, May 2014 set in motion not just years of therapy and intense work on their marriage but also a string of high-quality releases. Beyoncé’s 2016 Lemonade and Jay’s 4:44 a year later — and, by proxy, Solange’s 2016 A Seat at the Table — are offspring of the moment. Classic music created in a time capsule, inspired by pain.
Everything Is Love is one part couples therapy and one part tour of the universe that The Carters inhabit. In nine tracks spanning less than 40 minutes, the project is as in-depth as Jay-Z and Beyoncé allow. The journey is soulful at points, cocky at others and enigmatic mostly. Yet, the album provides more than enough insight into their world now that the weight of perfection has been wiped clean. And their peace in that reality.
If there’s one quality neither Carter lacks, it’s confidence. “BOSS” finds each of them flexing their business acumen, and the song has already aged, given Monday’s announcement that Jay-Z is Puma’s new creative director. And N—-, you not a boss, you got a boss / N—- getting jerked, that s— hurts, I take it personally / N—- rather work for the man than to work with me, Jay-Z rhymes in a line many have speculated is about Drake. Just so they can pretend they on my level / That s— irkin’ to me. Jay-Z’s disdain prompts Beyoncé: Ain’t nothing to it /I boss so I bought my mama a whip / My great-great-grandchildren already rich / That’s a lot of brown chi’rren on your Forbes list.
The project celebrates the many facets of the Carters’ existence. Both lead a rare life. “NICE” is a braggadocious self-assessment with an unexpected but welcome (and lone) guest verse from Pharrell. “FRIENDS” is a pristine glimpse of the friends in their universe who they see as irreplaceable family. “713” is largely Jay-Z’s account of the early days of their courtship — and proof that even Jay-Z loses his cool for love. The song even features an interpolated hook from Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s 1999 “Still D.R.E.” — which, not-so-ironically, Jay-Z wrote.
And “BLACK EFFECT” is an anthem of being black and wealthy while still maintaining a connection to the pavement that raised them. I’m good on any MLK Boulevard, Jay-Z raps, while the most well-placed ad-lib in history — Beyoncé’s “He good!” — is not far behind. From music videos at Paris’ The Louvre featuring an all-black cast of dancers to Bey chin-checking Spotify, JAY doing the same with the NFL and Grammys, promoting an upcoming Trayvon Martin documentary and name-dropping the Freedom Riders, “Hoodie Melo” and a brief homage to the late rapper Shawty Lo, the album is a master class in cultural relevance.
Undoubtedly, though, Love is truly defined by two tracks: the intro, “SUMMER,” and outro, “LOVEHAPPY.” These songs are songs about them, the couple. Not their money, influence, upcoming power moves or bevy of high-profile and longtime friends. What it took to manifest this album isn’t lost on either Carter — and Jay-Z in particular. “God protects babies and fools,” he says on the Cool & Dre-produced bonus track “SALUD!” “I was both.”
Pain is the base of both Lemonade and 4:44. Pain that Jay-Z brought forth. It’s one reality to step out on a partner, but a totally different internal battle comes with knowing that the destruction of a family can come from one’s own greed. Last November, Jay-Z and David Letterman, who himself had been involved in an infidelity scandal years earlier, talked about working through the aftermath. “It was my way of saying I want to cry, I want to be open, I want to have the emotional tools that it takes to keep my family together,” Jay-Z said. “Much like you, I have a beautiful wife who was understanding, and who knew I’m not the worst of what I’ve done.”
We never been this far from the shore, Beyoncé sings on “SUMMER.” We might not ever go back anymore. This is where they are now. The reality of their past is part of who they are. The future is for them to decide. But Jay-Z and Beyoncé can never be who they once were. It takes years to establish trust, one mishap to taint it forever and perhaps a lifetime to reconcile. Beyoncé and Jay-Z aren’t an everyday couple. Yet, the hurt, the betrayal, the sense of abandonment that comes with infidelity is a concept older than them both, and to stay together, they must deal with it.
From the streets, on to Dame Dash, Kareem Burke and Jay-Z launching Roc-A-Fella when no one else believed, to the corporate boardroom he resides in now, the risks Jay-Z has taken in his career have made him a cultural deity. But it’s the high-risk behavior in the one area of his life that nearly imploded everything he’d truly yearned for, and the honesty in his music over the past year is proof of maturity. There’s a Richard Pryor-level of honesty to Jay-Z these days, minus the overt self-destructiveness. He’s a man looking into the eyes of his kids and admitting his faults. In Bel-Air, only the nights get cold / I wrapped a yellow jacket ‘round Bey, he says on “SUMMER.” He’s reflective. Both on the life he came from and the life he nearly jettisoned. It’s not lost on me / Music has my kids sound asleep.
“LOVEHAPPY” is the final scene of this part of the movie. Maybe the final scene of a four-year melodrama that started on an elevator. Their first words are concrete: Happily in love, Beyoncé boasts. Haters please forgive me, Jay-Z follows up. With the back-and-forth banter of Styles P and Jadakiss, husband and wife take turns with bars about how the resolution came to be. But not before one last parting shot at what nearly made Jay-Z the real-life embodiment of his wife’s 2006 smash hit “Irreplaceable.”
He went to Jared, I went to JAR out in Paris/ Yeah, you f— up the first stone, we had to get remarried, Bey reminds her husband. We keeping it real with these people, right? Lucky I ain’t kill you when I met that b—-.
Normal apologies and Dwayne Wayne “baby, baby, please” don’t fly in the Carter household. Y’all could make up with a bag / I had to change the weather, Jay-Z reflects. Move the whole family west, but it’s whatever.
Beyoncé rarely speaks publicly, outside of albums and concerts, making it difficult to read her. But no one, not even the woman with 20 Grammys to her name, is immune to grief, heartbreak or embarrassment. It’s a process that took years, and the exposure of insecurities and insights into her life she likely never thought she’d have to provide Jay-Z or her fans. So the final track is a graduation of sorts into the rest their lives. Boy, you do some things to me / But love is deeper than your pain and I believe you can change, she sings with a conviction not heard on any other track. Sometimes I thought we’d never see the light / Went through hell with heaven on our side / The beach ain’t always been no paradise / But nightmares only last one night.
Everything Is Love is a better collaborative album than we could’ve imagined. There were no obvious ploys for radio attention or overloading the album with an excess of filler moments just to fatten streaming numbers. For what? They’d accomplish that regardless, so why sacrifice art when art didn’t need to be sacrificed in the first place? Jay-Z and Beyoncé, at least over the past four years, have sacrificed enough — including each other. Let them tell it, they’re in a better place now than they’ve ever been before.