It was 5:30 p.m. ET on a Saturday in mid-June. Some people were just returning home from a long day at the beach, trying to decide what they wanted for dinner. Others were rummaging through their closets in search of something to wear for an imminent night of bar-hopping. In The Hamptons, the penultimate day of the 2018 U.S. Open was underway. And across the pond in London, Beyoncé and Jay-Z were wrapping up one of their On the Run II tour dates. All around, it was a pretty typical afternoon. That is, until the first couple of music ended their concert with a special onscreen message: “Album out now.”
Beyoncé, 36, and Jay-Z, 48, suddenly dropped their long-rumored joint record, Everything Is Love, on the rapper’s streaming service, Tidal, on Saturday, June 16. Traditionally, new music comes out on Fridays at midnight. But the Carters (as they are billed on the project) once again broke the rules. The surprise came more than 40 hours after the scheduled releases of Christina Aguilera’s Liberation and Nas’ Nasir, among other works.
Queen Bey is no stranger to ambushing her fans in the name of music. In 2013, she all but broke the internet when she unexpectedly premiered her self-titled visual album. Less than three years later, she did it again with Lemonade, a 12-track LP accompanied by a stunning hour-long HBO film.
It turns out that Lemonade was the first part of what would become a trilogy. On that Grammy-winning album, Beyoncé tackled themes including betrayal and infidelity, at one point calling out a mistress whom she famously dubbed “Becky with the good hair.” It sent her legion of fans into a frenzy as they tried to decipher whether the pop superstar was sharing private details about her own marriage. Jay-Z all but confirmed the speculation a year later with his own confessional, 4:44, on which he apologized for womanizing and even retorted, “Let me alone, Becky.”
Enter Everything Is Love. After resolving their apparent marital strife (and renewing their wedding vows in honor of their 10th anniversary in April), the power couple hit the studio together for the final chapter of the trilogy. The nine tracks find them gushing about the revitalization of their union. They make it clear throughout the album that they weathered the storm and are enamored once more.
On the dreamy and orchestral opening track, “Summer,” Beyoncé croons, “Let’s make love in the summertime, yeah / On the sands, beach sands, make plans / To be in each other’s arms.” The next song, “Apes–t,” features her singing, “I can’t believe we made it” over a trap beat, though she seems to be referencing the pair’s many professional successes rather than the ups and downs of their marriage. Later in the fierce hip-hop tune, which is the lead single, Beyoncé gives Nicki Minaj and Cardi B a run for their money with a fast-as-lightning rap verse, while Jay-Z reveals he “said no to the Super Bowl” because he already performs at NFL stadiums on tour. He also raps, “Tell the Grammys f–k that 0 for 8 s–t,” referring to 4:44 losing in every category in which it was nominated at this year’s awards ceremony.
The savagery continues on the braggadocious “Nice.” The former Destiny’s Child member insists that she didn’t sweat her decision not to release Lemonade on one of Tidal’s biggest rivals. “If I gave two f–ks, two f–ks about streaming numbers / Would have put Lemonade up on Spotify,” she sings. “F–k you, f–k you, you’re cool, f–k you / I’m out.”
The midsection of the disc pays homage to everything from Beyoncé’s Houston roots to the pair’s offspring. The title of “713” comes from the area code of Mrs. Carter’s hometown, while the horn-inflected “Boss” ends with a message from her and Jay-Z’s eldest daughter, Blue Ivy. “Shout-out to Rumi and Sir / Love, Blue,” the 6-year-old tells her twin siblings, who recently celebrated their first birthday. And while we’re on the topic of children, Jay-Z assures fans on “Heard About Us” that he only has three. He addresses longstanding but unfounded rumors that he secretly fathered a son named Rymir Satterthwaite by rapping, “Billie Jean in his prime / For the thousandth time, the kid ain’t mine.”
Everything Is Love concludes with the soulful “LoveHappy,” a back-and-forth conversation of sorts between the two entertainers about their past. Jay-Z admits, “We broke up and got back together,” to which Beyoncé tenderly replies, “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 / We’re flawed, but we’re still perfect for each other.” In another reference to their troubles, Beyoncé says, “You f—ked up the first stone / We had to get remarried.” Hov’s reply? A laugh followed by, “Yo, chill, man!”
It’s clear from the very first listen that Beyoncé outshines her husband on much of the record, which really should have been marketed as “Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z” rather than “Beyoncé and Jay-Z” (or “The Carters,” in this case). His verses are few and far between in comparison to hers, but it still somehow feels like a balanced body of work from two of the greatest artists of our time. (That said, it’s no Beyoncé, Lemonade or even 4:44.) The “Formation” singer sums it up best in the final line: “We came and we conquered / Now we’re happy in love.”
3 stars (out of 4)
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