The Carters to the Rescue: EVERYTHING IS LOVE
After the release and awe of 4:44 and Lemonade, Jay-Z and Beyoncé positively claimed a reign on influencing popular culture and music in America. The music in the two albums was refreshingly honest, political, and individually powerful. Two artists of splendid reputation, they were neither defined by their relationship nor desperately attempting to escape it in their music or celebrity. It should not be surprising, then, that their collaborative follow-up embodies the mettle of their marriage—both literal and musical—in unmatched genius. EVERYTHING IS LOVE by The Carters (stylized in all caps) is triumphant, testimonial and (most importantly) joyful. At first, in its quick flows and religiously hip-hop instrumentation, the essence of the album seems more Jay-Z than Beyoncé but that belief is quickly derailed in just how collaborative and collaboratively new the sound of The Carters proves itself to be. This is not an album with Jay-Z featuring Beyoncé or vice versa, nor is it an album shared between two established artists bouncing off of each other’s characteristic sounds. This is the independent manifesto of The Carters; holistically, methodically and marvelously. Beyoncé proudly maneuvers the valorization that followed Lemonade and her self-titled album by continuing to bend genres without the contemptuous restrictions of matching any former success. Is it R&B? Is it Hip-Hop? Is any of this Pop? Fortunately, the definitions matter not once. With LOVE, the shared musical reign of The Carters is cemented. The good news? They rule it in impeccable glamour, art-pop, creative flexibility, and rehabilitating care.
“SUMMER” opens the album into a world cleansed from all the pain of Lemonade and all the scars of 4:44. The tide is won, the tears shed: now The Carters must make love in the beach heaven of openly discussed emotions and desires. Unlike Beyonce’s seminal, the album opener clarifies that there is no suspense in the redemption of LOVE. In a New York Times interview in 2017, Jay-Z described the process of this album as a musical therapy session. This song is the result of the tiring work for the sake of that therapy. In a lot of ways, the album consistently nods back to the themes of Lemonade. Nothing real can be broken, Beyoncé had proclaimed and she follows it up here—belching in the seductive rasp of part-SZA, part-Anti era Rihanna—that she needs to take her time to show her love that real something. “Summer” is groovy, sampled with sermons on love. It paces itself slowly, prominently relying on drums that are almost tropical, almost jazz, and in their fills, almost ragtime. While this song is one most easily categorizable in the vastness of chill R&B/Hip-hop, it is pertinent to note that it subverts the genre constantly —there are trumpets, there is Jay-Z’s prophetically foreground flow, and there is the rappy, poppy half-rhymes of Beyoncé’s verse. Erykah Badu is shook. Lana del Rey’s dream sway is fully realized. They are both singing along to this song in the Woodstock/Coachella hybrid of their minds and their hands are high, faces painted, and they mean every single second. I know I do.
The next song on the album speeds it up a bit. You don’t book out The Louvre in Paris if you don’t have an absolute banger on your hands and The Carters justify the treatment of “APESHIT” with 2018’s baddest hook (“Have you ever seen a stage goin’ apeshit?”), a very Migos-beat, and the Formation love child that has finally let Beyoncé mature into an unrestrainedly sick flow. Jay-Z gives her a hard time with possibly his best work since 2001’s The Blueprint, but by the end of the song, you leave realizing that there is no competition between the pair and only equitable glory. They stand proudly in The Louvre in a music video directed and artistically envisioned by Gods. It is art-pop in its essence and effect; art is equipped in pop culture and done so in the critique of its elitism. The couple smiles and laughs, dons suggestive cultural garbs, in front of the goddamn Mona Lisa and puts choreography for days in the halls never meant to be reigned by black and brown faces such as theirs. The following “BOSS” completes the actualization of the specific genre that LOVE inhabits. There are elements from “The Story of OJ” and samples rivaling those Outkast transitions Beyoncé used for “All Night” and “Flawless (remix)” ft. Nicki Minaj. This is also the beginning of the communal, larger-than-self politicality of the album. Beyoncé reclaims the boss territory, in her capitalist success and its revolutionary social implications, for an entire version and population of America without ever comprising on the non-white identity that the music dons with pride. The days of Beyoncé pop songs, in the definition of American pop and its invisible culture, are over. “NICE” emboldens this sentiment in words that could not have been clearer: (“Patiently waiting for my demise/ Cause my success can’t be quantified/ If I gave two fucks – two fucks about streaming numbers/Would have put Lemonade up on Spotify/ Fuck you, fuck you”). Pharell blesses the track with not only his characteristic production, the jingled 808-like R&B of the Bruno Mars kind, but also with a calming vocal accompaniment. By this point, the album is everything you had ever wished for. It is the pop-iness of a fast paced, quick spat Jay-Z verse, the likes of which have been absent for a few years now. It is “Yoncé” extended and mastered, the speech-rap of “Hold Up” now free-flowing as if Beyoncé has been nothing else but a straight-spitting female rapper along.
In “713”, The Carters drop perhaps the catchiest hook of the year, equally Jay-Z’s as it is Beyoncé’s and powerful in the fact that it is shared so seamlessly. Beyoncé screams playfully, jubilantly. Redemption and healing of The Carters has been peaceful, yes, but it has been too mesmerizingly happy and confidence-inducing. The resignation of first-half Lemonade is gone and the remorse in her followed empowerment has been replaced with a hubris that is both kind and Cardi B braggadocious. The message is clear: made all this money but Beyoncé still carries her hot sauce in her bag, swag (“I’m representing for my hustlers all across the world (still)/ Still dippin’ in my low-lows, girl! (still),/ I put it down for the 713/ And we still got love for the streets (ow!).” 713 is the area code for Houston, Texas. Jay-Z nods up to his wife, his savior and caresser of hidden scars, for the depths and labor of her femininity in the reparations of their relationship and the psychologies of black life in America: “To all the good girls that love hustlers/ To the mothers that put up with us/ To all the babies that suffered cause us/ We only know love because of ya/ America is a motherfucka to us, lock us up, shoot us/ Shoot our self esteem down, we don’t deserve true love/ Black queen, you rescued us.”
The last four songs of the album focus on driving the political messages of The Carters’ manifesto home. Home, here, is for America and its black bodies. “FRIENDS” is an ode to the unconventional friendships that Beyoncé and Jay-Z are honored to have. They share their homes with the people that have surrounded them and they are aware of the exclusive definitions of success that they obliterate and reinvent in their ontology. “HEARD ABOUT US” reminds the listener of the power of the pedestal from which The Carters are shouting their message to the masses. LOVE is alternative and it is indie if it is not R&B and Hip-hop, and it can only be so for the success of The Carters has allowed them to be emancipated from societal reductions rather than be oppressed by it further. In their magically gigantic success, there has been an emancipation from the constant fear of retaining it. The pair preaches sincerity and creative integrity. Then, the pair lives it in their music and their lyrics. In “BLACKEFFECT” and “LOVEHAPPY”, The Carters bring their album to a close by advocating for the unbridled politics of joy and empowerment “for the culture.” Over resolved and bright synths, they spit about everything from false arrests to MLK boulevards (“I’m Malcolm X” spits Beyonce, “I will never let them shoot the nose off my pharaoh” she warns). In the last song, they bring the theme of the album back to the harmed and fixed relationship between the couple. Beyoncé returns to interspersing her flows with Sasha Fierce-reminiscent belts. Jay-Z brings the euphoric production of the likes of “Empire State of Mind” and attempts in this final collaboration to share the cure of the Beyoncé heart and soul. The throne is shining, and it is accepting disciples to be healed by love and the black effect. Atop it are crowned Hova and Beysus.