Beyoncé and Jay-Z: Weird, woozy peek at a superstar marriage
Everything Is Love
Beyoncé and Jay-Z
Hip-Hop & Rap
Infidelity may be a wrecking ball to the average marriage but for Beyoncé and Jay-Z it turns out to be the ultimate creative inspiration. The tribulations of being a strong black woman with a cheating husband was the fire that lit up Beyoncé ’s extraordinary 2016 album Lemonade while last year’s 4:44 from Jay-Z was one long, anguished mea-culpa – and, not un-coincidentally perhaps, his strongest record in almost a decade.
Now the feuding spouses are back together with a collaboration, Everything is Love – surprise released at the conclusion of their joint UK tour and credited to “The Carters” – that brings to a close their state-of-the-marital-union trilogy. Given all the vitriol sloshing about Lemonade especially, the listener could be forgiven for steeling themselves for the worst.
So it’s both a relief and also, if we’re being honest, a vague disappointment that Everything Is Love turns out to be a hugs-and-kisses, let’s-be-friends-again affair. It’s a weird, woozy listen – if there’s one thing more uncomfortable than being in the crossfire of a rowing couple, it’s hanging around for the inevitable soppy make-up afterwards, which is essentially what we’re expected to endure here.
Crucially, though, Everything Is Love is never saccharine and Beyoncé, especially, emerges as savvy and sardonic – not for one moment hoodwinked by her husband’s mogul charm. The degree to which she bosses the LP – all the best rapping is from her, not Jay-Z – hints strongly that they have reconciled on her terms not his.
The big shock, in fact, is how raw and unprocessed Beyoncé sounds. She drops an f-bomb on Nice – and while we’re open to correction, it is potentially the first time she’s ever delivered an expletive on record. Ironically, she starts off mellower than ever on opener Summer, a languid slow-jam that raises the delicious possibility Jay-Z and Beyoncé have tossed off a playful funk album. “Let’s make love in the summer-time,” croons Bey and you can almost feel the sun on your face and dancing across the surface of your heart-shaped swimming pool.
But we’re back on the gnarly streets of mainstream hip hop with single Apes**t, which features two thirds of Atlanta’s Migos and brims with bling brags and references to “Lambos” (hip hop parlance for Lamborghinis). Once again the major eye-opener is Beyoncé, who raps with demon-fury and sings through layers of Autotune so that she sounds less like herself than like a Bey-bot from the far future (a touch credited to Pharrell Williams, producer of two of the nine tracks).
On 4:44, Jay Z expressed his eternal regret for running around on Bey and vowed to do better. Here, she comes across mollified but not entirely convinced. “You’re lucky I ain’t kill you when I met that B …,” rhymes Beyoncé on LoveHappy, referring to the “Becky with the good hair” whom she called out for canoodling with her husband on Lemonade. “All right, all right,” interjects Jay-Z, who has never sounded more hangdog.
As well as straying spouses, Everything Is Love takes aim at a multitude of irresistible targets. On Nice, Beyoncé draws a bullseye on fans grumbling about the exclusive release of her records on Jay-Z’s Tidal streaming service. “Patiently waiting for my demise / ‘cause my success can’t be quantified/ If I gave two f**ks about streaming numbers/ would have put Lemonade up on Spotify, ” she declaims, each punch connecting with a crunch.
Jay-Z, meanwhile, wants a word with the Grammys, who sent him home empty handed despite nominating him for eight awards for 4:44. “Tell the Grammy’s f**k that 0 for 8 s**t, “he raps on Apes**t. “Have you ever seen the crowd goin’ apes**t?”
The score-settling is offset with humour. Several tracks are essentially exercises in braggadocio – “My great-great-grandchildren already rich/ That’s a lot of brown chi’r’en on your Forbes list,” spits Beyoncé on r’n’b rumbler Boss – but the mic-drops come with a wink and a nudge. As summer surprises go, Everything Is Love thus has it all: wit, anger and a behind-the-curtains peek at the Carter household. The John and Yoko of big league hip hop – we’ll leave it to the listener to work out who is the muse, who the boundary-breaking artist – continue to confound and fascinate.