It’s an expression of solidarity and excess. From their joint name to the Louvre-stomping video for APESHIT, there’s also no denying that Everything Is Love by The Carters is the final act of a family drama that’s been years in the making.
Whether they planned it this way or not, it certainly ties up the Beyonce & Jay-Z saga with perfectly-pitched brilliance. If her self-titled album was about being Drunk In Love in the first heady flush of romance, Lemonade and 4:44 almost worked out like individual therapy for both to air their grievances.
But it was only ever leading to this: a joint album that brings the Carters together, a unified front that completes the narrative of them being stricken by the same ailments of every other couple, but being able to work through them and emerge both poised and unscathed. Again, how much of this is real or not seems irrelevant at this stage; music’s biggest melodrama is tied up in a way that makes for rather great listening.
SUMMER is the opener that buries every hatchet in warm brass-and-string production, with neither party being able to resist their own indulgences. Beyonce brings it with low-key vocal runs, while Jay introduces that notion of excess we mentioned earlier. “I don’t have no concept of time even with a rose gold concept on me,” he raps, though it’s hard not enjoy the balance and feeling of hearing a Hov verse on a Bey song.
That’s their gentle introduction though. APESHIT is their statement of intent, the moment that the Carters establish to the world that they are above every institution out there: the Louvre, the NFL and the Superbowl (Jay turned them down, apparently), the Grammys, they’re all alluded to in some way as the couple declare that this is now their world. Beyonce herself finally addresses her business acumen, asking for ‘respect on my cheque’ while not hiding her own enjoyment of the Carters’ lifestyle: “We live it lavish, lavish, I got expensive fabrics, I got expensive habits,” before adding she “bought him a jet” and “Phillippe Patek”.
It’s a theme that pervades Everything Is Love, which seems to imply that the foundation of their relationship is built on the material rather than anything else. Are we supposed to celebrate Beyonce and Jay-Z’s garish declarations of ‘hundred million crib, three million watch’ on BOSS or the ’24 carat faucets’ on 713 just because of the perceived strife that has gone before? It feels like Everything Is Love is the album they wanted to make years ago, but doing so at the time would have made them as aloof and obscene as one would expect from a royal family. Unfortunately, now more than ever, that vulgar side can’t be erased.
Still, there are strong doses of reality. BOSS also allows Jay the freedom to take down Kanye in an epic verse that references his ‘working for the man’ (hiya Trump), before commenting on his pride and debt problems with an acerbic ‘survey says’/Family Feud jibe. And NICE lets Beyonce rip into Spotify and streaming numbers with refreshing candour, showing us a brand new side to a woman we all think we know inside out (not to mention her own Kanye/Kim dig on LOVEHAPPY).
Moments like these, not to mention the expert production on everything except FRIENDS, are what give the record its greatness. Because as far as hip-hop records go, it really is tremendous: whether Bey and Jay are playing characters or showing us their true money-minded selves, they match each other with the fire and talent they bring to this album (even if HEARD ABOUT US sounds like it belongs somewhere else). And in doing so, both their words, their performances, and all the lines of evidence they provide say one thing: for better or worse, they’re at the top of this game and they’re finally happy to make sure we never forget it.