Beyoncé, Jay-Z delve into reputation, relationship on captivating ‘Everything Is Love’

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

Beyoncé and Jay-Z dropped their first joint album, the “surprise” venture Everything Is Love, this Saturday. While the release itself may have been out of the blue, the album’s content comes with little surprise.

Rather, Everything Is Love — released officially by the Carters as a duo amid their joint On the Run II Tour — falls in line with their recent solo works as the third installment of a musical narrative trilogy. First came 2016’s Lemonade, which served simultaneously as a subversive, epic embrace of Black womanhood and Beyoncé’s emotional response to Jay-Z’s admitted infidelity. 2017’s 4:44 functioned largely as Jay-Z’s public apology, a collection of self-reflective tracks dealing with the rapper’s reputation and vow to turn a new leaf.

Everything Is Love is, therefore, a supposed culmination of this trilogy. The album shows both artists at the other end of the public turmoil so personally examined through their last works. It successfully showcases both Beyoncé and Jay-Z in their best musical form, while just falling short of surpassing either of the artists’ most recent releases in terms of artistry. Lavish production and intimate lyrics make Everything is Love a hypnotic, albeit unoriginal, album, one that serves as a satisfying collaboration from music’s prevailing power couple.

The album connects its nine distinct tracks through a loose conceptual arc. From start to finish, Everything Is Love reveals the Carters’ reliance on forgiveness and redemption to ultimately strengthen their marriage — not merely for the sake of their romance or their public personas, but for their family.

“Summer,” the opening track, is the album’s most traditional and overt love song. Its softness and unabashed sensuality is reminiscent of the pair’s previous collaboration on 2013’s “Drunk in Love” — but this time around, there’s an unmistakable gravity and maturity in both vocal performances. Breezy album highlight “Boss” essentially involves the Carters basking in their power couple label to a track of boisterous horns. It’s a sweetly confident piece, one that ends with a heartfelt feature from Blue Ivy Carter shouting out her young siblings.

Of course, Everything Is Love acknowledges the darkness that the two endured in order to craft this new perspective of strength. The haunting melody of “Heard About Us” combines with blunt lyrics from Beyoncé on the chorus as she acknowledges the constant public speculation surrounding the couple’s experiences. Jay-Z contributes to the sentiment of frustration through his own verses, which include lyrics such as “pain comes with penthouse views” that elucidate the couple’s belief in fame as a manipulative, but also redemptive, factor in their love story.

It’s fitting then, that this darkest track on the album leads into the album’s most dramatic and most memorable song, “Black Effect.” The track is a fitting album climax, a gorgeously produced anthem whose lyrics contextualize Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s careers into a lineage of Black excellence. “I’m good on any MLK Boulevard,” raps Jay-Z on the chorus. The lyrics are filled with cultural and historic references, and both artists showcase some of their greatest vocal talents.

The album maintains a consistent stylistic and thematic arc while showcasing both artists excelling in musical forms that they themselves pioneered — save for its lead single, which comes out as its sole misstep. “Apeshit,” the album’s vivacious, high-energy second track, sounds much more like a Migos track (Migos’ Quavo and Offset are, in fact, credited on the song) than anything by Beyoncé or Jay-Z. In an album that’s otherwise cohesive and consistent in style, “Apeshit” is sonically jarring.

Everything Is Love isn’t concerned with perfection as much as a desire to offer a sense of closure. It largely succeeds, but the album’s ability to conclude the harrowing story told by the Carters’ recent work is debatable. It’s a narrative we’ll continue to recall, and one that will continue to impact both artists’ work in years to come.

But rest assured, the album is a beautifully satisfying collaboration from two monumental artists, artists who are still at the top of their respective games.

Contact Anagha Komaragiri at [email protected].