review: Beyonce & Jay-Z’s ‘Everything Is Love’ is an all-star collab that’s worth it
It could be easy to get cynical about Beyonce and Jay-Z's Everything Is Love. It's easy to get cynical about all-star collaborative albums in general (though the last time Jay made one it was pretty spectacular and still holds up today), and it's easy to get cynical about the narrative that Beyonce and Jay-Z have been pushing for themselves over the past couple years. First Bey started rumors about Jay's infidelity on 2016's Lemonade, then Jay admitted it and apologized for it on 2017's 4:44, and now Everything Is Love is the public reconciliation. Is it all a little too calculated? Maybe, but just a minute into the gorgeously psychedelic opener "Summer" (made in part with Leon Michels of El Michels Affair) any cynicism should start to ease, and by the end of this nine-song album, it should disappear completely. Bey and Jay may carefully construct their public image, but as long as they're backing it up with music this strong, it's hard to complain.
It's not surprising that Jay-Z and Beyonce have more chemistry together than Jay had on some of his more misguided all-star collabs. Not only are Jay and Bey obviously married, but Bey and Jay have made music together forever, just like Jay had done with his Watch the Throne collaborator Kanye West (who Jay is possibly maybe not on great terms with right now, and this album possibly maybe includes a few shots at Ye ["Hova, Beysus, watch the thrones"], and this album possibly maybe came out 24 hours after the Kanye-produced album by Jay's former rival Nas on purpose). It's been 15 years or so since Bey and Jay were knocking out classics like "03 Bonnie and Clyde" and "Crazy In Love," and they've appeared on each other's albums several times since, so Everything Is Love feels like a long time coming, not a recent development to capitalize on fame. When they made said classics, Jay was at his peak. Now he sounds a bit more weathered like he did on 4:44, but it also sounds like Beyonce is rejuvenating him. Bey is at the point in her career where everything she touches turns to gold; when "Crazy In Love" came out, I don't think anyone could've imagined the level Beyonce would reach with her self-titled album and Lemonade. On Everything Is Love, which sounds a bit less obsessed over than Lemonade and Beyonce, Bey and her collaborators still manage to casually churn out music that sounds cut from those album's cloths. The aforementioned "Summer" channels '70s psychedelic soul as effectively as Lemonade often did, and Bey's shimmering, harmony-backed delivery is as gripping as her finest moments on that album. "Boss" brings in victorious trumpets that rival the ones on Lemonade standout "All Night." "Heard About Us" is powered by a bouncing bassline that gives the one on Beyonce's "Blow" a run for its money. It's a collaborative album, but Everything Is Love is more firmly planted in Beyonce's world than in Jay-Z's, and that's partially why it sounds so lush.
Even Jay sounds like he knows Beyonce is the star. "It's Beyonce, n****... oh my god," he says on "Heard About Us," as if he's in utter disbelief that he's in the Queen's presence. But, again, he sounds rejuvenated on Everything Is Love. He's rapping quicker than he was on 4:44 -- the message on that album was strong but he never offered up the pure rush of a tongue twister like "Stagediving in a pool of people / Ran through Liverpool like a fuckin' Beatle / Smoke gorilla glue like it's fuckin' legal." After Lemonade, Jay kinda had to make an introverted, apologetic album like 4:44, but now that he can once again offer up boast-filled raps about living luxuriously, and about everything he had to go through to be able to live luxuriously, we as listeners are rewarded with Jay-Z doing what Jay-Z does best. On "Summer," Jay reminisces about growing up in the projects, before fast-forwarding to the present: "In Bel-Air, only the nights get cold / I wrapped a yellow jack 'round Bey / It's not lost on me / Music has my kids sound asleep." The words roll off his tongue with a finesse that was often missing from the good-but-not-great rhymes of 4:44. On "Nice," he sounds even more like classic Jay-Z: "After all these years of drug trafficking, huh? Time to remind me I'm black again, huh? All this talking back, I'm too arrogant, huh?" It's the chest-puffed Jay-Z we know and love.
Everything Is Love is a good rap album thanks to Beyonce too. She mostly stuck to belting and crooning on Lemonade, but Everything Is Love brings back Beyonce the rapper, who we heard on self-titled standouts like "***Flawless" and "7/11." On the 2/3-of-Migos-and-Pharrell-assisted "Apeshit," Bey does Migos better than Migos. On "713," she reps her Houston hometown with a convincing interpolation of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg's "Still," and on "Heard About Us," she swipes a bit of Biggie's "Juicy" for a hook about how outrageously popular her and Jay-Z are. Like her husband, she's in boast-fueled rap mode on the Pharrell-featuring "Nice" (in the same song Jay "was too busy touring out all your arenas," Bey raps "If I gave two fucks, two fucks 'bout streaming numbers / Would have put Lemonade up on Spotify"), and she once again masters a Migos flow on "Black Effect." On an album that's often celebratory, "Black Effect" is the one that goes furthest into darker social/political territory, where Jay and Bey both drop wisdom about police brutality and unjust incarceration. Jay's "I'm good on any MLK Boulevard" hook is also his punchiest on the album.
Since Everything Is Love is the happy ending to Beyonce and Jay-Z's highly publicized marital struggles, the album wasn't going to end without addressing those struggles head-on, and it finally does so on its last song, "LoveHappy." Over a boom bap-ish beat co-produced by Dave Sitek, Bey and Jay go line for line with each other in what almost feels like a real-life argument. The narrative that the couple constructed may sometimes feel a little too clean, but this doesn't feel clean at all; it's the most thrilling part of the record. "You fucked up the first stone, we had to get remarried," Bey sing-raps, with the anger sizzling beneath her words. "Yo chill, man," Jay nervously laughs. "We keepin' it real with these people, right?" Bey shoots back, before really letting it rip: "Lucky I ain't kill you when I met that bi-." "Aight, aight," Jay pleads. And it gets (semi) resolved in the chorus, with Bey howling at her most soulful: "Boy, you do some things to be / But 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." As has been the case since the start of this saga, we only know the details that Bey and Jay are giving us (which, truthfully, aren't many), and we don't know how much they're massaging those details for the sake of a good story. It's satisfying to see hip hop's most successful couple get a happy ending, but in a way, that's just a subplot of Everything Is Love. Bey and Jay made an album, not a reality TV show. The gossip surrounding it is unavoidable, but years from now, when that gossip has all died down, the expert production, Beyonce's show-stopping belting, Beyonce's increasingly compelling rapping, and Jay-Z's billion-dollar rhymes will be remembered.