Don’t you hate it when Mommy and Daddy fight?
Beyoncé and Jay-Z are the first couple of R&B and hip-hop in particular, pop music in general, and the music business at large.
But lately, the parents of Blue Ivy, Sir, and Rumi have been in conflict. On Lemonade, Beyoncé’s combative 2016 album, the singer seethed at her husband’s infidelities as she raged that “he only want me when I’m not there” and famously suggested “he better call Becky with the good hair.”
>> READ MORE: Review: Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’
>> READ MORE: Review: Jay-Z’s ‘4:44’
4:44, Jay-Z’s 2017 album, played out like a full-length act of contrition, an extended admission that spurred the entertainment kingpin to do some serious soul searching while repeating the words “I apologize” in an effort to get back in his musical superhero wife’s good graces.
Both albums were driven by discomfort, but marital strife proved excellent for each artist’s music. Lemonade’s carefully conceived “visual album” brought Beyoncé to new artistic heights. Closely examining his own behavior gave Jay-Z a fresh focal point that spurred him to reclaim his place as a preeminent rapper.
And now, with Lemonade as the thesis and 4:44 the antithesis, the Hegelian hip-hop dialectic is complete. Everything Is Love (Roc Nation / Parkwood ***), the joint Beyoncé and Jay-Z album that was surprise-released over the weekend, synthesizes the duo’s talents under the conjugal brand the Carters. (Beyoncé’s last name is Knowles; Jay-Z was born Shawn Carter.)
The couple announced the album on Saturday during a concert in London. Over the weekend, it was available exclusively via Tidal, the music streaming service owned by Jay-Z, but as of Monday morning, it could also be streamed on Apple Music and Spotify Premium.
Along with the nine-track album, the Carters released a 10th standalone song, “Salud!” in which they toast their joint success. And to get the attention of eyes as well as ears, they also released a video for the Everything Is Love club banger “Apes-” that was filmed in the Louvre, the venerated Paris art museum that houses the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo and that has now served as a stage for the duo to celebrate their musical and marital union amid the masterworks of Western art.
The “Apes-” video was filmed in the last month and miraculously kept secret by the Carters, who have once again proved themselves masters of imposing a code of silence on their collaborators.
It’s a field day for art history students. The clip presents one visually dazzling tableau after another — see Beyoncé and a squadron of dancers elegantly slow-grind in front of Jacques Louis David’s The Coronation of Napoleon, or watch her go “Apes-” dressed in white dancing in front of the Hellenistic marble sculpture The Winged Victory of Samothrace. Familiar with David’s portrait of Madame Recamier? Well, here’s an image of Beyoncé striking the same pose in front if it.
But the video for the song, which also features Pharrell Williams and Migos members Quavo and Offset, is not a just massive humble brag — check us out, we rented out the Louvre — about the couple’s outrageously luxuriant success. They jointly rap about their marriage and careers: “I can’t believe we made it, this is what we’re thankful for.”
It’s also a statement of racial pride, as the couple situate their own black bodies and those of their dancers in one of the most hallowed halls of high culture where treasures were accrued during a colonial era when the French were particularly active in West and North Africa. It also should be noted that it’s not that all that rare for the Louvre to allow pop culture within its walls: Wonder Woman took a meeting there with Bruce Wayne in Patty Jenkins’ 2016 action film.
>> READ MORE: Review: Beyonce and Jay Z at Citizens Bank Park
Beyoncé and Jay-Z have worked together before, most effectively on her 2003 single “Crazy in Love,” which is sure to be a showstopper when the duo come to Lincoln Financial Field on July 30 on their On the Run II tour.
They’ve never attempted a sustained collaboration like this before, and they’ve also never sounded so content and pleased with themselves. In pop music, that can often spell trouble. Sad songs of woe are often more compelling than announcements of unambiguous happiness, particularly from a couple who would seem to have everything.
Wouldn’t we rather know that the rich and fabulous have problems just like the rest of us rather that learn they’ve got everything worked out perfectly?
In most cases, yes. And, to be sure, that’s one reason Everything Is Love is not as compelling as Lemonade or 4:44. From the album title to Beyoncé’s “Let’s make love” opening line in “Summer,” it’s clear that conflicts are going to be resolved and familial stability celebrated.
But the Carters have been expert in seeing that their massive fan base is invested in the well-being of their relationship, and Everything Is Love is suffused with the comfortable feeling that this time around, in conjunction with a triumphant stadium tour, the stars of the show are entitled to a trouble-free season in the sun.
And, in fact, Everything is impressive in how it it holds the listener’s attention, considering how free of drama it is in comparison to its predecessors. (Though Beyoncé does, in “LoveHappy,” remind her once-wayward husband that she considered killing him upon learning he was cheating on her, before deciding “Baby, the ups and downs are worth it / Long way to go, but we’ll work it.”)
Jay-Z provides sound bites for social media chatter by trash-talking the NFL, at one point claiming he turned down performing at the Super Bowl (a ritual his wife has taken part in twice). And who needs them anyway? “We in stadiums, too.” And he lets the Grammys know he’s unbothered by not winning in any of the categories in which he was nominated at this year’s awards. The reward of having an adoring audience is much greater, don’t you know.
The main musical takeaway from the album is how good a rapper Beyoncé is. Jay-Z’s verses are consistently on point, but in many ways, Everything Is Love plays out as a record by his wife, in which he has a (crucial) role as a featured guest.
And though she’s rapped plenty before, Beyoncé often gets to sing the hooks here and confidently flow on the verses as well, both going solo and trading lines with her husband or guests. Maybe the most entertaining instance of that is “713,” an expression of pride in her hometown, Houston. It first seems like an uninspired idea, as it reworks Dr. Dre’s 1999 hit “Still D.R.E.,” albeit a cute one as it includes a quote from the already swaggy Blue Ivy: “Who’s gon’ stop us, huh?”
But rap fans in the know are aware that “Still D.R.E.,” wasn’t just a Dr. Dre song, it was also a Jay-Z song. At the time, the NWA founder and gangsta rap producer hired the man nicknamed Hov to ghost-write lyrics for the song about asserting an undying connection to the place you came from. So when Bey and Jay rap about “still representing for my hustlers all around the world,” they’re in fact reclaiming another piece of the same family business whose reunified power and reach they also demonstrate on Everything Is Love by taking over the Louvre.