Album Review: The Carters (Beyoncé & Jay-Z) - Everything is Love

I can’t believe we made it
This is what we’re thankful for…

Everything Is Love, the long-rumored and possibly long-gestating collaborative album between pop music power couple Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, is many things.

To begin with, it presumably completes a trilogy—concluding what began in 2016 with the surprise release of Beyoncé’s Lemonade, and continuing with Jay’s own 4:44, released last year. These albums aren’t exactly a ‘love story set to music,’ so much as they are a dissection of marriage—both the ups and surprising downs, as well as statements on myriad other things, like wealth, power, and the place of black men and women in America.

Across its nine songs (ten if you include the TIDAL bonus track), Everything Is Love continues that dissection, but it also finds Jay-Z and Beyoncé reflecting on their lives so far, reconciling over what nearly drove them apart, and moving forward together as a family, with their three children.

We should also be honest—Everything is Love is about luxury and wealth, and the couple really never let you forget it.

There are moments that play out like paid product placement, but I suppose that is nothing new in rap music, especially for an artist who have reached the specific level of success that Jay-Z has. Trying to keep a tally of everything mentioned and referenced is dizzying, and almost impossible; within the first few songs he shouts out a $100k Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept watch, his affinity for Lamborghinis, living in an expensive house, and wearing a different and even more expensive watch.

Beyoncé, too, holds up her end in flaunting the couple’s privilege as well—casually mentioning the private jet she bought her husband, high fashion in Paris, and yet another lavish brand of watches.

Outside of these specifics, they both regularly mention just flat out being rich as shit and absolutely not giving a fuck what anybody thinks of them at this point in their careers. Flossing that hard may alienate some listeners, because, you know, not everybody can easily identify with the themes presented on Everything is Love, however, at its core, this is an incredibly fun and celebratory record, and it’s pretty easy to just appreciate the spectacle for what it is.

Musically, Everything is Love pushes both artists into places that they haven’t explored in the past—and it is fascinating to listen for the give and take between the two. Overall, the couple share equal billing, but there are a few times when this feels like a Beyoncé album with Jay-Z just stopping by for guest verses. However, if this is a Beyoncé album, it’s her rap album, and one of the biggest surprises from Everything is Love is how nimble she is with her wordplay. Set against heavily trap-influenced beats, Bey spits impressive bars on the album’s raucous first single, “Apeshit,” as well as on the hypnotic and slithering “Nice,” putting a smile on the face of any listener when she deadpans, “Get off my dick,” and slyly coos a quote from Half-Baked, respectively.

And for as bored as Jay sounded five years ago, and for as tired and sad as he sounded last year, on Everything is Love, he seems rejuvenated, or at least like he’s excited to be rapping again. He will, certainly, never have the hunger in his delivery like he had on Reasonable Doubt, or even the exuberance he showed on In My Lifetime Vol. 2 and Vol. 3. But there is really no reason for me to try and compare what he is doing now to records he released in the 90s; here, he seems genuinely interested in being a part of this project, rather than phoning it in like an obligation.

I think it goes without saying that, for two artists who have more money than they know what to do with, Everything is Love is a slick sounding, bombastic record—there is no doubt that it was labored over, with the couple serving as executive producers of each track, alongside the likes of Pharrell Williams on the aforementioned “Apeshit” and “Nice,” as well as Boi-1da, Mike Dean, and the Terror Squad affiliated Cool & Dre. With so many hands behind the boards, there are times when the album begins to slightly lack cohesion, however, the charisma and energy of both Jay and Beyoncé are enough to keep the album knit together, even when it begins to move too many directions at once.

As Everything is Love wrestles with the balance between being a rap album and an R&B album, and even with the give and take between its two stars, it never loses sight of the fact that it is a ‘pop’ album and both Jay-Z and Beyoncé are pop performers—a majority of these songs are infectious to say the least, specifically in the first half, like the slinky, slow burning opener, “Summertime,” the frenetic, chaotic “Apeshit,” the jittering “Boss,” and the growling rumble of “Nice.”

Everything is Love is many, many things: a pop album made by two wildly successful artists; a flaunting of well-deserved and mind boggling wealth; a reflection on the turbulent and tender times of a marriage; and, I stop short of saying that, at times, it can be mean spirited, but it becomes clear very early on that Jay-Z and Beyoncé are not here for any of your shit, and they both take borderline petty shots throughout—on “Apeshit,” Jay verbally attacks the NFL and the Grammy Awards, and Beyoncé spits a rather aggressive barb on “Nice”—“If I gave two fucks about streaming numbers, I would have put Lemonade up on Spotify.”

On “Apeshit,” Beyoncé utters the phrase, “I can’t believe we made it—This is what we’re thankful for.” It is staggering to think about, even for a moment, that their marriage almost didn’t make it, and that it could have all fallen apart. But instead, the couple worked through it (presumably) in private, but also in a very, very public forum—turning their strife and therapy into art. Everything is Love is many, many things—and at the end of the day, it’s honest.

Sure it’s dressed up in expensive sounding production values, but Jay-Z and Beyoncé are honest about their lifestyle, and what is more important is they are honest with each other, and about where their relationship is at right now. They take stock of how they got here through fragments of their early courtship—Jay specifically recalls a trip out into the ocean (his first) with Beyoncé, watching her dive off the deck of the boat, and on the album’s proper closing track, “Lovehappy,” they work through the troubles that brought them to the brink—“You did some things to me,” Beyoncé sings. “But love is stronger than your pain, and I believe you can change.”

Taken out of the context of the final installment of a very personal and artistically driven trilogy, Everything is Love is a high spirited and captivating pop album, that, even with its flaws, is compelling from start to finish; kept within the context, it’s an even deeper look into the lives of two icons from their respective worlds of music—and we, as listeners, are simply along for the ride.

Everything is Love is out now as a digital download, via Roc Nation and Parkwood.