Last week, after years of speculation, JAY-Z and Beyoncé dropped their highly-anticipated joint album, EVERYTHING IS LOVE, right on time to kick off the summer. In last year’s in-depth interview with Dean Banquet from the NYTimes, JAY revealed that Bey’s 2016 classic Lemonade and his 4:44 from last year were originally envisioned as a collaborative effort between the power couple. Instead, the rapper advised his wife to release her project first so that she would have the proper stage to publicly put him in his place for cheating on her. He also wanted to receive the heated backlash he deserved from her fans. A year after his apology album, EVERYTHING IS LOVE arrived to set the record straight: the union is stronger than it’s ever been.
The album begins with the intimate, mood-setting “SUMMER,” which is fitting. This entire record is made to give you every summertime vibe you could want. The opening track sounds like the couple recorded it while curled up together in a hammock—which is a positive and negative. Beyoncé delivers strong vocals, but JAY’s verse is fairly pedestrian—even compared to the elder statesmen we heard on 4:44. Gratefully, Brooklyn’s Finest picks up the pace as the album progresses.
Beyoncé more than holds up her end of the deal on the album. She flows at double- and triple-time on the trap-inspired bop “APE$HIT.” Though, at many times, her iconic presence stands out more than her vocals, we get the sense that Bey still put her heart into each syllable.
The soulfully enticing “BOSS” is one of the most effective records on the project. Uniquely, it sounds the least like their past work together. JAY gives us the keys to black excellence: “Over here we measure success by how many people successful next to you / Here we say you broke if everybody is broke except for you.” (These bars could be read as a slight jab at Birdman, who has been a frequent topic of discussion in recent years for the financial exploitation of his team, especially Lil Wayne). Beyoncé then rejoices over how she has built generational wealth for her family: “My great-great grandchildren already rich / That’s a lot of brown children on your Forbes list.” Still, family is clearly all that matters to her: “Drop my daughter off at school every morning.”
Elsewhere on the album, “713”—an area code from Beyoncé’s hometown of Houston, Texas—ironically sounds the most like atypical JAY-Z track. Hov describes a challenge many black men face and never confront: the difficulty of opening up and being vulnerable with his wife. Queen Bey had to be the one to lead the way. “Meanwhile you going hard, jumping off the top deck / A leap of faith, I knew I was next,” he spits. It’s one of many tracks that cement this album as a thoughtful meditation on black love, forgiveness, and preserving joy.
The irresistibly fun “HEARD ABOUT US” sees the couple in brag mode about their notoriety and power. JAY briefly offers commentary about the perils of fame, but doesn’t dive much deeper than surface-level analysis. This is certainly a point of critique on this album; for one, there is not much depth and follow-through on some of the most important concepts here.
The aforementioned “BOSS” often comes off as unrelatable flexing more than inspiration. Perhaps the message would be better received if it were delivered from amongst the people instead of down from their castle’s balcony. The album’s simplicity—short runtime, straightforward song titles, and predictability—have grown more popular in the industry in recent years. But we look to Beyoncé and JAY, as iconic legends, to set trends instead of following them.
There is also a noticeable absence of the standout individual records we’d expect from the pair who gave us “Crazy in Love,” “Déjà Vu,” and “03 Bonnie and Clyde.” Finally, we can all agree that EVERYTHING IS LOVE is certainly less than the sum of these artists’ individual parts.
This album doesn’t demand many replays and it won’t have the earthshaking impact of their last individual efforts, but Bey and JAY have still given us a solid project. Issa vibe. On the uplifting, base-heavy “NICE,” JAY asks a reflective question that most entrepreneurs have probably already answered for themselves: “What would you do [if] you knew you couldn’t fail?” Sounding more liberated and carefree than ever, Beyoncé chimes in on the hook: “I can do anything.”
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