Beyoncé and Jay Z are back on their shit, dropping a surprise album just before summer officially starts and, not even remotely coincidentally, it starts with a slow, sexy jam called “SUMMER” that may as well be called “Drunk in Love 2.0.” Like much of the album, it’s a redo of the love songs (“Crazy in Love,” “Bonnie & Clyde ‘03,” “Deja Vu”) that got all messed up because Jay was out there cheating and crushing the dream of a perfect power couple. He pays penance all over EVERYTHING IS LOVE, giving props that are more than due to Bey, his family, and his friends for holding it together while he gets himself in check with therapy and a life reset.
You’ll notice that almost every outlet writing about the album, which is attributed to The Carters, lists Beyoncé’s name first. We all know that’s the hierarchy in this couple now; she simply is the most relevant and powerful name in the Carter family right now while Jay Z’s artistic peaks seem to be in the rear view mirror. However, in between Beyoncé’s numerous amusing lyrics on the album, Jay Z is actually the star of EVERYTHING IS LOVE. He shines in his utter vulnerability on “713,” where he details the days when they first started dating, and “FRIENDS,” where he shouts out his ultra-VIP support system — giving us a rare glimpse behind the curtain His verses on “BLACK EFFECT,” one of the most musically gorgeous tracks, are a sober look at the Black experience, as are his verses on “NICE.” His jocular back and forth with Bey on “LOVEHAPPY” is totally charming next to her powerhouse vocals on the chorus. If anything, this is Jay’s comeback album after Lemonade, humanising and even endearing him in ways that 4:44 failed to do.
“APESHIT” is arguably Beyoncé’s vehicle, and while the Pharrell-produced track is the most obvious first single and a fun celebration of the Carters’ success, it’s also built on a foundation of thin trap beats that lacks a hook that would make it a real song of the summer contender. That’s continually a problem on EVERYTHING IS LOVE, which chases emotion but does not spend a lot of time on melody. Several songs contain lyrics that indicate they were written relatively recently, despite rumours swirling around this joint album since 2015 when producer Detail let it slip, and confirmed by Jay in 2017. And while those lyrics are endlessly clever and layered, the music overall feels not fully fleshed out — and that’s the primary thing stopping this album from being among their top tier work. Everything is kind of a jam, but there aren’t a lot of bangers; this album is more about adult love and grown folks problems, with music that sets an after-party atmosphere more than starting the party.
Beyoncé shines when she lets Yoncé out to play, talking shit on Spotify, bum whores, and quoting Half Baked. But her serious, activist side comes out when she addresses systematic inequality via lyrics about equity, never seeing ceilings, and the lack of Black people on the annual Forbes richest list. She is excellent at making her wealth a subject without alienating her audience (it helps that she still talks about sipping from Styrofoam cups); that’s a problem hip-hop has struggled with since its earliest superstars became unimaginably rich. It works for Bey, because she elevates the discourse from simply dropping designer names (which she does, but not the usual Louis Vuitton bullshit) into a deeper conversation about what Black and brown people should be worrying about with respect to money
Taken as a whole, EVERYTHING IS LOVE is a celebration of the success of Bey and Jay: financially, emotionally, and creatively. Under every song is a thread of self-celebration, and this album is an invite to join the party.