In the middle of their wildly successful stadium world tour, music’s most powerful couple, Beyoncé and JAY-Z, have surprised the world with their first joint album, EVERYTHING IS LOVE. Half a decade after popularizing the concept of the surprise album with her eponymous fifth album, Beyoncé has done it again, this time with her husband and longtime collaborator. EVERYTHING IS LOVE acts as the final act to the marital musical drama that began with 2016’s Lemonade and continued with 2017’s 4:44, which we named the best album of 2017.
EVERYTHING IS LOVE is a nine-track album where Beyoncé and JAY-Z bask in their legendary statuses, their wealth and success, and celebrate their triumph in the reconciliation of their marriage and the strengthening of their love. Over an album that is at the crossroads of classic hip-hop, 90’s R&B, and modern trap, the Carters tag-team each other on every track and exude an inimitable chemistry. JAY-Z keeps proving that rapping has no age limit; he delivers some of his best verses and flows on his seventeenth album, 23 years into his illustrious career. On the other hand, Beyoncé brings us all the way back to her roots. Her Houston drawl sneaks out as she raps over skittish beats on one track, and then deliver stunning runs and operatic notes on others. Sometimes, it’s all on the same track. EVERYTHING IS LOVE is about romantic love, familial love, self-love, and love of one’s race and community. Here’s a track-by-track breakdown of one of the most intricate albums of the year so far:
EVERYTHING IS LOVE begins with “SUMMER,” a smooth and soulful Lauryn Hill-influenced track where Beyoncé croons about loving her husband. Lyrically, the song is just alright and the metaphors are reminiscent of 2013’s “Rocket.” The production is what really shines on the song. Between the sharp horns and a rhythmic pattern that recalls Lemonade‘s “Hold Up” and 4:44‘s “Bam,” “SUMMER” helps evoke a jazzy vibe that both artists feel at home at. Beyoncé’s voice has never sounded richer, her vocal delivery here feels like a more mature version of her debut album, Dangerously In Love. Jay takes a backseat on this track but his verse sets the tone for the album: whimsical, grateful, and in love. The most pleasing parts of the song are when Beyoncé’s runs hit right against the orchestral pockets of the instrumental. When the strings go full throttle during the outro, they conclude the perfect introduction to the final act of the trilogy.
This is the lead single for the album, and it is easily the hardest banger of the year. Let it be known now, Beyoncé is a rapper and she has bars. From her multitude of flows to her expert delivery, it is easy to see that she is someone who grew up on and has a genuine love for hip-hop. On “APESHIT,” the Carters recruit two of the Migos, Quavo and Offset, to do what they’re best at: ad-libs. While Bey does standard rap braggadocio with hints of her Houston drawl, Jay comes in with his second-best verse on the album. His zoological/Lion King double-entendres are smooth as ever, and his digs at the NFL (“I said no to the Superbowl: you need me, I don’t need you / Every night we in the endzone, tell the NFL we in stadiums too”) and the Grammys (“Tell the Grammy’s fuck that 0 for 8 shit / Have you ever seen the crowd goin’ apeshit?”) are incredible. As if this wasn’t great enough, Pharrell’s grimy production is stacked with the hallmarks of popular trap music, with the 808s of classic hip-hop and an electronic twist that recalls N.E.R.D.’s recent music. The entire song has an interesting, calculated insanity about it: the Carter’s have a constant invisible control that is both alluring and scary.
The only reason this song is debatably the album’s first stumble is because of the weak hook. Nevertheless, the weakness of the hook truly lets the instrumentation shine, and just like “SUMMER,” Beyoncé’s runs hit every pocket of the understated yet beautiful horn composition. The runs are especially interesting on this tracks, they’re incredibly well structured but somehow sound effortlessly improvised. The horns hit right against her smoky lower register and the background vocals really give the song shape. Jay’s constant flow switches are killer on this track, he doesn’t even sound like himself at times. The song isn’t just about them being bosses, it’s about the Carters’ vision to lift all of their family and friends up to their level because to them, that is the true measure of success. Lyrically, Beyoncé steals the show with this line: “My great-great-grandchildren already rich / That’s a lot of brown chi’r’en on your Forbes list.” The real show-stealer? Blue Ivy. Check the last 10 seconds.
The intro is, for lack of a better phrase, a word. “NICE” is the perfect motivational track, Pharrell and Bey sound like an entire choir when they sing “I can do anything.” Their tones blend beautifully and Jay delivers his best flow on the entire album, and possibly the best of the year. His verse alludes to pervasive systemic American anti-blackness, a theme he covered extensively on 4:44. The song is almost “organic trap music,” between the drums, distorted hi-hat, and reverb-soaked piano, the track sounds like trap music made on analog instruments with an old-school twist. Lyrically, Beyoncé steals the show again: “Patiently waiting for my demise / ‘Cause my success can’t be quantified / If I gave two fucks – two fucks about streaming numbers / Would have put Lemonade up on Spotify.”
This song brings us back to the year Bey and Jay first met, the old-school hip-hop vibe is further bolstered by Bey’s interpolation of Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” The most hilarious thing about this song is the fact that Beyoncé uses Auto-Tune because she thinks it sounds cool. For any other artist, the lyric, “Ain’t no way to stop this love,” would sound basic and phoned-in, but after Lemonade and 4:44, there’s a real sentiment behind those words. Beyoncé mainly plays hook girl on this track, but she still steals the show. For those who don’t know, 713 is Houston’s area code, Beyoncé’s hometown. The song humanizes Beyoncé in a way that her music hasn’t before, she’s still the H-Town girl that reps her city and bumps hip-hop music with her man in their car. In addition, the production on the track evolves in time with her singing and rapping and the outro takes it from personal to universal.
This track is the closest to ’10’s R&B and it’s another banger. Beyoncé’s voice skates over the warbling bass as she proves that Trapyoncé is still alive and cooking. Jay really takes the cake on this track, his verse is the best verse on the entire album. Anyone who has followed Jay’s career or attentively listened to his discography knows that friendship and loyalty mean a lot to him. He references his growing relationship with Meek Mill (“when I say free the dogs, I free ’em / That’s how Meek got his freedom”), the disrespect of his mentor, The Notorious B.I.G., by Kendall and Kylie Jenner (“Y’all put niggas on a t-shirt, it hurts you ain’t never meet ’em”), and the alleged beginning of the end of his and Kanye’s friendship when he missed Kim and Ye’s wedding (“I ain’t goin’ to nobody nothin’ when me and my wife beefin’ / I don’t care if the house on fire, I’m dyin’, nigga, I ain’t leavin’… /… If y’all don’t understand that, we ain’t meant to be friends”) Production-wise, the twinkle int he beat contrasts against Bey’s sultry lower register and the bass does the same thing when she floats into her upper octaves. Her second verse is also quite weak and unnecessary, but it’s all made up by the breathtaking operatic notes in the outro.
7. HEARD ABOUT US
This track sounds like a better and more sophisticated version of what Calvin Harris tired to do on Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. Bey and Hov rap more about being at the top over a funky instrumental that is anchored by 808s. The 808s fade out by the second half of the track as the song transitions into a more atmospheric vibe with a haunting drowned out piano. The best part of this song, despite it being such a vibe, is how Beyoncé sings lines like “don’t know, now you know nigga” and “bitch, stay in your lane” with such poise and perfect diction; it’s so pretty and well-phrased that it’s funny. It’s an anti-fame fame song, at once, the Carters are bragging about their fame but still lamenting for their privacy, it’s an interesting dynamic.
8. BLACK EFFECT
The spacey atmosphere of the back half of “HEARD ABOUT US” bleeds into an interview about love that takes the concept from romantic to political. The production sounds like a classic Jay anthem and it’s clear that despite all their bragging about their wealth, the Carters are still aware of and in love with their blackness. Musically, “BLACK EFFECT” is a sonic history lesson in the evolution of black music. There are elements of gospel, soul, call-and-response, modern R&B, and classic rap throughout the track. Perhaps, the most interesting part of the song is this section of the hook: “I’m good on any MLK Boulevard / See my vision with a TEC, bitch, I’m Malcolm X” On the one hand this line is problematic because it plays into the watering-down of MLK and Malcolm X’s platforms as peace and war, respectively. On the other hand, the lines reveal that even America’s biggest black stars are ready for a more aggressive approach for true equity. With references to iconic black figures and black facial features sung with such conviction, “BLACK EFFECT” is a stunningly poignant track.
Finally, the conclusion of the saga. Here’s a quick rundown of what’s revealed on this track: Beyoncé met Becky with the good hair and she co-opted “the Throne” as well. Her vocals on this song are some of the best she’s ever produced and the melodies are reminiscent of her 2011 album, 4. On this song, Bey and Jay go line-for-line with their trademark chemistry, this should’ve happened more throughout the album. If someone but classic Pharrell and classic Just Blaze in a blender with a thumping bassline, it would sound similar to the production on this track. It’s convincing, the Carters truly sound happily in love on this track and it’s a beautiful and triumphant end to their musical love story.
The only real downside to EVERYTHING IS LOVE, is that at times, it feels more like “Beyoncé featuring JAY-Z” than an equal double billing. At nine tracks, there isn’t a single filler track and every song is a banger. Sure there are some weak lines here and there, but in the grand scheme of the album, they are always balanced out by some other excellent moment. EVERYTHING IS LOVE is a wonderful addition to both of their respective discographies and further proof that it’s the Carters’ world, and we’re just living in it.