Earlier this summer on June 16, The Carters (Beyoncé and Jay-Z) surprise released their long-rumored joint album at one of their London dates on their “On The Run II” world tour. Admittedly, the album got a more tepid reception than what most people anticipated. All of 6 of Beyoncé’s solo albums have debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200; Jay-Z holds the record for most #1 albums (13) among solo artists. So, when The Carters debuted at #2 behind 5 Second of Summer’s Youngblood, fans and critics alike were shocked. In the age of Stan Twitter, sales and chart positions have become increasingly conflated with the overall quality of an album or song. Yes, The Carters debuted at #2 and sold a relatively paltry 123,000, but music’s power couple gave us something much deeper and more valuable with Everything Is Love.
Everything Is Love is a very, very black album. The album, a musical history of R&B and hip-hop, revels in its love and blackness. Anyone who has had access to a news outlet in the past two years has been privy to the realtime marriage therapy Beyoncé and Jay-Z underwent in their respective solo albums, Lemonade and 4:44. While both albums touch on the couple’s marriage, they each had themes that were more universal and just as significant. On Lemonade, Beyoncé ruminated on the state of black womanhood in America, generational curses, and healing oneself and one’s family. In addition, on 4:44, Jay-Z spoke on financial literacy in the black community, his relationship with his parents, and blackness on the business side of the entertainment industry. Together, on Everything Is Love, the duo tackle racial profiling, healing after infidelity, parenting young black children and so much more.
The album is riddled with rousing hooks (“APESH*T”), breath-taking vocal performances (“SUMMER,” “LOVEHAPPY”), and vicious rap verses (“NICE,” “FRIENDS”), but the subject matter is just as intriguing. All too often in the media, the portrayals of black love that we do see and few and far between. In terms of happy families, all we truly have in mainstream media are the Johnsons from Black-ish and the Obamas. Other than those two picture-perfect families, we are regularly fed stereotypes of players, cheaters, divorcé(e)s, deadbeat dads, homewreckers and more. With, Everything Is Love, the conclusion to the trilogy that began with Lemonade and 4:44, Beyoncé and Jay-Z have been showing us what real black love is. It’s not perfect and it can almost go down in flames, but the resilience of their love conquers all.
Moreover, Everything Is Love celebrates modern black freedom. Not until very recently have black artists been able to make the art they truly wanted and we truly needed. Why? White audiences were only comfortable with slave movies (12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained), maid movies (The Help), and the perennial film about general black struggle/Civil Rights Movement (Selma, Malcolm X, Loving). In the year of Black Panther and Sorry To Bother You and A Wrinkle In Time, black creators are making cathartic art that free us from the bondage of stereotypes and the cages that we’ve been locked in, in a creative sense. Everything Is Love continues that trend. Take “BLACK EFFECT” for example, yes The Carters are singing and rapping about police brutality and racial profiling, but there is also so much joy in Beyoncé’s voice when she reclaims her “Sarah Bartmaan hips” and proclaims that she’s “Malcolm X.” You’ll find these moments throughout the album, even basic trap music ad-libs have a newfound elegance and significance when taken in the greater context of Everything Is Love, Lemonade, 4:44 and the black art renaissance of the 2010s.
Although The Carters have only released one music video for the album so far, the “APESH*T” visual is one of the most important pieces of art this year. In the video for the album’s lead single, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and a crew of dancers take over the Louvre, dance, recreate and tribute art pieces, and go well, apesh*t. The video is yet another example of Beyoncé’s recent mission to completely take over white-centric and white-dominated spaces and make them as black as she can. She doesn’t just choose any white-centric space, she chooses those that primarily originate from or thrive on the co-opting of black bodies and black culture. Take for example her “Formation” performance at Super Bowl 50, or “Daddy Lessons” at the Country Music Association Awards, or her tribute to HBCUs at Coachella, sorry, Beychella. Beyoncé does the same thing with the “APESH*T” visual, this time along with the man she loves the most.
Everything Is Love is a spectacular record that is truly a masterclass in black music history, black love, and black freedom.