“The Winged Victory of Samothrace,” housed in The Louvre and sculpted to honor Nike, the Greek goddess of victory | The Carters celebrate a win of their own on Everything is Love. | photo by Brad Weté
When slow-winding reggae cut “SUMMER” simmers at the top of couple Beyonce and Jay-Z’s Everything is Love with wife cooing of beachside love-making and wanting to “drown in the depths of” her husband’s soul, we already know what type of function they’re inviting us into for the length of the album. The duo’s full-length debut as The Carters has been anticipated for at least a year, because–Duh!–they’re two behemoth acts. But also because many believed this set would serve as the final act of this mostly private pair’s trilogy of albums chronicling the state of their union and its roughest patches.
Beyonce’s 2016 album Lemonade was peppered with songs that teemed with anger and hurt allegedly caused by Jay’s infidelity. For references, look no further than the video for “Hold Up,” where manic frustration and callous indifference fuel Beyonce as she strolls down city blocks slugging car windows with a baseball bat, or “Sorry,” where she tosses whatever dude she’s leaving two middle fingers and struts off with her girlfriends, promising to take their child (at the time, her and Jay-Z only had one) and sends him to go back to his mistress, “Becky with the good hair.”
The presumed cheating was all but confirmed last year when Jay dropped his 4:44 album, an effort highlighted by its apologetic title track. “I don’t deserve you,” he raps there, before acknowledging that he robbed Beyonce of her innocence (“I still mourn its death”), lacks in maturity, and takes responsibly for stressing Beyonce into miscarriages. At one point on “4:44,” Jay thinks of how life would be if they weren’t both suffering through the consequences of his actions. “[We’re] not meant to cry and die alone in these mansions,” he says. “Or sleep with our backs turned/ We’re supposed to vacay ’til our backs burn.”
Leaping back to present day, it’s easy to imagine the pair bronzing under the sun of a Caribbean island together while taking sips of D’USSE cognac between ganja pulls as the steel pans of “SUMMER” clang. After years of chilling revelations that equated to Beyonce giving him the cold shoulder, the heat is on. They seem free and a joyous unit on Everything is Love. It’s a celebration of their renewed vows and strengthened relationship, but also of their accession to pop culture royalty and Forbes list toppers.
EIL bars about being successful business-owners are often followed or prefaced by mentions of their kids or flagrant digs at outsiders. “I be ridin’ around with my seat reclining,” Beyonce rhymes on “Boss.” “Droppin’ my daughter off at school every morning/ We slammin’ car doors/ I be true balling on these bum whores.” Luxury rap, family mentions, and jokes at the expense of the unaccomplished flow from a bottomless goblet here.
When Jay and Beyonce weren’t talking to each other about household dealings on their aforementioned solo albums, they tackled societal issues: keys for Black empowerment, women’s rights, and financial freedom were offered in bunches. On Love, “Black Effect” stands in line with “Formation” or “The Story of O.J.” in its clearcut purpose to uplift the Black community. And in various lines peppered throughout EIL, the Carters scoff at the system and assure listeners that they’ve not only broken their supposed glass ceilings but exist to help African Americans rise above systemic adversity, too.
One of my favorite tracks, though, is “FRIENDS,” an ode to their inner circle of so-close-they-might-as-well-be-blood buddies. Once entering a serious relationship, deading all distractions and people who aren’t genuine in their support is a must. Half-assing hangers-on? Gone. Ambiguously-titled associates gotsta go, too. As someone who spent my twenties in New York City’s entertainment business, shedding the dozens of loosies I’d collected was major as I entered married life. It just makes things easier.
“Tight circle, no squares,” Jay says on “FRIENDS.” “I’m geometrically opposed to you/ Y’all like to try angles.” I’m sure Jay’s had to tighten up his circle a bit over the years to sure up his situation, avoiding those trying to weasel into his affairs. And Beyonce likely has an even greater appreciation for her trusted few because she needed them like never before when her marriage was more nightmarish than dreamy.
When Beyonce yelps, “I can’t believe we made it!” over Pharrell Williams’ lux trap beat for “Apeshit,” I take it two ways: Similar to the tone of her feature on Jay and Kanye West’s “Lift Off” from their 2011 album Watch the Throne, she’s surprised her and Jay have become the global icons they are, able to cop a glorious mansion in Bel Air to raise their three children and to rent out world-renowned Paris museum The Louvre for the video for this album’s first single, showing up the likes of Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” painting by being unapologetically Black in a space that doesn’t much acknowledge our existence as creatives throughout history.
With that line Beyonce could also be referring to the fact that her and Jay have endured a tumultuous time in their marriage and came out of it thriving. Jay did three interviews following the release of 4:44. Rap Radar, The New York Times, and CNN all got solid sit-downs with him and when they broached to the topic of his once-crumbling union and the hurt he caused, Jay often would mention how easy it would have been for Beyonce to quit and choose divorce.
A lot of couples split when the going gets tough. Facts. Statistics aren’t encouraging when it comes to lasting wedded bliss. Most studies confirm that anywhere from 40-50% of marriages will conclude well before that whole “death do us part” thing comes to pass. Jay admitted that he’s done the work to keep his lady. Therapy, self-evaluation and listening to Beyonce’s pains all attributed to making it to happier days.
“You have to be strong enough to go through that,” he told Van Jones in January. “Because on the other side, it’s beautiful.” Everything is Love is a musical victory lap and parade for them deciding to stick, stay and eventually flourish.
“Love is deeper than your pain,” Beyonce sings on closer “LOVEHAPPY.” For those in need of a definitive statement on their status, the last words uttered as the boom-bap cut’s volume reduces come from the missus: “We came, and we conquered, now we’re happy in love.”