Beyonce & Jay-Z | Love and the Art of Recovery

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“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.

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“Great Sphinx of Tanis” | a king’s head and a lion’s body | photo by Brad Weté in The Louvre


 

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.

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Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” | photo by Brad Weté in The Louvre


 

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 for the missus: “We came, and we conquered, now we’re happy in love.”

My Trip to Apt. 4B, a Taste of N.Y.C in L.A.

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Apt. 4B Owners Monique and Moon | photo c/o Instagram, shot by Andres Tardio

 

One of the favorite interviews and stories of 2016 came towards the end of the year when I went down to Apt. 4B, a boutique on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles pushing ‘90s Hip-Hop-inspired wears, and spoke with owners Moon and Monique. The couple was celebrating the store’s first anniversary and I talked to them about its beginning and future for Billboard.

Los Angeles’ Apt. 4B Clothing Brings ’90s NYC Street Life to the West Coast

4B is modeled after a ‘90s era ‘hood NYC apartment and as someone who grew up in a similar style home and then spent several years as a resident in both Harlem and Brooklyn, I can vouch for the validity of their decor—from the floor tiling to the posters on the wall. Their execution’s top notch.

But the best part was getting to know them. My fiancee and I plan on one day having our own company together, so hearing Moon and Mo’ talk about the dynamic of their working relationship gave me a look at what my future might look like. Though many say that you shouldn’t do business with your significant other, they seem to be handling it well.

 

“It’s not easy,” Monique said of working with her man Moon. “It’s not always fun. I don’t always like him. He doesn’t always like me. But we love each other and it’s worth it.” After laughing a bit, Moon added, “It’s extremely rewarding. Much more than partnering with someone random. Even the small successes are huge, because of that connection.” Inspiring stuff here, folks.

Los Angeles’ Apt. 4B Clothing Brings ’90s NYC Street Life to the West Coast

In their short time, they collaborated with and helped celebrate anniversaries for Bad Boy and Roc-a-Fella Records, finding ways to transform the shop into an event space at times. Moon had this great quote about thinking big and accomplishing goals:

“If it’s something that we want to do, we do it. It’s good that we start with a huge, almost impossible idea. Then we start carving at the stone until we get to the marble statue.”

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Moon, Monique and Jay Z | summer ’16

 

Read the full feature here. They talk about Jay Z popping up at 4B, the rap lyrics that embody where they are in their lives now, and their dream-chasing journey.

Fun Facts About The-Dream from my Billboard Q&A

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The-Dream | shot by Miguel Starcevich | c/o Roc Nation

 

The-Dream just dropped his Love You to Death EP, so I talked to him for a bit for Billboard. It ended up being an awesome, lengthy convo that topically ranged from his theory on why dating sucks for young Black men, taking artistic risks, and why more colleges should have Male Studies courses.

The-Dream on Love You To Death EP: “I’m Trying to Find the Rest of the Things That Make Me Whole”

There’s also a bunch of insight on his contributions to Beyonce’s Lemonade, Rihanna’s Anti, Solange’s A Seat at the Table and Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. Here are some fun (and one not-so-fun) facts from the talk:

  • Dream’s a painter! Jay-Z and Beyonce both own Terius Nash originals.
  • He wanted to make a Purple Rain-esque movie for his first album Love Hate.
  • Solange LOVES “Fancy“!
  • He was dumped by his prom date.

Give it a read.

Kanye West Roundup

 

One of the best pieces I’ve thought up and executed as an editor and writer was a career retrospective of Kanye West back in 2013 on the eve of him releasing his sixth solo album Yeezus. The idea was to wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking, but it was one of the first times that I asserted myself visually. Typically when you’re a writer, you have little say-so when it comes to the art/photography that will be paired with your words.

Kanye West: How the Rapper Grew From ‘Dropout’ to ‘Yeezus’

In this case though, Billboard’s digital photo editor Kate Glicksberg heard out my idea of finding an illustrator to draw a Kanye that represented who he was during each album and she loved it. She thought of Marco Cibola, a super talented artist, who eventually signed on for the job. Kate and I did some research and found the images that we thought were best to illustrate and Marc hit the assignment out of the park. When it came time to edit, I recall only having nitpick-y additions to ask for: “Can you put some more buttons on the leather jacket?” “Can he look more tired on the 808s pic’?”

And then I went to work writing about all of Kanye’s albums. As a legit fan, I had much to say and the discipline to know I shouldn’t be long-winded. So it was my mission to talk about his Dropout to icon journey in a tight manner.

When I finished the piece, I was super Kanye’d out and ready to go back to simply enjoying the man as a fan. His album was days away from dropping and, thankfully, then Hip-Hop/R&B editor Erika Ramirez was supposed to write the review. But as fate would have it, Yeezus leaked (hours after the retrospect as posted!) while she was out of the office and I was tasked with writing a track-by-track review A.S.A.P. to satiate an internet audience that was hungry for hot takes.

Kanye West, ‘Yeezus’: Track-by-Track review

Since Kanye’s releasing his seventh album, The Life of Pablo, today, I thought I’d round up these pieces and share them with y’all.

Bonus: The time Jay Z invited me and a handful of others to a hotel room listening seesion for a rough draft of Watch the Throne

I’m sure I’ll have something to say about his new album as well. Maybe I’ll come through later with those thoughts.

Profiles: Bridget Kelly

Bridget Kelly at Manhattan College

If there’s one thing being in the music business as a journalist or simply roaming New York City streets for nearly eight years now as a resident has taught me, it’s that there are so many talented people in this world. Waiting for the L train at the Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn always means catching a song or two from a guitarist, plucking and wailing for lunch money—if not selling a CD. They’re almost always good, certainly worth pulling out my iPod earbuds to steal a listen before I’m off to the next stop. The transit gems are endless. And then there are umpteen other acts publicists and record labels pitch to me over emails or at events daily, with double the skill. But the odds are against them.


About four years ago a publicist from Roc Nation—Jay Z’s then management company (and now also a full-fledged record label)—asked that I come to see a fledgling star: Bridget Kelly. A bunch of editors, bloggers and industry types were invited to their Sony Records hub to listen to her Every Girl EP. It was promising, featuring songs like the Frank Ocean-penned “Thinkin Bout You” (he’d eventually keep it as his own) and others that showcased her vocal prowess. The combo of skill and that good ol’ “…and Jay Z likes her!” endorsement seemed like an easy sell. She’d even been the lone lady on Jay’s Blueprint 3 tour, the nightly highlight being that she could blow like Alicia Keys during “Empire State of Mind.” Thousands saw her sing every evening they saw arguably (it’s a dumb argument, by the way) the greatest rapper of our time rhyme on arena stages. You’d assume she blew up, right? Nah. She has not. Yet.

Last week (April 24), I met up with Bridget at Smash Studios in New York City, rehearsing for a concert. Kelly’s no longer on Roc Nation, but she’s trucking along nonetheless. NYC’s littered with dreamers who will never achieve theirs. It’s a chilling truth. Bridget’s hanging on to hers tight, though. After things with the Roc crumbled, she regrouped as a confident independent artist and now she’s working on her debut album, All or Nothing. It’s a project helmed by her small, efficient team and production duo Da Internz, who have crafted hits for Rihanna, Big Sean and more. The ones she belted out during rehearsal, then the following day at Manhattan College for a packed gym of newly converted believers are both hearty and emotional, exploring all facets of love—whether she’s happily in it or singing about breaking someone else’s spirits (”Really Meant to Love You”).

I picked Bridget as a subject, because I’m a fan. Here’s hoping that even more people get to hear what she has to offer and that her dreams are fully realized. When I see people with her kind of talent and drive, I hope they never park.

Bridget can be found here on Twitter and there on Instagram.