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

How Daniel Caesar’s Feeling About the Love and Pressure

 


 

Daniel Caesar seems to be handling pressure well. With success comes expectations. Fans of the smooth singer wonder if he’ll be able to surpass his Freudian album’s gorgeous collection of songs and those in the industry have touted him “Next,” as in the next great R&B singer, the prince that will soon be king. Having so many believe in him is a gift and something to appreciate, sure. But it can also be stifling mentally.

Daniel Caesar | Next?

For Flaunt Magazine, Caesar and I spoke recently about what it means to be that guy and how he’s managing the new attention.

“When I’m in my room with my guitar,” he told me, “that’s definitely when I’m in my safest space.” He doesn’t get to spend much time there anymore.

Give it a read. Coincidentally, NPR just dropped Daniel Tiny Desk performance. Songstress H.E.R., who I’m a big fan of, also makes an appearance. Peep that, too.

My SZA Cover Story for Flaunt

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SZA’s Flaunt New Fantasy Issue Cover | image by Amanda Charchian

 


Can’t really explain why I didn’t post this cover story I did for Flaunt on here months ago. But this is a goodie. The interview happened just before SZA began prepping for her Coachella weekends. I met her on set for the cover shoot and from the start, I knew—at least—that she’d be warm and kind.

SZA | A Secret Garden at Wilshire and Park View

Her publicist guided her over to me. “This is Brad,” I heard her tell the singer as they approached. I extended my hand for a shake and for a split second I thought she was going to leave me hanging. SZA looked right past it. We all know that anxious feeling when you think you’re about to be made to look like a fool. It consumed me. Then, boom. She walked right into my chest for a hug. There was an awkward relief. “Oh!” I thought. “This is going be good and different.”

From there, she was pretty open and just the unique blend of quirky and cool that anyone who’s listened to her debut album Ctrl would expect her to be. We talked about insecurities, depression, and fantasies as she munched on her Shake Shack chicken burger.

 

SZA’s had a roller coaster existence as of late. On the high side, she just dropped her earthy “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” video, where she and Donald Glover get close in the forest. She can also be found making a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in Childish Gambino’s “This is America” video, shooting a coy look our way before Glover gets loose on a car roof.

On the low end, she has reportedly run her voice ragged. When I saw her in May at the Forum performing during her set at TDE’s Championship Tour, she sounded solid. But her pipes, she said recently on Twitter, are busted. “My voice is permanently injured,” SZA wrote. She can be a bit dramatic at times, I notice. Top Dawg  CEO Anthony Tiffith just told fans, “ I will get her with the best doctors and she will be fine.” I believe him.

When SZA and I spoke, she said she’s anxious to get started on her sophomore album. Obviously, it’ll probably be a while before she’s at full strength in the studio. But if you’re looking to learn a bit more about the Jersey hugger, read my cover story here.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Mom put me on to Queen. She spent a good bit of time in London during her formative years in the ’80s. When I was a kid in the ’90s, we’d clean the crib while listening to Queen: Greatest Hits I & II. I can still see her dancing to “Radio Ga Ga” in our Silver Spring Towers apartment’s living room. “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Bicycle Race” used to be my jams!

Rami Malek’s looking good as Freddie. For a while, I was a bit bummed that Sacha Baron Cohen left this role behind. This trailer’s easing my nerves, though.

Maybe I’ll see it with Mom this fall.

TDE’s Nike Collab for The Championship Tour at a Tour Stop Near You

 

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TDE’s Championship Tour merch | images c/o Nike

 


 

Last week I hit the Forum in Los Angeles for the Championship Tour, which features Kendrick Lamar, SZA Schoolboy Q and the rest of Top Dawg Entertainment’s roster. I’ve seen both Lamar and SZA in the last year. But this trek was a refreshed, abbreviated version of their 2017 tours and it was an added treat to see Q, Isaiah Rashad and Jay Rock for a bit.

I was hanging with buds from Nike, who were introducing their collab line with TDE via the SNKRS Stash experience. Concert attendees with the SNKRS app were alerted around 9:30pm through push notifications that Lamar’s Cortez Kenny III available for purchase. Of course, they sold out in minutes. But Nike’s move adds a nice touch, beyond exclusivity. Not only do you have to have the Internet and quick fingers, but also be at the specific location your favorite rapper is to get clothes and kicks that rep his team.

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This weekend the SNKRS Stash app returns for the Championship Tour’s Houston stop. Look at the dates below to find out where else you can be a part of the action:

Houston, TX at Social Status – May 19-20
New York, NY at Concepts – May 26-30
Boston, MA at Bodega – June 4-5
Toronto, ON at Livestock – June 11-12
Chicago, IL at Notre – June 14-15

Bravo, “This is America”

Within the first 24 hours of this video dropping, I peeped several creatives of note singing their praise of it. Takashi Murakami, Ava Duvernay, Virgil Abloh, A$AP Rocky and many, many more love it.

I always enjoy these occasions, when we can all gather around a something and appreciate every bit of it. In this case, it’s the music, lyrics, dances, symbolism, ad-libs from southern Hip-Hop’s all-stars, artistic direction, and cinemetography. Childish’s Gambino’s “This is America” music video is the best clip of 2018 so far. It has inspired a collection of think pieces on its cultural, racial, and political impliations and impact and It’s fun reading the different interpretations folks have of it.

Thinking Back to When Childish Gambino Wasn’t Black Enough

It’s rare, I think, that things in the African American ethos–with such subject matter and heavy content–go viral. The last “Hey, did you see XYZ? Let’s talk deeply about it.” moment we’ve had on the positive side on things was Jordan Peele’s Get Out at the top of 2017. Glover’s video has about 42 million YouTube views as of 4pm here in Los Angeles. Big numbers in general, but especially for something only three days old.

Let’s keep spreading this fire. Donald is right on time with this one. Well done.

Can We Give Two Thumbs Up for This One Man of the Woods Track?

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Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods album cover


 

The reviews are in on Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods and—whew!—they’re rough. Some are saying Justin, who once was on the pulse of what was sonically new and exciting, has lost a step on his fourth album. Others say it either lacks direction or its moving in an unappealing one. A few more think they were led astray, being sold a deeply personal album and instead getting something with less depth than a puddle. But I think there’s one track we can all agree on being unquestionably good: “Montana” is a pure jam.

Track 12 might be the best moment on Timberlake’s Man of the Woods album. It’s sexy, kind of dangerous. Over a galloping bassline, there’s a sleek Daft Punk-ish future disco feel with a hint of the Knight Rider intro courtesy of resurrected production duo The Neptunes swirled with Bee Gees ‘70s-smooth delivery. There’s also this gentle guitar strum that comes in every five seconds, which makes it old Western gorgeous. I imagine this playing during a scene in Tom Ford film that doesn’t exist, where a grizzled Ryan Gosling skirts off down an empty desert road in a vintage car into a burnt orange sun setting in the lavender sky—escaping a doomed world with a bronze vixen riding shotgun.

“Montana” makes me want to learn about the Northwestern state of Montana. Justin’s making it sound so fly that it’s made it on to my mental Places To Visit with Wifey list. I’ve got to figure out what secret he and John Mayer (who retreated there years ago to repair himself) know about its glory.

In some fantasy world where I help Timberlake make this album, “Montana” is the centerpiece of this MOTW concept record. The plot: A couple madly in love is exhausted with the hectic, troubled metropolis they reside in. When the two have their first child, Silas (whose name means to “Man of the Woods”), they decide—after years of fetishizing the idea of leaving it all behind—to actually make the shift to a snowy haven. Of all places, Montana is the mission. And there, ladies and gents, is my stab at fan fiction.

There’s another convo I want to have with y’all some day about the time I decided spending energy on overwhelmingly negative critiques of art is not for me and when I arrived at the intersection of It’s Wack Being Mean St. & What’s the Point? BLVD. That week was a doozy. My overall feeling nowadays is that if an artist makes something and is pleased with their product, I’m only damning it if it truly causes harm to its audience. But gone of the days of me dedicating 500 words to things I simply don’t like. This album from Justin, admittedly, is my least favorite offering from him. But even then, there’s still a goodie that I’m giving a shout out to from it.

Anyway, agree that “Montana” is flames? Think any other MOTW tracks will become hits or have moments in the sun once the pile-on is over? Time will tell.

 

-bw