music / Reviews

The Carters – Everything Is Love Review

June 21, 2018 | Posted by David Hayter
Jay Z and Beyonce The Carters
The 411 Rating
Community Grade
Your Grade
The Carters – Everything Is Love Review  

1. “Summer”
2. “Apeshit”
3. “Boss”
4. “Nice”
5. “713”
6. “Friends”
7. “Heard About Us”
8. “Black Effect”
9. “Lovehappy”

From excoriation to apology, as cynically stage-managed as the story of Jay Z’s infidelity and Beyonce’s wrath may have seemed, there’s no doubting the quality of the resulting music. Lemonade (2016) represented a high water mark in Beyonce’s career, while 4:44 (2017) saw Jay rediscover both his focus and humanity having succumbed to the excesses of unimaginable wealth in recent years. The final chapter in this superstar soap opera is a triumphant one: vowels have been renewed, a worldwide tour has been launched and the two individual artists now stand as one unshakeable unit. The Carters, hand in hand, declaring Everything Is Love.

Depending on your perspective, this is either a heart-warming fairytale extolling the wonders of reconciliation or a nauseously saccharine conclusion to a very public pantomime. Mercifully, for those fearing the worst, Everything Is Love is not overly concerned with teary-eyed smultz. Instead, The Carters launch a brazen (and at times aggressive) assertion of black brilliance backed by trap beats and syllable splicing rap verses (from both artists).

This decision proves incredibly shrewd. The latter portion of Jay-Z’s career had become frankly intolerable, as he beefed with sports agents and bragged about a level of luxury that would make Croesus blush. Jay has earned the right to toast to his accomplishments, but, on the underwhelming Blueprint III and the frankly awful Magna Carta Holy Grail, Hova lost all sense of reality. He stood as Scrooge McDuck penning tedious love letters to each and every gold coin in his bottomless vault.

Everything Is Love reconceptualised this obsession with wealth through the prism of race and politics. What were once heartless brags designed to demean rivals, now represent means of escaping prejudice altogether. Better still, rather than merely shaking the stigma of being black in America and being embraced as a friendly neighbour (like O.J. Simpson), Jay and Bey are intent on using their platform to elevate those around them to create a black elite, on truly equal footing. “Boss” typifies this new approach. Jay practically lectures the kind of rapper he used to be, “Over here we measure success by how many by how many people successful next to you/Over here we say you broke, if everybody is broke, except for you”. Beyonce makes the transformative societal effect of wealth explicit, “My great great great grandchildren already rich/That’s a lot of black children on your Forbes list”.

That’s not to say The Carters have escaped the struggle entirely, on the eerie and unsettlingly laid back “Nice”, Jay encounters new systemic strangleholds, “You catch me in traffic, you drag me back in court for that shit huh/You back, after all these years of drug trafficking huh/Time to remind me I’m black again huh?” The message reads loud and clear, Jay may never be untouchable, but he is unshakeable. He has dealt with so much worse, “I have no fear of jail/I was born in the trap”.

Still, if “Boss” and “Nice” are lyrical delights, there’s no escaping the fact that the hooks and beats, while pleasing, are nowhere near as exciting or addictive as anything found on Lemonade or, to a lesser extent, 4:44. In many ways Everything Is Love feels like a strange inversion of modern rap music. Beyonce and Jay have clearly been influenced by trap (“Apeshit”) and want to assert their street level credentials, but they represent an old school state of mind. Where Playboi Carti (for example) mixes a banging beat with an insidious hook and simply lets the lyrics take care of themselves (however thoughtlessly), The Carters do the exact opposite. Jay and Bey craft carefully considered verses and attempt to force them onto an array of ice cool, street level bangers. It never quite comes off. The music rarely feels cutting edge or incendiary, even as the subject matter proves gripping. Perhaps, despite the album’s essential message, you just can’t have it all.

Implausible wealth as racial liberation might be the album’s central tenant, but The Carters do find room to address their marital strife. Jay continues to be wonderfully vulnerable. The “Drunk In Love” fairy tale is ditched as Jay details his jitters and false steps in courting Beyonce, “Fate had me sitting next you on a plane/I knew right away…You came back, you set the date/I brought my dude to play it cool, my first mistake”. Better still, when he addresses their reconciliation, Jay explains the friction between his masculine pretence and internal insecurity, “First time in my life a live nigga felt dead/You came back, I had to act like it was cool in my head”. Somewhat bizarrely, while Jay is baring his soul, Beyonce delivers a riotous chorus that subtly tweaks “Still Dre’s” legendary hook. It feels like a jarring juxtaposition until, in the final verse, Jay explains that the song is dedicated to the good girls and mothers who love hustlers, even as they run through the death cycle of the streets.

It’s hard to think of another album that flitters so wildly between deeply personal reflections on long time friendships and marital disharmony on one hand, and wild ravings about wealth and accomplishment on the other. The message is clear, but contradictory. The Carters exist in another stratosphere (where a jet is an appropriate birthday gift), but are human after all (as dependent on the most fragile of mortal bonds as the rest of us). They want our esteem and our sympathies. Jay is still the boy from the block (“Black Effect”), but he’s also a living work of art forged by wealth (“Apeshit”). Beyonce is a stone cold killer who never lets a hair fall out of place (“Nice”) and a wife done wrong (“Lovehappy”). Or as Beyonce puts it, “we’re flawed, but we’re still perfect”. This cake and eat it too attitude is infuriatingly presumptuous, but it’s hard to argue that they haven’t earned it over nine considered, content rich tracks.

The album, which really does lack for signature hooks or hip rattling beats, is at its best when The Carters lull the listener into a false sense of security, only to flip the script. Jay, as we have seen, does this routinely by injecting race or insecurity into his life of luxury. Beyonce’s approach is a little different; she simply turns the braggadocio up to 11. On closer “Lovehappy”, as Jay tries desperately to calm her down, Beyonce threatens to eviscerate everyone in her path: “You fucked up the first stone, we had to get re-married (yo chill), we keeping it real right, you lucky I didn’t kill you when I met that b…(yeah alright alright)”. This is a brilliant touch as it reframes the syrupy chorus as a mere façade – the type of charade they are so often accused of presenting to the public – it’s clear that a deep sinew of distrust and aggression still exists within Beyonce’s psyche, even as she sings, “the nightmares only last one night”.

Whatever Everything Is Love lacks in immediacy, it gains in lyrical depth and narrative richness. The Carters peel away their pretences in delightfully inventive ways. Luxury brand braggadocio and declarations of enduring love can’t disguise the pain of being wronged or the struggles of being a black man in America. The Carters are imperious and untouchable, but ridden by insecurities and the lingering shadows of their past. This is brag rap, but not as we know it.

This might just be the first live fast and die old LP in the hip hop history. Beyonce and Jay are playing the long game: they want their children’s children’s children to grow up in lap of luxury, they want their friends, family and race to thrive and, most importantly of all, they want their union to survive, no matter what indignities each partner (but particularly, Beyonce) must endure.  All these thoughts are delivered with a cocksure glee that confounds a generation of tediously severe “conscious rappers”. Everything Is Love might not be a perfect pop record, but it is a dynamic rewriting of the entire luxury rap playbook.

The final score: review Good
The 411
The Carters attempt to rewrite the brag rap playbook on Everything Is Love. They live in the lap of luxury, but their end game is elevation and security - for their families, for their children and for their race. Beyonce states it explicitly: "We're perfect, but we're still flawed". Yes, Jay and Bey want both our envy and our sympathy - and, as absurd as it all sounds, they make a compelling case on a thoughtful and richly lyrical LP. Surprisingly, they have no trouble balancing their personal and thematic contradictions, but fail to match quality subject matter to top notch beats and killer choruses. Who'd have thought Beyonce of all people would struggle for hooks?

article topics :

Beyonce, Jay Z, The Carters, David Hayter