Although not as strong a project as either ‘Lemonade’ or ‘4:44’, The Carters’ first joint LP still succeeds in defying the attempts to diminish negative portrayals of their relationship and black achievement
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The first quarter of 2016 saw the release of ‘Lemonade’, the sixth full length release for pop-superstar Beyoncé. The LP was paired with her second visual album, airing on HBO and reaching a runtime of 65 minutes. Across these two platforms, Beyoncé interpolates various pieces of imagery and audio references that signify an amalgamation of hardships that face the modern black family. The most publicly noticeable of these is the alleged adultery of her husband, the esteemed rapper Jay-Z. Over a year later, Jay-Z releases ‘4:44’, which is perhaps his most focused and emotional album yet. Much of the lyrical content is self-referential, condemning his unfaithful actions. However, simplifying both albums to be akin to a somewhat ingenuous soap-opera like feud would be an astoundingly ignorant interpretation, for the overarching impression given from both these LPs is the aspiration to reclaim black culture.
Their first single and music video from ‘EVERYTHING IS LOVE’, ‘Apeshit’, houses the couple within the Louvre. The Paris based gallery features pieces of art that have been predominantly fashioned by white, heterosexual males. This control of historical narrative is disrupted by The Carters’ appearance with a stark juxtaposition, standing defiantly within the forefront of the frame while the portraits and sculptures linger at the back. Not only this, but Beyoncé further upsets the European narrative by exhibiting the strength of her marriage and the female body, with paintings and monuments that depict historically masculine narratives being repurposed for a demonstration of black excellence. Lyrically, Jay-Zs’ primary targets are the more modern establishments such as the NFL, stating ‘‘I said no to the Super Bowl/ You need me, I don’t need you/ Every night we in the endzone/ Tell the NFL we in stadiums too’, a reference to the prominent Black Lives Matter demonstration where players would take a knee while the National Anthem played to silently protest the inherent racism and inequality present within practises of government control, such as the police. Combined, the strengths of Beyoncé and Jay-Z upon this track merge effortlessly, creating a presence that is certainly one to be reckoned with.
Perhaps surprisingly for an LP with Beyoncé’s name on it, much of the album leans upon hip-hop rather than R&B, yet this is not to say Beyoncé’s performance is subdued. Standing alongside one of the most significant rappers of the past couple of decades, any other person may seem daunted when asked to produce their verses. Evidently this is not the case for Beyoncé, for her vocal skills extend beyond her distinctive singing, here producing fast-paced verses. These moments serve as the albums highlights, with tracks such as ‘Black Excellence’ providing bold lyrics such as ‘Yes, put ‘em up, this is not a test, put your hands where I can see them, fuck a false arrest’.
Although ‘EVERYTHING IS LOVE’ features only 9 tracks, it still clocks in with a 38-minute runtime. This provides The Carters’ with plenty of time to build upon the other’s strengths, if not highlighting them. The result is one of lush magnitude, an album with production that provides a sense of awe, one that does not dwindle upon repeated listens. This LP may act as the closing public statement upon the state of their marriage, however, one can only hope that their extravagant attention to detail and celebrations of black culture return as soon as possible.
Everything is Love is available now via Columbia Records and Roc Nation.