“Families are always rising and falling in America”
– Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Carter-Knowles union represents a cultural brand rivaled only by the likes of Kennedys and Bushes. They are the societal king and queen of the hip-hop generation, a family that rules over hip-hop culture like the House of Saud. Their cultural and musical resonance is unrivaled, and the longevity of their icon status is unprecedented in modern popular music. In a music culture that moves at such a breakneck pace, they are time stoppers. In that same culture, collaborative projects have become quite the rage, largely in part by a certain Jay Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne.
With the collab album, one enters a transactional relationship. You understand that in order to create a cohesive, satisfactory project, both artists must sacrifice some aspects key to their artistry to service the common goal of integration. We’ve had projects that achieve this true inregreation extremely well, the chemistry of 21 Savage, Offset and Metro Boomin on Without Warning standing out amongst the crowd. Still, the majority of these projects are stagnant, proving to achieve more desegregation than integration, with Travis Scott and Quavo’s Huncho Jack experiment producing a record that sounded like two talented artists recording verses miles away from each other, then stichting them together, rather than two brushes stroking the canvass.
The Carter’s set the standard for the collab album, coming through with EVERYTHING IS LOVE, an album with the chemistry you would expect from a married couple with three children, and the artistry and elegance of the Obamas, but they’re world class musicians.
The album itself feels like what I imagine the Carter-Knowles’ art wing in their palace is like; A line of Basquiats, Rockwells, Gordon Parks originals, occasionally embellished with magic marker and the boogers of Blue Ivy. Few years later that shit worth 8 million!
In many ways, EVERYTHING IS LOVE feels like the natural successor to Lemonade and 4:44. The subject matter, meticulous production and art-house atmosphere that coursed through each Carter’s last releases comes to a head on EIL. The soulful, minimal poetics that made 4:44 and the genre bending artistic exploration of Lemonade permeate the sonics of EIL, and bundled with heavenly harmonies and adequate space for solo showcases from Yoncé and Jay alike a collaborative effort with the polish of a group that’s been working together for years, which I concede is fair to expect from a couple of musicians of Bey and Jay’s stature, impressive nonetheless.
The eye-popping power of the record comes from The Carter’s remarkable ability to deliver music on the pulse of popular hip-hop and trap with the maturity and taste of a family as known for art curation as rapping. Jay’s interpolation of Chief Keef’s anthem Faneto that opens his verse on standout track “Apeshit” is a definitive moment in hip-hop’s generational culture war. Jay delivers the confidence of an MC half his age, coupling the iconic drill bars with the hallmarks of a 50 year-old cultural titan. With 4:44, Jay proved one could create relevant and compelling rap music at 50. On EVERYTHING IS LOVE, Jay proves he can do it better than most of his children.
As compelling as Jay’s improbable lyrical prowess is, the star of the show is Beyoncé. Her singing is as astonishing as expected, but her rapping is at times sickening. She is a perfect companion to a very in-form Jay, and often outshines him. Her bouncing flows, dynamism and melodic incorporation channel Young Thug and Lil Uzi Vert, with the polish and swagger of the biggest force in popular music. On the electrifying track Boss, Yoncé delivers a bar that brings a smile to my face each time I hear it. Spitting. “
My great-great-grandchildren already rich/
That’s a lot of brown chi’r’en on your Forbes list”.
Still, Beyoncé continues to destroy her lofty expectations with melodies, hooks and structures that blend angelic harmonies and R&B, and rap flows that go from Three Stacks to Offset in the space of a couple bars. On “Friends” and “713”, and straight rap tacks like “Apeshit” and “Boss” The Queen displays dynamism and control I’ve only seen from Frank Ocean on his opus-level tracks “Pyramids” and “Nights”.
This wouldn’t be a proper review without a proper hot take. EVERYTHING IN LOVE is the greatest collaborative hip-hop record ever. It is not only the product of the artistic synergy post Lemonade and 4:44, but the logical successor to the prototype that was Watch The Throne. WTT was a meeting of rap’s biggest figures, not its biggest talents. It was opulent and excellent, but so far disconnected from the realities of its audience that it could not resonate in a way beyond being a massive cultural event. EVERYTHING IS LOVE is every bit as extravagant as Watch The Throne, but the chemistry of Jay Z and Beyoncé is that of black parents, regular people with far from regular problems, but an image of ourselves and our families every bit as recognizable as it is aspirational.
The album arouses thoughts of the greater thematic meaning of Kids See Ghosts, an album that displayed the uncanny chemistry of Kanye and Cudi, aged through each artists development through the genre breaking Yeezus and The Life of Pablo phases. The chemistry of Jay and Bey is equally compelling, equally cohesive, but the output is that of students of music that have risen to professorship. If Lemonade and 4:44 were dissertations; EVERYTHING IS LOVE is the doctorate.