What you need to know immediately about Everything Is Love, the surprise joint album from Jay-Z and Beyoncé that sent a thrilled but weary nation scurrying back to Tidal on Saturday afternoon, is that Beyoncé quotes Half Baked. Yes, the 20-year-old Dave Chappelle stoner comedy; yes, that scene from Half Baked. The song is called “Nice,” a pop-up Taj Mahal of sumptuously decaying piano and concussive bass coproduced by Pharrell. Jay-Z is in there somewhere, rapping with grouchy dexterousness about his various recent legal woes. Maybe you won't remember any of that verse in a week, but you will most certainly remember all of Beyoncé’s, swaggering and buoyant, her voice skipping across every syllable like so many gilded lily pads.
Patiently waiting for my demise,
’Cause my success can’t be quantified
If I gave two fucks, two fucks about streaming numbers
Would’ve put Lemonade up on Spotify.
And then—and then!
Her voice jumps an octave between that last fuck and you, like a puzzle solved, like a treasure chest opened, like Tidal finally accepting your password. Beyoncé is, amazingly, not the first pop star to pay homage to that particular moment in cinematic history, but her version is, obviously, the best. Every last second of Everything Is Love’s 38-minute runtime is that defiant and triumphant, though it never gets anywhere near that infectiously silly again. But just a little silliness goes an awfully long way, even when all the Forbes List triumphalism seems to be going nowhere.
History may well remember June 2018 as the month when nobody did their best work, but everyone felt compelled to do something. Now, amid a wayward Kanye album, a striking but sulky Kanye–Kid Cudi album, a Nas album that had the misfortune of coming out Friday and has now vanished into the ether, and an impending Drake album that even Drake is dreading, we have the long-awaited summit from the 21st century’s own Carter family. Though not bowing to Kanye’s controversial “seven songs is an album now” edict, Everything Is Love is relatively trim at nine tracks (plus the airy bonus single “Salud!”), maximalist to a fault and just intimate enough to break a modest amount of new ground. If nothing else, post-Ye, you will appreciate the professionalism, the rigor, the command here, from the music’s lush opulence to the hilariously ironclad discipline of yet another shock rollout. What you really need to know about Everything Is Love is that Jay and Beyoncé somehow secretly shot a video for lead single “Apeshit” in the freakin’ Louvre.
“Apeshit,” another lavish Pharrell coproduction—is the best song on this record by some distance, the laser-ping-pong synth riff inescapable, the trilling ad-libs from Quavo and Offset a welcome intrusion. (It’s also the only song you can hear, legally, without Tidal.) Beyoncé fires off two rapid-fire verses full of mesmerizing quirk: “I got expensive fabrics,” she trills, pronouncing it ex-SPANK-sive. The bad news is that no one Beyoncé line on this record is better than “That bitch is on drugs,” but the good news is she never stops trying to top it, and “Bought him a jet / Shut down Colette / Philippe Patek / Get off my dick” comes awful close.
Meanwhile, Jay-Z’s “Apeshit” verse is a marvel of wounded bravado, from “I said no to the Super Bowl / You need me, I don’t need you” to “Tell the Grammys fuck that 0-for-8 shit / Have you ever seen the crowd goin’ apeshit.” (You also get a grown man’s delightful idea of youthful hedonism: “Ran through Liverpool like a fuckin’ Beatle / Smoke gorilla glue like it’s fuckin’ legal.”) The ease and even grace, in this highest-possible-profile partnership, with which Jay has swapped his Michael Jordan jersey for a Scottie Pippen jersey has been something to see, and maybe even something to aspire to.
Which is to say that a relatively humbled Hova in a turquoise suit doing ad-libs for his wife in front of the Mona Lisa is the best-case-scenario future of masculinity. Everything Is Love can’t hope to match the rhapsodic fury of her Lemonade or the startling vulnerability of his 4:44, the best albums of 2016 and 2017, respectively. Instead, it is content with a thesis of We’re rich and famous and still crazy in love. The opening track, “Summer” is a sultry slo-mo detonation of grown-and-sexy reggae; the closer is literally called “Lovehappy,” driven by a bumptious sample of ’60s soul duo Eddie and Ernie’s “You Make My Life a Sunny Day,” and remarkable only in the rare moments when storm clouds intrude. (Beyoncé: “You fucked up the first stone / We had to get remarried.” Jay: “Y’all could make up with a bag, I had to change the weather / Move the whole family west, but it’s whatever.”) There is little conflict here overall, which is a genuine blessing for them, and a mixed one for us.
What’s left to talk about, then, is money. At the end of the “Apeshit” video, Jay and Beyoncé gaze into each other’s eyes and then turn to silently admire the Mona Lisa; the larger question on Everything Is Love is whether they’re admiring the painting, or just contemplating buying it. “It’s disturbing what I gross,” Jay crows on the breathy Ty Dolla $ign–assisted “Boss,” and his wife’s goofy ad-lib (“What I gross!”) helps sell the line, even if both of these people have been delivering some version of it for a decade. Jets, mansions, vacations, high-fashion-stuffed closets, et cetera. There is an astronomical amount of wealth porn on display here (new watch alert: the rose-gold Concept), which is inevitable, but still not exactly invigorating.
That same hyper-materialism soured me on Jay and Kanye’s Watch the Throne for the first 72 hours or so, but in time that 2011 record deepened and darkened, its quieter songs (the stormy “Murder to Excellence”) and sharper lines (Jay’s “If you escaped what I escaped / You’d be in Paris gettin’ fucked up, too”) giving all those shopping-spree boasts a grim historical context. The real question for Everything Is Love is whether it will, with time and attention, offer something beyond the usual giddy mega-celebrity whoosh.
The album’s second half at least attempts to ground all that luxury in something human and sensitive. “We still got love for the streets,” Beyoncé insists on “713” (that’d be Houston’s area code), amid all the talk of 24-karat faucets. “Friends” combines the guardedness of Drake’s “No New Friends” with the bruised humility of Kanye’s “Real Friends,” celebrating the Carter family’s inner circle, with Jay calling out his oldest, closest confidantes by name and reiterating his wider commitment to activism: “When I say, ‘Free the dogs,’ I free ’em / That’s how Meek got his freedom.” And “Black Effect” is especially promising, the mood both celebratory and sociopolitically combative, its Jay hook (“I’m good on any MLK Boulevard”) electrifying, its references ranging from Trayvon Martin to Richard Mille.
It’s a hell of a jumble, and even if Everything Is Love realizes its long-term upside, this record won’t crack either artist’s first tier. But as a reminder of how unbeatable both those first tiers are, it’ll do. The lesson here, as always, is that if it’s executed well, giddy mega-celebrity whoosh is almost always enough.