Label: Parkwood/Sony/Roc Nation
Released: June 16
When Beyoncé sings “Can't believe we made it,” on “Apeshit,” it’s a triple entendre. She’s in awe of the surreality that she and her husband, two self-made black entrepreneurs and artists, amassed enough wealth and clout that they could later pitch a video treatment to the Louvre for that very song and actually get it approved. It’s blissful relief that the two are even still together and copacetic enough to be making music as a duo, let alone having more children. And it serves as an audience proxy for the stunned disbelief that, after at least four years of speculation, music’s first couple actually went ahead and made a whole-ass album together.
Most listeners were never quite sold on the critical viability of a joint project from these two. I don’t know—blame “Hollywood,” I guess. Six months after the pioneers of the surprise album drop casually gave us nine tracks and the wealthiest music video ever made on a random Saturday afternoon, Everything Is Love is a curious thing. The album is better than anyone figured it could be. And yet, they didn't do much with it after it dropped. The Carters were everywhere in the months that followed, embarking on the tour of the summer. The album, however, was not. The new songs didn't even impact the setlist significantly until the U.S. leg. On this occasion, the GOATs truly let the music speak for itself. What we’re left with is a tightly sequenced ode to black love, black music, and black excellence, literally. They pick up where Beyoncé left off with Beychella and JAY with “The Story of O.J.” Songs like “Black Effect” explain that they see fame as simply another tool in their arsenal to help further their brand of black excellence, keeping stories like the tragedies of Kalief Browder and Trayvon Martin on the forefront of public consciousness.
JAY, after recharging with 4:44, is back and arguably more lethal than he’s ever been in his post-retirement era, proving he can still rattle off a rewind-worthy neck-snapper on “Friends” and hole up in the pocket of a Nav or Sevn Thomas beat as easily as he can No I.D.’s production. Beyoncé is having the most fun, though, maximizing the brash, dulcet no-fucks-given visage that got rave reviews on “Top Off,” “Bow Down,” “Formation,” and “Diva.” You wanted an album of Beyoncé in committed B mode, going full Third Ward Trill and snatching weaves with a Coke and smile? Here it is. The best decision, though? No narrative retreads from the previous albums in this Carter trilogy, nor super-overt references to its current state. The greatest sign that their relationship is doing fine how well they work together. —Frazier Tharpe