On June 16, Jay-Z and Beyoncé surprise dropped their first joint album Everything Is Love. The nine-track effort marks a follow up to Bey’s Lemonade and Jay’s 4:44, two records that mined accusations of the rapper’s infidelity and the collateral damage it dealt to their relationship. Everything Is Love completes the cycle, presenting a couple who has worked through grief to find forgiveness, healing, and hope.
More than that, the album tells the story of how two of our era’s famous artists became who they are. From her unabashed celebration of her Southern roots to his subtle yet loving references to the artists and borough that shaped him, the record is rife with classic samples, callbacks, and a few understated but impactful jabs at other artists. We break down the details below.
Nods to Jamaica
Everything Is Love opens strong with “Summer,” which features production from legendary duo Cool & Dre. The distinctly Jamaican voice introducing the track is Rory, a selector for Stone Love. Built in Kingston in 1972, the Stone Love sound system remains one of Jamaica’s most famous, helping establish artists including Beenie Man, Buju Banton, and Shabba Ranks. (Also, Jay-Z and Beyoncé were recently spotted in the country, where they were reportedly filming a music video.)
Reclaiming the Louvre
In the music video for album cut “Apes—,” Jay-Z and Beyoncé take over the Louvre in Paris. The setting is far from coincidental, as the two work to subvert the tradition of black erasure in high art. The video opens with the pastel suit-clad couple lounging in front of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous work, “Mona Lisa,” before diving further into the museum’s collection. In one scene, dancers in flesh-toned body suits move sinuously in front of “The Coronation of Napoleon,” drawing the eye from the pomp, circumstance, and hedonism of European monarchy to the beauty and power of black bodies, unapologetically reclaiming a space that formerly rejected their very existence.
Later, Beyoncé, wearing a voluminous white gown, dances in front of a Hellenistic marble sculpture titled “The Winged Victory of Samothrace.” Created to honor the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, it’s tempting to see parallels between the sculpted right shoulder of Bey’s gown and the literal wings of victory perched atop Nike’s marble shoulders in the backdrop. The camera then briefly cuts to works like “Portrait d’une Negresse,” which, as the titles suggests, is a painting of an unidentified black woman by French aristocrat Marie-Guillemine Benoist.
This isn’t the first time the couple has incorporated fine art into their creative process. Jay-Z famously collaborated with performance artist Marina Abramovic on the visual for “Picasso Baby.” Similarly, Beyoncé has consistently drawn inspiration from both contemporary and classical artists, including an homage to Rene Magritte’s 1928 painting “The Lovers” in the Drake-featured video for “You’re Mine.”
Sparring with Drake
Speaking of Drizzy, Jay-Z takes some thinly veiled shots at October’s Very Own on the Ty Dolla $ign-assisted “Boss,” which sees Jay and Queen Bey reaffirming their power couple status to the world. Hov kicks things off with a reminder that in his universe, you’re not a real boss until you’re your own boss: “No cap/No false n—/You not a boss/You got a boss,” a possible reference to Drake’s status as a signee to Young Money, a label founded and owned by Lil Wayne.
Jay then revisits Drake’s choice to sign an alleged 19 million dollar deal with Apple Music rather than aligning himself with TIDAL, before alluding to the infamous invoice “the boy” (as Drake often refers to himself) sent Pusha-T in the midst of their recent beef: “N— rather work for the man than to work with me/Just so they can pretend they on my level, that s— is irkin’ to me” and “Everybody’s bosses ‘til it’s time to pay for the office/To them invoices, separate the men from the boys, over here.”
Jay’s closing bars are the final nail in the coffin, as he appears to chide the Canadian rapper for failing to secure the success of his peers, and those who have signed to his OVO label: “We measure success by how many people successful next to you/Here we say you broke if everybody gets broke except for you.”
A new chapter in the Jay-Kanye saga
Things get even more personal on “Friends.” Not only does Jay go down the list of folks who are squarely in his circle — including his cousin Emory Jones, childhood best friend Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith, and close friend Jay Brown with whom he co-founded Roc Nation — he conspicuously does not mention his “little brother,” Kanye: “Ty-Ty there, E there, Breezy there, Juan there/High here, Chaka there/Law there/They all here/Dez there Kawanna here/S— feel like nirvana here.”
Jay also addresses Kanye’s interview with Charlamagne Tha God in which the rapper said he was still hurt over Jay and Bey not attending his wedding to Kim Kardashian. As has since been revealed, the couple apparently didn’t go because of issues in their own marriage. On “Friends,” Jay is quick to make it known that his family will always come first, and any friend who doesn’t understand that is, well, not really a friend: “I ain’t goin’ to nobody nothin’ when me and my wife beefin’/I don’t care if the house on fire, I’m dyin’, n— I ain’t leavin’/Ty-Ty take care of my kids, after he done grievin’/If y’all don’t understand that, we ain’t meant to be friends.”
Speaking of the Kardashians, on “Friends” Jay turns his attention to Kendall and Kylie Jenner, whose clothing line Kendall + Kylie was slammed by Voletta Wallace, the mother of the late Notorious B.I.G., in 2017 after the sisters released a run of “vintage” t-shirts with their own selfies superimposed over pics of Biggie and Tupac. At the time, Wallace called the shirts “disrespectful” and “disgusting.” Jay, who was a personal friend of Biggie and remains in contact with Voletta, had some choice words of his own: “Y’all put n— on a t-shirt/it hurts you ain’t never meet ‘em.”
Spotify vs. Tidal
On “Nice,” Beyoncé takes a turn letting the world know why she doesn’t need Spotify to quantify success (then again, Everything Is Love did just pop up on the service). As most non-subscribing fans will remember, the singer chose to release Lemonade exclusively through TIDAL, which ultimately impacted her streaming numbers. Since the platform is membership-based, quite a few would-be listeners had to wait to hear the record and watch the aligning videos. Using only one streaming service undoubtedly increased the chances of her album being pirated but, as Beyoncé says, who cares? “If I gave two f—s about streaming numbers/Would have put Lemonade up on Spotify/F— you, f— you, you’re cool, f— you, I’m out.”
A nod to Colin Kaepernick
In “Apes—,” Jay points out that he turned down performing at the Super Bowl because they need him more than he needs them. This point is reinforced in the song’s video with a cinematic shot of a group of young black men kneeling in front of the Louvre’s pyramids — a clear allusion to Colin Kaepernick.
Love for Shawty Lo and Jeezy
On “Black Effect” Beyoncé pays homage to the late Shawty Lo, quoting one of Jeezy’s more famous lines on Lo’s “Dey Know” remix from his 2008 album Bankhead Boss. Instead of sticking with, “hopped up out the pretty motherf— like hello,” Bey adds her own twist, which ends in a distinctly more political statement than Jeezy’s verse. Instead, she seemingly references the Sphinx of Giza, which is believed to be missing its nose due to cannon fire by French troops during the reign of Napoleon in Egypt (“Come up out that pretty motherf— like hello, hello/I will never shoot the nose off my pharoah”). Some further theorize that the noses of many Egyptian sculptures were intentionally shot off to disguise their African features and whitewash history. That’s not the only time Jay and Bey reference ancient Egypt, either. In “Apes—” the duo share a scene in front of the “Great Sphinx of Tanis.”
A Chief Keef shoutout
It’s been a rough few weeks for Chicago-born rapper Chief Keef, who is currently embroiled in an increasingly ridiculous beef with the rainbow-haired 6ix9ine. However, earning a shoutout from Jay-Z, who says Keef’s got the wisdom of the The Lion King’s most sage baboon, Rafiki, isn’t a bad way to start the week: “I’m like Chief Keef meet Rafiki, who been Lion King to you.”
A “Still D.R.E.” callback
The infamously catchy hook to Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” was actually written by Jay-Z, so there’s a certain full-circle moment to Bey remixing the words to celebrate her Southern heritage on “713” (which doubles as the area code for her hometown of Houston). Perhaps the best thing about the Carter update is that it goes much deeper than a mere love song to a city. The duo’s joint verses cleverly intertwine their personal love story, detailing how they met, how they started dating, their mistakes, and their steadfast dedication to each other.
Lemonade & 4:44 are not entirely in the rearview
“Heard About Us,” a swaggering anthem to the Carters’ own mega-fame sees Beyoncé referencing one of the most memorable (and meme’d) moments of the Lemonade visual album. In the song “Hold Up”, an enraged Beyoncé takes a Louisville Slugger baseball bat to a car, while dressed in a flowing yellow gown that looks more suited for a red carpet than trashing her cheating husband’s beloved wheels. She briefly revisits the moment with this two-liner: “Louis slugger to your four door/Careful what you asked for.”
On the Pharrell-produced “Nice” Beyoncé brings it back to Blue Ivy’s infamous freestyle on 4:44. There’s no “boom shakalaka,” but Bey does say, “I ain’t never seen a ceiling in my whole life, that’s word to Blue.” The oldest Carter child indeed delivers the same line about ceilings in the first verse of her freestyle.
Jay addresses an old rumor
On “Heard About Us”, Jay-Z takes an opportunity to publicly clear the air. While the rapper has taken ownership of his infidelity, there have been sporadic reports that he once fathered a secret child whom he refused to acknowledge. The young man and his mother have since revealed themselves to the press, going so far as to claim Jay has been dodging DNA tests for over a decade. Up until now, neither Jay or Bey has commented on it in their music, but on this album, Jay categorically denies paternity while referencing one of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits: “Billie Jean in his prime/For the thousandth time the kid ain’t mine/Online they call me dad kiddingly/You’re not supposed to take this dad thing literally.”
Showing the light for Common
On Black Album cut “Moment of Clarity,” Jay-Z famously said, “Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense” so it’s not surprising Hov would quote him in full. On “713,” Jay drops a line from Common’s “The Light”, which was originally written as a love letter to the Chicago rapper’s then-girlfriend Erykah Badu: “I never knew a luh, luh-luh, a love like this/Gotta be somethin’ for me to write this/Queen, I ain’t seen you in a minute/Wrote this letter, and finally decide to send it.”
Jay again references Badu and Common on “Lovehappy.” In the midst of Jay and Bey discussing the assets they’ve left their children in their will, they also open up about the damage of infidelity, and the path to forgiveness. When Bey admits that she wanted to kill Jay’s mistress when she met her, he responds with a line from Common’s verse on Badu’s “Love of My Life (An Ode To Hip-Hop)”: “Y’all know how I met her, we broke up and got back together/To get her back, I had to sweat her.” The sweating obviously paid off because all seems to be well in the land of Carter at the moment.