Tag Archives: RollingStone

Hear Ariana Grande Tap Nicki Minaj for Snappy 'The Light Is Coming'

Ariana Grande unveiled a snappy new collaboration with Nicki Minaj, “The Light is Coming,” off her upcoming album, Sweetener, out August 17th via Republic Records.

“The Light is Coming” features production from Pharrell, who crafts a jittery beat of quick drums and peculiar synths that rush above an ever present, and slightly surreal, vocal sample. Minaj opens the track with a barrage of punchlines, after which Grande takes over, delivering a dynamic vocal performance that finds her running alongside Pharrell’s production one moment, then swooning in the pocket of its groove the next.

“The Light Is Coming” is the second song Grande has shared from Sweetener, following lead single, “No Tears Left to Cry,” which arrived in April. Sweetener follows Grande’s 2016 album Dangerous Woman, and is available to pre-order via the singer’s website

“The Light is Coming” also arrives one week after Grande and Minaj released another new collaboration, “Bed,” which is expected to appear on Minaj’s upcoming album, Queen. The pair previously teamed in 2016 for “Side to Side” off Dangerous Woman, while in 2014 they scored a hit with “Bang Bang,” which also featured Jessie J. Minaj and Grande first collaborated on “Get On Your Knees,” off Minaj’s 2014 album The Pinkprint.

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Tim Lambesis Reunites With As I Lay Dying One Year After Prison Release

Tim Lambesis, the heavy metal singer who was convicted in 2014 for his role in a murder-for-hire plot to kill his estranged wife, reunited with his band As I Lay Dying in San Diego, California over the weekend, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

The show marked the first time Lambesis has performed with As I Lay Dying since 2013. In May of that year, Lambesis was arrested after soliciting an undercover police officer to murder his wife of eight years, with whom he shared three adopted children. Lambesis reportedly gave the undercover detective $1,000 and provided instructions for the murder. In 2014, Lambesis pleaded guilty and received a six-year prison sentence, though he was released in December 2017 after serving just under three years.

Lambesis reportedly addressed the sold-out crowd in San Diego several times during the As I Lay Dying concert. At the start of the gig he said, “I want to start really with a simple theme for tonight, and that’s gratitude.”

He continued, “We’re so very, very thankful to be up here. We’re not only thankful for you guys, we’re thankful for each other, we’re thankful for the relationships that we’ve rebuilt and we’re very, very excited about. Thank you for the opportunity to play music together again.”

As I Lay Dying’s San Diego gig came weeks after the band released a new single, “My Own Grave.” Over the weekend, the group shared a lengthy video on YouTube in which they discussed their decision to get back together, as well as Lambesis’ arrest and conviction.

“There was such an unbelievable sense of relief after my sentencing of, like, ‘defense’ is no longer in my vocabulary,” Lambesis said in the clip. “I don’t defend what I did, because there’s no defense for it. I’m not gonna try to defend what I did, because it’s ridiculous. All I can do is make amends where possible, express my remorse and just put my energy into something positive.”

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Julian Casablancas' Voidz Extend Tour With Beck, Phoenix Shows

Julian Casablancas‘ the Voidz extended their 2018 tour in support of their new album Virtue to include another North American leg this fall.

The trek launches with a show alongside Beck September 13th at the Armory in Minneapolis, Minnesota and wraps October 6th with a headlining gig at the Heights Theater in Houston, Texas. The Voidz will play four more shows with Beck during the tour (in St. Louis, Missouri, Kansas City, Missouri, Lincoln, Nebraska and Salt Lake City, Utah), as well as two gigs with Phoenix, October 4th in Austin and October 5th in Dallas.

The Voidz also added a show to the end of their ongoing summer run, which now wraps August 5th at Beach Goth in Los Angeles. The band has been on the road for much of the year already, and their current trek has included sold-out residencies in both Philadelphia and Brooklyn. Ticket information for the band’s upcoming gigs is available on Casablancas’ website.

Virtue arrived in March and marked the Voidz’ follow-up to their 2014 debut, Tyranny

The Voidz Tour Dates

August 5 – Beach Goth – Los Angeles, CA
September 13 – Armory – Minneapolis, MN (with Beck)
September 15 – Riot Fest – Chicago, IL
September 16 – Fox Theater – St. Louis, MO (with Beck)
September 17 – Starlight Amphitheater – Kansas City, MO (with Beck)
September 19 – Pinewood Bowl – Lincoln, NE (with Beck)
September 20 – Gothic Theater – Denver, CO
September 22 – Maverick Center – Salt Lake City, UT (with Beck)
September 27 – House of Blues – San Diego, CA
September 28 – Crescent Ballroom – Phoenix, AZ
September 29 – Meow Wolf – Santa Fe, NM
October 2 – Tower Theater – Oklahoma City, OK
October 4 – Stubb’s Waller Creek Amphitheater – Austin, TX (with Phoenix)
October 5 – Southside Ballroom – Dallas, TX (with Phoenix)
October 6 – Heights Theater – Houston, TX

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Can an EP Recorded by Prisoners Spark Criminal Justice Reform Talk?

In May 2015, B.L. Shirelle was finishing up a prison term at Muncy State Correctional Institution in Pennslvania. She felt apprehensive about her imminent return to civilian life, having spent most of her last decade behind bars, and this tension served as the basis for a track titled “Headed to the Streets.” “It took me maybe 15 minutes to write that song,” Shirelle tells Rolling Stone. “I had all that anxiety in real time.”

Fury Young, an activist-musician-filmmaker and the founder of the multimedia project Die Jim Crow, took Shirelle’s lyrics to Anthony McKinney and Mark B. Springer, who are both serving life sentences at Warren Correctional Institution in Ohio, and the two set the words to music. Young recorded McKinney, who contributed an urgent singing part to the track, in prison later that year. When Shirelle was released, she added her own vocals, rapping over a rugged amalgam of distorted guitar and staggered drums.

The video for “Headed to the Streets,” the first single from the Die Jim Crow project to be available on third-party streaming services, is out today. “The song is showing how vulnerable a state it is to be in coming out of prison,” Shirelle explains. “Be mindful. If you have a business, give somebody a shot.” She can be seen rapping in the agitated “Headed to the Streets” video, which merges modern prison images with old photos of black male prisoners doing forced labor. At one point, Shirelle takes an axe and starts chopping up a fake prison cot.

“Headed to the Streets” is part of the Die Jim Crow EP, which will be followed by a full-length in 2020; the goal, according to Young, is to encourage empathy and increased understanding – to get listeners to “step inside the shoes of someone that grew up in a community infested with discriminatory policing and a high incarceration rate.”

“[The music] was a way to bring people back into connection with community.”

Young became interested in criminal justice reform in 2013 when he read Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. “I felt a major responsibility to shed light on the issue,” he says. After directing documentaries, his creative interests turned to music, so he decided to merge the two projects, inspired in part by acts like the Lifers Group, a Grammy-nominated hip-hop ensemble made up of inmates, and the Prisonaires, an inmate singing-group that was signed to Sun Records before Elvis Presley. Young began to immerse himself in the prison-reform and prison-abolition communities.

In 2015, Young connected with Dr. Israel, known for his work in dub and collaborations with figures like Bill Laswell (Brian Eno, Public Image Ltd.) and the punk veterans Rancid; Israel was immediately intrigued by the idea of recording inmates. “[Young] didn’t have any technical knowledge [of recording], but he had access,” Israel explains. “Most of the music I’ve done has a political base to it, but this was taking it one step further: You’re giving a voice to people who don’t have a voice.”

The producer describes the Die Jim Crow EP and the upcoming album as a way of helping inmates hit back against the dehumanizing aspects of imprisonment. “Suddenly guys who are locked up are interacting the way people who are not locked up are interacting,” he says. “What people have shared with me is some of the toughest things [about imprisonment] like boredom and the removal of community. Initially people come and visit and write you letters. A year in, five years in, it feels like everybody’s forgotten about you. This was a way to bring people back into connection with community.”

Israel was adamant that if Die Jim Crow was to succeed in its goal of “starting conversations about how to recalibrate the prison industrial complex,” the music had to be able to “compete in the commercial marketplace.” When recording inmates, he was facing technical limitations – he could only use the technology he carried into the prison with him. He created a vocal booth with help from packing blankets. “It reminds me a lot of old Motown and reggae recordings – you have to make do with what you have,” Israel says. “You can’t, like, send anybody to get an extra microphone. You’re locked in to what you’re doing.” The EP mixes melancholy soul, torrid rock guitar solos and solemn hip-hop.

For many inmates, including McKinney, working with Young and Israel was their first time attempting professional recording. “It was exciting,” McKinney says, speaking over the phone from prison. “As a way to be heard, [recording] was my outlet – people could hear about my case and the experience of black men being incarcerated. It’s exciting to let the guys in the penitentiary know, I’m screamin’ for us.”

“It’s exciting to let the guys in the penitentiary know, I’m screamin’ for us.”

As Young and his collaborators work on their full-length album, they are planning to expand their purview to include even more prisons; already, Young thinks the Die Jim Crow LP will be the first release to be recorded in more than one prison. He also hopes to translate the music and expand its audience in some way with live performance. “My goal as an activist is to take the project into communities that are most affected by mass incarceration and the broken criminal justice system that we have,” he says.

Shirelle will reappear on the album; she’s also working on her own solo material. “If we’re not integrated properly, it’s not good for anyone – nine times out of 10, what happens in places where there aren’t a lot of resources for people coming out of prison is they revert back to old behaviors,” she says. “You can blame it on the person; self-accountability is important. But if people could understand that we need their help also, that y’all can’t ostracize us, everybody benefits.” 

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We've Only Begun to Understand XXXTentacion's Musical Legacy

Popular music has never known a story like that of South Florida rapper Jahseh “XXXTentacion” Onfroy.

In his final month as a 17-year-old high school dropout, he uploaded a song to SoundCloud that – almost single-handedly – changed the way hip-hop looks and sounds. He hit the charts with no record label, no publicist, no radio play and a near-total press blackout. Soon, it felt like the world’s most culture-shifting rap superstars were taking notes from him. Within a year, he would amass a legion of fans and become the face of a burgeoning subgenre – despite the fact that it seemed like the only photo of him was his 2016 mugshot. Within two, he would have a Number One album that sounded like nothing else on the charts, save for imitators in his wake. By 20, he was dead. Not since Ritchie Valens in 1959 has a musician carved such a huge cultural path, only to be cut down before they reach 21.

XXXTentacion’s achievements as a zeitgeist-grabbing, industry-defying, boundary-destroying phenomenon are overshadowed by reports of the abuse he inflicted on his pregnant ex-girlfriend. A deposition excerpted by Pitchfork and reporting from the Miami New Times pointed to a history of physical and mental violence that’s monstrous by any standard – most notably the allegations of beating her so severely that he damaged her optic nerve. During his life, XXX was callous about the accusations, even mocking. News media and social media made attempts to silence, de-platform and otherwise cancel him, but his impact on music will be felt for years to come nonetheless.

His debut single “Look at Me!” is one of the most unlikely, lo-fidelity, broken-sounding, blown-out songs to ever fling itself across the Billboard Top 40. Not even two and a half minutes, it plays like an alternate universe where circa 1989 cassette-hiss indie rock bands like Sebadoh or Tall Dwarfs could compete for chart stature against Bad English and White Lion. It’s vulgar and graphic (“I took a white bitch to Starbucks/That little bitch got her throat fucked”), but it’s harder to imagine radio playing it because of its sonics than its content – the track is distorted to the point of sounding like it was recorded from a car stereo blasting a block away. If the computer-produced, internet-distributed songs of Soulja Boy and Lil B were hip-hop’s original D.I.Y. punk revolution, then this was hardcore, ratcheting up the violence, shortening the attention span, and embracing the underproduced. Producer Rojas said XXX recorded it in 15 minutes.

“It was like the worst recording set up, [but] you could set it up anywhere and that was the wave we were on,” cohort Ski Mask the Slump God told Rolling Stone about the gear they used at the time. “The raw energy of that – the distortion – is our specialty and we used that to our advantage.”

Shortly after the success of “Look at Me!,” XXX would release his debut LP, 2017’s 17, a pivot to narcoleptic songs that dealt openly with depression, heartbreak and suicidal thoughts on an album that was less than 22 minutes long. They still felt like first drafts, but these were tunes that sounded more like My Chemical Romance unplugged over a trap beat. With no real label beyond a distribution deal with Empire, and no physical version to speak of, it reached Number Two on the charts. Seven of its 11 songs charted on the Billboard Hot 100.

At points before and after signing a $6 million deal with Caroline in late 2017, publications like Pitchfork, Noisey and Uproxx ran articles with headlines like “You Don’t Have to Listen to Abusive Rappers“; “No Matter How Good The Rapper Is, Talent Shouldn’t Trump Human Decency“; and “XXXTentacion Is Blowing Up Behind Bars. Should He Be?” But the rarely spoken truth was that XXX didn’t need traditional media interviews, reviews and features to blow up – and those institutions ultimately didn’t succeed in tearing him down. Until the Caroline deal, XXX’s success seemed completely outside of the machinations of the music industry entirely – no label, no press, no radio, no late night TV spots. He was managed by a YouTube star with face tattoos. Streaming giant Spotify eventually formed and subsequently redacted a policy for him. The Billboard charts recently changed their algorithms in a way that – by accident or design – will likely prevent artists like him from succeeding again.

While XXX’s alleged crimes made him poison to much of the industry, it was generally assumed that they weren’t important to the teenagers streaming his music – or that they only added mystique. He was an ethical nightmare who used the democratic nature of the internet to work outside a system that has been in place for 80 years. His second album, titled ? – Caroline deal intact – topped the charts with ease. 

The closest analogue for XXX’s short career – in terms of trajectory, not offstage conduct – may be Darby Crash, singer for punk pioneers the Germs. Crash drained his battered brain for his art, splayed his emotions, squalled noisily in a way that made even the underground feel overproduced, and was dead at 22 in 1980. Now imagine the tiny indie Slash Records somehow got “Lexicon Devil” to the Top 40 and Andy Gibb was saying things like “[L]isten to this album if you feel anything. [R]aw thoughts,” like Kendrick Lamar did of XXX last year.

Like the Germs, XXX’s bloody, exposed music is already highly influential. You can see it most obviously in labels signing rappers who also have a lo-fi, scribbly, emo-centric sound, but don’t come with the huge amounts of problematic baggage. Fellow Floridian Lil Pump, SoundCloud rap’s breakout star, was recently spoofed in an SNL sketch. The current Billboard Hot 100 features the acoustic strum and splatty bass of Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams,” Lil Pump’s noisy “Esskeetit” and Lil Skies’ SoundCloud-Rap-as-pop “I Know You” – songs that all owe something to the door kicked open by XXX. They likely won’t be the last. 

Both of the recent albums from Kanye West, Ye and his Kid Cudi collabo Kids See Ghosts, have a diaristic, sketchpad, openly depressive feel that recalls XXX’s work. “Rest in peace I never told you how much you inspired me when you were here thank you for existing,” West tweeted yesterday.

Though XXXTentacion is gone, its hard to imagine a scenario where his musical influence won’t be looming large for at least the next few years. His recordings helped signal a new era of post-streaming, post-genre teenagers as likely to shout out Tupac as Papa Roach, and willing to be as loudly emotional as either. A generation of artists with colorful hair and face tattoos will be able to cite “Look at Me!” as a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” moment, exposing the world to a distorted, angry, proudly demo-quality underground. Though his life story will – justifiably – focus on the grisly details of the domestic abuse allegations, his look, sound, feel and raw emotion will still be touching nerves in rap’s bleeding edge.

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Iceage, Black Lips Unveil Co-Headlining Tour

Danish punks Iceage and Atlanta garage rockers the Black Lips will unite for a co-headlining North American tour this fall.

The trek launches November 5th at the Rickshaw Theatre in Vancouver and wraps with a two-night stand at the Earl in the Black Lips’ hometown of Atlanta, November 23rd and 24th. Iceage will then play two additional shows in New York City, November 25th and 27th, at the Music Hall of Williamsburg and Elsewhere, respectively.

Tickets for the co-headlining tour go on sale Friday, June 22nd. Throughout the tour, Iceage and the Black Lips will receive support from Brooklyn outfit Surfbort.

Iceage already have a packed tour itinerary this summer as they promote their new record, Beyondless. The group recently launched a North American trek with harpist Mary Lattimore that wraps June 28th at Market Hotel in New York. A European tour will follow. 

Iceage released Beyondless, their fourth studio album, in May. The record marks their first since 2014’s Plowing Into the Field of Love. As for the Black Lips, their last record Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art? arrived in 2017.

Iceage, Black Lips Tour Dates

November 5 – Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw Theatre
November 6 – Seattle, WA @ The Showbox
November 7 – Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom
November 9 – San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
November 10 – Pomona, CA @ The Glass House
November 11 – Tustin, CA @ Marty’s On Newport
November 12 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Regent Theater
November 13 – San Diego, CA @ House of Blues
November 14 – Phoenix, AZ @ The Crescent Ballroom
November 16 – Dallas, TX @ Granada Theater
November 17 – Austin, TX @ The Mohawk
November 18 – Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall Downstairs
November 19 – New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jacks
November 20 – Birmingham, AL @ Saturn
November 23 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
November 24 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
November 25 – New York, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg (without Black Lips)
November 27 – New York, NY @ Elsewhere (without Black Lips) 

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Review: Rico Nasty's Major-Label Debut Is a Dynamic Introduction

Hip-hop’s Internet-mediated underground currently teems with talented women like Maryland MC Rico Nasty. While her debut mixtape forAtlantic Records doesn’t feel like a major creative breakthrough, it’s a solid introduction to a dynamic, hard-charging voice in what Rico herself dubs “sugar trap.” She raps with adrenalized passion on the Blocboy JB-assisted “In The Air” and freestyles withvigor over N.O.R.E.’s “Superthug” beat on “Countin’ Up,” evoking the spirit of vintage Crime Mob and Gangsta Boo. She takes time out to be playful, too, dropping subtly funny ad-libs like a verse-punctuating “Duhhh?” Nasty hasa lot of raps about the power of pussy, naturally. But she’s most impressive when she occasional downshifts from her guttural, angry shout to unveil different flows — a cool, provocative whisper on “Pressing Me,” and a sing-song Auto-Tune lilt on “Won’t Change”– and a surprising versatility that’s worth further development.

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Hear Florence and the Machine Get Ghosted on New Song 'Big God'

Florence and the Machine grapple with the anguish of getting ghosted on their brooding new ballad, “Big God.” The track will appear on the band’s upcoming album, High as Hope, out June 29th.

“Big God” mixes a low, plaintive piano melody with sparse and steady percussion, and finds Florence Welch lost in the throes of a new love and longing for a response to a text message. The song builds and finally bursts into a horn-tinged soul ballad, with Welch pleading to her would-be partner, “Shower your affection, let it rain on me/ Don’t leave me on this white cliff/ Let it slide down to the, slide down to the sea.”

“Big God” features Kamasi Washington, while Jamie xx is credited as a co-writer. Welch and Emilie Haynie produced the track. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Welch said that “Big God” is about “obviously, an unfillable hole in the soul… but mainly about someone not replying to my text.”

“Big God” follows follows previously released High as Hope tracks “Hunger” and “Sky Full of Song.” High as Hope marks Florence and the Machine’s first album since 2015’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. The group will launch a North American tour in support of the record August 5th in Montreal, Canada. 

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Paul McCartney Details New Double A-Side Single

Paul McCartney will release a double A-side single featuring two new songs, “I Don’t Know” and “Come On to Me,” tomorrow, June 20th, via Capitol Records.

The tracks mark the first taste from McCartney’s upcoming solo album. “I Don’t Know” and “Come On to Me” find McCartney dabbling in two distinct styles, according to a statement: “‘I Don’t Know’ being a plaintive, soul-soothing ballad as only Paul can deliver, and ‘Come On To Me’ a raucous stomper that fans that first spark of chemistry into a rocking blaze.”

The title and release date for McCartney’s new solo album have yet to be announced, though the record is expected to arrive this fall. McCartney has offered few details about the album, though in a 2017 interview with the BBC, he said he has been in the studio with pop producer Greg Kurstin.

The album will follow McCartney’s 2013 LP New, which at the time was his first project to feature all new rock and pop compositions since 2007’s Memory Almost Full. In 2011, McCartney released a classical album, Ocean’s Kingdom, while a year later he shared Kisses On the Bottom, a project comprising covers of traditional pop and jazz standards.

McCartney will headline the 2018 Austin City Limits Music Festival, taking place over two weekends, October 5th through 7th, and 12th through 14th, at Austin’s Zilker Park. The set marks McCartney’s first major show of 2018 after he spent much of last year on the road on his “One on One” trek.

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Review: The Carters' 'Everything Is Love' Splendidly Celebrates Their Family Dynasty

Beyoncé and Jay-Z have closely guarded the particulars of their private lives for years. Lately, though, they’ve shown signs of trying to balance their massive public profiles with a desire for accessibility and superstar demystification. It’s a gesture Beyonce telegraphed with the unofficial campaign slogan of her Formation Tour: “God is God and I am not,” and it’s a guiding theme of Jay and Bey’s new surprise album, Everything Is Love, which they’ve released as the Carters.

“I got real problems just like you,” Beyonce grumbles on “Boss.” They’re people, too, they suggest—people who can shut the Louvre down on short notice to film a music video, but people nonetheless. Released in the second week of their On the Run II Tour after a show at London Stadium, the album realizes the power in learning from our failings. In its embrace of cooperation, it finds strength in presenting a unified front and rallying against common enemies. It’s an act of reciprocity.

Everything is Love is the refreshing final chapter in a trilogy of albums that includes Beyoncé’s unburdening 2016 odyssey Lemonade and Jay-Z’s 2017 conscience-stricken apologia 4:44, glimpses inside a strained marriage from both sides. The ultimate power couple has been finding resolution and absolution through an active artistic process that’s apparently been as therapeutic and corrective for them as it’s been enrapturing for everyone else. But it isn’t quite reconciliation or vindication until they come together. “We were using our art almost like a therapy session,” Jay told the New York Times. “And we started making music together.” In teaming up and completing this personal triptych they show mediation can be a tonic. 

If Lemonade was Beyoncé publicly, subtly and sublimely exorcising the demons of her union, 4:44 was a humbled and disarmed Jay-Z figuring family and community into his success equation. Both albums dealt directly (and tacitly) with their responsibilities to each other, and their responsibility to society as black billionaires. Everything Is Love is couples counseling as an art exhibition, as much a splendid relationship retrospective as it is a celebration of their growing black family dynasty. When Beyoncé raps, “My great-great-grandchildren already rich/That’s a lot of brown children on your Forbes list,” she’s connecting the dots between their love and their legacy.

Beyoncé and Jay co-produced every song, but Cool & Dre, Pharrell and Boi-1da distinguish exactly what the album sounds like – at times classicist and often trendy but usually stunning. “ApeShit” converts a Migos demo into a glitzy high-end trap boomer. The Pharrell-produced “Nice” strips the fluorescent sheen off Lil Uzi Vert’s “Neon Guts” for something decidedly less animated but no less satisfying. Pairing piano plinks with 808 bass, “713” takes their love to the streets.

In celebrating their reconciliation, the Carters take a victory lap hand-in-hand, and they have more ways to stunt than most, performing outsized rap boasts few others can match: saying no to the Super Bowl (“You need me, I don’t need you”), going to war with the Grammys, ignoring Spotify (“’Cause my success can’t be quantified”), dismissing Trump attacks (“Your president tweeting about Hov like he knows us”). Jay challenges the SEC and seeks a commendation for the part he played in freeing Meek Mill for good measure. Bey’s wearing 35 chains and demanding to get paid in equity. They let Quavo ad-libs echo through the Louvre as they pose before the Mona Lisa in the “Apeshit” video, a fitting metaphor for rap’s infiltration of predominantly white spaces.

As “Black Effect” makes obvious, and “ApeShit” conveys more understatedly, the Carters can’t and won’t forget their place in the black community, even as the continue to climb the highest rungs of white society. The most glaring analog for such a statement is Watch the Throne, Jay’s collaborative album with frenemy Kanye West, which Beyoncé references offhandedly on “LoveHappy.” Both albums reconcile relishing extravagant black wealth with mourning a broken American political system, hoping listeners find visions of a freer black planet in their revelry, but only Everything is Love foregrounds family matters. They focus on each other first and their kids, being respecting partners and indulgent parents. (Their daughter, Blue Ivy, pops up constantly like a recurring character.) Their depiction of an enriched black life, via a triumphant Rap-&-B windfall with nods to Chief Keef, Shawty Lo, Common, and Biggie and homages to Kalief Browder, Trayvon Martin, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, extends beyond their immediate family to those they’ve influenced and who’ve influenced them. When Beyoncé repurposes lyrics Jay thought up for Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” in the hook on “713,” she’s tracing this lineage, adding weight to her earlier “Nice” claim “Freestyling live, blueprint from my Jigga who never writes.”

Though there will always be a pop tint to anything Beyoncé does, Everything Is Love is largely a rap album. In its verses, one of the greatest rappers of his generation finds an able rallying partner. While Jay’s raps on 4:44 were confessional, they were rapped in whispers, as if recounted to a shrink or recorded into a phone mic for a voice memo. Here, he raps in conversation with Beyoncé, professing directly to her and giving her the chance to interject. When he brags that he got her diamond from Chaumet out in Paris and not at Jared, she counters with a side-eye: “Yeah, you fucked up the first stone, we had to get remarried.” Bey, who has been an exceptional (albeit selective) rapper throughout her career, chews up scenery as voraciously as rap’s best flexers.

Beyoncé is a star that cannot be eclipsed, even when playing on terms that should (in theory) favor Jay, and he very obviously knows this; he willingly, at times even graciously, plays both husband-in-waiting and understudy, following her lead closely and egging her on. He intones the words, “It’s Beyoncé, nigga, oh my god,” on “Heard About Us” like a fanboy worshipping at her altar. He beams, shouting, “She went crazy!” after Bey springs out of a particularly prime triplet cadence on “Apeshit.” Naturally, Bey shines when ceded space, her flows surging through trap-lite thumpers and synth-pop fame-measurers alike, and Jay thrives in his unusual role serving as her reinforcements, but there are a choice few moments of perfect balance: the swaggering “Boss,” the interplay of “LoveHappy,” and the teetering rap-sung well-wisher “Friends” each strike a precise tone as off-kilter pop-rap crowning achievements. You can hear some concessions and compromises being made elsewhere, but that’s what working through trauma requires.

In keeping with its theme of everlasting love being a cure-all for what pains humanity, this album sounds like it was a blast to make– which may be its most important quality. It’s also a blast to listen to. Only on rare occasions have the Carters been this in sync in song, a reflection of a hard fought battle back to each other. “This beach ain’t always been no paradise/But nightmares only last one night,” Bey proposes on “LoveHappy.” While the album doesn’t muster the ambitious and intense highs of its two predecessors, it is one of the most satisfying event-albums in some time, and it feels like a labor of love. 

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