TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The new album "Everything Is Love" is credited to The Carters - Shawn Carter and Beyonce Knowles Carter, better known as Jay-Z and Beyonce. The married couple has released a new album that's heavily autobiographical and blends hip-hop and R&B in a way that our rock critic Ken Tucker finds very intriguing.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "APE [EXPLETIVE]")
THE CARTERS: (Singing) Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Stack my money fast and go fast, fast. Fast like a Lambo. Scoot, scoot, scoot. Jumping off the stage. Crowd better savor. I can't believe we made it. This is what we made, made. This is what we're thankful. This is what we made. I can't believe we made it. This a different thing. Have you ever seen a crowd going ape [expletive]? Give me my chain.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: You can listen to "Everything Is Love" as the completion of a trilogy. In 2016, Beyonce released her album, "Lemonade," which, among many other things, discussed an extramarital affair committed by a husband commonly thought to be her own. Then in 2017, Jay-Z released his album, "4:44," in which, among many other things, he agonized and apologized for being unfaithful. Now we get an album from The Carters, Jay-Z and Beyonce presenting themselves as a united front. Husband and wife, committed partners and musicians.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUMMER")
THE CARTERS: (Singing) Let's make love in the summertime. Yeah. On the sands, beach sands, make plans to be in each other's arms. Let it breathe. Let it breathe. I want to drown in the depth of you, yeah, when the water's so blue, so blue. I need to take my time, oh, yeah, show you something real, so real, so real, so real. Let it breathe. So real. I want to you come inside right now so you know just how I feel, how I feel.
TUCKER: There are sultry grooves all over this album like that one, a song called "SUMMER." There's another alluring rhythm in "BOSS," a song dominated by Beyonce singing about being successful and in charge. She's the boss of the song title. As a soul music horn section toots affirmatively, she rattles off a verse about how the success and wealth she has is important to her not least for what she can leave behind for future generations of African-American children.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOSS")
BEYONCE: (Rapping) Ain't nothing to it - real one. Ain't nothing to it - boss. Ain't nothing to it - real one. Ain't nothing to it - boss. I pay the cost. Who's gonna take it off? I record then I ball. I've ignored a lot of calls. Click, click. You ain't talking about nothing. I ain't got no time. Got that dinero on my mind. Oh, I got real problems just like you. Tell that trick I don't like you.
TUCKER: It's very impressive the way the music here shifts easily between hip-hop rapping and R&B vocalizing, between Beyonce's deep-voice croon and Jay-Z's high-pitched exclamations. On "LOVEHAPPY," the duo swaps lines back and forth, the lyrics playfully pointed. The first words of the song are happily in love, and they seem to have reached a point in their relationship where they can joke - very ruefully - about Jay-Z's infidelity.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVEHAPPY")
BEYONCE: (Rapping) Happily in love.
JAY-Z: (Rapping) Haters, please forgive me. I let my wife write the will. I pray my children outlive me.
BEYONCE: (Rapping) I give my daughter my custom dresses, she gonna be litty (ph). Vintage pieces by the time she hits the city, yeah.
JAY-Z: (Rapping) Vintage frames, I see nobody [expletive] with him.
BEYONCE: (Rapping) Pretty thug out the third ward, hit me.
JAY-Z: (Rapping) Sir acid, like his dad's, [expletive] is trippy.
BEYONCE: (Rapping) Twinning - Blue and Rumi, me and Solo, how fitting.
JAY-Z: (Rapping) Sitting - dock of the bay with a big yacht.
BEYONCE: (Rapping) Sipping Yamazaki on the rocks.
JAY-Z: (Rapping) He went to Jared, I went to JAR out in Paris.
BEYONCE: (Rapping) Yeah, you [expletive] up the first stone, we had to get remarried.
JAY-Z: (Rapping) Yo, chill, man.
BEYONCE: (Rapping) We keeping it real with these people, right? Lucky I ain't kill you when I met that...
JAY-Z: (Rapping) Y'all know how I met her. We broke up and got back together. To get her back, I had to sweat her. Y'all could make up with a bag, I had to change the weather. Move the whole family West, but it's whatever.
BEYONCE: (Rapping) In a glass house still throwing stones.
JAY-Z: (Rapping) Hova.
BEYONCE: (Rapping) Beysus. Watch the thrones.
(Singing) Happy in love. You did some things to me. Oh, you do some things to me.
TUCKER: There's been a lot of pop music made about marriage. I'm thinking about Richard and Linda Thompson's corrosive breakup album "Shoot Out The Lights," Marvin Gaye's alimony concept album "Here, My Dear," and the ups and downs charted in the many songs written separately by split spouses Loudon Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle. This Carters album is very much in that tradition with a significant difference - the classics I just listed were about marriages that fail. This one is about a marriage that prevails years on.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEARD ABOUT US")
BEYONCE: (Singing) No need to ask, you heard about us. No need to ask, you heard about us. Already know you know about us. No need to ask, you heard about us. No need to ask, you heard about us. Watch your mouth when you're around us.
(Rapping) Pull up, hop out, wreck. Got no time, but we got Pateks. I come around stepping around on necks. My chica got nicas (ph) upset. Why? Oh, why these - so mad for? They don't want Yonce on their door, Louis slugger to your 4-door. Careful, you get what you asked for. We go to Cuba, then Aruba...
TUCKER: The music on "Everything Is Love" relies on a constant contrast between instrumental lushness and verbal starkness. This is mass-market hip-hop designed to reach the widest possible audience. And I mean that as a compliment. It's a big, complex goal, one that very few music stars even try to attempt anymore.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like this week's interview with comic W. Kamau Bell, check out our podcast. You'll find lots of interviews to choose from.
(SOUNDBITE OF HAROLD LOPEZ-NUSSA'S "HIALEAH")
GROSS: Fresh AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie, Thea Chaloner and Seth Kelley. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.