A summer already full of high-profile hip-hop releases just got hotter. NPR Music's Ann Powers and Rodney Carmichael break down the surprise release of Jay-Z and Beyoncé's joint album, Everything Is Love, and explore how it sounds both on its own and compared to the competition.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUMMER")
BEYONCE: (Singing) Let's make love in the summertime, yeah. On the sands, beach sands, make plans to be in each other's arms.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
A surprise music release by the first family of hip-hop is making a run for best summer album. This weekend, Beyonce and Jay-Z as the Carters released "EVERYTHING IS LOVE." It's the final part of their marriage trilogy. Here to talk about it, music critic Ann Powers. Hey there, Ann.
ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: And hip-hop writer Rodney Carmichael, both of NPR Music. Hey there, Rodney.
RODNEY CARMICHAEL, BYLINE: Hey, what's going on, Audie?
CORNISH: So on "Lemonade," you have Beyonce calling out her husband for cheating. On "4:44," Jay-Z is basically apologizing. And now this album is about forgiveness and love. First impressions, Rodney?
CARMICHAEL: Man, I really love it. This album is so on time for me. It really woke up my weekend.
CORNISH: (Laughter) You need a little love in your weekend, Rodney?
CARMICHAEL: Well, it's not exactly that. I needed some inspiration and some inspired hip-hop. And I was not hearing it from some of the more anticipated releases that came out over the weekend.
CORNISH: Ann Powers, what about you?
POWERS: Yeah, this album definitely has a lot of the Markle sparkle. I'm thinking about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. We've got another royal family making a statement. It's a real mood lifter at a point when we all need that in our lives.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "APES**T")
QUAVO: (Singing) Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
CORNISH: I want to talk about the first video because everyone is talking about it. It was set in Paris in The Louvre.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "APES**T")
BEYONCE: (Singing) Stack my money fast and go.
QUAVO: (Singing) Fast, fast.
BEYONCE: (Singing) Fast like a Lambo.
QUAVO: (Singing) Skrrt-skrrt-skrrt (ph).
CORNISH: You have Jay-Z and Beyonce striking all manner of pose in front of some of the biggest art in the world, including the Mona Lisa at one point. I didn't know you could rent that space out. Rodney, what about this stands out?
CARMICHAEL: I think the fact that they chose to shoot it there and they chose to make this really kind of explicit statement about the value of blackness and in this very, you know, exclusive white space where there is little to almost no black art hanging on the walls. And they created a living art piece in that space. I think it's pretty dramatic.
CORNISH: Ann Powers, did you see it as a performance piece?
POWERS: Sometimes I think that Beyonce and Jay-Z are living inside a Kehinde Wiley painting - Wiley, who painted Barack Obama's presidential portrait and is known for creating these beautiful elevated portraits of African-American young men, especially, in regal garb. And Jay-Z and Beyonce seem very in touch with the 21st century black arts movement, exposing a whole culture, not just their own taste and aesthetic. But to me, everything they do and especially everything Beyonce does is about elevating a community and an aesthetic and a vision in all the arts.
CORNISH: At the same time, this has actually been a really big month for hip-hop because besides this surprise album, you had Kanye West releasing his own album and producing the album of other big names - Kid Cudi, Nas and Pusha T, who famously got into a big social media beef with the artist Drake, who also has a bunch of singles out now. Can you talk about why the Carters are able to punch through all that?
CARMICHAEL: Authenticity in rap has always been about transparency, right? Back in the day, we called it keeping it real, you know? And at a moment where you have all of these really major male figures in the genre being less than transparent or scared to address allegations of spousal abuse or, you know, secret paternity, you have a woman like Beyonce keeping Jay-Z honest on a public stage about infidelity, you know?
And I think that's about the most hip-hop thing that you can have happen right now.
POWERS: Well, yes, I agree with Rodney that the public dynamic of Beyonce and Jay-Z and her taking him to task over the course of many years now and him - his entire career seems to have become begging for forgiveness. It's fascinating, really. But I also want to point out that this album is one in which Beyonce focuses on her own skills, the ultimate influencer in rap as well as R&B and pop.
And, man, to have a woman at the top of that right now, that's super exciting and influential, I think.
CORNISH: And before I let this go, I want to ask you a question, which is what's going on in, like, rock or country or just pop? Like, are these other genres failing to generate the same kind of conversation as hip-hop and how come?
POWERS: Well, one reality in the 21st century, Audie, is that while hip-hop is the most listened to genre and definitely dominates the cultural conversation, rock, it soldiers on, it plods on, it floats on, however you want to say. And the number one record this past week has been by the Dave Matthews Band. These artists like Dave Matthews - John Mayer has a new single, new album coming - they are not interesting to critics maybe because there doesn't seem to be a lot new to say about someone like Dave Matthews.
But they are still important to a lot of people. And a lot of people this summer are going to be going to see Dave Matthews.
CORNISH: Ann Powers and Rodney Carmichael of NPR Music, thank you both.
CARMICHAEL: Thanks a lot.
POWERS: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.