Culture


Everything Is Love, Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s new joint album, is an affirmative statement about art, music, and politics, at a time in this country when that’s a particularly potent blend. In particular, “Apeshit,” The Carters’ lead single, and its accompanying visual, place Jay-Z and Beyoncé at the center of a conversation about legacy and art history itself. In the video, the Carters lead us on a tour of a repurposed Louvre museum: a look back at the empire, reconfigured, reclaimed, and rehistoricized. Beyoncé and dancers line up in front of Jacques-Louis David’s epic 1807 painting The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine; Jay-Z joins her in front of the imposing Great Sphinx of Tanis, a figure with the body of a lion and the head of a king. Amongst all this historical royalty, The Carters stand, and create even more art—a right they’ve earned.

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Everything Is Love also pays tribute to the bonds that make humans into family. It is joyous, but not naïve; it is a rebellion against nihilism. It is about recognizing how much we and the things we create together matter. Art and love are gifts, plain and simple, even when they cost you something. It is a radically optimistic record, both sonically and lyrically; the “Apeshit” video’s closing frame leaves us with Beyoncé and Jay-Z looking at one another and then to the Mona Lisa, leaving us with hints that this might just be the beginning and that there is more of this story to be told.

As I watched “Apeshit,” I felt compelled to note a few of the art works, artists, thinkers, and resources that it invoked or called to mind. Here’s my own Everything Is Love “tracklist”—12 books, resources, thinkers, and films riffing on the references and responses to the Carters’ impactful new release.

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1. Blues People: Negro Music in White America by LeRoi JonesThis seminal 1963 work traces the evolution of Black American culture and history through its music. It particularly examines the blues as the foundational musical art form for all other genres in America.

Blues People: Negro Music in White America by LeRoi Jones READ

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2. Writer, curator, and activist Kimberly Rose Drew’s Twitter feed, @museummammyDrew, the social media manager at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is working with Jenna Wortham on a forthcoming volume on contemporary Black art and media culture called Black Futures. Her Twitter feed is a virtual classroom for both the learned and the lay art and pop culture fan, and has been a great source for takes on the art references from “Apeshit.” Highlights include a snippet from her own interview with Carrie Mae Weems.

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3. “Illusions” (1982)This acclaimed short film by Julie Dash, the director of Daughters of the Dust, stars Lonette McKee as Mignon Dupree, a 1940s black movie executive passing for white. Through her job at National Studios, Dupree hopes she can (re)construct public memory. Like The Carters, Dash expertly uses the aesthetics of dominant culture to subvert its own values.

4. Africandigitalart.com—Founded and maintained by digital artist Jepchumba, this online platform is dedicated to the contemporary art of the African continent. Its featured artists direct the gaze away from the West and represent the art of now and the future.

5. “Sorry For Questioning Your Infinite Wisdom, Beyoncé,” by Michael Arceneaux“The Beyoncé I have been craving is finally back in full form. The Beyoncé who talks her shit. The Beyoncé who out-raps the greatest rapper of all time.” In this feelgood piece, Arceneaux reminds us that for the vintage Beyoncé fan, her Everything Is Love rapping ain’t nothing new; her commitment to singing like we speak down south is just one of the reasons we love her.

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6. “Wildcat” by Khalil JosephSet in the Oklahoma town of Grayson, this beautiful black and white film examines the roots and the legacy of Black rodeo culture. The urban horseman is a frequent motif in Black American culture and makes an appearance in the “Apeshit” visual; though the horseman is a long way from home, it’s a visual reminder that wherever The Carters go, they bring their heritage with them.

From The Carters' Apeshit

7. The Kingdom of Zydeco by Michael TisserandThis book examines the vast universe of zydeco music and the southern regions of Louisiana and Texas that gave rise to it. Dominated usually by a fast tempo, piano accordion, and washboard, this genre of music combines the traditions of its Cajun, West African, and Native American creators. Infused with elements of jazz, blues, rock and roll, and R&B, zydeco’s frenetic beauty reminds one of the seamless way Everything Is Love fuses all of these Black American musical traditions.

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8. Black Eyed Susans, Midnight Birds: Stories by and about Black Women, edited by Mary Helen WashingtonBeyoncé reminds us on the song “Friends” how much trusted peers can matter in a brutal industry: “Gon’ pull me up…And never let me drown.” Featuring two anthologies in one volume, this collection features short stories from iconic Black women writers including Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Toni Cade Bambara. Morrison has referred frequently to the support she received from Bambara and others; the friendship of these writers is an example to us all.

Black Women Midnight Birds

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9. “Uses of the Erotic as Power” by Audre LordeFrom Sister Outsider, this is a beautiful essay examining the erotic as a tool of power often used against women but also as a source for the reclamation of self. How The Carters and specifically Beyoncé continue to work this concept is a marvel; in “Apeshit,” she positions herself as an unapologetic living embodiment of the Venus de Milo. Said to depict the Greek goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite (Venus), the statue’s presence echoes Everything Is Love’s theme of love as a powerful eternal force.

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10. Going to Meet the Man by James BaldwinThroughout the album, Jay-Z muses on his complex relationship with the acquisition of capital and liberation politics. In this haunting collection of eight short stories, Baldwin examines family, creativity, mortality, and the terror of how humans learn to love and hate. Start with “This Morning, This Evening Soon,” in which the narrator spends a night in Paris with his family and fellow Black American musicians, reflecting on what liberty means.

Recent Histories, Contemporary African Photography and Video Art: The Walther Collection

11. Recent Histories: Contemporary African Photography and Video Art, The Walther CollectionFeaturing the work of fourteen contemporary artists of African descent, the volumes examines colonialism, inheritance, movement, and migration (forced and voluntary). The Carters, as Black American entertainers, keep these discussions inextricable from pop culture.

12. People of Color in European Art HistoryThis extensive Tumblr catalogs the presence of Black and other people of color in pre-Enlightenment European art. Focusing mainly on the period between the fall of the Roman Empire to 1650, the site aims to replace the dominant narratives of Europe’s all-white identity with a more expansive look at the landscape of history.





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