The royal couple ruling the global music scene will perform two shows in Amsterdam this week during their On The Run II World Tour. It’s no surprise that Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s musical and performance skills are world class, but did you know that they also have an important message for you?
King Jay & Queen Bey
Jay-Z and Beyoncé have been regarded for decades as pioneers of the hip hop and pop music worlds. He is famous for his apt lyrics and is known as the king of flow. She is universally praised for her unequalled voice, impressive dance skills, and intense performances.
The number of albums sold and songs streamed must be in the billions by now, and they have a jaw-dropping 43 Grammys and 137 Grammy nominations between the two of them. Not to mention all the other awards they’ve won.
Bey also performed twice at the prestigious Super Bowl Halftime show and was the first African American, female headliner at Coachella festival. This turned out to be such a special performance that the festival was widely referred to as ‘Beychella’ after it finished.
Not only are they on top of the musical world, they have also built up an impressive business empire over the past few decades. This includes everything from their own record labels, streaming service Tidal, management companies and clubs, to clothing lines, a beauty company, perfume lines, and many other ventures. Jay and Bey have a fortune of around $1.16 billion to their names.
The Carters for President
Mr. and Mrs. Carter have also contributed their fair share politically. They raised $4 million through fundraisers for Barack Obama, performed during his inauguration, and later supported Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
During his acceptance speech at the Grammys this past year, fellow rapper Kendrick Lamar proclaimed: ‘Jay for President’– who knows, maybe it’ll really happen someday!
Still, the biggest impact that the couple has had can be found on a personal level; on the (self) images of entire generations of Americans and on music lovers all over the world.
Jay-Z is the personification of the American Dream, from living out his childhood in the ghetto, to becoming a pioneer of West Coast hip hop, and eventually growing into one of the most successful American businessmen of all time.
Bey was already inspiring many young women to be ‘Independent Women’ as the teenage frontwoman of Destiny’s Child. At the beginning of her solo career, she went a step further by showcasing her alter-ego, Sasha Fierce, a strong, independent, worldly woman. Her most recent album Lemonade has proven her to be a powerful Black Lives Matter activist.
A unique combination
‘Credible’ music usually only reaches certain niches of music lovers, and the messages behind mainstream music usually aren’t picked up on by the masses. King and Queen Carter overcome this by packaging their meaningful messages in a credible manner, still reaching and inspiring a large audience; a unicum.
But who are Jay and Bey exactly? And what message do they want to convey? It’s all written in the lyrics! A portrait of the King and Queen of the current music world in 5 songs.
5. You Must Love Me – Jay-Z (In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, 1997) / Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) – Jay-Z (Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, 1998)
Shawn Corey Carter was born on December 4, 1969, in New York. He grew up in ‘Marcy Projects’, a disadvantaged district of Brooklyn. His father was a heroin addict who abandoned the family when Shawn was just 11 months old, making things very difficult financially for the Carter family.
Life in the ghetto was hard and he started down the wrong path by dealing crack cocaine. In You Must Love Me he describes how he shot his own brother in the shoulder because he tried to steal jewels from him. Jay was just 12 years old at the time.
Saw the devil in your eyes
High off more than weed
Confused I just closed
My young eyes and squeezed <gunshot>
What a sound
Opened my eyes just in time
To see ya stumbling to the ground
You Must Love Me – Jay Z
Jay started rapping from a young age and was very well-known in his neighbourhood because of it. Despite this, he initially didn’t want to join any record label who offered him a contract. He sold his first CDs from the back of his car. This was the beginning of the Roc-A-Fella Records, the record label that he started together with two of his friends.
The first big hit that Jay scored was Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem), a song in which he describes his difficult childhood and his big ambitions:
From standin’ on the corners, boppin’
To drivin’ some of the hottest cars New York has ever seen
For droppin’ some of the hottest verses rap has ever heard
From the dope spot, with the smoke Glock
Fleein’ the murder scene, you know me well
From nightmares of a lonely cell, my only hell
But since when y’all niggas know me to fail? Fuck naw
Where all my niggas with the rubber grips bust shots
And if you with me, mama, rub on your tits, and what-not
I’m from the school of the hard knocks, you must not
Let outsiders violate our blocks and my plot
Let’s stick up the world and split it 50/50, uh-huh
Let’s take the dough and stay real jiggy, uh-huh
And sip the Cris’ and get pissy-pissy
Flow infinitely like the memory of my nigga Biggie, baby!
You know it’s hell when I come through
The life and times of Shawn Carter, nigga, Volume 2
Y’all niggas get ready!
It’s the hard knock life for us
It’s the hard knock life for us
Instead of treated, we get tricked
Instead of kisses, we get kicked
It’s the hard knock life!
Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) – Jay-Z
This song was the first in a long line of global hits.
4. Independent Woman Part 1 – Destiny’s Child (Survivor, 2001)
Whilst Jay was doing his thing in the concrete jungle of New York, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles was born in in 1981 in Houston, Texas. As the daughter of a sales manager and the owner of a hair salon, she grew up in an upper middle class family who were much better off than Jay’s.
She was already making waves during talent shows at a very young age and, at the age of 8, she was partnered with Kelly Rowland and LaTavia Robertson to form a band called Girl’s Tyme. They competed on a national TV show, but didn’t win. In 1995, Beyoncé’s father Matthew Knowles decided to quit his job in order to manage the group.
They changed their name to Destiny’s Child and scored their first big hit, No No No, in 1998. The makeup of the group changed a few times, but in their heyday the lineup consisted of Beyoncé, Kelly, and Michelle Williams.
Destiny’s Child was hugely popular for years, and had huge global hits with songs like Say My Name, Bootylicious, and Survivor. They’re all powerful pop songs about ‘girl power’. Independent Woman Part 1– which was on the soundtrack of Charlie’s Angels- is a great example of the kinds of themes they touch on in their repertoire.
Question; tell me what you think about me
I buy my own diamonds and I buy my own rings
Only ring your celly when I’m feelin lonely
When it’s all over please get up and leave
Question; tell me how you feel about this
Try to control me boy, you get dismissed
Pay my own car note and I pay my own bills
Always 50/50 in relationships
The shoes on my feet
I bought it
The clothes I’m wearing
I bought it
The rock I’m rocking
I bought it
Cause I depend on me
If I want it
All the women, who are independent
Throw your hands up at me
All the honeys, who making money
Throw your hands up at me
All the mommas, who profit dollars
Throw your hands up at me
All the ladies, who truly feel me
Throw your hands up at me
Independent Woman Part 1 – Destiny’s Child
In 2001 and 2002, Bey took different roles in films and TV series, releasing some singles for their soundtracks.
Her first ‘real’ solo single was released in 2002: ’03 Bonnie & Clyde, together with none other than…. Jay-Z. This song marks the beginning of her successful solo career as well as their relationship.
3. Crazy In Love – Beyoncé ft. Jay-Z (Dangerously in Love, 2003)
’03 Bonnie & Clyde started big rumours about a possible relationship between the two musicians, but in later interviews they revealed that they’d already been dating since 2000.
The relationship wasn’t officially made public until 2004, but we can assume that Crazy In Love, which they released together in 2003, is very autobiographical…
It’s history in the making
Part two, it’s so crazy right now
I look and stare so deep in your eyes
I touch on you more and more every time
When you leave I’m begging you not to go
Call your name two or three times in a row
Such a funny thing for me to try to explain
How I’m feeling and my pride is the one to blame
Cause I know I don’t understand
Just how your love can do what no one else can
Got me looking so crazy right now
Your love’s got me looking so crazy right now (your love)
Crazy In Love – Beyoncé ft. Jay-Z
The couple married in a private ceremony in 2008, and announced during the 2011 MTV VMAs that they were happily expecting a daughter. Blue Ivy was born a few months later and the family grew once again in 2017, with the birth of twins, Rumi and Sir.
2. Sorry – Beyoncé (Lemonade, 2016) / 4:44 / Family Feud – Jay-Z (4:44, 2017)
Despite all this, their relationship is not always blissful. Jay-Z cheated on Beyoncé, affecting her deeply. The couple usually keeps their private life exactly that – private, but in this case they, were both very open in their lyrics.
Beyoncé released the visual album Lemonade in April 2016; 12 tracks with accompanying (and impressive!) music videos about discovery, processing, and forgiving Jay-Z’s cheating.
Every song forms a chapter in this difficult period and touches on a different theme: intuition, denial, anger, apathy, emptiness, accountability, reformation, forgiveness, resurrection, hope, redemption, and formation.
Sorry, not sorry
Sorry symbolises the apathetic phase. By now, Bey is numb to everything that’s happened and Jay shouldn’t expect any apologies from her anytime soon. Sorry, not sorry.
Sorry, I ain’t sorry
Sorry, I ain’t sorry
I ain’t sorry, nigga, nah
Middle fingers up, put them hands high
Wave it in his face, tell him, boy, bye
Tell him, boy, bye, boy, bye, middle fingers up
I ain’t thinking ’bout you
In this song, she takes back complete control about her (emotional) life.
Now you want to say you’re sorry
Now you want to call me crying
Now you gotta see me wilding
Now I’m the one that’s lying
And I don’t feel bad about it
It’s exactly what you get
Stop interrupting my grinding
(You interrupting my grinding)
I ain’t thinking ’bout you
‘Grinding’ is not only a reference to sexy dance moves in the club, but also to working hard until she reaches everything she wants to reach. She uses this word in the same context in Formation: ‘I dream it, I work hard, I grind ‘til I own it’.
She ends Sorry with:
He only want me when I’m not there
He better call Becky with the good hair
Sorry – Beyoncé
Becky with the good hair
When the album came out, there was a lot of speculation about who ‘Becky with the good hair’ could be. There has been gossip for decades about Jay-Z’s possible mistresses; he’s supposedly been caught with his fingers in the figurative cookie jar with singer Rita Ora, TV star Casey Cohen, and Belgian beauty Claudia Scheelen.
‘Typical white girls’ who are obsessed with Starbucks, Uggs, and the ongoing quest for a bigger butt are often referred to as ‘Becky‘ within the African American community. The term could be applied to any of these women.
But when fashion designer, Rachel Roy, made an Instagram post with the caption ‘Good Hair, don’t care’ a mere few hours after the release of Lemonade, all fingers were pointed at her as being the inspiration behind the album. Whoever it may be, Jay lets us know that it’s all over between him and Becky on his apologetic album 4:44.
Hova through the dust
In the title track 4:44, Hova offers an honest look into his relationship with Beyoncé and shows us the full breadth of his repentance. In the first verse, he sings about the miscarriage that Bey had before the birth of Blue Ivy, as well as his absence around the time of this event:
I seen the innocence leave your eyes
I still mourn this death and
I apologize for all the stillborns cause I wasn’t present
Your body wouldn’t accept it
He offers his apologies and shares what has real meaning to him in life:
I apologize, our love was one for the ages and I contained us
And all this ratchet shit and we more expansive
Not meant to cry and die alone in these mansions
Or sleep with our back turned
We supposed to vacay ‘til our backs burn
He feels regret and finds himself to be incapable of loving….
I never wanted another woman to know
Something about me that you didn’t know
I promised, I cried, I couldn’t hold
I suck at love, I think I need a do-over
I will be emotionally available if I invited you over
And asks himself if he’s lost her forever…
I stew over, what if you over my shit?
4:44 – Jay-Z
In the song Family Feud, he makes it clear that he never intends to cheat again…
Yeah, I’ll fuck up a good thing if you let me
Let me alone, Becky
A man that don’t take care his family can’t be rich
Family Feud – Jay-Z ft. Beyoncé
On Lemonade, Bey finally lets us know that she’s forgiven him. You can draw the conclusion that love conquers all, summed up nicely in the makeup sex song All Night:
I’ve seen your scars and kissed your crime
Only time will tell whether there is an expiry date on this relationship.
Critics claim that Mr and Mrs Carter’s public airing of their dirty laundry is merely a smart commercial move; that they have to push the boat out to stay on top after years of success.
On the other hand, they don’t have much choice, as every single move the couple makes is scrutinised by the media. At least the way they do things means that they have their own say in how things are made public.
On top of this, Jay has always been praised for his lyrical authenticity, and the point that Bey wanted to make with Lemonade would never have been as strong as it was if she had not described how low her rock bottom landing actually was.
If you watch the entire visual album, it’s not only her journey from the discovery up until the forgiveness of the cheating that is impactful, but the detail with which she describes it. She takes us all the way down to her deepest low, and rises up step by step like a powerful phoenix from the ashes of her battered relationship. This flight wouldn’t have soared to such great heights if we hadn’t also been witness to the fire which birthed it.
However, the message behind Lemonade isn’t just about Beyoncé’s personal life and her coping with her emotional suffering. For the first time in her career, Queen Bey takes a clear stance on a societal issue. This is made very clear in Freedom– an incredibly powerful battle song made together with Pulitzer Prize winning lyrical activist, Kendrick Lamar – and in the album’s final track, Formation.
1. Formation – Beyoncé & Mike WiLL Made-It (Lemonade, 2016)
Beyoncé had been criticised for remaining uninvolved during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. BLM is an organisation that fights against police brutality, racial profiling, and excessive punishment of African Americans in the American judicial system.
She simply needed time. Bey wouldn’t be Bey if she didn’t make the biggest possible impact with regards to such an important issue. She didn’t speak about it in an interview or a tweet, but dropped a very well thought out, symbolically rich, cultural bombshell: Formation.
In the middle of Black History Month, during which Jay’s streaming service, Tidal, made a $1.5 million donation to the Black Lives Matter movement, Bey released the video for Formation, exactly one day before performing it live during the 50th Super Bowl Halftime Show. More than 112 million viewers witnessed a very clear statement, and Formation became the anthem for the BLM movement in the blink of an eye. Queen Bey became the movement’s poster girl.
Hard criticism & personal pride
How did she make such a clear statement? On the one hand, by explicitly showing symbols of struggle and criticism of modern society, and on the other hand, by making it very clear that she has great pride in her own history and roots.
A few examples of her explicitly combative and critical expression:
- During her Super Bowl performance, Bey is accompanied by an ‘army’ of black dancers, all with Afros and berets. They form an arrow, followed by an X: an homage to Malcolm X and the Black Panther movement;
- In the music video, which is filmed in New Orleans, Beyoncé sits on a floating police car. The flooded neighbourhood is a familiar image which was seen so often after the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. Bey slowly sinks until she is fully submerged by the end of the song;
- The clip also contains a very clear reference to police brutality. A boy in a hoodie throws his arms in the air, after which an entire police cordon mimics his movement. For those who haven’t gotten the reference yet, a shot of a graffiti’d wall follows. The text on the wall? It says, ‘Stop shooting us.’
Spot on Lyrics
The lyrics are also filled with references. The intro is a sample from a video by YouTube personality Messy Mya. Messy was from New Orleans and made videos about his neighbourhood. He was murdered in 2010 on the way to the baby shower of his unborn child. In this video you hear him say:
What happened at the New Wil’ins?
New Wil’ins means New Orleans.
In the lyrics that follow, Bey speaks proudly about her past, making short work of the criticism she’s received.
Y’all haters corny with that Illuminati mess
The IIlluminati is a secret society founded in the 18th century in order to protect the study of Enlightenment. Bey and Jay are ‘suspected’ members of the society.
Paparazzi, catch my fly and my cocky fresh
I’m so reckless when I rock my Givenchy dress (stylin’)
She silences the paparazzi by looking flawless and by acting how she wants to; reckless.
In Jay’s track Public Service Announcement, he says ‘Got the hottest chick in the game wearin’ my chain’- referring to his Roc-A-Fella chain. But Bey is in charge here, she turns it around:
I’m so possessive so I rock his Roc necklaces
She then refers to her roots:
My daddy Alabama, momma Louisiana,
You mix that Negro with that Creole, make a Texas bama
Her father is an African American from Alabama, while her mother comes from Louisiana. She is part French Canadian, which is known as Creole in Louisiana, which has even been seen as a separate race from black or white in the past.
‘Bama’ is a sobriquet for African Americans from the working classes of the American south who tried to make it to the North during the Great Migration. She bears this name proudly.
I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros
An online petition was started in 2014 to encourage the couple to comb Blue Ivy’s hair better. Bey answers by saying the she loves the hair of her ‘baby heir’ (the heir to the Carter dynasty).
I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils
There was also a rumour that went around in 2013 that Bey, like Michael Jackson, had had a nose job. This proved to be untrue.
Earned all this money, but they never take the country out me|
I got hot sauce in my bag, swag
However rich she may be, Bey will never forget where she came from. Like any real Southerner, she always has hot sauce in her bag to spice up her food.
The real words of motivation come in the chorus:
I see it, I want it, I stunt, yellow bone it
‘Yellow bone it’ is a reference to the accusations she has faced in the past that she bleached her skin. She is proud of her (lighter) yellow-tinted skin that she naturally has.
I dream it, I work hard, I grind ‘til I own it
I twirl on them haters, albino alligators
El Camino with the seat low, sippin’ Cuervo with no chaser
Bey takes control, whatever happens to her. She goes totally her own direction.
Sometimes I go off (I go off), I go hard (I go hard)
Get what’s mine (take what’s mine), I’m a star (I’m a star)
Cause I slay (slay), I slay (hey), I slay (okay), I slay (okay)
All day (okay), I slay (okay), I slay (okay), I slay (okay)
We gon’ slay (slay), gon’ slay (okay), we slay (okay), I slay (okay)
I slay (okay), okay (okay), I slay (okay), okay, okay, okay, okay
‘Slay’ can be interpreted as achieving something fantastic, conquering something, dominating something.
Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, ‘cause I slay
Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, ‘cause I slay
Prove to me you got some coordination, ‘cause I slay
Slay trick, or you get eliminated
How does she achieve all of this? By joining forces with her African American sisters. This fits perfectly with the philosophy of the Black Lives Matter movement, in which women play a very prominent role.
Following the release of Formation, the hashtag #blackgirlmagic was widely used to celebrate the achievements of black women.
She ends the bridge with:
You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation
Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper
Formation – Beyoncé
Bam! Crystal clear. Impactful, but gracious as always.
History in the making
Will you be attending the OTR II Tour on Tuesday or Wednesday? Enjoy the (undoubtedly) sensational show! Hopefully this article has helped you better understand what makes this power couple so special. Mr. and Mrs. Carter aren’t exaggerating when they say ‘It’s history in the making’.
Curious about the story behind APESHIT and the brand new album Everything Is Love? We looked into it in APESHIT is the shit – this is why. If you found this article interesting, you might also like What are Kendrick Lamar’s songs actually about?
Stay up to date!
– You Must Love Me is written by Nashiem Myrick / Shawn Carter / Bunny Sigler / Ronald Tyson © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, The Administration MP Inc, 1997
– Hard Knock Life is written by: Shawn C Carter / Martin Charnin / Mark James / Charles Strouse © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, 1998
– Independent Women Part II is written by Mark Rooney / Samuel Barnes / Jean Olivier / Beyonce Knowles © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, 2001
– Crazy In Love is written by Rich Harrison / Shawn Carter / Beyonce Knowles / Eugene Records © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, 2003
– Sorry is written by Rashad Muhammad / Chauncey Hit Boy Hollis / Beyonce Giselle Knowles / Diana E.P. Gordon / Sean Melo X Rhoden © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, BMG Rights Management, 2016
– 4:44 is written by Shawn Carter / Ernest Dion Wilson / Kanan Howard Keeney © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, BMG Rights Management, 2017
– Family Feud is written by Beyonce Giselle Knowles / Elbernita Clark / Ernest Dion Wilson / Shawn Carter © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, BMG Rights Management, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, 2017
– Formation is written by Asheton Hogan / Aaquil Iben Shamon Brown / Khalif Malik Ibin Shaman Brown / Beyonce Giselle Knowles / Michael Len Williams © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, 2016