Oh lord damn Jay fucked up. Lemonade plays out what we all suspected to be true since Beyoncé but had yet to hear uttered from Beyoncé’s mouth. We’ve heard it and read it from tabloids or security footage captured elevator fights, but nothing like this. As the sequel to “Jealous” we all wanted, Lemonade begins with “Pray You Catch Me,” a song about her secretly listening in on whispered phone calls between Jay and blahblahblah and hoping he catches her listening to their conversation. “What are you doing my love?,” she says at the end. Damn Beyoncé, I heard you was conflicted.
What follows is an album of the most honest and bad-ass Beyoncé we’ve seen yet. From an alternately represented Yeah Yeah Yeahs hit tweeted by Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend to a threatening, “you ain’t married to no average bitch boy” Jack White featuring guitar head-banger, Beyoncé begins Lemonade by tackling genres she’d left untapped and making them her own while still cohesively fitting them into the context of the record. “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” the track featuring and produced by Jack White, is my favorite track on the album. It’s the most bad-ass Beyoncé’s ever been and although it may have just been a Jack White song with Beyoncé as the frontman, I think it was still very much a collaboration. My only complaint, as nit-picky as it is, is that Jack White, also a co-owner of Tidal, sings a bit of the chorus. I’m a Jack White fan so I love that this track has so much of his style on it, from the guitars and drums to the vocal processing, but his vocal additions just don’t make sense to the context of the record. His repetition of “don’t hurt yourself” kind of takes away from the world of Beyoncé’s rage and disorients the story for a bit, especially when Beyoncé is saying lines on Lemonade like “today I regret the night I put this ring on.”
Lemonade is very much a Beyoncé record and I’m not a huge fan of any of the vocal features except for James Blake on “Forward.” Jack White, though sounding good, doesn’t make sense as an added voice to the narrative since he’s not a part of it, which is the same for The Weeknd on “6 Inch,” the new working woman’s empowerment anthem. Kendrick Lamar’s feature on “Freedom” makes sense but is a little lackluster, not having that punch that I’m used to loving from Kendrick. Nonetheless, we’ve been waiting for a Kendrick-Beyoncé collaboration for awhile now, and I’m glad that we have it nonetheless. It might have been wrong for Kendrick to overshadow Beyoncé on the album anyway, so it’s still a verse I appreciate, especially with the lyrical countdown, but James Blake absolutely owns “Forward.” It means even more in the visual component, to have a white male singer have the powerful and heavily emotional track about the deaths of young black males and their surviving mothers.
The only other feature, besides Serena Williams, is Jay-Z on “Sandcastles,” and whether or not these events happened in the past or didn’t at all, I can’t imagine being Jay-Z in this situation. While I can applaud him owning up to his mistakes, if his infidelity is true, then of course he deserves all of this and more. This is Beyoncé we’re talking about. But I can’t be the only one waiting on the edge of their seat for a comment from Jay-Z. I’m not talking about a “Back to Back” diss track style response, but I don’t know what his next record could look like, or if he could even release anything in the next two years without being assaulted by the Beyhive. They’re already combing the internet for this “Becky with the good hair.” I pray this girl isn’t paranoid in a bomb shelter eating canned food right now. But Jay’s got a lot to come back from now. From people only subscribing to Tidal for the free trial month with new emails every time there’s a new exclusive release, to only saying one complete sentence in the last Drake single, it would be nice to say he’s “in a rough patch.” Sure, he hasn’t been on top in a long time. Riding the success of his past for the last 5-6 years, Jay-Z’s become more like the pope that’s still alive but isn’t the current sitting pope anymore.
Nonetheless, this record isn’t about Jay-Z. I mean, it’s about Jay-Z, but it’s about him in the context of his marriage to Beyoncé. At the turn of the record’s narrative, “Sandcastles”, a heartbreaking piano ballad where she compares their marriage promises to sandcastles that wash away when the tide comes in. It’s one of the most gritty and powerful tracks she’s had since “Listen” and the bit around the lines “bitch I scratched out your name, and your face / what is it about you that I can’t erase?” is one the most heartfelt and honest vocal performance I’ve ever heard. It hurts to listen to physically. That’s when you know it’s good, when you can feel it yourself.
Beyoncé takes a lot of risks here on Lemonade, but I feel like all of them paid off for her. She was able to make each genre change her own, and she really held back on riffs and delivered the vocals smoothly and honestly, which made the moments where she did embellish that much more special and memorable. She was also the most honest and bad-ass she’s ever been, letting so much out on Lemonade. That being said, I’m no Beyhive ride or die fan that thinks she’s some god of a human devoid of flaws, but I feel like she really uses that to dig deep into herself and her marriage this time around, delivering some of her best work to date.