Hours before Beyoncé and Jay-Z released their new album Everything Is Love on Saturday night, their camp was scrambling to complete the surprise LP. “People were still recording parts an hour and a half before the last show in London, three hours before the album was released,” says Andre Lyon, one half of Cool & Dre, who produced multiple tracks on Everything Is Love. “They were still putting last-second touches on.”
“This shit is not a game,” he tells Rolling Stone. “[Beyoncé and Jay-Z] don’t have rules. No one can get away with the things they do – and when I say get away with, I mean pull off.”
Everything Is Love was long-rumored, but the album finally came together during frenetically productive recording sessions over the last few months in Paris and Cardiff, Wales, according to conversations with Cool & Dre and the songwriter/producer duo Nova Wav (made up of Brittany “Chi” Coney and Denisia “Blu June” Andrews), who are credited on seven of the album’s 10 tracks.
Cool & Dre first got wind of the Everything Is Love project when Dre flew to Los Angeles “probably eight, nine weeks ago” to play Jay-Z some beats for potential future projects. In exchange, the rapper let him hear some duet records that he had already been working on with Beyoncé, and toward the end of the night, Dre cued up the demo for “Salud!” – which grabbed the star’s attention. “From that night, Jay kept saying, ‘Stay close,'” Dre remembers. When Beyoncé and Jay-Z flew to Paris to rehearse for the On the Run II tour, the rapper’s longtime engineer Young Guru invited Cool & Dre to come along. They set up a two-day trip, with two days turning into multiple weeks.
In Paris, as Beyoncé and Jay-Z tightened their set list and practiced their choreography, Cool & Dre worked on what would become “Summer,” “713” and “Black Effect.” (According to Dre, Beyoncé had already recorded her part on “Salud!” before Paris.) Initially, they made beats in their hotel, but Young Guru persuaded the producers to move to the same building where rehearsals were taking place. “The smartest thing we did was take our ass to that motherfucking arena and create,” Dre says. “Us being there was key. [Beyoncé and Jay-Z] would give us direction: ‘Dre, go in the vocal booth. Say this, sing this.’ We immediately get it done.” When Jay-Z heard a version of “Black Effect,” he asked the producers to re-do it with “more of a trap feel,” presumably with young listeners in mind; Cool & Dre complied.
Proximity allowed the two producers to “feed [Beyoncé and Jay-Z] beats every day”; the stars could pick and choose what material fit their needs. So when Beyoncé decided she wanted “a hardcore love song” in the vein of Method Man and Mary J. Blige’s summer standard “I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By,” Jay-Z said, “I know exactly what beat to do this to,” having already heard Cool & Dre’s early version of “713.”
As both the start of the tour and the release of the album neared, the work moved to Cardiff, the first date of the On the Run II jaunt. Coney and Andrews, who have previous credits on songs by Keyshia Cole and Tinashe, also participated in the Wales sessions. The pair originally met Jay-Z in 2014 during a session with Hit-Boy, the producer behind the rapper’s single “Niggas In Paris” and Beyoncé’s “XO.” “[Beyoncé and Jay-Z] always kept us in the loop with anything they were working on,” Andrews says. “Once [Beyoncé] went to Wales, things really started to evolve.”
The songwriters describe their Wales sessions as “very collaborative.” “[Beyoncé and Jay-Z] are involved with everything as amazing artists, amazing writers, amazing producers,” Andrews says. “We’re the supporting cast; we get in where we fit in.”
“Once [Beyoncé] went to Wales, things really started to evolve” – Denisia “Blu June” Andrews
Andrews and Coney are credited on the songs that constitute the emotional core of Everything Is Love, including “Friends,” “Black Effect” and “Lovehappy.” “A lot of times with artists, we can’t go that deep,” Coney adds. “With them, we can.”
Jay-Z’s interest in communicating vulnerability was also on display in Paris. Dre remembers the rapper giving him context before playing his first verse on “713”: “No one knows the story of how [Beyoncé and I met],” Jay-Z told them. “This is the first time I’m ever tellin’ this story.”
“Friends” contains an affectionate ode to Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s inner circle – “That was really dear to B, something she wanted to express,” Andrews says – while “Black Effect” stands as a dauntless pro-black anthem that invokes Malcolm X and takes aim at mass incarceration. During the writing sessions for the latter song, Coney remembers “everybody on one accord, trying to figure out the best way to relay the message.” “We’re all African American,” she says. “It’s really important saying certain things that are relevant to our culture. Our favorite line is, ‘I’ll never let you shoot the nose off our Pharaoh,'” a defiant statement about the defacing of non-white symbols that touches on some of the same themes as the video for “Apeshit.”
The deepest dive on the album might be the final track, “Lovehappy,” a booming, reassuring story of romantic reconciliation after infidelity and hurt – catnip for anyone who listened to the relationship drama in Lemonade and 4:44. “It’s about surviving, going through tumultuous situations but coming out on the bright side of it,” Andrews says. “That’s what love is.”
“When Jay sat down and played us the record, we thanked them for being so honest” – Brittany “Chi” Coney
“When Jay sat down and played us the record, we thanked them for being so honest,” Coney continues. “As a public figure, you don’t have to do that. He was like, ‘I really appreciate you telling us that.’ I think now, music is a little surface. With Jay and B doing what they’ve done, that lets you know how human people are. It opens you up in a different way.”
While Cool & Dre, Andrews and Coney had a firsthand view of Everything Is Life coming together in real time, others credited on the album were involved more remotely. “Heard About Us,” a shimmering, roller-rink-ready dance cut, was co-produced by !llmind, who had been working with Boi-1da, one of Drake’s most reliable beat-makers, since 2012.
“I’ll send him melodies; he’ll send me drums; we’ll go back and forth,” !llmind says. “That track [which became ‘Heard About Us’] was just another collaboration amongst probably 30 or 40 we have together that exist right now.” Boi-1da, who did not respond to requests for comment, brought in Jahaan Sweet (Kehlani, A Boogie wit da Hoodie) and another frequent Drake associate, the producer Vinylz, to help flesh out the “Heard About Us” beat, which distantly echoes Beyoncé’s “Blow.” Boi-1da was responsible for placing the record; !llmind only found out about the placement in the last month.
Leon Michels (Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey) and Homer Steinweiss (Sharon Jones, Amy Winehouse) also did not expect to end up on Everything Is Love. The two in-demand studio musicians recorded the soul groove that would play a key role in “Summer” during 2017 with their pal Tommy “TNT” Brenneck. They wanted to make something for the purpose of being sampled – all three men played on the Menahan Street Band’s “Make the Road by Walking,” which served as the source of the horns on Jay-Z’s 2007 hit “Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)…”
“We’ve seen [being sampled] elevate our careers and really help us along,” Steinweiss tells Rolling Stone. They cut a demo full of chopping rhythm guitar and sizzling percussion. “When we made it, I was like, this shit’s dope,” the drummer adds. “I haven’t listened to it again since then.” Mike Herard, A&R for Shady Records, took the song to Cool & Dre, who looped it and brought it to Beyoncé and Jay-Z. (In addition, Herard sourced the sample for “Salud!” from a producer he manages named Beat Butcha.)
But perhaps no song on Everything Is Love has a wilder story than “Boss.” Dernst “D’Mile” Emile II, an R&B wizard with writing and producing credits for Janet Jackson and Usher, is credited on the track along with Ty Dolla $ign; the song bears similarities to a previous D’Mile-Ty collaboration, “Work.” “Boss” was originally intended for Rihanna, D’Mile says, but she did not end up recording it.
The demo was touched by several other collaborators before appearing on Everything Is Love. “I don’t know how long ago, I just sat with it and added a bunch of shit,” says MeLo-X, who also wrote on Beyoncé’s Lemonade. “I just went ham with all my drums and little ideas.” D’Mile’s original trumpet lines were thickened to give the record extra oomph. Mike Dean, an engineer known for his work with Kanye West, is credited as a co-producer on the final version as well.
Neither D’Mile nor MeLo-X knew “Boss” came out until after the release of Everything Is Love. “I had no idea,” D’Mile says. “I was getting texts: this sounds like you. I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ When people hit me up, that’s when I found out.”
Additional reporting by Brendan Klinkenberg