I never thought there would be a day that this sentence is true, but the relationship woes of Beyoncé and Jay-Z are pretty public knowledge. No, we haven’t confirmed the identity of Becky with the good hair, but between the two artists' respective albums, Lemonade and 4:44, it’s evident to everyone that there was at least a little trouble in paradise. Most recently, in interview with Dean Baquet, the executive editor of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Jay specifically named infidelity as an issue that impacted his relationship with Bey. These are certainly strange times given both Beyonce and Jay-Z’s notoriety for keeping quiet about their private life. What is not strange, however, is how impactful Lemonade and 4:44 were as both mementos of a darker time in their relationship, and bodies of work.
Lemonade, with its accompanying film, was a groundbreaking and genre-crossing album from Beyoncé that shifted the cultural conversations about Black love and womanhood. She documented a process of forgiveness and redemption following the betrayal of a cheating lover. It was the best selling album of 2016, universities offered courses to dig deeper into its themes, and it catapulted the lemon emoji from relative obscurity to an easily recognisable symbol of the masterpiece. Jay-Z’s follow up, 4:44 ventured into unchartered territory by marrying Black masculinity, emotional and mental health, and a journey towards generational wealth. 4:44 also stood as a public admission and apology for his unfaithfulness and the pain it caused his wife. He received his first Album of the Year Grammy nomination as a result of his efforts. On the backs of what was probably the lowest moment in their marriage, the two musicians reached new heights in their careers.
They are not the first musicians to do it, either. A double-sword, pain often seems to be the catalyst for some of the great artists of our time. Mary J. Blige’s early discography, which includes My Life and Share My World, solidified her title as the queen of Hip Hop Soul and established the career that is still expanding decades later. She recently addressed what was widely known during the ‘90s, which is that she made much of that music as a cry for help during depression and drug use.
Before her untimely death from alcohol poisoning, Amy Winehouse poured her struggles with love and addiction into her lyrics, and it set her apart from contemporaries, even those with comparable vocal abilities. Perhaps most recently, Kesha has bounced back from a horrific legal battle surrounding an alleged sexual assault with Rainbow, her third album that critics and fans are dubbing her best.
In his interview with T, Jay-Z explained what it was like to make 4:44. “It's very difficult,” he said. “It's hard to hear songs back. It's hard to perform ... songs, but, um, I feel it's the most important work that I've done and I'm very proud of it and the effect that it's having on people.” If the music worth listening to is all about starting conversations and making us feel things that are hard to confront under any other circumstances, it makes sense that the artists must insert quite a bit of their own trauma. Jay and Bey were not only up for the task, but able to execute it perfectly. In a perfect world, we would all be able to turn our pain into beautiful melodies for the rest of the world to enjoy. But for now, a close second is definitely listening to those who can.