There was never any doubt that Beyoncé would prove to be a survivor. No one was too concerned that she wouldn’t be able to bounce back from whatever career setback or marital infraction was thrown at her. She was always going to survive and thrive, even if her marriage didn’t.
The same went for her husband, Jay-Z. He’s been a hip-hop-and-beyond mogul for decades and, celebrating his 51st birthday Dec. 4, has amassed too much cachet in the music and business worlds to be threatened by just any old scandal. The billionaire would’ve been maligned, pretty fairly, as the root of all their troubles, and then eventually the world would’ve moved on.
But there was real doubt for awhile that Beyoncé and Jay-Z were going to come out on the other side together, their empire fully intact.
And yet here they are, married for 12 years, having toured together, recorded together and produced three children together. Seriously, everything really is love.
When thousands of fans packed arenas around the world in 2018 to witness the couple’s On the Run II Tour, they witnessed a wife, husband, Lemonade, 4:44, all their issues, all the drama, the sheer force of their indomitable connection—all there, right on the stage. Ever seen the crowd goin’ apes–t?
The savvy couple had winked at their checkered love story with their tour announcement, setting it to Marcia Aitken‘s “I’m Still in Love With You,” the soulful strains of the reggae tune a nod to their musical influences, the artists who helped pave the way for them and, of course, the not-too-long-ago speculation that Bey and Jay were about to go bust.
But despite the millions of records sold and dollars earned, the carefully orchestrated Instagram posts and the political activism, at the heart of the mega-brand they’ve been steadily building for the better part of two decades are two people who’ve reached the top of the mountain together, but who have also weathered heartache, loss and public embarrassment. They’re ultimately just two people trying to make it work—they just happen to be geniuses at spinning their most normal attributes into gold.
From the beginning of their much-chronicled but still fairly mysterious relationship, Beyoncé and Jay-Z were applauded for, basically, not being ridiculous. For not hogging the tabloid headlines with bad behavior, such was very much in fashion among the young Hollywood set, and for not giving away too much—or anything at all—about their relationship. They couldn’t help the presence of photographers who would eagerly greet them at events or follow them around on date nights, but their lips were sealed.
They first crossed paths when Beyoncé was about 18 and Jay-Z would have just turned 30, when Bey’s father and manager Matthew Knowles arranged for her to appear on the 2000 track “I Got That” by Amil, who was on Jay’s Roc-A-Fella Records. They actually shared their first magazine cover (along with 10 other people, including Beck, a midriff-flashing Gwen Stefani and still-with-us David Bowie and Chris Cornell) in 2001, for Vanity Fair‘s music issue. They weren’t even on the same side of the fold.
Jay told VF in 2013 that he and Bey “were just beginning to try to date each other” when the cover was shot.
Though Bey has spent pretty much the entirety of her adult life devoted to Mr. Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, she had a non-famous longtime boyfriend whom, unsurprisingly, she grew apart from as Destiny’s Child took off, and during her short window of singlehood she managed to be linked to everyone from Kobe Bryant to Mos Def to Nas, though she didn’t actually date any of them.
In October 2001, Destiny’s Child and Jay-Z both played the post-9/11 Concert for New York City benefit at Madison Square Garden, and that’s reportedly where they finally had a real, face-to-face conversation for the first time. He asked for her number and they spent a few months talking on the phone.
“He’s nice,” Beyoncé said, according to J. Randy Taraborrelli’s 2015 biography Becoming Beyoncé, “but I don’t know…I’m not feelin’ him.” Apparently it was mom Tina Knowles who encouraged her to at least give him a chance—one date and see what happens.
Jay brought a lengthier romantic history to the table, having dated the likes of Aaliyah and Rosario Dawson. But supposedly he was down for the count when he met Beyoncé.
Beyonce Shares Intimate Photos of Jay-Z & Her Kids
“There was no rush—no one expected me to run off and get married,” Bey recalled to Seventeen in 2008. “I really don’t believe that you will love the same thing when you’re 20 as you do at 30. So that was my rule: Before the age of 25, I would never get married. I feel like you have to get to know yourself, know what you want, spend some time by yourself, and be proud of who you are before you can share that with someone else.”
In 2002 they joined forces on “03 Bonnie and Clyde” (a precursor to their “on the run” theme), which ended up on Jay’s The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse and Bey’s debut solo album, Dangerously in Love, and Jay was on her tracks “Crazy in Love” and “That’s How You Like It.”
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Jay said that he first recruited Bey for “03 Bonnie and Clyde” “because I wanted a singer on the song, and I knew one who was exceptional.” He said matter-of-factly that their collaboration was mutually beneficial. “We exchanged audiences,” he said. “Her records are huge Top 40 records, and she helped ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ go to number one. What I gave her was a street credibility, a different edge.”
“I am trying to date, but there’s no one special,” Bey said in July 2002, according to the Jay-Z biography Empire State of Mind. “The crazy thing is everyone tries to hook me up with somebody. I’m scared and I didn’t want to go out with anybody for a long time.”
Asked if they were dating in real life, Jay told Playboy in 2003, “She’s beautiful. Who wouldn’t wish she was their girlfriend? Maybe one day.”
But they were totally off to the races, regardless.
They were photographed in the South of France, bringing toys to kids in need on Christmas, courtside watching the Knicks, at the Vanity Fair Oscar party… They were an extraordinarily compelling glamorous yet low-key couple from day one.
They finally made their red carpet debut at the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards (seven years before Bey would memorably reveal her baby bump at the VMAs), confirming one of the lesser-kept secrets in Hollywood.
It really wasn’t until 2005, speaking to Vanity Fair, that Bey talked much about her feelings for Jay.
Asked if she was as in love as she seemed in the “Crazy in Love” video with the rapper, she said, “Yes, it was very real. And when we did that video, everybody [looking at her] was like, ‘Who is that?’ Because for the first time I danced all the way. I let go.”
Beyoncé emphasized that their relationship was more than a mutually beneficial business partnership. “We give each other advice, but we respect each other’s business, and we don’t really get involved with that,” she said. “When I’m not working, I don’t want to talk about business. I don’t want to think about it. I want to turn my phone off.”
At the time she was working on her 2006 album B’Day, which featured “Irreplaceable” and would tease the ultra-independent, nobody-will-ever-hold-me-down side of Beyoncé who would have her formal coming-out party on 2008’s I Am… Sasha Fierce. Throughout her solo career she’s also explored the enjoyment she’s found in treating her man like a king. 2013’s Beyoncé would in turn make marriage sound as hot as any courtship, with the artist detailing more explicitly than ever what sort of activities helped keep the romance alive.
“I know I’m stronger in the songs than I really am,” she mused to Marie Claire in 2009. “Sometimes I need to hear it myself. We all need to hear those empowering songs to remind us.”
But in 2005, she told Vanity Fair about the juxtaposition of themes in her music, “I grew up. I feel it’s still very strong, because in order to be a strong woman, you have to have a strong man. There’s nothing wrong with women doing that for their man if their man deserves it and he does the same for you.”
In the absence of many details to go on, there was speculation on any given day that Bey and Jay were engaged, secretly married or possibly expecting.
At the end of the day, “there’s no way I can know every person in the world, and people just know you from what they read,” Beyoncé concluded. “When people meet me, they say they think I’m so normal…If someone says I’m married or engaged and I’m not, I don’t pay attention to it. But when someone says something about my family, I don’t like that.”
In 2007, Jay-Z ducked all girlfriend questions during a Rolling Stone interview, only saying, “It’s difficult enough to have a relationship with your relatives involved. To have millions of people involved—that’s messed up!”
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When they did finally decide to get married, on April 4, 2008, they kept their New York nuptials as private as possible. They didn’t sell the pictures to a magazine. In fact, it would be about five years before Beyoncé decided to start sharing photos and videos from that night.
“What Jay and I have is real,” she told Essence in 2009. “It’s not about interviews or getting the right photo op. It’s real.” They opted for matching “IV” (4) tattoos on their fingers instead of wedding rings because “people put too much emphasis on that. It’s just material, and it’s just silly to me.”
About the common problem that afflicts so many busy couples, the newlywed told Marie Claire, “We try to sync our calendars. I started working on my tour a year ago just to make sure that I had time at home. But you know, that’s part of it. Any other woman who has to go to work and pick up the kids and make dinner—that’s way harder than what I have to do. At least I can say I’m taking two weeks off and really take two weeks off.”
Their first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, which Beyoncé later called “the saddest thing I’ve ever been through.” But they tried again and daughter Blue Ivy Carter was born on Jan. 7, 2012, forever making the point of the whole thing about family. Or so Beyoncé thought.
The love and the partnership—the undeniably lucrative monetary partnership and the personal connection—between her and Jay-Z couldn’t have been more real, but it turned out that that wasn’t enough to fully change a man.
“I just ran into this place and we built this big, beautiful mansion of a relationship that wasn’t totally built on the 100 percent truth and it starts cracking,” Jay-Z recalled in his Footnotes for the Story of O.J. video that followed his 2017 album 4:44, which dropped shortly after the birth of their twins, Rumi and Sir. “Things start happening that the public can see. Then we had to get to a point of ‘OK, tear this down and let’s start from the beginning.’ It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
On the album’s title track he raps, “Look, I apologize / Often womanize / Took for my child to be born to see through a woman’s eyes / Took for these natural twins to believe in miracles.” But before Blue was born in 2012, and the lid was blown off the Carter family’s secrets in May 2014, there was plenty of time to dirty the laundry.
On 2013’s “Mine,” Bey sang, “Been having conversations about breakups and separations / I’m not feeling like myself since the baby / Are we gonna even make it?”
She was also asserting herself more in the political arena, speaking up about issues plaguing her fellow women aside from flaky, commitment-phobic, deadbeat men. In the 2013 HBO film Beyoncé: Life Is But a Dream, she says, “I truly believe that women should be financially independent from their men. And let’s face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what’s sexy. And men define what’s feminine. It’s ridiculous.”
But at the same time they were laying the foundation for their first On the Run Tour, with Bey joining her husband on “Part II (On the Run)” off of his 2013 album Magna Carta Holy Grail. Her surprise album dropped that December. They opened the 2014 Grammys together in January with a sultry, swoon-worthy performance, the question of whether Beyoncé meant to have wet hair or not the only lingering mystery.
Yet, as Jay-Z would put it later, “things” were about to start happening that the public could see.
Courtesy of Beyoncé
According to Becoming Beyoncé, Solange Knowles, despite being five years younger, was always fiercely protective of her big sister’s feelings, especially when it came to men.
“He has his nerve, throwing you shade,” Solange reportedly said in front of some of their friends, referring to Bey’s ex-boyfriend before she met Jay. “I’ll go over there and show him what’s what, if you want me to.”
On May 12, 2014, less than four months after the heat from the stage melted the Grammys audience (at home as well as in person), TMZ acquired some security footage from an elevator at the Standard Hotel in NYC, where a Met Gala after-party had been underway a week prior. In the black and white video, Solange can be seen wailing on Jay-Z while Beyoncé stands by, not making any move to get between them.
To put it mildly, the Internet exploded. The footage was analyzed from every angle. The Standard employee who leaked it was fired. And throughout, the conspiracy theories raged. What prompted Solange’s outburst? Was Beyoncé tacitly approving the fight? What did Jay-Z do?
Because it wasn’t much of a leap to guess that he had done something, and Solange—as always—was sticking up for her sister. E! News confirmed that the sisters left the hotel in one vehicle and Jay left in another. (Meanwhile, the protectiveness runs both ways. Solange told GQ in 2013, “I can’t tell you how many times in junior high school, how many boys and girls can say Beyoncé came and threatened to put some hands on them if they bothered me.”)
Two days before the TMZ story broke, Bey and Jay had attended the Brooklyn Nets’ home game at Barclays Center, looking as if they didn’t have a care in the world. And just hours after the story broke, throwing the Beyhive into a right frenzy, there they were again sitting courtside.
They remained silent for a few days.
“As a result of the public release of the elevator security footage from Monday, May 5th, there has been a great deal of speculation about what triggered the unfortunate incident,” Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Solange said in a joint statement released three days after the video went viral.
“But the most important thing is that our family has worked through it. Jay and Solange each assume their share of responsibility for what has occurred. They both acknowledge their role in this private matter that has played out in the public. They both have apologized to each other and we have moved forward as a united family.”
It seemed unbelievable in the moment that whatever ailed them could’ve been cured so quickly, but they’ve left no breadcrumbs to the contrary. The whole Carter family was at Solange’s wedding that November when she married Alan Ferguson. Blood and the bonds of marriage (Bey and Jay’s, at least) proved thicker than gossip.
“We had one disagreement ever. Before and after, we’ve been cool,” Jay said last summer on the Rap Radar podcast. “She’s like my sister. I will protect her. That’s my sister, not my sister-in-law. My sister. Period.”
At the same time, however, another name floated into the mix—fashion designer Rachel Roy, the ex-wife of Jay’s Roc-A-Fella Records cofounder Damon Dash.
“At the gala, Rachel was being flirtatious with Jay,” a source told E! News after the fight. “Once everyone was at the Boom Boom Room for the after-party, her flirtations were elevated.”
The insider recalled: “Beyoncé approached Rachel to let her know the behavior was disrespectful and she wanted her out of their lives for good. Solange came over to have her sister’s back, and things got heated with her and Rachel. Jay said some disrespectful things to Beyoncé and Solange as the confrontation was going down. That’s why all hell broke loose in the elevator and why Beyoncé just stood back and let Solange hit Jay.”
But that June, Bey and Jay embarked on their 19-date On the Run Tour and it grossed almost $100 million. Rachel who?
However, one night in particular resides in the collective memory—June 28. Performing in Cincinnati, Ohio, Beyoncé altered the lyrics to her 2006 song “Resentment.” She changed “I’ll always remember feeling like I was no good / Like I couldn’t do it for you like your mistress could” to “I’ll always remember feeling like I was no good / Like I couldn’t do it for you like that wack bitch could.” And then, she tweaked “I know she was attractive, but I was here first / Been ridin’ with you for six years / Why did I deserve to be treated this way by you, you?” to “been ridin’ with you for 12 years.”
She capped it off with “I gotta look at her in her eyes and see she’s had half of me / She ain’t even half of me. That bitch will never be.”
But whenever the rumors that the couple were headed for a split got a little too heated, Beyoncé would dial them back by posting new family photos on her website, which became the go-to, must-check-every-day destination for updates on the lives of Bey, Jay and Blue.
In May 2015, a year after the Incident, Beyoncé attended the Met Gala half-naked, showing up late enough to make the splashiest entrance and command all the attention. Jay-Z was by her side.
February 2016 was “Formation” month, with Beyoncé stealing the Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show right out from under Coldplay, protesting police violence against Black people in the song’s music video and drawing some accusations that she had an anti-police agenda (sort of like when she was promoting too much monogamous, marital sex for some critics’ taste a few years prior; or when she and Jay-Z went to Cuba in 2013 and some assumed their friend President Barack Obama had pulled strings to get them there). She announced plans for her Formation World Tour, and 2016 was shaping up to be a very good year.
But overnight, the shocking events of 2014 would come rushing back in a flood of intimate artistry in April 2016 when Beyoncé released Lemonade, first in short film form on HBO featuring a fever dream of symbolic imagery, fellow luminaries like Serena Williams, a damning indictment of Jay-Z’s bad behavior and an emotional tale of betrayal, sorrow, revenge and forgiveness.
Speculation that Rachel Roy was “Becky with the good hair,” mentioned on the blistering “Sorry,” spurred enough online abuse within 24 hours that Roy was prompted to tweet, “I respect love, marriages, families and strength. What shouldn’t be tolerated by anyone, no matter what, is bullying, of any kind.” She then kept a low profile for weeks and didn’t post anything non-business-related on Instagram for a month. Ironically, one of her first big public appearances was the 2016 CFDA Awards in New York on June 6—an event also attended by Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
That’s right. Although Lemonade set the whole vicious cycle in motion again of wondering how much longer Jay-Z and Beyoncé could last as a couple, anyone waiting for the other shoe to drop would continue to wait in vain.
Every lyric on every track, from “Pray You Catch Me” to “Hold Up” to “Sand Castles,” was analyzed for clues, and the consensus was that Beyonce had caught Jay-Z in a betrayal, almost left him, but ultimately chose to stay after a hell of a reckoning. And obviously there would be no follow-up interviews to clarify or further confirm whatever information was gleaned from that album.
“They had been having problems for years,” a source close to the couple told E! News. “There was a constant commitment issue between them and in the end they were barely speaking. Beyoncé didn’t fully trust Jay and it was hard for her to get past that.”
But there was no time for Beyoncé to rest on her complacency-rattling laurels. Her Formation World Tour started four days after Lemonade came out. It ran through that October and grossed more than $250 million, according to Billboard Boxscore.
And while Jay-Z’s absence at the 2016 Met Gala, which Beyoncé attended solo, did not go unnoticed, he remained a reliably visible presence while she was on tour.
Not long after her tour wrapped, it would turn out that Beyoncé had another covert op in the works.
“We would like to share our love and happiness. We have been blessed two times over. We are incredibly grateful that our family will be growing by two, and we thank you for your well wishes. – The Carters”
So read Beyonce’s announcement that she was pregnant with twins, posted on Feb. 1, 2017. It no longer mattered in the slightest what had come before, because it is no exaggeration to say that her fans—and those who write about, make jokes about or otherwise pay attention to the life and times of Beyoncé—were overjoyed. Coming off of that long, bruising election season and tired of wondering if Bey’s marriage was on the rocks, here was, finally, some unequivocally great news.
When Blue Ivy was about 1 1/2 years old, in 2013, Beyoncé admitted on Good Morning America that she had become “very protective” of her child. “I just want to make sure that she can have a healthy, safe, normal life…in the back of my mind, she’s my priority. And life is completely different now. So I’m—I feel really, really just lucky that I can still do what I love, and now have a way bigger meaning. And that’s to be her mother.”
And now her world has expanded to include Blue’s little brother, Sir, and sister, Rumi, born on June 13.
Then our world expanded to include Jay-Z’s confessional 4:44, that long-awaited, so-called response to Lemonade that had reportedly been in the works for years.
“You egged Solange on / Knowin’ all along /All you had to say you was wrong,” he rapped on “Kill Jay-Z.” (He also brought the hyphen back to his name after years of going without it.) He went on, “But you gotta do better, boy, you owe it to Blue / You had no father, you had the armor / But you got a daughter, gotta get softer.”
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On the title track, Jay-Z rapped, “I suck at love, I think I need a do-over / I will be emotionally available if I invited you over / I stew over what if you over my s–t?”
Before it had even begun, we knew that Beyoncé wasn’t over his s–t. But it was very prudent of him to acknowledge all the s–t he had put her through.
Jay told the bioreports in 2017 that he and his wife didn’t sit down and expressly decide, OK, we’re going to share our problems with the world in these two albums.
“It happened—we were using our art almost like a therapy session. And we started making music together,” he said. “And then the music she was making at that time was further along. So her album came out as opposed to the joint album that we were working on. Um, we still have a lot of that music. And this is what it became. There was never a point where it was like, ‘I’m making this album.’ I was right there the entire time.”
And yes, it was a painful process.
“And both very, very uncomfortable, but…” Jay-Z offered, “the best place in the, you know, hurricane is like in the middle of it.”
Jay himself said that, by the time their respective albums came out, it was more as if he and his wife were in the eye of the hurricane while the storm swirled around them.
“And that’s where we were sitting. And it was uncomfortable. And we had a lot of conversations. You know,” he recalled. “[I was] really proud of the music she made, and she was really proud of the art I released. And, you know, at the end of the day we really have a healthy respect for one another’s craft. I think she’s amazing.
“You know, most people walk away, and like divorce rate is like 50 percent or something ’cause most people can’t see themselves. The hardest thing is seeing pain on someone’s face that you caused, and then have to deal with yourself.”
But so far, instead of walking away, they’ve walked back toward each other every time.
In 2019 the couple were honored together at the GLAAD Media Awards, and Jay-Z was presented with the President’s Award at the NAACP Image Awards for his part in changing “the very fabric of culture of America.” On stage he dedicated his award to the “strong women” in the house he grew up in, as well as the woman whom he shares several homes with now.
“I’d like to dedicate this award,” he added, “to a beautiful woman in my life, Ms. Beyoncé.”
Or Mrs. Carter, as she doesn’t mind being called.
(Originally published April 4, 2018, at 5 a.m. PT)