ALBUM: A SEAT AT THE TABLE
Ask anyone around me and they would tell you I am one of Solange’s biggest fans. So let me tell how shook I was when my already high expectations were surpassed as I spent time with her at her table over the past month. It could also have been due to the fact that True, her last body of work as a solo artist (Saint Heron aside) was in 2012 and she never mentioned or teased anything about a full length album or followup (Learn from this Frank).
In between her last studio album (2008’s vibrant Sol-Angel and the Hadley St Dreams) and her latest offering, she’s gone through quite a lot of changes in her life. A change in sound by her brilliant partnership with Blood Orange’s Devonté Hynes to getting married a second time to overcoming that elevator incident to the creation of her own record label championing new school R&B to turning 30 (in grand style) and also curating THE ultimate aspirational Instagram feed of black girl magic and incredible personal style. She’s also importantly been, like the rest of us, shaken by the rampant and extremely painful attacks on the African-American community either by police violence or verbal abuse of which she’s personally experienced as recently as September.
Now listening to this record and digesting each element, I can fully understand why she waited so long to release it: She was creating a masterpiece of introspective, soul stirring R&B. An album that resonates strongly with anyone that has felt the burn of merely existing in the color of their skin but also welcoming to those who can somewhat understand the experience and appreciate good music at the same time. As much as this is an album celebrating black culture, it’s also a record in which she heals, dances and finds peace.
Rise starts the album off in caution, here Solange sings “Fall in your ways so you can wake up and rise”. To fall in one’s ways is to remain set in their habits or remain true to ones self. In an America where black people are reviled for embracing their culture, this is a ballsy thing to do. The jazzy vocals make it quite a meditative one, as if we’re literally having a discussion over dinner and she quietly bursts into song midway. It immediately makes sense why the title is what it is.
The track segues into Weary, one of my early favourites, a track with lush melodies and poignant lyrics. Here Solo echoes how fed up her people are with the system and how little equality there is in the world “I’m weary of the ways of the world…” and later on “Be leery ’bout your place in the world/You’re feeling like you’re chasing the world/You’re leaving not a trace in the world /But you’re facing the world” A powerful verse that according to her
“…Asks listeners to question the state of the world. Why is there a social hierarchy based on race, gender, class or sexuality?”
Then the next track, which is the Interlude: The Glory Is In You, I found out was by voiced by none other than the iconic Master P himself. I was very impressed with Solange for even getting him to do this. It was very inspiring to hear a bit of how he handled race and his place in the world in further interludes as the album progressed.
Next up is the glorious Cranes In The Sky, which happens to be the universal favourite track from the album. This is one of the best songs of the year hands down! It was originally written 8 years ago shortly after Sol-Angel and contains production by the incredible Raphael Saadiq whose drums, strings and bass make up the framework of the song. Solange gives one of her absolute best vocal performances to date here by channelling Minnie Riperton, especially with that heavenly pitch towards the outro (she also proved it was no fluke on SNL). The lyrics are sharp, direct and very relatable to anyone who has used mundane things (read it away, sexed it away…) to escape feelings of pain and depression (referenced by metal clouds) and the younger Knowles sister brilliantly creates a beauty out of that pain.
The interlude that follows, titled: Dad Was Mad, shares her father Matthew Knowles’ experiences growing up as a young black man in the south and his role in the integration of different races in schools. This couldn’t be any more well timed. It easily gives way for the standout Lil Wayne assisted track, Mad, to shine through and finds Solange in a form of conversation where she sings why she has a right to be mad. The current state of the United States when it comes to people of color is infuriating enough and as a black woman, it’s easy to be labelled as angry. Lil Wayne delivers a knockout verse containing so many truths, from to his own feelings of depression (Got a lot to be a man about/Got a lot to pop a Xan about) to addressing the elitist class system (Then I walk up in the bank, pants sagging down/And I laugh at frowns, what they mad about?/Cause here come this motherfucker with this mass account/That didn’t wear cap and gown). It can get very frustrating ignoring those with privilege asking you to stop being who you are and refrain from being against the system as Solange wearily sings (Man, this shit is draining/But I’m not really allowed to be mad).
For the brilliant, True-era vibey, Don’t You Wait, I’m going to quote what Genius posted on their site, if that’s not explanatory enough then I don’t know what is. “Don’t You Wait directly addresses Solange’s previous audience which celebrated her successful 2012 EP True. During her four year hiatus, she realized white critics felt entitled to music which avoided uncomfortable discussions of her racial politics, because of True’s rock/indie influences. This track rebels against those critics and audiences who demanded she stifle herself as a politically conscious, black artist. Solange advises that if you’re waiting for her to write generic tracks about love and heartbreak in a politically dangerous time for black America – then don’t hold your breath.”
In the next interlude, Tina Taught Me, her mother, the amazing Ms. Tina Lawson, expresses why black pride is important and makes a case for tolerance and acceptance of different cultures. We can also see where the strength in her daughters comes from. The production here brilliantly transitions to one of the best tracks (and most blatantly political one) on the album, Don’t Touch My Hair. This song not just speaks on the emotional weight of black hair and annoyance with strangers grabbing it, but also the abundance of cultural appropriation across the caucasian spectrum. The song features the incredibly talented Sampha who is so criminally underrated on his solo work and has a new album out next month. The hook “What you say to me…” was an instant ear-worm and now doubles as a defense mechanism when spaces and boundaries of black people feel violated.
The Interlude: This Moment brings on more of the Master P inspiration referenced earlier in this post telling the oppressors to stay away if they do not get us. This then causes Solange to ask what’s on the next track Where Do We Go, a beautiful ballad with throwback Motown influences and gorgeous harmonies. For Us By Us and the full track that follows, F.U.B.U (with The Dream and BJ The Chicago Kid) are powerful statements of black identity and how much has been taken from the community: from art to fair pay in the case of Master P and also the ability to be human as Solange sings (When a nigga tryna board the plane/And they ask you, “What’s your name again?”/Cause they thinking, “Yeah, you’re all the same.”). Borderline (An Ode To Self Care) is basically an encouraging self preservation song for people of colour and is making a case for the ultimate holiday-season-house-party bop. I also got Aaliyah vibes especially with the cheeky “more than a woman” reference in one of the verses.
I Got So Much Magic You Can Have It is a recording with Kelly Rowland and the amazing yet underrated Nia Andrews. They celebrate their black girl magic, as they should. The bouncy, booty popping, Junie soon follows, inspired by funk icon Junie Morrison and features a collaboration with Andre 3000. (Can you see how impressive her list of collaborators is? Did the room not blow up from the magnitude of black excellence in each of her studio sessions?). Interlude: No Limits voiced by Master P and the next track Don’t Wish Me Well make an excellent pairing representing growth and how Solange is moving forward in her life and encouraging her people to equally do the same. The production on this track MY GAWD. Ev-e-ry-thing. Pedestals another interlude and Scales featuring Kelela function as more odes to self care and as mantras to realize self worth and own it. They close an album that has felt like a wonderful journey every single time going through. Solange worked so damn hard on this album it really shows, from the arrangements she did herself, to the writing, recording in multiple locations that she has personal connections with as well as her careful choices in collaborators.
It’s extremely gratifying to see that her hard work has finally paid off as Solo has debuted at Number 1 on the US Billboard 200, just performed as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live recently and was most surprisingly, the Number 1 album on Nigerian iTunes for over 2 days. I’m excited for her future performances (fingers crossed she adds a Nigerian date to any tour she embarks on). With this record, she truly defines what it means to be young, gifted and black.
ALBUM: A SEAT AT THE TABLE