Solange’s ‘A Seat At The Table’ Is A Love Letter To Blackness
Black queer women-led movements are now the signature of this generation. And, in a time like this, Solange’s new album, A Seat At The Table, comes as an imperfect yet brilliant love letter to blackness.
Solange’s album is a lot more than it seems on the surface. If I’m being honest, I initially wrote the whole thing off the second I saw the album title and a few of the track titles. I first thought that “Don’t Touch My Hair”, “F.U.B.U.”, and “Borderline (An Ode to Self Care)” seemed like cheap attempts to capitalize on black feminism for attention, especially in the wake of Beyoncé’s Lemonade. But I was wrong in that regard. A Seat At The Table feels like a homegrown labor of love and should go down as one of the most important albums of the year.
On this album, Solange sits comfortably and boldly in her blackness, throwing around n-words and black liberation language on top of a cacophony of Motown sound structures and experimental elements like we live in a futuristic black-centric society. And it is this carefree boldness that makes this work so refreshing.
Album opener “Rise” is indicative of the tone present for the bulk of the album. It’s grounded by an almost ancient march and minimal musical elements, elements that are only really used to punctuate specific moments, but not to provide a complete musical backdrop. And lyrically, the song too is sparse, consisting of only a 4 line refrain repeated over and over by Solange’s wavering voice.
Fall in your ways, so you can crumble
Fall in your ways, so you can sleep at night
Fall in your ways, so you can wake up and rise
On paper, it doesn’t sound like much, but in execution it feels almost religious. And that is how the rest of the album is built, as a triumph of feeling over form and function.
The most fully formed and successful song of the whole album is “Cranes In The Sky”, a playful track set to a toe-tapping snare. Sonically, it is a beautiful partnership between a set of string instruments, an electric guitar, and Solange’s strongest vocal delivery of the album. But while the song may feel light and airy, the intrinsic truth of its content is much heavier. Solange details all of the efforts she employed to avoid dealing with a specific emotion. This emotion is never spelled out, but anyone can relate to the desire to find escapes from the grimness of reality.
When listening to this album, it is almost required to listen all the way through. Its interludes are just as important as the musical recordings. Words from her father, mother, Birdman, and Master P. act as bridges that both impart important reflections on blackness and provide insight into who Solange Knowles is.
“It’s such beauty in Black people, and it really saddens me when we’re not allowed to express that pride in being Black, and that if you do, then it’s considered anti-white. No! You just pro-black. And that’s okay.” – Tina Knowles
“Don’t Touch My Hair” has an almost futuristic quality, bringing to mind the work of artists like Amel Larrieux. The concept is quite simple, that hair represents many things for black people (personal expression, pride, choice, etc.) and “they” simply don’t understand that black hair holds those meanings. It’s also a commentary on ownership and setting boundaries. The track is an utterly calming experience, and the accompanying video is an impressive creative expression of carefree blackness.
Still, the most empowering track of the album is “F.U.B.U.”. Set to a decidedly southern beat, Solange checks all the boxes for a black pride song. She leads with the n-word. She addresses the criminalization of blackness. She defends ownership of our own culture. And she intends to pass the “pride of ownership” message on to her posterity.
I hope my son will bang this song so loud
That he almost makes his walls fall down
Cause his momma wants to make him proud
Oh, to be us
It’s highly stylized and broad, but those simple elements give it mass appeal, at least among black folks.
Solange gave us something “for us, by us” with A Seat At The Table. No, the lyrical content is not impressive or even quote-worthy. No, the production isn’t notably progressive. No, the vocals are not always where you’d want them to be. In fact, I fully believe that this would be a far superior technical album if it belonged to a stronger singer. However, this album wins because it is authentically Solange, and in creating something so true to herself, we all can understand her on a deeper level while she speaks to the blackness in all of us.
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