by Claire Brennan
Carving a place for yourself in the music industry is hard enough without being the younger sister to someone keenly referred to as “Queen Bey.” But with A Seat at the Table -- Solange’s third studio album — she ensures she has a seat next to her sister at the top of the music industry.
Caution: This album is not for the faint of heart. This is not music designed for cruising around, but is instead a tale of this singer’s personal journey to liberation and empowerment.
The album starts with a somber, organ-accompanied tune, “Weary.” Regardless of the tone, Solange immediately introduces this empowering theme: Despite the social politics of the world she — a black woman — will find her place in the world, a queen in her own right.
A centerpiece for the album, “Mad” is an ode to the saying, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” In the 21st century, the black community still faces blatant discrimination and is criticized for speaking out about the need for a better social climate. In this song, Solange creates a dialogue between her and those voices who criticize her for saying there’s a need for progress. “I ran into this girl, she said, ‘Why you always blaming?’/ ‘Why you can’t just face it?’”
Solange concludes “Mad” on a powerful note and one of the album's first steps towards liberation: “I ran into this girl, I said, ‘I’m tired of explaining.’/ Man, this s*** is draining/ But I’m not really allowed to be mad.”
Thankfully, Solange does explain. From here on out, A Seat at the Table begins to feel like a conversation between the listener and Solange; a conversation that in some ways serves as a version of “Oppression for Dummies” for me and the greater white community to which I belong. If you finish this album without a deeper understanding of and respect for the black experience in America, you have missed the point.
After being all too real for the mainstream in “Mad,” Solange gives herself a safety net to “reverse-racism” defenders with the interlude, “Tina Taught Me.” This beautifully spoken interlude, narrated by her mother Tina Lawson, explains that the blackness that her family and this album shares and celebrates is not anti-white, “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. The two don't go together….Why does that make you angry? That is to suppress me and to make me not be proud.”
Another high point, production-wise, alongside “Mad” is “F.U.B.U.”. This track bumps and swings deep with a horn section that feels dangerous in the best way. Not to mention, The-Dream and BJ the Chicago Kid were born so that their voices could accompany this song. Here, Solange takes back the slur that is used against her community: “All my n***** in the whole wide world/ Made this song to make it all y'all's turn/ For us, this s*** is for us.” Make sure to bookmark this chapter, another lesson from Solange: Don’t say the n-word if you’re not black. Obviously.
These lessons are not few and far between. In “Don’t Touch My Hair,” Solange describes her hair as her crown, her pride, a symbol of her glory. In this song Solange tells me and my white community a black woman’s hair is deeper than an accessory, it’s a representation of herself.
By the time we reach “Don’t Wish Me Well,” we’ve gone through 17 tracks with Solange and with each she rises further and further above the things that try to bring her down. This is my favorite vocal performance on the album, one that in combination with the instrumentals reminds me of FKA Twigs. Almost at the end of her journey, she leaves some behind and welcomes those who support her in her effort for complete liberation: “I’m going all the way but I’ll leave the lights on for you,” she sings.
There are so many beautiful things about this album. Most songs are separated by a spoken interlude from her mother or father, the people to whom A Seat at the Table is dedicated, the people who taught her to celebrate her blackness, as she explained in an interview with Saint Heron Records. Each interlude is accompanied by the tune to the next song, which makes the whole album a continuous, breathing creation. Deeper than that, this album teaches without preaching. This creation embodies the purpose of art: to expand our consciousness.
photo courtesy of solangemusic.com