“If you don’t understand my record, then you don’t understand me, and this is not for you.” – Master P.
I stand before you willingly and ashamedly admitting that I have sinned. I have been sleeping on Solange Piaget Knowles. I’ve been in a deep, ugly, damn near dead sleep, ya’ll. Yes, I’ve always known that she was far more than just Bey’s little sister. Yes, I know that she’s BEEN woke. Yeah girl, I even knew that her previous two albums were very well received. However, I’ve never stopped and really paid her work the attention it deserves. However, with her third studio offering, A Seat at the Table, I now may never stop listening. With this latest release, Solange skips the common artistic and marketing frills of her contemporaries, and replaces them with an emulsification of humor, sass, and sensuality, all with a very clear message: her black is beautiful, and yours is too.
A Seat at the Table isn’t just a mere rehashing of the hardships of black life and injustice. Knowles takes the hard road on this one, using each song to meticulously touch upon the many micro-aggressions that black folks face on a daily basis. Seamlessly laced together by commentary that features Master P, and parents Mathew and Tina Knowles-Lawson, and featuring musical contributions from Tweet, Q-Tip, The-Dream, BJ The Chicago Kid, and more, the tracks themselves all provoke deep introspection, while the song titles grab your attention right from the jump. The result is an album that never bores or becomes repetitive. Primed for example of this sentiment is the track “Don’t Touch My Hair”. In this song, Solo uses black hair, (which is often maddeningly associated with negative connotations) as a metaphor for pride in one’s own culture, and style, and empowers listeners to love themselves. Also, I don’t know if there’s a black person on this planet who hasn’t told someone to NOT touch their hair. Don’t do it ya’ll.
“I literally gave up a bit of my sanity for a while to do this record. We literally were waking up and making music all day and all night. It just started to wear on me in a variety of different ways. I started having these crazy panic attacks.” – Solange, Vibe Magazine, 2010.
What I’ve come to discover and love about Solange is her natural vulnerability. In what could come across as vain and disingenuous in other artists, Solo’s autobiographical approach serves her well in this project, and makes it unmistakably and remarkably human. With ASATT, Solange pulls no punches in saying a lot of the shit that quite a few black folks are sometimes afraid to admit. Nothing best exemplifies this than my favorite track on the album, “Cranes in the Sky”. Cowritten by the legendary Raphael Saadiq, Solange details the varied destructive coping mechanisms that she and many of us sometimes utilize in order to deal with the perils of life. In a world where both mental illness and anguish are still heavily taboo topics in the black community, Solange’s willingness to be so forthcoming about her own struggles opens up an opportunity for a much needed dialogue.
Now, remember when I said that Solange uses her art to say all the things that some of the brothas and sistas are afraid to say? If you need an example, look no further than the interlude, “Tina Taught Me”. Never in my life have I gotten so much life from an interlude. AN INTERLUDE, YOU GUYS. If big sister Beyonce’s album LEMONADE wasn’t clear enough, ASATT takes it a step further and makes this message as clear as day: Mama Tina Knowles ain’t raise no fools, and she’s using her good word to spread a some self love, and a little #blackgirlmagic and #blackboyjoy. Chuch.
“It’s such beauty in Black people, and it really saddens me when we’re not allow 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. Because you celebrate Black culture does not mean that you don’t like white culture; or that you putting it down. It’s just taking pride.” – Tina Knowles-Lawson in “Tina Taught Me”.
As a 90’s baby, nothing gave me more joy than seeing a song track entitled “F.U.B.U.” on this album. There ain’t a black child born between 1985-1995 who didn’t have some form of F.U.B.U. gear, and just like the clothing line, the sentiment is telling. This record was made to explore truth; by the people, and for the people. In the wake of the never-ending stories of police violence against African Americans, this song is tailor-made to specifically give encouragement to the young black men most likely to be affected by these unjustifiable and institutional crimes. As a songwriter and as a woman, I find Solange’s unique perspective on this topic to be sublime, being that so few artists of today (both male and female) are willing to uplift each other across gender lines, let alone amongst each other. With relations between black men and women being so heavily strained culturally, emotionally, and spiritually, Solange’s intent to use her art as a means to bridge the gap, offers up a much needed message of love and support, and one that I sincerely hope inspires more artists to bring unification within our community and throughout the world.
“All my niggas in the whole wide world
Made this song to make it all y’all’s turn
For us, this shit is for us
Some shit is a must
This shit is for us…
…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…” – Solange in F.U.B.U.
In the end, there really aren’t enough words I can use to really summarize the brilliance of this album. While it is simplistic in production, the words of every song are used to mold complex thoughts that are meant to leave one to internally ponder. The beauty in that, is that the work is still all so easy to listen to and comprehend. While everyone is sure to have different interpretations of this album, what can be agreed upon is this: Solange Knowles is lifting as she climbs, and is bringing enough chairs for all of us to sit in at the table. For that, I am grateful.
If you’re living under a rock and still haven’t listened to A Seat at the Table, check it out here:
For a behind the scenes look at the creative process behind A Seat at the Table, head here: