Defining a Voice: Solange and the Hadley St. Dreams

When Solange released her sophomore album Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams in 2008, it was a long time coming. Her first release as an adult, Hadley St. acted as a reintroduciton. Her debut album, 2002’s Solo Star, was released when she was just 16 years old – mere months before her famous sister took the world by storm as a solo star herself. In the nearly six years between her debut and Hadley, Solange experienced a whole lot of life. Meanwhile, her sister went from being a member of an iconic, superstar girl-group, to becoming a legend-in-the-making household name by 2008. So, would Solange be overshadowed, or would she make a name for herself? With Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams, Solange made the answer to that question quite clear.

The set opens up with an assertive, stage-setting introductory track: “God Given Name.” On it, she begins the song, and the album, by singing, “Get me out of this box, I feel so claustrophobic in here,” and later:

I’m not becoming expectations
I’m not her and never will be
Two girls going in different directions
Traveling towards the same galaxy
Let my starlight shine on its own
No, I’m no sister
I’m just my God given name

Rejecting any expectations put on her as “Beyoncé’s sister,” Solange advises anyone harboring such notions to let it go. She makes her desires clear: she wants to be her own star and shine independent from her sister’s. From the very first track, she acknowledges her differences, that she does not conform:

And I’m sorry that this planet that I’m living on is quizzical
My lyrical ambitions sometimes don’t ring a bell
I’m sorry if my visual don’t line up with my feelings
And my physical exhibit doesn’t represent me well
I’m sorry if I’m curious, delirious and I don’t take life serious
I mirror the life of a millionaire
And I’m sorry if I’m talking shit, but I really do mean well

With this album, Solange established that she simply doesn’t give a fuck about what anyone else thought. Solange had carved her own lane. At just 22 years old, she was the mother of a four year old son; she had been married, and then divorced. She is not the calculated picture of perfection portrayed by her sister. She is different, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Solange’s lyrics and sonic landscape on this album became a clear reflection of that fact. Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams is not a pop album; it isn’t even an attempt to crossover. On Hadley, Solange explored a variety of sounds, from retro sounding 60s and 70s soul influenced tracks, to more modern, electronic sounds on others. Lyrically, she explores more mature topics, too.

On the album’s third single “T.O.N.Y.” Solange sings about the effects of a one night stand. However, more significant was its music video, in which she ends up getting pregnant from her one night stand. However, to contrast the lyric “I could’ve been in love by now,” she ends the video with an image of her and her son, and it says “now I’m in love.” It was a beautiful moment, and showcased the kind of artist Solange would grow to become: unfiltered, authentic and thought provoking.

On a similar note, “6 O’Clock Blues” is a love song dedicated to her son. On it, she sings that no matter what struggles she faces in life, no matter what negativity is going on in the world, that she’ll be alright because she has the love of her son. It is a touching song, showcasing the powerful bond between a mother and her son.

Another standout cut from the album is the moody “White Picket Dreams,” on which Solange evaluates her relationship with the American Dream. Perhaps about her relationship with her ex-husband, the track is about the disillusionment that her “White Picket Dreams” are still just that: dreams. Meanwhile, on “Would’ve Been the One” and the clever “I Told You So,” she sings of an unfaithful lover who has a penchant for creeping around, perhaps further commentary on her failed marriage.

On “ChampagneChronicNightcap” featuring Lil’ Wayne, Solange further broke down the Mathew Knowles standard of PR-ready perfection. As its title suggests, “Nightcap” is about staying in, drinking champagne, and getting high. While Beyoncé (and Kelly, too) have since run out of fucks to give since firing Mathew as their manager, Solange did it first, and right under his nose; consistently and unabashedly speaking her mind and her truth.

While most of the album sticks to that Motown inspired soul sound, there are a few tracks that veer from that lane, such as “Cosmic Journey” and “This Bird.” Both tracks are electronic and ethereal sounding, yet still soulful. On “This Bird” in particular, Solange embodies her carefree, free-soaring persona in song, singing “Nothing’s gonna slow this bird down.” She unapologetically declares:

I’m not in denial, I’m not suicidal
Not an alcoholic, I’m not out here hoeing
So, just shut the fuck up
This bird’s not slowing down

In the ten years since the album’s release, Solange has grown to become quite a force, with a respected voice in the entertainment industry. However, she was no stranger to speaking her mind. Around the time of the album release, Solange recorded a song called “Fuck the Industry” over the beat to Kanye West’s “Everything I Am.” The song did not appear on the album back then, but rather was part of what Solange called her “I Can’t Get Clearance” mixtape. However, on the 2015 reissue of the album, “Fuck the Industry” became part of the tracklisting.

She opens the track with the same line Kanye did: “I’ll never be picture perfect Beyoncé,” before mentioning a number of other R&B females to contrast how different she is from all of them. At the time, the line “everything I’m not makes me everything I am” was clearly a poignant one for Solange. She goes on to sing, “I’m not apologetic, if you don’t like it’s probably because you don’t get it.” The message was indeed fitting compliment to the message of the album as a whole.

However, that all aside, the album is also a lot of fun. The majority of the songs recall the vibrance and energy of Motown era soul. She even has a song called “Ode to Marvin,” sampling Gaye’s classic “What’s Going On.” The Neptunes-produced lead single “I Decided” samples The Supremes, and is a spirited, danceable romp. Famed Motown producer Lamont Dozier even worked with her on the track “6’Oclock Blues.” On the witty “Valentine’s Day” she evokes a Diana Ross-esque speaking section. Another notable track is the Cee-Lo Green produced second single, “Sandcastle Disco” – an infectious, roller rink ready bop gorgeously delivery by Solange.

Overall, the album is feel good, yet poignant, with clever, introspective lyrics and impeccable production. With it, Solange successfully proved to the world that she is a force to be reckoned with. From the album’s retro sound and mature themes, it is quite clear that Solange is an old soul. That’s no surprise though, as she’s been writing songs professionally since she was a teenager. As well, she did a lot of living and growing between 2002 and 2008, and on Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams, her “starlight shines on its own,” as she demanded on its opening track. In fact, she was an inspiration for her sister star. On the “Flawless” remix, Beyoncé raps: “My sister told me I should speak my mind” – something she had often shied away from. Solange, on the other hand, has always been fearlessly outspoken. Truly, the album marked the birth of an innovative artist who would go on to become more than just the sister of her famous sibling. Sound familiar?

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