Taking ‘A Seat at the Table’ with the latest from Solange Knowles
Like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and Kanye West’s Yeezus, Solange Knowles’s latest album is another recent release centered on black consciousness and molded by the current day struggles of racism, police brutality and remaining carefree in a system built on centuries of racism. While politically charged albums tend to air on aggression and reclamation of control, Solange’s album follows a different tune: mellow and airy. It’s a breathe of fresh air that merges strength with the ability to remain tender. Solange told fans on Twitter that “A Seat at the Table” is meant to “provoke healing and [be a] journey of self empowerment.”
“Rise” sets off the tone of the album, a short ballad that tells the listener to remain true to themselves in times of both defeat and triumph. It is just one of the many interludes that Solange weaves into the album, such as spoken word poetry and the argument for reparations by rap legend Master P on finding peace within oneself, testimonies on growing up in a segregated America or a speech from her mother on taking pride in their blackness. The subsequent track, “Weary,” employs its repetitive lyrics and lulling sound to express the weariness of existing in spaces where she must reclaim her body (“I’m gonna look for my body/I’ll be back real soon”) and her humanness (“With flesh and bones he bleeds just like you do/He said ‘Where does that leave you?’”). Solange adds “Cranes in the Sky” to the pile of emotional frustrations that she shares with the listener on her efforts to dissociate from pain that seems to surround her. Lil Wayne serves as a satisfying, although unexpected, addition to “Mad” on the frustrations of being criticized for remaining angry (“I got a lot to be mad about/Where’d your love go?”) in the face of injustice. “Don’t You Wait” mediates on the frustrations of her creating music centered on blackness that is still received by a largely white audience. It is perhaps “Don’t Touch My Hair”, featuring Sampha, that has become the stick out track, due to its infectious sound that is both present and delicate at the same time. Solange manages to touch on the fragile relationship black women have with their hair with a confident and balanced message of its importance to her identity (“Don’t touch what’s there/ When it’s the feelings I wear”). “Where Do We Go” is Solange’s retelling of her maternal grandparents’ decision to leave New Orleans to escape the racism they encountered there.
Appearing right after a speech from Master P on the intersections of profit and blackness, “F.U.B.U” roughly meets us at the half-way mark, standing for “For Us, By Us,” and exhibits the social significance of the famous clothing label in a track produced by the Dream. While tracks “Borderline (An Ode to Self Care)” and “Junie”, in collaboration with Andre 3000 and “Don’t Wish Me Well” pave the way for the penultimate track “Scales” – featuring Kelela who assists Solange as she cheers on the song’s protagonists in spite of the criticism “the knight” receives from society. Solange ends her body of work with yet another sampling of the words of Master P, entitled “Closing: the Chosen Ones,” the album mediates on finding a way to keep the rhythm, no matter what. As Master P states himself: “Now, we come here as slaves, but we going out as royalty, and able to show that we are truly the chosen ones.”