Moms are known for picking favourites, based on just about anything really (usually whichever child takes out the trash that week or helps bring in groceries). What is a mom like Tina Knowles-Lawson supposed to do? Now the second album of the year from a Knowles, Solange breaks through Queen Bey’s mold with an unassuming album that has quickly been heralded as one of the two strongest solo albums of the year, unsurprisingly brushing arms with her sister’s own Lemonade. Solange’s third full-length studio album, A Seat at the Table, comes at a time when, “Hands up! Don’t Shoot!” is proclaimed the world over as a form of peaceful resistance.
Solange’s twinkling A Seat at the Table is a treatise on blackness, black lives, and black womanhood. Here, the table offers a euphoric feast for the ears—an album made sickeningly smooth by Solange’s honey sweet voice and echoed harmonies. The sound of /A Seat at the Table/ has a greater resemblance to a majestic hall of mirrors than a studio production. From the beginning of the album, dreamy Grimes-esque riffs serve as a platform from which Solange’s defiant vocals spring. Solange’s glimmering sound contrasts with the heavy and at times sorrowful discussion of the Black female experience in America.
In the powerful opener, “Rise,” Solange croons, “Fall in your ways / so you can crumble.” She builds her assertion with dynamic vocal progression and harmonies given breadth by a pulsing, hypnotic beat. The build-up on this track is furthered by the intertwining of lush melody with spoken interludes featuring Solange’s parents, Tina and Michael, who served as the inspiration for the album. Here, Solange’s messages of Black empowerment and the complexity of owning a collective experience is made apparent through direct narrative. On “Interlude: Tina Taught Me,” Solange’s mother Tina states, “I think, part of it is accepting that there is so much beauty in being black / And that’s the thing that I guess I get emotional about.” These emboldening words are followed by the inspiring “Don’t Touch My Hair,” a song commenting on the politics behind black hair, which infuses a rolling beat and a 90s TLC feel. In Solange's lyricism, hair becomes more than simply hair. It becomes an embodiment of black identity—a battlecry for natural outward expression.
The underlying politics of A Seat at the Table come to a head in “Mad.” The soul jam, which is thick with beats and cascading keys, has harmonies that contrast sharply with Lil’ Wayne’s gruff rap feature in which hard truths hit home. “Are you mad ‘cause the judge ain’t give me more time? / And when I attempted suicide, I didn’t die,” raps Lil’ Wayne amid slow rhythms. Solange replies with a soul-splitting crescendo, “I got a lot to be mad about.” Here, the original harmonies of “Rise” are challenged and triumphed, as Solange is resilient in an act of defiant assertion.
This victory, however, is not Solange’s alone—as trumpet riffs echo on the finale “Closing:the Chosen Ones,” and Solange’s father utters in velveteen tones, “Now, we come here as slaves, but we going out as royalty.” In these final moments of A Seat at the Table the radical importance of honouring personal experience within the greater framework of the overarching narrative of the struggles endured by the black community is emphasized. Throughout the album Solange poises herself as more than a figure of comparison amongst the star-studded members of her family. Rather, Solange solidifies her position as an artist in her own right with an unprecedented and unique sound. In A Seat at the Table, Solange’s artistry rings true via a personal narrative layered with lush beats, in which Solange’s vocals soar to encompass a crowd, leaving listeners in a cascading soundscape finished with an exultant flourish.
“Cranes in the Sky”—powerful ballad backed by sparkling keyboards and angelic harmonies, in which Solange shines as a vocal powerhouse.
“F.U.B.U.” (ft. The-Dream & BJ The Chicago Kid)—R&B-injected party jam gone slow-mo with collaborating bars rapped by The Dream and BJ the Chicago Kid
"Don't touch my pride / They say the glory's all mine / Don't test my mouth / They say the truth is my sound" – “Don’t Touch My Hair”
An indie-meets-soul take on the issues tackled on Beyonce’s Lemonade, heavy with jazzy Aaliyah undertones